By Their smell can men sometimes know Them near, but of Their semblance can no man know, saving only in the features of those They have begotten on mankind; and of those there are many sorts, differing in likeness from man's truest eidolon to that shape without sight or substance which is Them. They walk unseen and foul in lonely places where the Words have been spoken and the Rites howled through at their Seasons. The wind gibbers with Their voices, and the earth mutters with Their consciousness.
-- The Necronomicon
The lighthouse was a steal. Sure, it needed a little fixing up. "Handyman's Special" was how the realty company had listed the quaint brick cylinder. Howard knew "Handyman's Special" was realty-speak for "Sucker's Money-Pit." This was his fifth lighthouse in the last two years and he had come to understand realty-speak, and realtors quite well. He had purchased what lighthouses he could, the first in Northern California, three in Washington state, and now this one, in the small town of Timber Bay on Oregon's South coast.
He still hadn't found what he had been looking for.
Howard Flips had been many things in his forty years, nothing serious mind you, manual labor of course was below someone like Howard, but then again, when waiting for an inheritance, one can't be too picky about how one earns a living in the meantime. He'd been a librarian's assistant in Massachusetts in the 80's, a ship's cook on board a South Seas cruise ship for most of the 90's, and then it had happened. After overcoming colon cancer, prostate cancer, three strokes, a triple bypass, and the loss of most of his sight and all of his hearing, Howard's father had finally passed away.
He had choked on a chicken bone.
Then the glorious day had arrived. Howard sat in the law offices of Leach, Kling, Hammar and Kleever as Hubris Leach, his father's attorney of sixty years, informed Howard that he had inherited a sum of money somewhere in the vicinity of ten or twelve million dollars, presented him with a check in the amount of eight million dollars, and said the rest would follow pending the liquidation of all assets as per his father's specific instructions.
Eight million dollars.
Howard had plans. They had been forming since he had been helping out in the library at Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts in the 80's. Howard had read in an obscure text in an even more obscure manuscript written sometime during World War II known as the Book of Hidden Numbers, (a weighty tome which Howard had discovered alongside such dreaded volumes as the Necronomicon, the Cultes des Goules, the Revelations of Glaaki, and the Book of Eibon, all of which were kept under lock and key at the university library) of a chamber deep in the bowels of a lighthouse somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. A chamber with a tide pool, which led into an underwater cavern filled with creatures that would bestow immortality upon any and all who would agree to feed them. These creatures could not venture out of their underground dwellings to gather the unnamed food they needed to flourish. Yet, if they did not receive this food, they would go dormant, and that is what the manuscript said had happened in the early twentieth century.
According to the text, the lighthouse keeper had accidentally discovered the cavern at an unusually low tide cycle, had encountered the creatures, which the text did not describe other than to call them "horrific" and "ghastly," and there they offered him their deal. Regular feedings for immortality. The keeper agreed, and was able to continue feeding them until his disappearance in 1928. Howard didn't know if they had acquired a new servant, the lighthouse keeper was never seen again, and the book had no copyright date, only that it had been printed in Berlin in the 30's. There was no further mention of the lighthouses or the creatures in the book.
The fact that the lighthouse keeper had disappeared made Howard wonder if the lure of immortality offered by the creatures was genuine or just a dangling carrot. It didn't matter, Howard meant to find out either way. He was drawn to the idea. He was obsessed with it. He had even dreamed about it numerous times. Strange dreams of underwater cities of alien origin, and whispering voices speaking unheard languages, chanting unknown incantations designed to foster an atmosphere conducive to the bringing forth of some great and dreadful being. He actually considered the search for the chamber beneath the lighthouse a Higher Calling. And so upon receiving his inheritance, he made a decision to tour all of the lighthouses in the Pacific Northwest, buying any and all of them that he could, and searching for the underground chamber. But until that particular autumn afternoon his search had turned up nothing but moss-covered brick towers which the Coast Guard had made obsolete with their newfangled aids to navigation, or forgotten lighthouses that had been replaced by newer, more modern structures.
But no hidden chamber.
And no creatures.
