The Project by Jeff Miller

Once in a while one can have a psychic connection with an inanimate object.

A bank of dismal storm clouds, pregnant with water and electricity, hulked on the horizon threatening the small community of Briarhaven, Florida with a new barrage of lightning and rain. Afternoon storms in Briarhaven went mostly unheeded by the general population this time of year, except when they caused an early end to an outdoor event. Terry Milo found himself in attendance at one of these events. The estate sale of Dr. Barnaby Soles drew swiftly toward a close.

Hired laborers hurriedly packed books into boxes and moved them into the house, trying to beat the rain. Frustrated, Terry had not yet found what he knew must be here. With that in mind, he redoubled his efforts toward his search.

It could be said that Terry was content with his life as a tour guide working with the National Forestry Service. Of course, many things can be said, but reality offers up only facts for appraisal. And even so, facts can only be viewed in hindsight. Terry considered the fact that he enjoyed spending most of his nights sleeping under the stars in the Grand Canyon. And the fact that he liked the company of the people that he met on his canyon tours. There was no doubt that he loved to teach the geological heritage of that great ravine. Yet, in the face of these facts, Terry wondered if he really was content. If so, then why his recent urgent interest in arcane matters, especially those of a hideous pantheon of ancient gods known as the Old Ones? When he weighed these facts against his recent actions, he saw that he could not reconcile the two. He found his new obsession alarming, yet uncontrollable. So, in order to maintain a sense of equilibrium, Terry chose not to think about the facts any more. Instead, he delved deeper into the research that had brought him to this estate sale in the small Florida town of Briarhaven.

"Excuse me sir." Terry placed his hand on the shoulder of an older gentleman attired in a well-pressed business suit that might have been in style in the sixties. The man's suit fit in well with the rest of the town, which seemed to have jumped off of the ride of progress about thirty years before. The man wore a nameplate on his lapel that read EXECUTOR.

"Yes, young man, how can I help you?" he replied.

"Well sir, I am looking for a book that I have heard I can find in Dr. Soles personal library. It is very large, abnormal in size, and it has detailed relief engravings on the front and back covers. It is called Necronomicon."

"No, not here. Sorry," the executor replied with finality. He began to turn away when Terry caught hold of his arm and gently stopped his motion.

"Do you know of it?" Terry asked.

The executor looked around nervously. It was obvious that he didn't want his reply to be overheard. "The town Librarian appraised this collection before it went on public display," he said softly. Terry had to lean forward to hear him. "She put aside some of the older books and manuscripts that she believed might be inappropriate for a public sale," the executor continued. "The Necronomicon was one of those books. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm very busy at the moment. Got to get these books stored before the rain comes. Have a nice day sir." The executor smiled and began to turn away. Terry caught his sleeve again.

"Is there some way that I may see it?" asked Terry. "I am very interested in purchasing that book."

The executor grimaced and assessed Terry for a moment. It was obvious to Terry that this was a situation which the executor would much rather avoid, but, being the executor, he had no one else to dump it onto. The executor answered, "You don't strike me as the type that I had expected to come looking for that particular book, son. Are you sure there is nothing here that might do instead?"

"Quite sure," Terry replied firmly.

"I will be glad to give you a discount on any of the titles that are left. It doesn't look as though we will be able to sell many more books at this sale anyway," the executor said, still smiling, and pointed at the sky where the rain clouds loomed.

"Listen here!" Terry snapped. "I have traveled a long way to find the Necronomicon. I don't want any other book! Quit playing dodgeball with me, and tell me where it is!" The executor stepped back at this outburst. Terry didn't care if he had offended the man. He was desperate, and, as he saw it, this old fart intentionally stood between him and his objective.

"Well then," the old executor said, startled by Terry's intense display. He patted his pants pockets nervously. His car keys and loose change rattled and clanked. The executor glanced around at the last few customers, hoping that somebody had noticed Terry's angry outburst and would come to his aide if he needed it. Nobody had, or, at least, would acknowledge that they had. It was drizzling now. Terry didn't notice. The old man looked back at him and, as if arriving at some pain in the ass decision, said grudgingly, "Since you are so adamant about it, you may see the book." He reached into his jacket pocket and came up with a business card. "The private Soles collection is held at the city library, just around the corner on Coconut Street. Give this card to Mrs. Kirchner and tell her I sent you. She will show you the collection."

