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Chapter 11

Quickly I run into the bathroom to compose myself, to think of some sort of reason why I have to go out tonight and meet with this group of people, put a high-powered bullet into some world-destroying monster. I flip the exhaust fan on to provide some white noise, which will drown out the voices of my wife and son. My mind is racing, but I usually, on instinct, am honest about where I’m going and what I’m doing. It is not easy for me to fabricate complicated lies. Usually when I am dishonest it is though omission. I am simply not very devious. I like things simple. I have no joy in the complexity that dishonesty requires. I finally realize that this will be my salvation. I will simply tell Molly that I really want to go out and meet with some people tonight at a pub called Paige’s.I pause for a moment to try to figure out whether she can derail that line of thought with a well-aimed question of some sort. I decide that my little half-truth is completely unworkable, because I am not the type of person who usually goes out to bars with friends. Wait a minute. One time I did such a thing in graduate school because I was trying to make friends, and she encouraged that. I had a lousy time, but maybe there is some way to get her thinking of that time. Think, think, think, think. . . .I wonder for a moment if I should tell her that I forgot about an appointment I made earlier in the week, and can’t back out of it now. Yeah, that’s the ticket. I could say that I agreed to meet with this grant-maker, who, um, say, Ned said would be in town only tonight, and it is a really excellent potential relationship for the University. Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. This guy could be from Washington, DC. And maybe this guy is willing to fund some aquaculture stuff and wants to hear about other things the University is doing, so Ned asked me if I could be there to explain the lay of the land. Yes, this is definitely a good one. I just need a name for the foundation, something that she wouldn’t check up on. No, wait, I don’t remember the name of it. Better yet, Ned didn’t remember the name of it. But he wanted us to meet at this pub, so I’m really sorry.I think this will work. It won’t, I’ll be caught, and then I’ll have to tell the truth and then what will happen? What if Molly insists upon calling the police? Then the police take us all away until the Shoggoth gets loose and the world comes to an end and we are all eaten by horrible monsters?I feel like I’m going to throw up. I wash my face and go through a few more iterations of this cyclical mess, my expensively educated brain no more use to me than a hammer in this situation. I look in the mirror and my face is completely pale. There’s a knock at the bathroom door.

“Neal, are you all right in there?”

“Yeah, I’ll be right out,” I claim, though I’m not sure I’ll come out at all, having said it out loud. Finally I decide, as with most things in my marriage and family life, that I will do best by just wading in and seeing what will happen. There may be fireworks or a firestorm, but eventually everything seems to work out O.K.

I rush over to where my son is, first. “Hey, Bubby, did you have fun?”

“Dat,” he says, pointing at a can of mixed peas and carrots, his favorites.

“Sure, you can have some, let me open them up,” I say and immediately I am sorry, because Molly is shaking her head.

“I told him he couldn’t have any more, because it is past time for his afternoon nap and he had some French fries in the car.”

“Sorry,” I say, and I mean it, although I feel like I have made him a promise now and don’t know what to do.

“Ned called for you when you were in the bathroom.”

The world wobbles once again. I look at her and try to play the whole thing cool. “What did he want?”

“He wanted to know when you were going to be at the lab,” she says, and my position isn’t getting any better here.

“Oh, sorry about that. He called earlier . . .”

“Yeah, he told me all about it. I was sorry to hear about his squid. University students can be so cruel.”

I nod, not having any idea where this is going to take me, but hoping I can forge ahead with vagueness for a few more exchanges.

“Anyway, I didn’t know what to tell him, so you probably ought to call and let him know.”

She gives me that little half-smile that is an attempt to make it less offensive that she is reminding me to do something I should already be doing. She goes to put the kid, who is now crying because he has been promised peas and carrots that he may not have, down for his nap.

I reach for the phone and dial Ned’s lab. Marisa answers again.

“Hi Marisa.”

“Hello, Neal. We figured you might need an excuse to get away. So just listen and say ‘Mmmm’ every once and a while. We already told Molly that we had called you at the last minute to meet with a prospective funder and that your ideas this week on our project were really helpful. We told her that your intuitive grasp of the interdisciplinary benefits of our working together, and your inherent skepticism are going to bring great things to this University. We told her that we hoped to get together with the two of you soon, too, and that we had some suggestions for babysitters, and a bunch of other stuff that doesn’t matter. So here’s what does matter. We are not actually able to leave the lab right now. We barely made it into the lab without being seen. There are people all over campus, and animals as well.”

“Animals?”

“Neal, you are to say ‘hmmmm,’ nought else. There are like, herds, of groundhogs, dogs, birds, and other critters running around campus right now. We’re hoping that things will quiet down, but while we were running to the lab from the car we saw a bunch of stray cats chasing a group of students into the dorms.”

“Hmmm. Uh huh.”

