"O.K," said the man on the phone. "I'll be over tomorrow, about noon."
"It'll be a welcome break, believe me." The woman brushed a strand of red hair from her forehead, straightened her glasses, and looked at the book beside the computer keyboard. "All this research is driving me nuts."
"We'll leave it behind tomorrow, hon. No talking about work. It'll be our vacation day."
"Noon, then. I'll be ready." A pause. "I love you, Curtis."
"I love you too, Shana. See you tomorrow."
She hung up, turned back to her work with a sigh. Peering over her glasses, Shana McEwan picked up the thick paperback. It didn't look like much. A black cover with a pentagramish doodle in red. Below that, in bold white letters, was the single word Necronomicon. Somebody's idea of classical Greek; it might mean "Laws of the Dead," "Names of the Dead" or something else altogether.
That was typical. Exactly what she had come to expect.
It was the last of a great many books she had read in the previous months. The Stars are With You! by Le Novar of Xandra, whose real name was Nick Calvert and who was from Kalamazoo, Michigan, not Xandra the Asteroid Planet. Your Past Lives by Susanne Denio, who claimed to have been Cleopatra's sister. Her photo on the back of the book revealed enough lines beneath the makeup to lend credence to that claim.
So many books.
Divining the future.
In the New Age philosophy, God, spirits and aliens were apparently much the same.
Shana frowned at the thought. From childhood she had been taught that Jesus was the only true way to God. For a time she had strayed away from that path, but during the divorce she had come back to the Lord. Only his Holy Spirit had enabled her to stand in the face of all that adversity. His Holy Spirit and the encouraging power of all the brothers and sisters who worshipped at Holy Maranatha Temple of the Church of Christ in God.
"I never see you any more," Bob had said. "That church takes all your time. What do you see in all that?"
"You should be thinking about your own soul, not criticizing my religion."
"Anyone with half a brain can see how stupid it all is. That preacher is a maniac and he's taking you for a ride." The air was blue with his cigarette smoke.
"Brother Wynn is a good man. He's praying for you. We're all praying for you."
"Tell him to pray for himself. He needs it. He looks like an ape up there in his monkey suit, hopping around, gabbling like that. And that TV ministry, that Freedom in Christ Hour or whatever he calls it. A circus."
"Liberty in Christ Hour. And it's the gift of tongues; the witness of the Holy Ghost. If you would just give Christ a chance, you'd see . . ."
Her hand on his shoulder. Shaken off.
"A circus." Grabbing his coat. "If the Holy Ghost wants to be witnessed, you'd think it could at least speak English. Those people are all crazy. And you're crazy. I'm going out. To Giacomo's. Where we used to go together, remember?"
The slam of a door.
If only Bob had listened to the gospel!
But it had been a long time since she had seen Bob. God had sent Curtis Daniels her way not long afterward. He too had been through a divorce; he helped her through the worst of it. Somewhere along the line their feelings had deepened, gone from friendship to devotion and love. Soon they would be married. He was thirty, she was twenty-eight; they were still young enough to have children, to raise a family. How God had blessed them in the last three years.
In that time Shana had made a great discovery: Christianity sells.
That truth revealed itself with her first book, Binding the Strongman, an attack on Satanism. It was in its third printing; pulpits across the nation had praised it. What was more natural, then, to continue the assault on false religion, combating first hand the Gnostic network that called itself the New Age Movement?
So Shana began the principal research: finding information in libraries, downloading material from the Net, even purchasing books and other artifacts at Star and Crystal, gathering momentum for her next project, Say No to the New Age. So many charlatans, so much deceit to be revealed.
And now, the Necronomicon. She turned the book over, but there was nothing on its back save another odd occult symbol. The proprietor of Star and Crystal, a woman who called herself Tara Moonfire, had recommended it highly.
"I can't keep it in stock," the tall, dark eyed woman had told her. "The young people buy three or four copies a week. It seems to speak to them, somehow. It is the doorway to their own spiritual quest." Then she had gone in the back room a moment, returning with a smile and pressing the book into Shana's hand. "This one is free. Take it. Read it. It will reveal the truth you need."