Terry took the card from the executor's hand and grunted, "Thanks," then turned to walk toward Coconut Street.

"Young man!" the executor called out. Terry turned and looked at him.

"Yes?" he asked.

The executor looked away nervously, then back at Terry. Finally the old man spoke, "I don't know why I'm even telling you this, especially since you haven't given me much reason to like you. But I feel I must warn you. I've never before seen anything like that Necronomicon that you want so badly, and as long as I live, I never want to again. You sir, would be wise to steer clear of it." Having said his piece, the executor stood silently looking at Terry. Perhaps waiting for a reply.

From the very beginning of Terry's quest for the Necronomicon he had run into these kinds of admonitions. His patience waned less with each warning. Terry turned without speaking and headed toward Coconut Street at full stride, hoping to get out of earshot before the executor could think up something else to say.

The walk in the rain helped clear his mind. Terry was shaking from his encounter with the old executor. He now felt bad about the way he had treated the man. Terry had never snapped at a complete stranger like that before. It was not in his nature, at least, not until he started this insane quest for the Necronomicon. Terry decided to forget about it. He was getting good at forgetting. It didn't matter, though. The library was a block away, and he realized that he was about to get what he had come for.

The Briarhaven Public Library seemed well kept and maintained, but, like the rest of the town, it was in dire need of modernization. Quaint yes, but Terry doubted that its stock of books was current. He noticed that, at least, it had some personal computers set up for public use. These were probably a donation from one of the more forward thinking, upstanding citizens of Briarhaven. Possibly even old Dr. Soles himself.

"Good day, ma'am. Will you please direct me to the librarian, Mrs. Kirchner?" Terry asked a gray-haired lady seated behind the circulation desk.

"I am Rosa Kirchner. How can I help you sir?"

Terry reached into his pants pocket and extracted the business card that the executor had given him. "I was referred to you by the executor of Dr. Soles' estate." He handed her the card. The librarian glanced at it, then looked back at Terry.

"Yes, you are here to see the private Soles' collection. The estate executor, Mr. Brooks, phoned me and told me you would be coming here," she said.

"Very good," Terry answered, and wondered just how much Mr. Brooks had told her. "I am interested in obtaining one of the books in the collection. It is called Necronomicon."

After a slight hesitation, Mrs. Kirchner said coldly, "I see."

The timbre of her reply told Terry in unmistakable terms that Mr. Brooks had spoken quite frankly of their conversation. He knew that he didn't have a prayer of getting on Mrs. Kirchner's good side now. Her coldness toward him was visible in her manner, but there was something else, something she tried to hide. Fear? revulsion? Terry couldn't put his finger on it. He decided that small talk would be a waste of breath at this point, and he determined to get this transaction over with as quickly as possible.

The librarian slid open a drawer behind the desk and, after some shuffling, came up with a key. She stood and walked toward the back of the library building. After taking a few steps, she turned and looked expectantly at Terry. He stood still in front of the circulation desk. "If you want the book, follow me," she said.

Terry followed Mrs. Kirchner to a door behind the reference counter. She opened it for him, then moved back so he could step in. The room was small and resembled a prison cell by the fact that it had no visible openings except for the door. Oak bookshelves covered every wall from floor to ceiling. Terry noticed a change in the atmosphere as soon as he entered. A musty smell hung oppressively in the dead air, and a strange unpleasant coldness pervaded the surroundings. Not manufactured coldness, as would blow from an air conditioning duct, but a bitter, damp, hateful chill that brought primal visions of Carpathian dungeons to mind, and numbed Terry's fingertips and nose. He half expected to see his breath condense into steam when he exhaled. Terry saw that Mrs. Kirchner did not enter the room behind him, but waited just outside. Her head peered around the door and it seemed to him that she consciously used the door as a sort of shield. From what, he could not imagine, but he sensed that it would take very little provocation for her to slam it shut and lock it without even giving him a fair chance to escape. The thought of this possibility made him feel slightly claustrophobic.