“You got it, Neal. Look, the power has been cut, too. In the dorms and in many of the campus buildings. I don’t think this is really a good place for us to meet.”

“Nolan suggested Paige’s.”

“Nolan, the painter.”

“Yeah, he’s in with us now. Do you know Paige’s?”

Silence for a second, then “Ned does.”

“So if you can get away, we can meet there. If not, maybe we can come and get you. Do you have a good charge on your phone?”

“Yeah, we’ve got some generator power that couldn’t be cut, the tanks, you know. So Ned rigged his charger to it.”

“Let me give you Nolan’s number,” I say, and just after I give it to her Molly is back and I have to shut up again.

Marisa says “we’ll try to figure out some things while we’re here. The experiment was somewhat successful, by the way.”

“Oh, good, well I’ll come to you for all of my ink needs.”

“Hope to see you or hear from you soon. I told Molly—she seems nice, by the way—that you’d have to be leaving soon and would be back, we promised, by ten-thirty.”

“Ten-thirty. Right.”

I put the phone back on the cradle. Molly collapses on the couch and I begin a round of apologies for all the screw-ups I have committed since she got home. She waves me off and I realize that I am one lucky guy. And it is strange to feel lucky about deceiving the one you love so that you can go kill an ancient mind-manipulating monster, but there it is.

I grab a sport coat, thinking that it will look like I am dressing up a little while also potentially offering a place to hide a gun, if Nolan should have such a thing. And after kissing the boy and then the wife goodbye I grab the cell-phone and head out the door.

I drive around a little bit until I find a place to park and then call Nolan.

“Nolan, it’s me, Neal.”

“Hey,” he says, slurring a little bit, “Neal, I’d like you to meet my friend Ronnie. Ronnie say hi.” Ronnie says just that and then Nolan takes the phone back.

“Nolan, some things have changed a little.”

“Damn right things have changed a little. Me an’ Ronnie were just on campus, and things are getting’ kind active.”

“Why were you on campus?”

“Reconnoiterin’, sir,” he shouts into the phone. I begin to wonder if he is going to be any help at all, drunk and disorderly. But I really have little choice at this point.

“My friends are on campus, in the biology building. They’re sort of trapped, actually. You think we can get them out?”

“Sure can. Can do, sir.”

“Could we meet right now?”

“Yep, we’re at Paige’s and you can come on over. Paige! He yells, “I’ll take one of those for the doctor I been tellin’ you about. He’ll be here in just a sec.”

“Okay, Nolan, I’ll be right there.”

Continued

I pull up to Paige’s and was a little surprised to see several open parking spaces on the street. It seems to be the type of place that catered to the locals who lived downtown, the ones in the projects, or the ones in the new and expensive condos they were making by restoring old mill buildings. Then I realize that many of these are rented by artists. Some of them have twelve-foot ceilings and can handle heavy equipment without bothering the neighbors and are let as “Artist’s Lofts.” Maybe this is an artist’s hangout of some sort.Many people wouldn’t want to park on the street, which is narrow through there, fearing that somebody would hit their car on the way through, driving by feel on a Saturday night. I’ve never been that particular about the exterior of my car, though. I’m much more worried about somebody cutting the brake cables or something at this point, so the street suits me fine, right under a light.I walk in an notice that it is one of those places that still allows people to smoke. It has been so long since I went into a pub or a bar that I had forgotten they still exist. In fact, my reflexes have been so attuned to keep a blank facial expression when running into those clouds that have cropped up in front of entrances to University buildings that I don’t flash my annoyance at the cloud that greets me at the door—Marlboro with a trace of Borkum Riff, perhaps.

When my eyes adjust, but before they begin to water, I see Nolan, with his friend, in the back of what seems to be an empty pub. The walls are of wooden paneling with dozens, perhaps hundreds of paintings, drawings, cartoons, even some calligraphy, I notice, hung floor to ceiling, all over it. They don’t festoon the walls so much as bury them, and they all seem to be covered with a nicotine patina by which they can be dated.

I wave at Nolan and try not to duck under the cloud, even though I can see that the air looks considerably clearer half-way to the floor.

“Hey, Nolan. How’s it going?”

“Good. Neal, Travis; Travis, Neal.”

“Travis, did Nolan tell you anything already about what we’re here for?”

“Did more than that,” barks Nolan. “We were on campus about half an hour ago.”

Travis nods silently, holding onto a mug of beer with both hands. He looks to be a little younger than Nolan, maybe in his late thirties, tough to tell what kind of work he’s in, doesn’t dress like Nolan, who dresses like a group of housepainters found a derelict artist outside freezing to death and, feeling sorry for him, gave him their winter outerwear. Clean-shaven and not smoking—or smoking second-hand to Nolan’s first so that he can keep both hands on the beer–he seems more put-together, a refugee from the home-improvement channel, perhaps.