Howard slid the old-fashioned skeleton key into the rusty lock which made a low grating sound, and found to his surprise that it turned quite easily. He pushed open the old wooden door a little harder than he probably should have and the door swung open and crashed against the stone wall inside with a loud bang. There was suddenly what sounded like a fluttering of feathers overhead and Howard assumed that there was probably a whole community of bats or pigeons, or both, living in the long-abandoned lighthouse. No matter, he had no plans to move in.
Not yet anyway.
In comparison to the other lighthouses that Howard had visited in the previous months, this one was actually well lit. Long horizontal windows spiraled upward, following the narrow stairway as it wound its way around the inner walls of the old building, allowing the sun to penetrate the damp air that lingered inside. But it wasn't the lighting that struck Howard as strange; for indeed, as soon as he had stepped inside the lighthouse he could actually feel a difference from all of the other lighthouses that he had seen; but it was the absence of something so common in old buildings that one could easily overlook it, if one were not observant.
But Howard was an observant fellow.
He stamped his feet on the ground a few times and looked up at the windows, waiting. But what he was looking for was not there. There were no dust motes flitting in the rays of sunshine that spilled in through the narrow windows. No dust motes. None. Every old building he had searched had millions of dust motes swirling into the beams of sunshine that streamed through their ancient panes of glass. But not here. The place was mildewed and damp and wet and slippery and just plain cold. The chill seemed to permeate everything. Outside the temperature was a wondrous 65 degrees, but within the walls of that ancient tower of light it could easily have been half that. He started to walk further inside to get a look around and slipped. If anyone had been watching he probably would have looked like a beginning ice skater trying to keep his balance. He steadied himself by putting one hand against the wall and his hand sank into a slick, sticky substance. He quickly yanked it away. He brought the open palm to his face and sniffed.
That was the first time he threw up that day.
He tried his handkerchief, but the only thing that came off of the palm of his left hand and into the handkerchief was that horrible odor. He walked carefully over to a nearby table and tried scraping his hand clean on its edge. That helped a little. As a kid he used to smear rubber cement all over the palms of his hands and then peel it off after it had dried, making little sticky rubber balls. This stuff reminded Howard of that rubber cement, only this substance was a lot more mucilaginous. He pulled his pocket knife out of . . . his pocket and tried scraping the stuff off that way. That worked much better, and in a few minutes he had succeeded in getting most of the gummy substance off of his hand. But it was now all over the blade of his knife and so he simply left the knife on the table.
After all, the place was his. And he could afford a new knife.
A feeling of . . . separateness . . . suddenly came over Howard. This lighthouse felt more like . . . a holy place than an ancient warning beacon. Not "holy" in the Judeo-Christian sense of the word, but more in its meaning of sacredness. The ancient Greek and Hebrew words for "Holy" actually meant "set aside; separate." That's what this place felt like . . . holy . . . yet . . . not a good holy, more like a bad holy; a malevolent sinister evil lingered in every particle of non-dust-moted air, a diabolic ambiance that saturated every atom, every cell. Could it be possible?
Could this be the place?
A shiver ran up Howard's back and he tried not to get his hopes up. After buying five lighthouses and exploring three times as many, he had almost started to feel as if the Book of Hidden Numbers was just a hoax. A so-called sacred text created to part the proverbial fool and his proverbial money. But he just couldn't shake that feeling of . . .
If any place he had visited had ever exuded a wisp of anticipation and the apprehension of the object of Howard's quest, this one did. This one seemed to say, Come Howard! Come inside and find your . . .
Destiny . . . ?
Yes. Destiny. For the first time since stepping inside, Howard took a good look around. He stuffed his hands inside the pockets of his London Fog and sniffed, curls of steam spiraled out of his nostrils as he exhaled. The round room was bare save the desk which held Howard's now defiled blade. The floor was covered with a dark green algae of some sort, no doubt the cause of Howard's slip; the walls were bare, except in spots here and there was the sticky essence that had befouled Howard's palm. Upon closer inspection he noticed that the sticky stuff on the walls seemed to be a series of blotches the size of a human head. Furthermore they seemed to be evenly spaced apart, almost like . . . footprints, or hand prints, or . . .
Howard blinked. On the far side of the room he spotted a rusted iron ring laying on the concrete floor. He went over to it and saw the outline of some type of trap door surrounding the ring.
"Howard," a voice whispered over his shoulder.
