Doctor Marshall Carter walks down the unfamiliar tunnel. The walls are roughly hewn through rock and dirt; the floor flattened by generations of feet. He can sense the angle increasing; the tunnel is heading downward. From the gloom ahead he sees a pair of upright wooden beams, each as thick as his leg holding up a third beam to support the ceiling. He realizes he is in some sort of mine. Brushing his hand along the wall to his right he notes that it comes away covered with black dust.
A clicking sound behind him spurs him onward from unseen menace. Something is closing on him. A clatter as of many crustaceans snapping their claws right behind his head causes him to spin in fear. Nothing but the eternal night of the tunnel is behind him. A new sound draws his attention and he turns to face down the shaft once more. A buzzing sound, like that of an enormous bee, echoes up the tunnel. The buzzing sounds like it is drowning in a vat of syrup. Thick bubbling undertones muffle the buzz. The tunnel rushes past as time compresses and he finds himself in a vast cavern. Strange green and blue glows emanate from pyramidal stone shapes casting angular shadows on the floor. The scale of the cave is beyond anything he has ever seen. The shapes — maybe buildings — look as small as toys but he can sense that each one towers hundreds of feet above the cave floor.
The soupy, bubbling buzz draws his attention once more. He turns to see a shape in the middle of a star shaped courtyard amid the buildings. Raised and incised designs that Carter’s eye refuses to follow cover the disk. They turn in directions that make no sense to his brain’s attempt to seek a pattern. The disk is a gray metal and glows with a dull orange light. He senses something moving, writhing in the shadows beyond the symbol. He wants to flee. Slithering sounds before him, clicking behind; he feels the darkness pushing in. The crab claw sounds surround him and he whirls with a scream. The primitive part of his brain knows that something infinitely more vile than the abomination in the darkness is about to descend upon him.
“Doctor Carter, wake up doctor,” a woman’s voice calls to him as he opens his eyes not to the cavern of vile creatures but to a shabby hotel room.
Lakshmi Bhat sits on the edge of Carter’s bed shaking him. Her long black hair cascades around his face bringing to mind tentacles reaching for him and Carter shudders as he comes awake.
“It was the dream again; wasn’t it?” she says.
Carter nods and struggles to sit up. Lakshmi helps the older professor sit up. Sweat from the terrors of his dreaming coats his skin. She reaches out to move his wet disheveled hair from his face with a look of concern.
They are a strange pair. He is a thin man in the latter part of middle age. His physique indicates a penchant for academia rather than the more physical pursuits. He pushes back his long salt and pepper hair to reveal a face covered in early wrinkles brought on by the strain of his recent life. A mustache which looks more like a push broom attached to his face gives him more the aura of a derelict than a professor of archeology. Lakshmi could grace the cover of a glamor magazine. She has smooth, golden brown skin and thick black tresses that tumble past her shoulders. She has the look of a dancer with smooth muscles giving her petite body a feminine but fit look. Where Carter looks like a lost soul, Lakshmi looks like the Hindu goddess who is her namesake.
“They’re coming more often as we get closer,” she says. “If it keeps like this, you’re going to be too wrung out to even function if we find the symbol.”
“No,” his voice is a raw croak. “It was like this before I found the first piece. The dreams peak and then end once I know where to go.”
“So how many more nights are you going to have to suffer?”
Carter’s exhausted face lights with a rare smile. “None. I think I can locate where we’re going. Fetch me the atlas.”
Lakshmi pauses to grab a robe from the small twin bed three feet from the one Carter occupies before crossing the room. Carter smiles at her dedication to their cause even when awakened in the middle of the night.
The girl from the tiny village of Asarganj is now an unwavering supporter in his quest to defend humanity. In the past three years since obtaining the partial disk they traveled the world. Together, they uncovered more of the ancient pages of a book called Al-Azif. The book, written by a madman, revealed even more of the story that had driven Carter to India. The images on the pages showed him horrors such as he had never imagined. Carter translated the Arabic and Greek text with some difficulty. What little it told him had shaken his world. Carter learned of wars between alien races. He learned of the Elder Things, as the manuscript called them, who dwelt on Earth and would subjugate it. Then he discovered the symbol disk which somehow summoned the powers of a place called Yuggoth to defeat the Elder Things. The dreams led him from discovery to discovery; now they have led here, to West Virginia. He can feel that the end of his race is at hand. If he can save the other half of the symbol and enact the ritual from the pages he will save the world.