“So, what did you see?”

“Saw enough to be in on whatever you got planned,” Nolan says, but I’m hoping to get some commitment from Travis, so I look at him instead of Nolan and he simply nods again. That will have to do, I guess.

“Well, what’s happening there?”

“You go anywhere near the hill and you get attacked by animals,” he says.

I nod, thinking of Ned and Marisa holed up in the biological sciences building.

“Most of the lights are out, ‘cept at the top, where they are trying to get the drill up and running.”

“So it is a drill.”

“Yep,” Travis finally pipes up. “I worked on one just like it once, down in Louisiana. From what we could see I’d say they’re going to have it up and running in maybe a few hours. Six, maybe.”

“Is it the kind they use for drilling for oil, then?”

“Oh, yeah.” He nods again. “It’s a beefy one, too.”

“We got a pretty close look at it, too, afore we was chased off,” Nolan adds.

“How did you guys get out unharmed,” I ask. But the real question almost chases that one out of my mouth, but I’m afraid to say it. I’m trying to figure out how come these guys, and Ned and Marisa, for that matter, aren’t pulled into this Old One’s orbit. Why don’t they become its servants like everybody else?

“We was armed,” Nolan says while I’m thinking these thoughts. He pulls a black bag from under the table of the booth and sets it on top with a clank. I look around for the bartender, but she, or he, is nowhere in sight. Guns make me so uncomfortable, so nervous. I had a cousin who shot part of his arm off cleaning one once, and he seemed really careful. Maybe he was only really careful after the accident, but it happens to so many people. Something that powerful and dangerous just seems to have a mind of its own.

“Check this baby out,” Nolan says as he reaches into the bag, but I hold my hands up to tell him I believe him, that he doesn’t need to show me, and he stops for a second.

“So, what? You waved a gun at people to make them leave you alone? I don’t get it.”

“No, you don’t,” Nolan says, looking a little offended, and reaches into the bag again, pulling out the strangest looking gun I had ever seen. It has a huge barrel and several containers sticking off at odd angles. I can’t imagine what it is, but it doesn’t look legal at all.

“Jesus, Nolan, what is that thing?”

“Paintball gun. We didn’t have to wave it at anybody. Critters just come anywhere near us, we put a nice even coat on ‘em. Or try to. They don’t stick around for long enough to make sure.”

“Paintball gun. I get it.” My fears that these two are double agents lightens a little. They could hardly be working for this old one. Maybe it found them inadequate servants. Maybe it can’t work with crazy people. But the animals seem to do whatever it wants them to.

“So the animals get the hint when you shoot at them?” They both nod and Travis laughs. “What about the ones that you don’t manage to actually hit?”

“With most of them it was like they’re walking around in a trance or something. Sleepwalking, or flying or scamperin’. Once we unloaded a few dozin rounds they started acting like animals usually do. Except when we got really close to the Four.”

By “The Four,” Nolan meant the four Anthropology buildings that were built close together in a group during the 1970s, the heyday of this particular field of study on this particular campus.

“When we got over there they didn’t act like normal animals, but they couldn’t really coordinate very well neither. They would come at us, but slowly. We shot at a few of them, but we saw some people coming and high-tailed it out of there.”

“Okay, Nolan, Quillan is going to call in a little bit and then we’ll know a little more. What I know now is that the well is the real danger here.” I explain to both of them about the Old One, who has been getting more powerful and has begun to bend his efforts to unleashing his servant underground, the Shoggoth. I tell him of the danger of getting too close to the Old One but the absolute necessity of killing it, and then stopping the drilling.

And then I float a few ideas past them. “It seems to me that from a distance this Old One is able to control people and animals as if they were dreaming somehow. But when you guys shot paintballs at them, they snapped out of their dreams.”

“Sure did!” Travis says, chuckling. Nolan chuckles along with him.

“But when you guys got close enough, it could control the creatures directly, only not as easily, or as well.”

“Sounds right.”

I pause for a second, trying to think of how to phrase my next question. “I don’t understand how come it doesn’t affect you guys,” I finally say, looking at Nolan and then I pointedly look at Travis, who Nolan characterized earlier as a follower. I couldn’t remember his actual words, but they seemed to add up to “easily led.”

“Well, I think we’ve got an answer for that.”

“I’d really like to hear it.”

“When we first started up the hill, Travis started acting funny.” Travis seems embarrassed at this, and looks down at his beer. Then he picks it up and takes a big swig from the mug. But I didn’t feel nothin’, so we backed off a little. Now Travis, he doesn’t drink.”

I look over at him as he wipes the foam from his mouth, sets the mug down and holds his right hand up as if ready to take the Boy Scouts pledge. “He doesn’t.”