Howard spun around. "What's that? Who's there?" The open door that he had entered stood out like a bright green rectangle, as Howard saw the bushes outside the lighthouse reflecting the afternoon sun standing, in stark contrast to the grey walls surrounding it. But there was no reply to his inquiry.
He continued to stare at the open door, but there was nothing there, only the overgrown blackberry vines that wound their way up the litter of pines that surrounded the lighthouse. He bent over and grabbed hold of the iron ring and gave it a slow steady pull. At first he thought that it was not going to budge, but when he had heard a slippery sucking noise, like the sound a foot makes when pulled out of deep mud, he went at it with a gusto that was actually surprising to him, and the door opened.
It was a heavy door, no question about that, but Howard had not even so much as found a basement in any of the lighthouses he had inspected previously, and like the petite mothers who lifted cars off of their newborn infants, Howard threw the door open without so much as a grunt. The black aperture gaped at him, beckoning.
"Howard." The whispering voice seemed to beckon from deep within the darkened tunnel.
Howard pulled out his flashlight and turned it on, shining the beam of light down into an abyss of moss-covered stone steps and various fungi clinging to water-soaked walls. Without hesitation Howard began carefully descending the steps. His heart began beating faster, he could actually feel it increase in its palpitations. His blood pulsed loud in his ears. His mouth went dry. Could this be it? Could this really be the place? Howard tried desperately to fight off the instinct to cry, Eureka! I've found it! But he would not allow himself to be disappointed so bitterly, he had searched too long, come too far, drank too many espresso's with over-the-hill real estate saleswomen with their dyed and sprayed hair, fake fingernails and pancake make-up, spent too much money in search of this . . . this . . . what was he searching for, anyway? He had almost forgotten, the purpose lingering on the fringes of his consciousness . . . Ah yes! Servanthood for immortality, that was it! He had certainly come too far to let emotions lead him now. He must remain calm, cool-headed, reserved. After all, if it was all true, he would need to make a good impression.
Of course. So he stopped on the steps and closed his eyes. He breathed in and out, practicing the relaxation techniques he had learned from the tapes he had in his glove compartment. In and out. Slowly, deliberately. In . . . hold for five seconds. Out . . . exhale for ten. In . . . out . . . in . . . out. There, that was better, he felt ready to continue.
Get a grip man. Do you think they'll take an emotionally unstable applicant seriously?
They didn't have to know he had been on antidepressants for months. Howard opened his eyes and peered down the beam of his flashlight into the bowels of the lighthouse. In the orifice there was only blackness, and the occasional ears of rippling fungus that grew out of the old bricks like warts. Something was different here. The air was actually getting warmer, yet at the same time that musty, nauseating odor that had filled his nostrils upstairs earlier was increasing. It was almost as if . . .
As if something actually lived down there.
By his own count Howard had descended two dozen steps when the trap door above him slammed shut. His ears popped, like when he would slam the door in his Volkswagen Beetle, and he winced at the pain.
No turning back now Howard.
Panic raced from his head to his chest and dropped into his knees like a jolt of high voltage. Howard's first instinct was to race back up the stairs, to somehow muster the strength to throw that massive trap door open and flee. Just run. It didn't matter where, just as long as it was far away from this place. Forget the money and the years he had spent in search of. . .
Just forget it.
But though he actually tried, he couldn't move. He was literally, and for the first time in all of his life, . . . paralyzed . . . incapacitated. If the Hordes of Hell had come bounding up those lichen-covered stairs he would be fortunate to even be able to let out a scream, much less try to defend himself, or attempt escape. And so Howard Flips stood there in the dank darkness. Unable to move, unable to speak, unable to do anything except perhaps let his bladder flow freely, against his will, of course. But that didn't happen. Instead, the wave of fear passed, the panic subsided like a receding tide in a time-lapsed film. And Howard was again . . . Howard. Out of habit, and an unconscious attempt at self-comfort, he adjusted his glasses on the bridge of his nose, sniffed, and stretched.
That was better. He was ready to continue.
Who locked you in here Howard?
Howard pushed the thought away. It didn't matter. He was certain that he had found what he had been looking for. He continued his descent, calmly. When he had counted seventy-five steps, he found that he had reached the bottom, or a bottom. In the distance he could hear water drip-dripping, as from a ceiling into a pool beneath. His light beam pierced the darkness, and he saw that there was a passageway. Not a natural formation, but a tunnel that had actually been dug. By human hands.