Lakshmi places the atlas, open to the page for West Virginia, on the bed.
“Show me,” she says.
Carter closes his eyes and raises his hand; the faint clicking of his dream echoes in his mind. His index finger extends like a dagger of flesh. After a momentary hesitation it darts downward, stabbing a location in the middle of a mountain range. Lakshmi leans forward and peers at the minuscule text next to a nearly invisible dot on the map.
“Gunpowder Ridge, it sounds so — cosmopolitan. I’ll pack our things.”
The road through the narrow mountain pass descends thruough dark clouds. It soon reveals a small bowl shaped valley amid wooded mountaintops. The town of Gunpowder Ridge lies on the flat bottom of the valley. Carter and Lakshmi can see roads trailing off into the sloped woods surrounding the small town center. The town appears to be on its deathbed. Abandoned houses and boarded up storefronts greet them. They must drive at a crawl along the pothole lined streets.
“Is this a ghost town?” Lakshmi says.
“No, I think it’s just fallen on hard times. Look there,” he points to the right. “Kids on bikes. Where there are kids, there are families.”
“Doctor, there’s a storefront open. Maybe they can help us find what we need.”
Carter brings the car to a stop in front of an old west style storefront that declares itself to be a General Store. The pair exits the car and can hear the shouted conversations of the distant bicycle kids but the rest of the street is silent. The soft sigh of the wind and rustle of tumbling plastic bags, modern tumbleweeds, drive home that this is a dying town. An old fashioned bell clatters as they open the glass door. The General Store is a throwback to an older America. A long counter with worn red barstools and chrome soda fountain draft arms stands before a mirror covered wall. Milk shake mixers and shelves of flavor syrups are displayed against the mirrors. The rest of the store is part hardware store, part grocery with shelves of products filling every inch of floor space. Rusted metal signs display companies and products that had not existed for fifty or more years. They compete for wall space with old license plates and street signs. Near the rear of the store is a wooden counter with an old fashioned cash register. Two men lean across the counter as if sharing a secret. A tall man who looks like a lumber jack with his plaid shirt and long hair tied back in a pony tail stands on the far side of the counter. Leaning across it nursing a bottle of soda is an older black man with skin lighter than Lakshmi’s and hair with a reddish tint. The pair turns toward the door. Their surprised expressions show that they are not used to strangers gracing their doorway.
“Afternoon folks,” calls the lumberjack. “Welcome to Gunpowder Ridge General Store. Something I can help you with?”
“Hello,” Carter says stepping forward. “I’m Doctor Marshall Carter and this is my assistant Miss Lakshmi Bhat. We’re doing research in the area and were hoping someone could help us find what we’re looking for.”
“Well hey,” the black man says, straightening. “Folks round here call me Red. You a medical doctor?”
“Scientist. I was hoping you folks would know if there were any old mines in the region.”
“Well hell son, the hills around here are riddled with mines and caves. Mining was the money maker here up until the twenties.”
“Yeah but I wouldn’t recommend wandering around those old mines,” the lumberjack says. “Most of those places have been abandoned longer than any of us have been alive. Well maybe except old Red here.”
Red raises a hand in threat to the younger man but his grin shows that this is a game they play on a regular basis.
“Most of those mines are dangerous,” he continues. “Nobody goes near those places.”
“Sol’s right, a brat, but right. Those mines can be dangerous. What mine are you looking for?” Red says.
Carter’s mind flashes back to his dream visions. Black dust coated the walls of the ancient mine in his dream.
“It would be a coal mine, something rather old rather than recently mined.”
“Well there are a couple of the old mines from the 1800s up near Henderson Ridge. They’re pretty dangerous though. Mind if I ask why?”
