Hello everyone! As part of Short Story Saturday, I have posted another short story, this one entitled Only Could Be More Heartwarming Set in Philadelphia. Please enjoy.
With a loud bang, splinters flew across the room. A wave of armored men wearing helmets and masks flooded the room with the ferocity of water through a hole in a broken dam. The young man’s swivel chair flew backward and hit an adjacent wall as he immediately fell to his knees with his hands over his hand. Their assault rifles pointed at him, their flashlights providing the room its only illumination save the luminescent glow of the young man’s laptop that resided atop a crudely made wooden table.
“I surrender!” the young man shouted.
They did not hear him. They were preoccupied with the unearthly screams and sounds reminiscent of metal rubbing against glass filling their ears. It was maddening. Half of the six fell to the floor and covered their ears, begging for the madness to stop.
“Ah, right, sorry about that.” The young man leaned forward and pressed a button on his laptop. “It’s the new industrial horror metal album from band Cruel Mercy. I’m guessing y’all aren’t fans.”
“Are you Will Whateley?” asked one of the men who had Dexter on his nameplate.
“Whateley? Oh no, not quite, my name is Will Watt Lee, though my friends call me Willy.” He paused for a moment. “Well, they would if I had any friends. Human friends, at least.”
“Right, Will Watt Lee, just the man we’ve been ordered to investigate.”
Dexter’s light rested fully on the young man’s face. “Geez, buddy, are you all right?” It took a second but Willy realized that he was referring to his jaundiced skin, thick goat-like lips protruding from his thick black beard, coarse crinkly jet black hair, oddly elongated ears, his exceedingly large nose, and dark black seemingly iris-less eyes.
“Look, I can’t help the way I look. I was born this way.”
“I didn’t mean anything by it. I just wanted to make sure you were okay and that you weren’t hurt or sick.”
“Yeah, right. I’m sure you SWAT guys really care about my well-being.” He sighed. “I can’t believe you’re here. I knew xxxPikachu6969 had my dox, but I never expected that he’d get me ‘SWAT’d’.”
“Buddy, we aren’t the SWAT team. We make them look like boy scouts.”
“Then who are you?”
“We’re the 3PF, the Paranormal Paramilitary Police Force. I’m their leader, Captain Dexter.”
“You’re the Paranormal Paramilitary Police Force? Talk about forcing an acronym.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Be honest. You just chose that name because ‘three’ rhymes with ‘P’, right?”
“I assure you it was just a coincidence.”
“So what are you guys? Black Op operatives working for the Deep State?”
“Is saying ‘Black Op operative’ a bit redundant?” asked a man whose nameplate said “Murphy”.
“Buddy,” Dexter said completely ignoring his companion, “The Deep State answers to us.”
“We work for the Deep State?” asked Murphy. “I thought we worked for Mr. Crowley.”
“Shut up, Murphy.” His attention turned toward a man lifting a part of his mask. “And Jenkins, what are you doing? Keep your mask on and stop picking your nose!”
“I’m not picking my nose. I’m scratching it. And only part of the mask is removed.”
“We’re supposed to keep those masks on in case there is any paranormal activity so that the spirits cannot enter our brains.”
“How is a standard-issue CBRN Mask supposed to do that?” asked Murphy.
“Again, just shut up Murphy! It just works, okay?”
Dexter turned and faced Willy. “Yes, what is it?”
“If you don’t mind me interrupting, you said you worked for Mr. Crowley.”
“Technically, I said that,” interjected Murphy.
“You’re not referring to Aleister, are you?”
“Of course not,” said Dexter. “Hunter Crowley.”
“So you guys aren’t actually the police. I knew you were forcing an acronym.”
Hunter Crowley was one of the richest men of the world after having acquired his wealth through a wondrous streak of good luck almost half a decade ago. It started with a Lottery win of almost twenty million dollars.
Quite a windfall in of itself but the man was not satisfied. He flew to Las Vegas and went into one of the richest casinos on the Strip and bet the entirety on a single number on a single spin of roulette. In one of the most dramatic spins ever, it landed on the number he had chosen, the lucky number “7”, in what could only be described as a miracle. The crowd cheered and there was a massive celebration until Hunter rose his hand to bid the crowd “silence”.
To the near horror of everyone involved including the croupier and other members of the staff, Hunter explained he wanted to let it all ride on the exact same number. Not that the casino was anxious to lose over seven hundred million dollars, a sum that would hurt even the most affluent gambling parlors, but there was always the risk of a massive lawsuit should they allow a man who appeared, based on actions, to be mentally ill, lose all his money on a single game of chance.
Many tried to dissuade him. A few even tried to restrain him but through the sheer force of will and an almost supernatural charisma few possessed and even fewer understood, he managed to convince everyone he was of sound mind, or at least sound enough to make a bet, as foolish as it may have appeared to have been.