He looked at the shelves and immediately spotted the hulking tome named Necronomicon brooding between two smaller books. Startled, he nearly jumped backward reflexively as if recoiling from some grotesque caricature that had just leapt off of the shelf at him screaming BOO!, or something even more heinous, in an evil screeching voice. iUntil now, Terry had felt certain that he had prepared himself thoroughly for what he would experience when he finally found the Necronomicon. But nothing could have prepared him for what he beheld gloating upon the bookshelf of that small dark room in the Briarhaven public library. Certainly, it was only a book, but every fiber of his being warned him that it was much more than that. It was an entity, or perhaps many entities, bound in human skin, and exiled to the rotting pages of this angry register. Suddenly, the outrageousness of his quest came down on him full force. Danger, possibly beyond what he was willing to accept, lay scrawled upon the pages of this horrendous text that seemed to leer back at him from the shelf. It was clear that by taking it he could be putting his own life in jeopardy and, for a moment, he was ready to turn and leave the brutish looking tome in its place.

Terry looked at the door where he saw the face of Mrs. Kirchner peering with an unmistakable expression of terror ingrained into her wrinkled features. She was a hair-trigger, which could go off at any moment. The last thing that he wanted to be was to be locked into this tiny room with this horrendous book. In an almost dream state, Terry felt like an observer watching himself walk to the shelf, and wrap his cold-numbed fingers around its heavy mass, pulling it grudgingly from its resting-place. Strangely, as soon as he held the book in his hands, he felt a sense of closure. He turned and walked hastily out of the dreary room.

The monetary transaction went swiftly. Mrs. Kirchner sold the Necronomicon to Terry for much less than he was prepared to pay. Even so, he didn't feel as though he had gotten a bargain. As she took Terry's money, the aged librarian told him that she was very glad to be rid of that foul book.

"There are plenty of institutions around the world that would have given us a small fortune for it," she said. "But I don't care. I would have given it to you for free, just to have it gone, if it weren't for the fact that the library requires at least some type of payment for items sold. I'm sure nobody around here will be too upset that it is gone." She continued, "Please take that evil thing far away from here."

Not knowing what to say, Terry quickly thanked Mrs. Kirchner, then turned toward the library exit not waiting for, or expecting, or wanting a reply from the old lady. He stepped outside onto overcast Coconut Street. Only then did his fingers begin to thaw.

Alone in his hotel room later that evening, Terry Milo turned the pages of his newly acquired Necronomicon. He found that much of it was written in Latin, a language that he had become quite proficient in of late. Some Arabic writing was penciled into the margins. He was glad he had included an Arabic translation manual in his sparse luggage, comprised mostly of research material and one change of clothing.

On first inspection, the contents of the Necronomicon seemed much like the many other spell books and pagan religious manuscripts that he had studied feverishly over the last six months. Nevertheless, its presence exuded an unwritten visceral terror that was at once repulsive yet extremely addictive. Terry tried to attribute the strangeness of the book to the fact that it was bound in human skin, but he found this argument to be less than convincing. For he had a guttural affirmation that the book itself was alive somehow.

This realization became too much to consider after the events of this strenuous day. Terry forced his thoughts to his journey to Vermont six months before, where he visited in the home of his Aunt Shirley. He suspected that this was when his madness must have begun.

* * *

It was a summer evening. Fireflies floated on the warm air. Dusk revealed the beginning of a starscape that broke through what dim residue of daylight lingered on the horizon. He sat with his Aunt Shirley on the front porch of her house. Their lazy winding discussion eventually swerved its way to the subject of Grandpa Milo.

"Did you know him well?" asked Terry.

"As well as an eight year old girl can know her father," answered Aunt Shirley. "He was often away on lecture tours or working late at the university. My brothers and I were always glad to see him when he came home. He was fun to be around and he treated us all very kindly. Dad often brought his young assistant, Barnaby Soles, home with him to join us for dinner. Mr. Soles was a nice man. He would play baseball with us in the back yard. My brothers and I liked being around him when he was in a cheerful mood, but he had a darker side."