Well, Howard assumed that the hands that created this tunnel were human.
He proceeded down the narrow passageway; the fungi was thick along the walls, the stone floor was slick, and deep green. He rounded a turn and thought he saw a dim glow further down the tunnel. He stopped for a moment, switching off his flashlight and taking in his claustrophobic surroundings. There was indeed a greenish-yellow radiance off in the distance, and the sound of dripping water grew louder. He thought he heard something shuffling down the steps behind him. And then a thought struck. . . .
How can you be so sure that whatever shut that trapdoor isn't locked in here with you?
The time-lapsed film ran again and the tide of fear rose. Howard turned on his flashlight and shined its beam behind him, in the direction of the alleged noise. But there was nothing there. At least nothing he could see. He turned back around and walked toward the glow. Seconds later he found himself entering a large cavern. Splinters of sunlight sliced through the darkness at various points along one high wall, as if cracks and crevices in the cliffs that lined the ocean had purposely allowed air and light into this abysmal asylum, to nurture, or at the very least, allow to exist, some type of life forms.
The sunlight splashed on the algae-covered walls of the cavern like vandal's paint. Water dripped from overhead and landed in what Howard now saw was a small pool. A tide pool no doubt, being this close to the ocean. Howard knelt and scooped up some water, tasting his fingers. Yes. It was salt water.
This has to be it! This has to be the cave! he thought. He shut off his flashlight and let his eyes adjust to the light. As he stood there in the semi-darkness, he tried to remember what he had done with that transcript from the Book of Hidden Numbers that explained this place. He felt around in his pockets and finally found the crumpled piece of notebook paper that he had been carrying around for years. He couldn't remember the last time he had actually read the passage, and so was glad that he had found the transcript. He opened it up, switched his flashlight back on, and read:
Should they not receive their food on a regular basis, they will lapse into a dormant sleep, until the Time. This would be devastating to the cause of the Great Old Ones, and cannot be accepted in any way. There are two who are responsible for their safety and flourishing. The first is the human servant, the lighthouse keeper, whoever that may be. He must be recruited and ordained into service, his pay is the promise of immortality. The second one is the Thing from Between. He is the recruiter. He cannot venture out for the food, yet he cannot join the cavern dwellers, because of his nature. He is more foul and terrible than the cavern dwellers, and cannot be trusted to insure the lighthouse keeper's safety. Therefore, a fail-safe has been put into place. Should the servant lighthouse keeper ever be found missing, and the dwellers begin their lapse into dormancy, then the call will go out into the subconscious mind of a chosen recruit. And he shall find them, and he shall revive them.
The Thing from Between? Be recruited? The call? . . . he couldn't remember reading that part before. Howard became confused. He was certain he had never read that passage before. He only remembered that the text told of the hidden cavern and the needed lighthouse keeper. There was no mention of a "Thing from Between" . . . that he could remember. It was as if . . .
A noise came from down the passageway from which he had emerged. Was there really someone, or some-thing between him and the trap door? Howard furrowed his brow. His ears began to ring and the air suddenly seemed charged with electricity. He backed away from the entrance to the tunnel and pressed himself against a wet wall. He could feel the water soaking through his trench coat, through his shirt, and finally into his skin, and a chill ran through his body.
There was no doubt in his mind now, there was something coming down the passageway. But it was not footsteps that he heard, but rather a slithering, sucking sound, as if a dwarf with a limp was slowly dragging a drenched quilt across a rough surface. The sound was getting closer, and it was all Howard could do to keep from screaming maniacally and diving into the dark tide pool at his feet. He bit down on his clenched fist, and raised his darkened flashlight above his head, as if that might protect him from . . . that . . . thing.
His eyes were fully adjusted to the dimly lit cavern and locked on the
doorway to the tunnel. The noise grew louder, and then stopped.
Nothing came out of the portal.
Howard held his breath and watched. But nothing happened. Minutes passed. Still nothing. Soon, Howard's arm began to cramp from holding his flashlight above his head and so he lowered his arm. But he dared not switch on the light, or move. Maybe whatever it was stopped its pursuit of Howard because it could no longer hear him, or see his flashlight beam. Maybe it turned around and left. Maybe . . .