A Net search had quickly revealed the truth about the Necronomicon; written by someone, possibly a number of someones, with the nom de plume of Simon, it mixed inaccurate Sumerian religion with strange demonic names like Azagthoth and Kutulu.
Simon, whoever he was, had not even been clever enough to invent his own demons; they were borrowed from the long dead author H.P. Lovecraft, who had also invented the Necronomicon for his horror stories. No wonder the Greek was mangled. The writers in Weird Tales were scarcely known for their deep erudition, though Lovecraft was more knowledgeable than most. His letters revealed a highly educated, cultured man sadly locked into a life of poverty. All his stories had one plot, however: an Eccentric New England Skeptic got involved with the Necronomicon and the Old Ones it summoned, discovered it was all Horribly True and Went Mad As A Result.
Once in a while the human race won a battle. In "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" a physician defeated the powers of darkness; in "The Dunwich Horror" an old professor named Armitage fought the Old Ones' minions with their own magic.
But the Old Ones would always try again. And again. It was hard to understand what his fans saw in his writing.
Yet there was a strange fascination in the tales, overwritten and predictable as they were. The occultist Kenneth Grant had argued for the reality of Lovecraft's monsters and forbidden tomes. Anton LaVey had included rituals to invoke Lovecraftian beings in his Satanic Rituals. Nick Calvert, as Le Novar, claimed the planet Xandra was destroyed by "warring forces from Yuggoth and Shaggai," two of Lovecraft's far flung worlds.
She wondered what the man himself would have thought of his posthumous fame. Or, more correctly, that of his creations.
And now this. The Necronomicon.
She sat down at her desk and opened the thick paperback. Oddly, it had no credits, no preface, not even any publishing information. Simply the boldface line: "The book of the Arab and Key to the Gate of the Old Ones."
The key to the wallets of the gullible, thought Shana. And with that thought, she turned to the first page.
An hour later Shana McEwan came to her senses. She was sprawled on the floor, her chair overturned, her desk overturned, papers and books and parts of computer scattered across the carpet. She stood up, slowly, unsteadily, the acrid taste of bile in her mouth, burning her throat.
Across the room the Necronomicon lay where she had thrown it. As her gaze fell on the little black book, she remembered what she had read. Just a few words, no more than a page or two. How could so few words reveal so much? How could anyone write something like that?
She reeled, fell back on the couch, retched. "God, God!" she sobbed, but God was far away and the Holy Spirit sent no comfort.
"For G-God so loved the world . . ." She couldn't remember the rest of the verse.
She couldn't remember the rest of the verse!
Other creatures ruled this cosmos, things as far above man as man was above the microbes. Neither God nor love nor Shana Anne McEwan meant anything to them. Even this world was only necessary to begin the chain reaction that would span the universe and open --
"' The rifts that emit ---'"
She screamed and shook her head till her nose began to bleed. Those words, those poisonous words.
The black book took no heed. It lay there with its rifts that emit Azathoth, its lost sunken cities, its secrets and oracles and truths.
Waiting for her to pick it up. Demanding she pick it up.
In a little while she did.
Pleading, whimpering, denying, cursing, she picked up the Necronomicon and began to read. Her glasses were broken. It didn't matter. Long into the night she read, and the light burned in her study in the wee hours of the morning.
The BMW pulled up in the driveway behind Shana's car. A tall, muscular man got out and walked briskly up the walk to the front door. He was surprised to find it unlocked.
"Shana?" No answer. Curtis Daniels opened the door wider, looked inside. What he saw sent a chill through him. The living room was wrecked, all the furniture piled against one wall, the carpet cut away. A strange symbol was drawn in chalk on the exposed wooden floor; not quite a star, nor exactly an hourglass, its convoluted lines seemed impossible to follow with the eye.
He stepped into the room, stood almost in the middle of the symbol. "Shana! You here, hon? You all right?" Something moved in the hall behind him; he turned to see his fiancee coming toward him, very pale, a strange look on her face.
In one hand she held a black paperback.
In the other was a knife.
If someone had passed by, they might have heard a hoarse cry, quickly choked off. Might have heard a heavy thud, heard the sound of a woman chanting something in an alien tongue: "Kaalut cvorac n'galanh, r'luheh cvellun tvanaa. Ia! Kaalut!" Over and over, until a crackle of electricity and a frightful grinding noise, like metal on metal, told of an answer to her spell.
