Ricardo Madeira

What do you do when you are faced with the inevitable?

Walking ahead of his unit as silent as silence itself, Captain Jones came to the end of the corridor. He heard two men just around the corner, talking about the football game last night. For Arab terrorists, they sure had funny sports tastes. He leaned against the wall and, breathing deeply and slowly, brought the rifle closer to his chest. With confidence, determination and stunning speed he turned around the corner.

A moment later, one of the terrorists was falling to the ground with two shots to the chest. The other was standing near a hostage, a young woman sitting at a desk. The first shot almost missed him, but a nice red stain appeared in his groin. The second hit him in the head, just above the goggles, while he was bending over in pain. It caused him to fall, hitting the back of his head against the desk and he just laid there on the ground, trembling with his hands between his legs, mumbling curses and swearing in a muffled voice.

Jones ordered the rest of the team to advance and secure their objectives. He stayed behind to let them do their work. Later he would have the time and the means to evaluate it better. Relaxed, Jones looked up to a corner of the room and smiled because he was on Candid Camera. Well, almost anyway ...

He was alone and sitting on the desk making imaginary passes at the blond rubber girl when his men returned. They were chatting happily with the "terrorists" covered in red paint about the exercise. One member of his team had four large green spots scattered over his black uniform.

"Well Sergeant Murray, now that you're dead who's gonna take care of that beautiful redhead of yours?"

Several of the men volunteered right away to take on the job and Murray, the tall thin man with light brown hair, felt his cheeks grow warmer and rosy.

"What do you say we talk about it over a can of beer? Sergeant Murray!"

"Yes, Captain?"

"I believe it's your round!"

Loud cheers filled the air. Faketown, USA was again temporarily safe from dangerous international terrorists with menacing paintball guns.

* * *

Young archeologist Julie Parker still couldn't believe this was happening, but nevertheless she obeyed like the rest of the others. It's not like you have much choice when somebody points the business end of a gun at you. One minute she was having a very interesting conversation with a good-looking guy at Mr. Thompson's party (And just where was he? None of the guests had seen him tonight), and the next she was trapped in a room full of terrorists. How did things get to this?

She thought she knew the answer. Take some kind of religious fanatics, a few machine guns (and maybe other, lot more dangerous things; she had heard explosions somewhere in the villa!), at least a hundred hostages and there you have it. Stir, shake a little and you've got a very explosive cocktail party. Yes, very explosive indeed, but not very funny. No, not funny at all.

Julie saw someone's bodyguard dead in a pool of blood on the drawing room floor, his right hand still reaching for the gun inside his jacket. Not very far from the body, an unfortunate girl, unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, lay bleeding to death. Her long white dress looked as if some untalented artist had recklessly smeared it with large quantities of scarlet paint. A young man, a medical student, was kneeling beside her, tending to her wounds, holding her head over his lap and whispering


words of comfort into her ears. Their battle for her life was beyond hope. He wanted to get her to a hospital before it was too late, but the black-hooded men wouldn't allow it. He had had a rough argument with one of them and would have probably got shot himself if two more cool-headed guests hadn't restrained him.

He now held her hands in his, crying while her eyes, staring at the ceiling, slowly drained of their glow, of their warmth, of their life ...

* * *

Captain Jones and his men were arriving discretely at the scene on the outskirts of town. Another white unmarked van pulled up in the hotel's underground parking lot. The side doors slid open and men dressed in jeans and T-shirts came out and started to unload various wooden crates. They took them to an elevator marked with an "out-of-order sign". The lift then went all the way up to the last floor, closed to the public some hours ago.

Surveillance cameras were already being set up in strategic sites all around the villa (as were dozens of TV news cameras). In his room, Jones looked through the window curtains and into the luxurious gardens of the subdued house not very far away, as dozens of different tactical approaches to the problem ran through his mind. It didn't look very good. Nobody knew who the hell had taken over the house, and they still hadn't made any demands nor offered any explanation, nor had they claimed the responsibility for some nutty terrorist organization yet.

Frustrated, Jones left for the improvised headquarters in the floor above.

* * *

Julie saw the pale old man, their leader and their guide, walking in his yellowed robe through the fearful hostages and their captors (they too looked uneasy ...), slowly and confidently, as if the whole world belonged to him. His skin was terribly dry and cracked, but his face was awfully familiar to her although Julie couldn't place it no matter how hard she tried to. He was carrying a very old looking parchment in his wrinkled, bony hands. She recognized it instantly, having seen it in the display room just the night before. Mr. Thompson

(the face)

had been looking forward to comparing it with some old papers in the possession of a fellow collector. He had said, looking at her with his young blue eyes, that today he would have great and shocking news for everyone to hear.