"A darker side. That sounds pretty melodramatic," Terry said, smiling. "Did he turn into a werewolf at midnight on the full moon or something?"

Aunt Shirley smiled sarcastically at Terry's remark then continued. "After dinner, and us kids had gone to bed, I could sometimes hear Dad and Mr. Soles discussing what they were working on at Miskatonic University. I rarely understood what they talked about, but I always thought it strange that my father, a physicist, had reason to work so closely with a man like Mr. Soles, who was an historian or something. That's the closest thing to a description that I can give of Mr. Soles' particular field of expertise. But, don't misunderstand, he didn't study the kind of history that you and I know. Mr. Soles studied some very strange things."

Aunt Shirley cleared her throat, then took a long sip from the cup of tea in her hand. She picked up a bottle of bourbon from the lawn table and poured a stiff belt from it into her teacup.

"You want a shot?" she asked Terry, holding the bottle up.

"No thanks," he replied, then asked, "You've certainly piqued my interest. What on earth could be so ghastly?"

Aunt Shirley leaned back in her lawn chair, and after a heavy sip from her teacup, she continued with her story.

"My father, your grandfather," she began," was drafted into the Army in 1942. They gave him the rank of full bird Colonel, something nearly unheard of for one with absolutely no military experience. They stationed him at a top secret research base in Texas named Fort Madison. It used to be near Brownsville, but it was torn down in 1944. Anyway, the last time anyone in the family ever heard from him was when he said his good-byes on the day he left for active duty."

Aunt Shirley took a strong hit from her teacup, then continued, "In the summer of 1943, two Army men visited us and told us that Dad had been killed in action. They were sympathetic with our loss and they consoled us for a while." She paused for a moment, and Terry noticed a look of bewilderment cross her face. "What happened next could have been a scene straight out of a Jekyll and Hyde story," she continued. "To this day I don't think I have gotten the sequence of events straight in my head. Everything just seems like a jumbled blur. I remember the Army men suddenly got very stern and serious. They made us sit on the floor in front of them, so they could look down at us I suppose, and I noticed for the first time that they both carried handguns. My brothers, and Mom, and I huddled closely together and listened as the Army men spoke. They told us that if we loved our country we would never mention our father again to anyone, especially his work at the university. They said we could be punished as criminals and go to jail or worse, if we did. The Army men left after that. Just walked out the door, no goodbye or anything. My brothers and me and Mom sat there on the floor where the Army men had left us, and cried. This went on for an hour, maybe longer, until it seemed there were no more tears left inside of us. Finally, Mom recovered a bit, and I asked her why we couldn't talk about daddy. She just broke into a new wave of tears. That was the point when I think we all realized that there was nothing we could possibly say or do which would improve our situation, so we hugged each other, then went to our beds and cried ourselves to sleep."

Aunt Shirley sipped from her cup, then continued, "The weeks that came after were hell, pure and simple. There wasn't a funeral, nor did any family member visit us to offer condolences. Nobody from the family even called for several months after this ordeal. I suppose the Army men got to them too. Everyone, every aunt and uncle, every nephew and red-headed stepchild in our family had been intimidated, and nobody could do a damn thing about it."

Aunt Shirley took another long sip from her teacup, then refilled it from the tea service on the table in front of her.

Even if a priest had just told him he was the bastard child of a Nazi prostitute, Terry could not have been more shocked than he was at that moment as he sat in the oak lawn chair on his Aunt Shirley's front porch in Vermont.

He didn't speak for several minutes until Aunt Shirley leaned forward and asked, "Are you still with me, Terry?"

Terry looked at her and asked, "Why would the army do that to your family? That's the most horrible thing I've ever heard."

Aunt Shirley stared into her teacup. Terry realized she wasn't ready to answer, so he sat back in the oak lawn chair with a disgruntled sigh and looked up at the twinkling nightscape.