If someone had passed by, they might have heard Shana McEwan read one more line from the Necronomicon and then scream in terror and pain. That tortured shriek would have haunted them all the rest of their lives.
But there were no passersby.
Tall, otherworldly Tara Moonfire, who was born prosaic Cynthia Atkinson, was about to lock up the Star and Crystal for the evening when someone grabbed her roughly from behind and pushed her back into the shop. A robbery, she thought, then saw the face of her assailant. A face she had prayed to the Goddess she would never see again. Before she could scream, Shana McEwan hissed a syllable and Tara found herself without voice, unable to move. Suddenly bereft of strength, she crumpled to the floor.
"The silence of Nyarlathotep. The book taught me all about it. And about a lot of other things, too."
Shana did not look quite as pleasant as she had the day she had come into the shop, the day the Book had commanded and Tara had obeyed. Now her green eyes burned with an unnatural fire, her face was framed by straggly, matted hair. Worst of all was the strange symbol on her forehead, above her right eye, carved there with a razor blade or other sharp instrument. Tara didn't know what it meant; the Book had not allowed her to read that far. She knew it was in the Book, though, and that was enough.
"Now," said Shana McEwan, quietly, frighteningly, "now I'm going to ask you a question. Why did you give me that book? Why not someone else?"
Tara rolled her eyes, shed tears. It was all she could do. The silence of Nyarlathotep still held her fast. Her captor hissed another word, something different, and something shifted in Tara's head, like a thick worm rolling over. "It told me to," she heard her voice say, but when she tried to scream for help the worm in her head tightened its coils and nothing but a gasp came out.
"You can answer me. That's all. Don't try anything else." A thin trickle of blood had begun to run down McEwan's forehead from the crudely gouged sigil. "It told you to. I can believe that. I can believe a lot of things now. How did you get it?"
"I don't know . . . it was in the shipment with the other Necronomicons, but it was different. It looks the same, but it's different." Again she tried to scream and again her voice was stifled in her throat. "I don't know how it got here. Maybe someone else it caught, somewhere else. I don't know."
The madwoman wiped at her bleeding forehead with the back of her hand, winced at the pain and laughed. "And you read some of it? All of it?"
"I had to read some of it. I couldn't read all of it. It wouldn't let me. It made me wait. Till you came in, that day. You were the one it wanted. I don't know why."
"I know why."
Lying on the floor, paralyzed, Tara looked up at her tormentor's ravaged face. Something small and black with three shiny beady eyes was looking out of the bloody wound, its emotionless stare a terrible contrast to McEwan's deranged features. Its three fuzzy antennae twitched, testing the air. Its long proboscis slowly unrolled, sucked at the trickling blood.
I want to faint, she thought, and closed her eyes. This is when people pass out and remain mercifully unconscious. That's the way it always happens. In a hundred different books. Mercifully unconscious, they say. I never understood that till now. Let me faint now, Goddess.
But the Necronomicon was writing this chapter of her life, and though it contained many things, mercy was not among them.
The thing crawled out of McEwan's head, spider with wasp wings, wasp with crab claws, crab on strand of spider web. Or brain tissue. It spun its way lazily down the sticky thread. She heard it click and clatter on the floor, heard the rustle of its segmented legs.
Her eyes opened wide, but the thing was out of her range of vision.
McEwan pulled the black book from her coat pocket and knelt beside her victim, dripping blood. "You should have burned it." She held the Necronomicon before Tara's frozen gaze. "You should have burned it. It didn't make you read it all. It turned you loose. Why didn't you burn it?"
She had thought about burning it. In the dazed terror of that first day, when it released her from its hold, she pictured its filthy pages purged with fire. Even brought the gasoline can in before logic took over.
Whatever this was, it was no ordinary book. None of its look-alike cousins could seize a person like that, shake them to the core of their existence. So she put it far away, on the back shelf, and began to do her own research, hoping to find some way to tame the Necronomicon, to make its monstrous power serve her.
For the cause of Good, of course. There was no light and no darkness, no good and evil. Everything was a shade of grey. Yin and Yang. There was good in everything.