The parchment had been one of the items retrieved by the archeological expedition to the Dead Sea that Mr. Thompson

(the wrinkled old face)

had generously financed. None of the puzzled expedition members, Julie included, had even been able to determinate the eon-forgotten language in which the text was written. And they still hadn't been able to ascertain its origin nor to find out just what was it doing hidden in that empty cavern. She was puzzled to see the old man carrying the parchment as if it was holy, more holy than the Christian artifacts (dated at least 50 BC) they had found nearby.

The old man stopped, eyed her curiously for a moment and then left the room.

Minutes (Or was it hours? She couldn't be sure) later, she and many of the other hostages were being shoved out of the room and into the cold basement of the house.

* * *

Slowly descending the creaking wooden steps, the old man entered the large, darkened basement. The bare stone floor was illuminated by rows of fat red candles which formed some kind of disturbing pattern that no sane human mind would or could quite grasp. Five Asian men, their features very unlike those of the other terrorists, greeted him in silence. Near them, many frightened persons were being watched closely by armed (but also scared) men. The old man observed the scene carefully as he walked to the other side of the room where the darkness had a stronger hold over the light. Then, he started to read the parchment he held in his hands, speaking in a measured and solemn voice.

* * *

"They heard the old prophet speak of a time long gone, still remembered by those wise enough not to forget, a time that was soon to be again, when the faithful would gather in millions and once more come swarming to the Great Eastern Shore to worship Him whose deathly sleep even now nears its end. For the sunken city shall rise and break free of the ocean's grip, and as sure as life writhes out of the flesh that is putrid, so will He come out of His black tomb and bring forth to the quaking world abominations yet undreamed of. And this shall be the Aeon of the Reveling, the Age of the Rejoicing, when his awakened minions shall once again walk over blood-soaked earth and swim in red-stained seas."

Jones looked, incredulous, at one of the monitors fed by hi-tech, state-of-the-art, probably-made-in-Japan, infrared cameras hidden from sight by his dedicated specialists.

"What the hell are they doing over there? Celebrating a Mass?"

"It sure looks like it ...," said Federal Officer Peters.

"Who would have thought? They sure don't look like the sort of guys who'd remember a single one of the ten commandments if their life depended on it, do they?"

"No, but then again it isn't Sunday and I bet that old geezer isn't reading the fucking Bible. At least not the one I know! Anyway, we're videotaping everything, of course. Maybe one of the Intelligence guys can make some sense of it."

The figures on the monitor kneeled on the ground. Through the speakers now came only the sound of chaotic shouts and disturbing screams.

An armed man, very nervous, brought a young woman forward to the old priest. He pushed her across the room and made her kneel in front of the old man. Then he and his companions left the darkening room at a hurried pace. A sudden chilling gust of wind had appeared out of nowhere and was now blowing out the candles, one by one.

* * *

Julie, petrified by pure and absolute terror, saw the old man's silhouette moving towards her with a sharp, twisted, gleaming blade tightly held in his long and slender fingers. Now she was hearing the insane screams of worship grow louder, mercifully drowning other, more inhuman sounds. In her horror, she hardly took notice of the strange fetid stench that was permeating the entire house, but she saw it, the thing. When her eyes were drawn to the darkest corner of the room she saw its changing contours. And that vision bloated everything else ...

* * *

The silence spread itself through the men in the briefing room. Every one had his eyes glued to the screen as they watched the jerking body of the innocent woman. It started bloating, losing its contours, and became just an irregular red stain on the monitor as the warmth of her body became lost in a pool of her own blood.

Then everything went blue, ice-cold blue ...

"Jesus ...," someone whispered in the back of the room.

"Stop the tape," ordered Captain Jones. "That was the last thing we saw before our infrared cameras failed. At least this caused some people to make up their minds, and we now have the okay to go ahead with the operation."

The men suddenly became alert, readily forgetting all the anger, all the rage they had felt just now.

"You have already been briefed on the situation and the plan of attack. That's it, we don't have anything more for you. We don't even know where the hell they are hiding, but we know there's not many of them and that their training and equipment are, at best, rudimentary.

"I tried to delay this moment until we could get more information, but everybody seems to be in a hurry to get the hostages out and to look good in the morning news. It's time we go in, men, and this time it's for real. Many of you have already been up this alley before, but some have not. I would like to wish you all good luck. This will hopefully be over in a couple of hours and then we can all go home again. Now go get your things."

After every single one of his men had left the room, Jones asked one of the technicians to show him once again a view from the outside IR cameras, but, again, there was nothing to see on the screen. It just showed the exterior of the villa painted in a bright cold blue and there was not even a single small crimson spot in sight ...

And the only sound coming from all the listening devices they had set up was the sound of the wind ... The whispering sound of the wind ...