"I'll take some of that bourbon now," he said.

Aunt Shirley handed him the bottle from the table. Terry poured until his cup was half full. He looked at it, then filled it the rest of the way. After he had situated himself in his seat again, and had taken a heavy gulp from his cup, he asked, "Is this the first time you've ever spoken of this?"

The question stirred Aunt Shirley's coals and made the sparks fly.

"Hell no!" she piped. "Maybe everybody else in the family got scared and clammed up, but I've never been one to be intimidated by anybody, including the Army."

The fire had returned to her eyes.

"Sure, I was scared for a while," she continued, "but I got over it. Then I got mad. I told you about Mr. Soles, dad's assistant at the university."

"Yes," Terry said, nodding his head.

"Well, a few years after Dad died, I was in college at Miskatonic and Mr. Soles looked me up. He took me out to dinner one night. By now he was known as Dr. Soles. That entire evening he talked about my Dad and what they had worked on at the university before Dad went into the Army. He told me they had designed a machine that could perfectly emulate human voice patterns for certain words and phrases, and that this machine could be used to summon some ancient gods called Old Ones. He told me that it could control these Old Ones, and that the machine could make them do the bidding of its user. I listened intently to Dr. Soles as he spoke nervously of this mind-warping device. Many of the things that he said reminded me of the late night conversations that he and Dad held at our home when I was a child, the ones which gave me such nightmares.

Finally, Dr. Soles grew quiet. He had spoken so intensely, and I had been so enthralled by what he had to say that when he stopped talking there was just thick silence. I didn't have a reply, so I said nothing. I mean, what do you say to this? Maybe a minute passed before I noticed Dr. Soles nervously fidgeting and ringing his hands. It became clear that he had brought me to that restaurant and informed me of all of those incredible things in order to prepare me for some revelation that he could not now bring himself to reveal. Finally, I asked him straight out what it was he wanted to say. He looked at me staunchly, then he looked around as if checking for spies, and then he leaned across the table and began to whisper. He said that the Army had captured an Old One that they called Ithaqua and was using this thing as an assassin. He told me that its first victim was my father."

* * *

The buzzing of a neon vacancy sign arising grumpily from its daytime slumber outside of Terry's Briarhaven motel room shook him from his reverie. He noticed that the sunlight no longer streamed through the edges of the closed curtains that hung loosely over a Plexiglas picture window by the door, and realized that he was very tired. Nevertheless, he knew that sleep would not come for him tonight. He didn't even entertain the thought of closing his eyes with the Necronomicon in the room.

Terry went to the table and thumbed through a pile of collected newspaper clippings about Dr. Soles, and other related items, which he had compiled over the last six months. He found a clipping that he had cut out of the Briarhaven Bee a month before. For the hundredth time he read over the article that described the condition of poor Dr. Soles' body when it was found in a rice patty in China, fully clothed and intact and frozen solid in a block of ice. This description haunted him more than anything else he had come across in his research, except for the Necronomicon itself. Terry put the article back on the table and returned to the open Necronomicon that lay on the bed. He stood looking at the book for a long time. He began to realize that all of the months of searching and studying and preparations were not motivated by his own desires. As much as he dared not believe it, Terry realized now that the Necronomicon had somehow drawn him here. He sat on the edge of the bed and turned some pages. A small piece of folded paper wedged tightly into the crack of the aged spine caught his eye. He extracted the paper and unfolded it. On it, scribbled hastily in Dr. Soles' handwriting, was an Internet address. Terry could not shake the feeling that this was a message meant especially for him by the dead Dr. Soles.

Early the next morning Terry was back in the Briarhaven Public Library. He walked past Mrs. Kirchner without speaking or looking in her direction. He went to the public computers and logged onto the Internet, then typed in the web address that he had discovered the night before in the Necronomicon. What he found there in cyberspace was the answers to all of his questions. When Terry left the Briarhaven Public Library that day, he knew precisely why he had been summoned, and that he had a job to do.