If only there had been just a little more time. Somewhere there had to be an answer, though she had found nothing but warnings in the few real occult texts she could get her hands on. The Celaeno Fragments, the faxed copy of the Typer diary, the expurgated edition of Nameless Cults mentioned the Necronomicon only as a horror to shun, strangely sentient, imbued with the power of the Old Ones it was written to glorify.
And to summon.
Then came the day Shana McEwan, the famous Christian writer, entered the shop pretending to be a New Age neophyte and the demands of the little book in the back room erupted in Tara's mind. "I couldn't!" she tried to say, but the lie wouldn't come. "I didn't want to."
"Curtis is dead. I had to kill him. The Necronomicon made me do it. 'They cannot take body without human blood.'"
Tears ran down Shana's cheeks, splashed with the dripping blood on Tara's upturned face. "It made me summon a gharoide, one of Kaalut's insect servants. The seven unwritten secrets are encoded in the venom they secrete. If the book didn't still need me, the gharoide would have taken my body for its brood. But I'm spoken for" -- a cracked giggle -- "and it must have a host. A place for all its little ones to grow and feed."
McEwan shook her head spastically and cried out, a sharp, short yelp of pain; without warning sanity showed in her eyes. Sorrow and compassion flitted across her features. "I'm sorry, Tara. God help us all."
Then the madness returned. The Necronomicon's thrall stood up, turned away. Tara Moonfire, Cindy Atkinson, ensnared in a spell that was ancient when the Pyramids were not yet built, lay silent as the tiny ebon monster scurried up to her. Lay still as it began to burrow through clothing and flesh into the soft hot darkness of her abdomen.
Only her eyes revealed her horror. Only her eyes and the sweat that beaded and ran down her brow.
McEwan hesitated in the doorway, looked back. "You'll be dead before the Old Ones come back. Gharoide pups hatch quickly and their hunger is insatiable. That's in the Necronomicon. Page 210." Her voice was horribly chatty; a woman sharing intimate gossip with an old friend. "Did it let you read that far?"
The figure on the floor did not reply, so Shana closed the door, leaving the room in darkness. The pounding in her head told her she was running out of time and Necronomicon was impatient. After winter is summer, and after summer winter. Man ruled now where the Old Ones ruled once; They would soon rule where man ruled now.
The first unwritten secret was spoken.
Aircraft and ships reported an eerie violet light in the waters of the Pacific, so bright it could be seen in broad daylight. Apparently it was radiating from the sea bottom, too deep to sound.
The second unwritten secret was spoken.
The earth entered an unprecedented period of seismic activity. While rescue workers gave their lives to save people from the devastation, scientists were astonished to discover a rhythmic coordination in the earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Shana, standing on the bank of the turbulent Kanawha, unsteady on her feet, cried out the third unwritten secret. Light years from earth, a colossal bubbling began in an ancient ammonia lake under the dying cinder of a sun.
In quick succession the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh secrets were unveiled, written in no book, known only to those who dared undergo the Initiation of Kaalut as described in the Necronomicon. Changes came to the earth, to the spheres beyond the earth, to the planes beyond the three dimensions of earth. Now everything was ready for the spell on page 751.
The spell that opens the gate to Yog-So-thoth, monstrous incarnation of all time and space.
Lovecraft wrote about that incantation, McEwan remembered.
Yog-So-thoth would clear off the earth, consume planets and suns alike to generate the unimaginable power required to restore the Old Ones to life after eons of slumber. Tentacled, amorphous Cthulhu, metallic Glaaki, cryptic Tsathoggua, all the antique names of things old enough to predate the Creation. As the Old Ones rose up, the chaos song of Azathoth would tip this universe into a new and terrible phase of existence. And the Necronomicon would no longer be needed.
Neither would its hapless victims. Curtis was a corpse, his blood the gate to Kaalut. Tara Moonfire was gone by now, a feast of flesh for the gharoide larvae.
Looking down, Shana saw herself reflected in the waters of the river, saw the blue-black swelling over her right eye, its surface cracked and bloody, the raw hole in its center a tunnel into her brain. She saw the awful pallor of her face, the blistered, cracked lips, the crusts and infections where the gharoide's venom had corrupted the flesh. Her dirty clothes, her dirty hands.