“But I was thinking about how I wasn’t affected when most of the construction people on campus were wandering around at all hours last week. So I handed my hipflask to him and held my paintball gun on him while he took some medicine. He choked on it a little. But in a few minutes he seemed to be able to handle things better.”

“So you aren’t affected by this thing . . .”

“Because I drink quite a bit,” Nolan finished. “Fact is, though, it could be any of the chemicals coursing through my body. Painters get exposed to all kinds of stuff. I smoke, I drink. I’ve been know to do other stuff as well.”

I nodded, then began to think about the implications. “So we should have a few before we go, I suppose.”

“Barkeep!” Nolan belts out.

I ask him for his cell phone to tell Ned and Marisa what we found out, wanting to keep my line open for when Scott and Quillan call. I reach Marisa again and they had both wondered about that, but were not surprised, since they had both smoked marijuana the night before. I urge her to have some more and ask how they were getting along in their plans to get out.

“We were kinda hoping to hear what this is all about, and what you have planned, if anything, before we decide. Cards on the table time, Neal. What’s going on? Ned told me some wild stuff that Scott told him a while back, stories about some ancient religion. Any of that true?”

“Quite a bit of it, I think. It seems to tie these things together better than anything else. There’s an Old One loose on campus, holed up in the anthropology building, and it is forcing people to drill a hole and unearth its little helper, which is apparently buried a little further down.”

“You mean another Old One?”

“No, unfortunately there is something a little worse down there. At least that’s what Scott and Quillan thing. It is called a Shoggoth, and it is just a helpful servant of the Old One, but apparently it is able to do a lot more damage, in a real, physical sense. And it can apparently reproduce, which Scott says the Old One cannot. The upshot is that we should get rid of the Old One tonight and then stop the drilling. That part should be easy once we have gotten rid of the Old One, because it won’t be able to manipulate people and animals anymore.”

“Neal, can you hold on for a minute?” She covers the phone with a hand and I hear some mumbling in the background. I look over at Travis and he seems very peaceful. I wonder how much he has drunk. Then I look for Nolan, who got up, presumably to get the barkeep, and see him talking to a tall woman with short red hair who has just returned from the back of the building bearing an armful of napkins.

Nolan had pointed out that we don’t really know whether it is necessary to drink alcohol to avoid the influence of this Old One, could be anything coursing around in your bloodstream confuses it enough to do the trick. But I find myself wanting it to be alcohol, wanting to be a little numb for what lies ahead of me tonight. The woman at the bar nods her head to Nolan’s gesticulations and begins to set up shot glasses and beer steins, three of each, on the bar.

“Neal, Ned wants to talk to you.”

“Hey, Neal,” he says, breathing a little hard. “I kinda figured out some of this while we were stranded here. And so Marisa and I have been preparing a little something, just in case.”

“Really?” It is a blessing, too, to be surrounded by really smart people who are also really flexible.

“Yeah. You know how this building is connected to facilities?”

“Didn’t.”

“Well, it is. And it is connected to the Quadanthro, too,” he says, Quadanthro apparently being Ned’s improvised shorthand for the four anthropology buildings. “They are all connected through underground tunnels. Most people don’t know about them, because they are mostly blocked. Some by storage closets and shelves. But they are there.”

“Okay.”

“Anyway, Marisa says this thing is in Anthro. Is there anybody in there with it?”

“I don’t know. Nolan and his friend weren’t able to get close enough to tell. Why?”

“Because we can get there from here. And we can get our hands on some explosives, too.”

“Explosives?”

“Yeah. The facilities people ordered a bunch of fertilizer, you know with the nitrogen in it, just before that stuff became, well, controlled. A bunch of us were trying to get them to stop using it at about the same time, cause it’s bad for the environment, so they just stockpiled it here. And I’ve already rigged up a timer. We’ve got those carts that we can move a bunch of it with. Easiest way might be to simply blow the whole building, unless that will take a bunch of others with it.”

At that point my cell phone rang. It was Scott.

“Look, Ned, can I call you right back?”

“Sure, I’ll keep working on this. Let me know.”

I hung up Nolan’s phone and opened mine up.

Take me to Chapter XII

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Comments»

1. Chapter 11 is started « Sure as a Blog Returns to its Vomit - November 22, 2006

[…] I wrote 1,624 words tonight.  They are in chapter 11 here. […]

2. davidbdale - November 28, 2006

Hey Cave!
Congratulations. I’ve just read Chapter 11 and I must say, for jumping into a story already so far along, it worked well as a “first” chapter. Brought me right into the middle of the action, posed a neat little ethical dilemma which also moved the plot along, and teased me with the promise of mayhem to come. I particularly like the notion of the little critters loosely organized, cornering unwary humans around campus. There’s probably a university metaphor lurking in there somewhere. Coming into the home stretch now. Wish you well!


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