Two days later he stepped off of the Greyhound bus in Brownsville, Texas. He hadn't slept the entire trip. Instead, he read the Necronomicon. Terry removed some crumpled papers from his shirt pocket and scanned the text of the Internet web page that he had printed out. It contained the name of the suburb that had grown up around what was left of Fort Madison, over the years since 1944. Isla Del Sol, it was called. From a pay phone in the bus depot Terry called a cab, then he bought a chili dog from a nearby lunch cart and ate it while waiting for his ride. When he arrived in Isla Del Sol, he acquired a motel room on the outskirts of the middle class neighborhood. Through his motel room window, Terry could see the small unmarked building that was the only structure left on the four hundred acres of Fort Madison property. He prepared himself for what was coming.

Inside the small building, 20-year-old Corporal Roger Reeves tapped on the base commander's office door, then entered and said, "Colonel Flannagan, Captain Marshall is on line two."

"Thank you, Corporal." Colonel Flannagan picked up the phone. "Captain Marshall, did you recover the book?"

"No, sir," replied the Captain on the other end of the line, "the book is gone. It was purchased from the Briarhaven Public Library by a Terrance Albert Milo, white male, mid-thirties. He's the grandson of Colonel William Trevor Milo. The same Colonel Milo who built the machine for the project."

"Hmm, this is unexpected," replied Colonel Flannagan. "Do you know where this Terrance Milo is?"

"Not yet, sir. He stayed one night in the small motel here in Briarhaven. The motel receptionist didn't know where he went after he checked out two days ago, but she said that he came in on the bus. We are currently looking into the departure records at the bus depot and the local rental car agencies. There are no airports around here to speak of. We should know within the hour where he is headed."

Colonel Flannagan looked at his watch, then said, "It looks like we've got a loose cannon running around out there with a Necronomicon. We have to assume that he knows how to use it. Fortunately, he has no way of knowing about the project."

The line fell silent for a tense moment. Finally Captain Marshall said, "We are pretty sure that he does know, sir."

Colonel Flannagan spasmed forwards in his chair and nearly yelled into the mouthpiece of his telephone handset, "That's impossible, Captain! Tell me what you've found."

Captain Marshall continued, "I talked to the librarian who sold Milo the book. She said he returned to the library the morning after he purchased it and used the public computer to access the Internet. We checked the web browser's cache and found a web page that was put together by Dr. Soles before his termination. It lists every name and location associated with the project, as well as a chronological account of the project's entire history."

Colonel Flannagan leaned back in his chair and groaned. He knew it was probably already too late. "Find that man, Captain!"

* * *

Terry sat in the desk chair of his hotel room and whispered gravely to himself, "Now it will end." He opened the accursed book, which glowed and writhed in his hands, and in a slow and deliberate tone began quoting a passage from the Necronomicon.

At that same moment, Colonel Flannagan paced the floor of his office in the only building left on that tract of profane land that was once Fort Madison.

Although he had overseen the termination of many men, Colonel Flannagan considered himself a patriot. He felt justified for all of the murders, because his government sanctioned his actions. He had experienced the terror of releasing the Great Old One to rain its vengeance upon some unfortunate soul, whose name had landed on the secret government list of undesirables, many times before and had never grown used to it. In those times the only thread of hope that held Colonel Flannagan's sanity intact was the assurance that the machine would keep him safe. It would control the horrible blasphemy from beyond the stars.

This time it was different. Now he was the hunted. There was no bogey release protocol to follow. He could only wait and hope that Captain Marshall could recover the book before Terry Milo could use it.

"Ia! Ia! Ithaqua, Ithaqua! Ai! Ai! Ai! Ithaqua cf'ayak vulgtmm vugtlagln vulgtmm. Ithaqua fhatagn! Ugh! Ia! Ia! Ai! Ai! Ai!" chanted Terry. His lips formed the accursed words, but no longer seemed to be under his control. The voice emanating from his own mouth changed to a bass and reverberated off of the walls of the tiny motel room in a grunting, brooding sound. Terry hardly noticed these outward transformations, for his mind housed a torture chamber of horrific visions of freakishly perverted creatures from which he wanted desperately to escape. The chanting voice, no longer his, became an inebrious cacophony, a chorus of hatred and mortal death comprised of many foul voices.