It's still there, Howard.
This time Howard didn't push the thoughts away, instead, he decided to just let them flow. Perhaps they could actually help him, perhaps they would be his only salvation. He thought that whatever it was in the tunnel might possibly be waiting for him to present himself as a recruit. Yes! Maybe that it was it! Maybe it wasn't going to hurt him at all, but was just simply waiting for him to come forward and say "Here I am!" After all, didn't the text talk about a recruiter?
The water in the tide pool splashed.
Howard jerked in a spasm of fear, and let out a scream that no matter how hard he tried he could not contain. The water went still as the ripples lapped the dark rocky shore at Howard's feet. Then with a great splashing and sloshing of water something jumped from the tide pool to the floor next to Howard. It was like a man, yet unlike any man that he had ever seen. It raised itself up on two feet and was taller than Howard by a good yard. It was humanoid in shape, with two legs, two long and lanky arms that ended in webbed, spindly, claw-tipped fingers, a long slim torso, and sitting atop a bull-like neck was an elongated head, with two large round orbs where eyes should be, two tiny slits for a nose, and a long, ear-to-ear slice for a mouth. Its rubbery skin glistened in the little light that the cracks in the cliffs allowed through. It had webbed feet, not unlike those of a frog or a toad. But the most striking thing to Howard was the smell. Mists of the foul effluvium drifted off the top of its head. And for the second time that day, Howard vomited, all over the feet of the creature that stood before him.
When he looked up, Howard saw the creature looking over at the entrance to the tunnel, and it barked. The sound was like a cross between a lion's roar, and a lap dog's yap. Howard heard the slithering sucking noise in the tunnel again, this time growing fainter, as whatever it was in that dark hallway was retreating. The tall creature swung its head around and stooped down, putting its reptilian face mere inches from Howard's. Howard tried breathing through his mouth only, to avoid the smell, but it was no use, and he bent over and threw up again. When he looked up the creature was still there, still stooped, still in his face. Its tiny nostril slits expanded and contracted as it moved its head over the top of Howard's scalp, it was smelling him. Howard was in such a state of shock, fear, and panic, that once again, he found himself paralyzed.
Is this really happening to me? he thought.
Then, another voice spoke in his head, like his own thoughts, yet it was not his voice. "Yes, Howard, it is happening. Did you not present yourself here for consideration of service?"
Howard let out a yelp and fell to his knees.
This time the creature spoke out of its mouth. "Would you prefer," it croaked, "that I speak to you in this manner?" Howard saw rows and rows of nail-like teeth lining the creature's jaws. And he nodded rapidly, actually meaning to shake his head, he did not want to see those teeth or smell that putrid breath again. "Very well then." It grunted and continued. "You obviously believe, Howard, or you would not be here."
"How do you know my name?" Howard stammered.
"Because we have been calling you, Howard. You were chosen."
"I didn't hear anyone calling me."
"Come now, Howard, stop with all of this foolishness. Do you wish to serve us, or not?"
Howard was silent for a moment, and in the distance, he thought he heard the slithering noise. "Yes."
"Very well then," it croaked, and reached one of its long hands down and wrapped itself around the top of Howard's skull. Sparks floated into Howard's peripheral vision, and then he blacked out.
When he awoke, Howard was in a room at the top of the lighthouse. It was still daylight, of course, but Howard wasn't sure if still was the proper term to use, for he had no idea how many days he had been unconscious or how he had gotten up to the top of the lighthouse. He ran his hand across his chin and noticed that he had grown a full beard. His clothes were tattered and torn.
He looked at his hands and they were filthy. His fingernails were long and caked with a dark substance. He was abruptly becoming aware that a considerable length of time had actually passed.
"How long have, Iā!," Howard started, but was stopped in mid-sentence. There was a small wooden trap door in the floor, no doubt the access to the stairs, and Howard's attention was drawn to it because it was creaking open.
"Don't worry, Howard," he heard a whispering voice say. "You have served well, and this won't hurt a bit." Howard watched the trap door open, and saw a long tentacle, like that of a giant octopus come slithering rapidly from the crack toward his face.
It wrapped itself around Howard's neck and squeezed. His spectacles fell to the floor.
And Howard slipped into the promised immortality.
Created: May 3, 2003; Updated: August 9, 2004