“I’m exploring new techniques to revitalize older mines. Even though the companies may believe them exhausted I believe that I may have a way to extract additional value from them. I want older mines because newer ones have been thoroughly stripped using modern technology.”
The locals appear impressed by this idea. A technique that would render one of the old mines valuable again could bring their town back from the dead. He hates lying to people but knows greed can open fonts of information much better than any other approach.
“Doc, if you could bring the mines back, they’d probably build a statue in your honor,” Sol says.
“No promises,” Carter says. “But if my technique pans out it could happen. First Lakshmi and I need to examine the site and perform tests.
“If one of you gentlemen could give us directions to the mines we would appreciate it,” Lakshmi says. She pulls a small notebook from her purse.
Taking his cue, Carter turns to leave.
“Sol, you give this nice lady directions to Henderson Ridge,” Red says. “I’m gonna go jaw with the doc a sec.”
“Doctor, can I have a moment of your time?” Red says, following Carter from the store.
Carter turns to face the older man and sees that his face is tight with concern or fear. This man must know something that they have not told.
“Please don’t go up to those mines,” he says.
“I’ll be fine sir. I promise. I’m very safe.”
“It ain’t the mine I’m worried about doc.” Red looks around to see if there is anyone within earshot.
“Look doc, these hills have lots of old legends; things the Indians worshiped before the white man came. Hungry, evil things.”
Carter’s eyes narrow and he moves closer to the older man. “What do you know?”
“My family has lived in the Ridge since slavers brought them here during the Civil War. The slaves heard chanting in the earth; strange bubbling voices. Every once in a while some slave would go into a mine and never return. The masters assumed they ran away but the other slaves knew better.
“Even before they shut down in the 20s, miners told of lights and sounds in the deep mines. There’s something unnatural beneath the ground out there. I think you and that pretty young lady should just head out before you come to harm.”
Carter studies the older man for a moment then nods and makes a snap decision.
“Red, I haven’t been straight with you,” Carter says. “I’m in search of mines but it’s more important than money; the fate of humanity may depend on what I find. Those old stories you heard aren’t just tales to scare little kids. There’s a reality behind them.”
“Doctor Carter what are you doing?” Lakshmi’s shrill voice startles both men.
“Lakshmi, I can’t keep lying to these people. Someone has to know the truth in case we fail.”
“How do you know they are not compromised?” she shouts. “Maybe they are like the cultists?”
“I’m a Baptist,” Red says.
Carter shakes his head. “No dear, these are good people. Can’t you feel it? I won’t risk them but I want someone to know what we did.”
“Murkha,” Lakshmi says through clenched teeth.
Red looks at Carter completely clueless.
“She called me an idiot,” he says. “Yes Lakshmi I am an idiot. Would a wise man have charged alone into a cultist stronghold? Would he steal a holy symbol and rescue some poor girl they intended to sacrifice?”
The girl reacts as if Carter slapped her and tears spring to her eyes.
“Forgive me. I — I,” her voice fails as she begins to weep.
Carter draws the weeping girl into his arms and holds her close. He strokes the back of her head. He has the look of a father comforting a child.
Red shifts from foot to foot, uncomfortable being an outsider in such a personal moment. “Doc, I don’t think I really wanna know what you’re up to but I’ll wish you luck and just say God bless.”
Carter disengages from Lakshmi who climbs into the car without a word and clasps hands with the older man.
“Good bye Red. I hope to see you all again but if not, at least remember us.”
“This is the third mine Doctor and the sun is beginning to go down. Perhaps we should come back tomorrow.”
“No,” Carter’s eyes are bloodshot and darting. “We’re running out of time. We must find it today. I can feel it. It’s close but so is the enemy.”
“But it will be dark soon.”
“Lakshmi it’s always dark in a mine. Look if you want to wait here do so but I have to go on.”
Carter slams the car door and retrieves his half of the symbol for its descent into the third mine of the day. Unlike the prior attempts the ubiquitous Keep Out board is not nailed across the black mouth of the tunnel. Carter hopes this is a good sign. He pauses to turn on the lamp attached to the hard hat he has donned and steps into the gloom.
“Doctor wait,” Lakshmi runs to join her mentor. “I cannot let you go alone.”