In his office Colonel Flannagan could hear the music and the putrid chanting voices and the terrible wind that signaled the coming of Ithaqua. He realized that there was only one chance for his escaping with his soul intact. Colonel Flannagan unholstered his service revolver and inserted the barrel into his mouth. The cold steel bore heavily down upon his tongue.

Into a dusty corner of his motel room, Terry crawled, his mind completely absorbed by the rotten sounds and heretical visions that pounded relentlessly in his brain. He watched the unspeakable carnage that he had summoned play grotesquely out through the window before him. The wind was deafening, but the air was curiously still, except for the awful floating apparitions that had appeared. Some of them took form and materialized into hellish creatures that slithered and writhed in maddening pulsating globs of a putrid jelly-like substance on the floor around him, and they mocked him. Just their presence was an affront, and a mockery to humanity and all of its pompous self-absorption.

The explosion blew Colonel Flannagan's mouth open and the bullet from his service revolver crashed through the back of his neck leaving him paralyzed, yet conscious. The pistol's recoil smashed his front teeth to glassy particles that mixed with the torrent of blood that ran into his throat, choking him. He watched from the floor, where he had collapsed, as the office window shattered violently inward, covering him with shards of glass. The vile chorus and the terrible wind were so deafening that his ears bled. He wanted desperately to cover them, but he could not move his arms. His body no longer responded to the fearful impulse to run, which his shocked brain tried desperately to send through his severed spinal cord.

Colonel Flannagan lay helpless on the floor looking into the burning cold eyes of his former prisoner, who stared back at him through the broken window. Now awakened from its imprisonment by the machine, Ithaqua was the incarnation of vengeance. It was cold in the room, freezing. Ice formed on the fragments of jagged glass left in the windowpane and glistened like the edge of a blue cold razor. The beast stood on the other side, framed like a painting of an evil messenger bearing news of destruction and death. Even though his body was effectively numb, Colonel Flannagan could feel the beast's black hatred saturate the essence of his soul.

* * *

Months later, another Vermont summer evening, much like the one before, found Terry and Aunt Shirley again sipping tea and bourbon on her front porch. They discussed Terry's journey.

"There was nothing left?" asked Aunt Shirley.

"No, nothing," replied Terry. "The beast took every last man and piece of equipment with it when it went up into the sky. It even snowed for a while. In the middle of summer, it snowed."

"And what of the creatures, the ones in your motel room?" she asked.

"The last thing I remember is waking up in the corner of the room. It was afternoon. There was nothing left that even hinted at the awful events that had taken place the night before. That is not to say that I didn't feel the horrible effects of it, for my mood was dark. I thought my body was covered in some kind of rancid mucus that permeated everything about me. Strangely, my skin was dry to the touch. I felt filthy inside, as if my soul had been indelibly stained with an evil rotten spot. I showered for nearly an hour, but the blackness within could not be washed away with water. Yet there was something more, a feeling that, even now, pulls at me and tantalizes me. It isn't a bad feeling, even though I know that it originates from the purest of evils. It's the book. It has power that is unimaginable. If I told you of some of the things that I suspect about that book, you would probably have me committed. It's a hateful, terrible heresy to mankind, but . . ." Terry trailed off into quiet introspection.

Finally, Aunt Shirley asked, "What about the book?"

Terry thought for a moment longer, then said, "It was doing what it had to do, protecting its own. It summoned me, because my mind was open to it. The story you told me last summer about grandpa Milo must have affected me in some way that made me accessible to it. That story really upset me, you know."

"Obviously," answered Aunt Shirley. "Where is the book now?" she asked.

Terry smiled darkly, then took another sip of tea. "It is safe, for now."

Send your comments to Jeff Miller


© 1999 Edward P. Berglund
"The Project": © 1999 Jeff Miller. All rights reserved.
Graphics © 1999 Erebus Graphic Design. All rights reserved. Email to: James V. Kracht.

Created: March 12, 1999; Updated: August 9, 2004