Unfortunately for Jones, he couldn't make out the words being whispered ...

* * *

They were inside, entering through every opening where they knew they wouldn't be expected. The air was very cold, extremely damp and nauseating. Everything was pitch dark. Their low-light vision goggles showed only empty halls and corridors, deserted rooms and abandoned spaces. They started to check all the floors, and they found nothing, saw nothing and heard nothing but themselves.

Jones himself was now in the study. Its walls were strangely decorated with arcane symbols freshly painted on the wall, their thick paint (it was red, but Jones couldn't see any colors) was still trickling down the wall, slowly.

He could see the blasphemous outlines of grotesque statuettes against the green background of his imaging equipment. There were also terribly explicit paintings of ... things ... depictions of imaginary creatures that couldn't have been dreamt in the most dreadful of human nightmares and, although he couldn't make out the painted images very well, they made his body (and his soul) shudder.

Something was amiss ... Using his radio, Jones ordered his team to check in. Two of his men did not acknowledge and another one (Damn it, Jones should have realized he was still too green!) was so terrified that he forgot to use his call sign. He was now crying over the radio. Jones ordered Murray and his team to search for the three men, but he got no response from him either.

Then his body shivered, maybe because of the growing coldness that was finally conquering his body, and he immediately ordered everyone out of the accursed house, barely avoiding the anxiety he was feeling to show in his voice.

He was alone in the empty drawing room when he felt it, a rhythmic beating in a very low tone, reverberating slowly through the walls, the ground and his body, transmitting its vibrations to his insides, each beat lasting for many long seconds.

The throbbing grew stronger and he thought he could see the walls shaking visibly with each thump.

* * *

He cleaned and oiled his gun while he watched the evening news, like he had done even a few days before, like he had done so many times since that dreadful night so many years ago, waiting, always waiting, waiting for something that he had never been sure, until now, would happen.

They had found him the next morning lying on the floor, crying and gibbering madly, alone in the deserted villa. During the years he spent in the psychiatric ward, he never told a soul what he had seen or heard that had shattered even the deepest recesses of his mind. He could not even bring himself to think of it.

All those people that had vanished that night without leaving a single trace, they were still reported as missing, but he knew of the darkness that had fed itself on those poor souls. Had he, Robert M. Jones, not glimpsed dimly the mercifully swift horror from beyond that was the sign of the times to come, of the times that had been and were soon to be again?

And then the old man had come and had told him everything ... About the blood and the deaths, about things that would be better left unsaid and about He who is not to be named.

Yes, the thing that had taken the guise of an old man had told him everything ... It had told him about the End Times ...

Then it had spared him so that Jones could spread the word of what was to come. And he had done so. He remembered all the gray, rainy days when he had stood in the dirty streets of the city under the pouring rain, shouting the words to all who would hear them. He remembered every single one of those many despairing days, when he thought he could hear the end lurking just around the corner ... And sooner or later the end must come, some day, some way, to every thing, to every being.

Now, the circle of eternity was to begin again, as it had been foretold in the ancient books. Of this he was sure today, as sure as he had not been about anything all his life.

On the TV screen, the newscaster announced an urgent news flash. He said, faking compassion and shock, that Tokyo and most of Japan were being hit by a tremendous earthquake, the biggest one ever measured by scientific instruments, and probably the most devastating ever felt by any man since the dawn of Human history.

He barely heard the hopeless screams of panic as the image in his television set changed to a live connection to some TV station still broadcasting from somewhere in Japan. The connection went dead as the whole building crashed down on the screaming Orientals and their cameras.

As he left the interior of his isolated house by the side of a road leading nowhere in the middle of nowhere, and stood on the porch, he watched the distant city lights. A million lights many times brighter than the fading moon. They were so bright he could only see a few celestial bodies in the foreboding night skies.

Jones clenched his gun and walked into the cold desert air. Any moment now ...

The bowels of the earth growled, and the ground sunk in fear as forgotten layers of land once again came up to the surface.

The trembling constellation of artificial lights behind him flickered once and disappeared forever into the darkness. Once more the real stars shone bright against the darkened skies and horizons, but their glow would be dim in the days to come, as fires grew gigantically in the dying city. And they would rage for many weeks, cleansing the land of the unfortunate, preparing it for the things that would come crawling out of the retreating sea ...

But it didn't matter much to the man once known as Jones and who now laid on the bottom of a deep rocky rift, because he would not be able to see them, for he had already fired a bullet through his head


© 1997 Edward P. Berglund
"End Times": © 1997 Ricardo Madeira. All rights reserved.
Graphics © 1997 Old Arkham Graphics Design. All rights reserved. Email to: Corey T. Whitworth.

Created: December 2, 1997; Updated: August 9, 2004