Carter squeezes his friend’s hand in thanks and descends into the darkness.
The mine is no different in appearance than the last two. Low ceilings, rough hewn walls and ancient wooden beams hold back the crushing weight of the mountain above. The shaft slopes ever downward. As they descend the temperature falls in sympathy. Dank mildew smells tickle their nostrils. Carter brushes his hand against a wall. It comes away black. Deja vu unhinges his balance and he staggers. A clicking sound comes from close behind and he spins with eyes going wide.
“Did you hear that?”
“Doctor?” Lakshmi steps back from Carter’s crazed expression. “There was no sound.”
“A clicking like dozens of claws. It was — we’re in the mine of the dream. I know it now. Come.”
He begins to walk downhill faster.
Carter chooses new branch tunnels seemingly at random changing direction without the slightest hesitation. The air is soupy with the growing moisture. They turn a corner and Carter motions for a halt. He fumbles at his helmet and switches off his lamp. The tunnel plunges into darkness. Soon pinpricks of light appear ahead. Tiny stars leading downward into the night.
“Electric lights,” Carter whispers. “We’re close.”
They continue downward; their way now directed by the faint electric bulbs. Three more branchings and the lights lead them to what looks like recent excavation. Rubble lies in the tunnel beside a ragged hole in the wall. Beyond the hole is an alien world. The low ceiling and close walls fall away to reveal a vast cavern. The city of New York would fit comfortably in the space beyond. Carter stares, jaw slack, at a world unimagined by the mind of man. Enormous structures dwindle to appear like children’s toys in the distance.
“The city from my dream,” Carter whispers. “The symbol is down there.”
Carter points left to a cluster of pyramids and star shaped buildings and then begins climbing down the rubble slope. Lakshmi stares aghast at the vista. She knows too well the horrors that humans have done in the name of the ancient creatures. Until now she had never seen proof that the monsters were physical beings. She looks back at the tunnel. Once so intimidating, it is now a comforting bastion in comparison to this vista of alien architecture.
She grits her teeth and scrambles down the loose rubble after Carter.
The black stone of the buildings is shot through with flecks of a sparkling material like quartz that reflects light. A faint blue glow emanates from the buildings. The lighting makes the pair feel as if they move through a submarine cavern surrounded by miniature mountains. Carter pauses at one structure whose surface is so black and polished that it appears that he could reach past the surface. He stretches a shaking hand toward the surface. He doesn’t know why, but he is sure that his hand will not encounter stone but instead the depths of some alien universe. He freezes a hair breadth from the stone. He knows he’s being foolish. It’s just rock. The primitive parts of his brain don’t agree and scream at him to run, return to the trees and screech his fear of the sky gods. Lakshmi’s voice saves him from making a choice.
“Doctor look, the symbol.”
Carter steps around the corner to join his protégé. Before them lies what Carter can only call a town square except that this square has five points, like a star. In the center of the open space is what appears to be a totem pole. Carter recognizes it as a representation of an Elder Thing. The body is a barrel almost six feet high. Tentacles surround the base and extend from the middle. The level of detail in the statue is breathtaking. It appears leathery rather than stone-like. Carter fancies that he can see the thing pulsing. He knows it could not possibly be alive. The last Elder Thing roamed the Earth millions of years ago.
On the ground before the monstrous depiction is the sister half of the symbol on Carter’s back. He can almost feel the metal plate pulsing through his jacket as if it is a thing of flesh yearning for its mate.
Carter rushes to the symbol. There are a dozen half melted candles placed around it. Chalked lines and obscene symbols connect the candles. Near the candles he spots a modern Zippo.
“Cultists,” he says.
Lakshmi reaches into her bag and draws a small pistol. She sweeps the barrel and her gaze around them, looking for any threat. Carter kicks over the candles and begins to scuff the curving lines and symbols away.
He can feel a heat growing on his back as if his symbol is on fire. He realizes the symbol on the ground is now glowing brighter, somehow proximity is awakening their power.