She looked at the book she held. It still looked brand new, still looked innocent. It had corrupted her, made her reflect its true nature, just as the water now reflected her awful visage. It did the same to everyone who read it, from its Arabic author all those centuries ago to Shana herself.
Everyone but Lovecraft.
The surprising thought came unbidden to her mind.
The roar of the book in her hand rose up deafeningly to smother it. It was time to go. One human brain could not contain the energies unleashed in summoning Yog-So-thoth. That was why it needed her. She would take the Necronomicon to Reverend Donovan Wynn, her friend, senior pastor of the Holy Maranatha Temple of the Church of Christ in God. Tonight, when he broadcast his Liberty in Christ Hour to thousands of people, they would not hear the Gospel but a new and different message. And together, those minds, hypnotized by the glittering verbal poison of the Necronomicon, would follow Wynn in reciting the chant on page 751. Every one of them would perish as Yog-So-thoth came screaming through their neurons into this tiny sphere, but some would survive long enough for the Old One to manifest itself fully.
And the end of all things would be achieved.
The Necronomicon roared its commands, but did not quite submerge the thought. Lovecraft knew about this horror, knew it intimately, page by page. He wrote about it. Not as its servant, but as its adversary. A warning voice in the wilderness. In her mind a passage from a Lovecraft letter floated above the oily current of the Necronomicon's influence, a passage speaking of his story "The Dunwich Horror": "I found myself psychologically identifying with one of the characters (an aged scholar who finally combats the menace) toward the end."
No doubt. Who could say what fearful experience in Lovecraft's life was hidden behind the story of Dr. Armitage and his sorcerous battle with the servants of the Old Ones?
Why Lovecraft cloaked the truth in fiction, why he lived and died as he did, those were mysteries she could not fathom. His real life must have been very different from the published version. Someone other than Shana McEwan would have to uncover those secrets, though. Her own tale was almost at an end.
If Lovecraft could fight this, I can too. She clung to the thought, held onto it as a drowning man clutches at a lifeline, and took one step into the water. Another. Waded out into the receiving waters, their rapid flow seeming to ease the pain of her tormented body. The Necronomicon's insistent shrieking filled her brain, but she hung onto the single thought as she walked further into the water. Lovecraft had given her the answer, in "The Call of Cthulhu" he had written it for the world to know: ". . . the deep waters, full of the one primal mystery through which not even thought can pass, had cut off the spectral intercourse."
Waist-deep in the raging river, Shana watched her hand raise the Necronomicon up before her failing eyes. Saw herself turning to page 751. Heard what was left of her voice begin the incantation that would end all things, everywhere, for all time.
The Necronomicon was making a final frantic effort to fulfill its dark purpose.
With all her heart and soul she focused on the hand that held the hateful book. Even as she cried out the alien words, as the incalculable, soul-searing power of Yog-So-thoth gathered itself to come through the Gate of her mind, what was left of Shana Anne McEwan willed that hand just to let go.
And as if in a dream she saw the fingers, one by one, slowly loose their grip, saw the book drop into the stormy, raging water of the river.
The sound of the chant, nearly finished, was stilled in her throat.
For just a moment the black book floated, its infinite hatred visible above it, like heat waves in the summer air. Then the current dragged it down and away, out of sight. Out of mind. The primal mystery had silenced the voice of horror. The waters would soak into the nightmare tome, separate the pages, dissolve the poisonous words. Wherever it had come from, it was headed for oblivion, washed away in the Kanawha's healing torrent.
The terrible presence of Yog-So-thoth dissipated like a cloud driven off by the sun. The spell had not been completed, would not be completed. Not this time. Kaalut's gharoide horde would return to their inhuman master in the spheres beyond space and time, unable to continue the mission on their own. The effects of the seven unwritten secrets would linger for a time, but without the final incantation they, too, would eventually fade away.
Shana, exhausted, dying, no longer sustained by the Necronomicon's evil power, gave herself to the waters as well. She knew it was over. Like Armitage, like Lovecraft, she had won.
Created: April 10, 1998