In his mind the clash of chitinous claws grows loud. He feels the world roll around him and weaves as if drunk. He then sees his hand moving downward. He feels like he is watching someone else’s hand on a television. He doesn’t remember initiating the movement. He watches himself take hold of the symbol on the ground and then walk several yards away from the statue. From his floating viewpoint he sees himself pull his half of the symbol from his back.
“Doctor Carter, what are you doing?”
Carter hears Lakshmi but his voice is yet another part of his body he cannot access from this floating vantage point. He places the two glowing half disks on the ground near each other. They glow so brightly with orange light that he appears wreathed in fire.
“Ia, Ia,” Carter’s voice booms out. His mind screams to stop but his body is no longer his own.
“Doctor stop,” Lakshmi shouts but her voice sounds a million miles away to Carter.
“Ia, Ia Yuggoth r’than mowgli fathad. Yuggoth r’than.”
His traitor voice shouts the final inhuman words and the symbol halves begin to vibrate. The metal plates scrape across the intervening space as if they have become magnetized. They join together with a metallic clang.
“Ia, Ia, Yuggoth,” his voice begins chanting once more.
His voice cuts off as the boom of Lakshmi’s gun shatters the ancient silence of the cave.
Carter collapses to the ground. He can see a circle of blood forming on his chest and feel a burning sensation. He looks at his companion who still stands with her weapon extended. Smoke curls from the barrel and tears stream down her face.
He wishes he could thank her but when his mouth opens alien words emerge.
Carter collapses to the stone floor. The now complete metal symbol pulses with orange and purple light. He can see the air above it begin to swirl.
He hears a scraping sound like a huge snake pulling itself along the ground and Lakshmi’s scream pierces his ears. His wound has made him too weak. He cannot turn his head to look at her but he hears a choking sound followed by a wet ripping noise.
The swirling lights above the symbol move faster. The vortex forming is both compelling and repugnant. He can almost see the symbols of the plate writhing in the lights and he realizes he can hear the sound of wings coming from the vortex.
He also realizes that he can hear the slithering sound growing louder behind him. The snake, he has to admit to himself that it is the Elder Thing somehow impossibly alive, is now close. He prays his wound claims him before it does.
A form begins to materialize in the swirling light of the vortex. Carter sees vast wings beating above a bulbous shape. Many tendrils or legs hang beneath and he can see snapping claws at their tips. The clack and click of the claws reach his ears and he now knows that this is the thing that led him here. In his quest to destroy one eldritch horror he has become pawn to a second.
A muscular tentacle touches his hip as the wind of the beating wings finally enters the cave. Carter moans in fear. The scent of old rotting leather from behind and a pungent scent like the sea floor arrives on the wind from the vortex. The clash of claws finally fills the cave and a buzzing roar sounds behind Carter’s head. Everything goes black.
Carter wakes to find he no longer hurts. Everything is black but he feels in control of his mind again. He tries to call to Lakshmi but his voice will not work. He remembers her scream and the ripping sound and knows that his weakness delivered the child to her death. He wants to weep but cannot even feel his face to know if tears roll down his face.
“Why can’t I feel anything,” he thinks.
Light, blessed light fills his view. He can see again but his view is shot through with static like a bad television picture. Something is horribly wrong with his eyes, the eyes he cannot even feel.
The orange and purple tinted light reveals to him the winged and clawed horror that emerged from the vortex. It floats just in font of him but Carter cannot smell or hear it. He sees several of the claws reach toward him and tries to retreat but again he cannot feel his body nor move. The claws reach beyond his view and then Carter’s viewpoint shifts upward as if he is being lifted but he feels no sense of motion.
Carter’s view spins to reveal a wall of metal and glass cylinders. Each cylinder glows with a sick green light and he can see something pulpy and bulbous within. Carter is moved closer to the cylinders and realizes that the pulpy shapes are brains floating in viscous fluid. He is moved past the cylinders into a space between two of them. His view rotates once more until he is again facing the clawed monster which then departs.
Carter is alone, mute and deaf, staring out across a vast room lined with cylinders as far as his limited vision can see. Cold, horrible certainty fills his mind.
“Dear God,” he thinks. “Those brains, I am one of them.”
Carter begins to scream but the sound is only in his mind.
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