Everyone was convinced the man was insane. “A fool and their money” one said. “Easy come, easy go,” said another. “There’ll still probably be a lawsuit,” muttered one more. He did not realize how correct he would wind up being but not for the reasons he had anticipated.
The crowd went silent when the ball bounced around the 9 and the 30 as the wheel started to wind down. There was no way it was going to happen again. It was impossible. Yet the ball continued to bounce toward the eleven and then back and forth between the twenty and the thirty-two until it moved backward suddenly and decided to settle in the only place it could possibly land.
Lucky number seven.
A jubilant celebration commenced. Not just at the casino or even the strip but throughout the entire world once the Internet got hold of the story. The odds of being exactly right on a roulette wheel is 1 in 37 despite the 35 to 1 payout when picking an exact number. Getting the same number two spins in a row only had a 1 in 1369 chance of happening, approximately 0.07%.
Certainly not impossible but certainly long odds which is why there was a Federal Investigation that took nearly two years to resolve. Despite popular belief, there appeared to be no evidence of foul play either from the gambler nor was there any conspiracy between Hunter and the casino’s staff. They eventually ruled everything nothing was amiss and Hunter was just incredibly lucky. The casino owed him the full amount of money that they paid in installments to narrowly avoid bankruptcy.
People, for the most part, attributed it as nothing more than an incredibly good streak of luck. Hunter, however, claimed that a so-called Good Luck Spirit had helped him achieve his riches. That belief attained only a minimal amount of traction even amongst patrons of the World Wide Web.
“Now he believes this ‘Good Luck Spirit’ is actually a precursor of Earth’s impending doom,” Dexter explained. “It is up to us, the 3PF, to quell vengeful apparitions before they devour the planet.”
“A paramilitary group fighting vengeful spirits of a rich man that want to eat the planet?” asked Willy. “That sounds like a pretty badass premise to a novel.”
Dexter lowered his rifle toward the ground with one hand as he rubbed his chin with the other. “Or a good one for a Netflix series or at least a video game. We’d have to sand out some of the edges but it could work.” He nodded his head. “It definitely could work.”
“So why are you here, now?” Willy asked.
“We’re here because we’ve had reports that there is paranormal phenomenon happening in this house.”
Willy sprung to his feet and looked surprised. “What? No way, nothing of the sort is happening here.”
Dexter reached into his pocket with his free hand and pulled out a notebook. He shook it to flip pages until he arrived on the one he wanted. It took only a minute or two but the motion and anticipation was so great that it felt like hours.
“We’ve had ten calls in the past week alone reporting strange moaning sounds that they claimed were not of this world, mysterious smells impossible to describe, nauseating gurgling noises, and a string of missing cats.”
“Well, the noise has already been accounted for.”
“Ah, right, Cruel Mercy, I believe.”
“Indeed.” Willy sighed. “How can I explain it? Look, I know you think every city of Massachusetts is an enlightened mecca-”
“I’ve never thought any of that-”
“But the reality is there are still some backwater burgs here in this state that are almost as bad as they are in the flyover states. I’m afraid Dunwich is one of them. A disaster most likely a hurricane swept through this fair town in the 1920s. A town already scared of its own shadow then made up some absurd story about an invisible creature devouring the townsfolk. Now that I live on a house atop the supposedly cursed land that supposedly spawned or summoned some sort of demon or whatever the hicks here think I’m supposedly causing an influx of supernatural activity or something. It’s ridiculous.”
Willy put up a scaly finger. “It doesn’t help that my legs look like this.” He reached down and pulled up one of his thick pants-legs which revealed a thin, hairy limb that looked so animal-like and contrasted so greatly with the rest of him that several members of the team had to choke back their vomit.
The young man noted their displeasure. “Thanks, that really helps,” he said sarcastically. “So you can see how the townsfolk might react when they see my legs afflicted with what I imagine is hypertrichosis and the rest of me afflicted with Cushing’s Syndrome. Obviously, the doctors here are well too primitive to give me a proper diagnosis.”
“If it’s so bad, why do you live here?”
“I never said it was bad. In fact, it has many perks. I enjoy the isolation and I enjoy how close I am to Arkham. This was the cheapest property I could afford while still being within a ten-minute bus ride. Houses in Arkham can be pretty damn expensive, well out of my price range at least. Still, their book collection is exquisite. I’ve acquired much of my reading materials at that wonderful place as you can see. Take a look at my shelf.” He pointed to a bookcase in the back of his room.
“I think he’s right about the townsfolk being overly paranoid,” Murphy said. He had replaced his gun with what looked to be an oblong box with some antenna hanging from it. “I’m getting nothing from the spectral-o-meter.”
Murphy then paused to let out a deep groan. “I hate that you named it that. Anyway, like I said, there is virtually no paranormal activity taking place here. Then again, supposedly this thing can only measure whether there are any ghosts around. Supposedly.”
“Be that as it may, I’m still suspicious. Do you mind if we take a look around?”
“Well, I mean, it would be a violation of the Fourth Amendment even for the regular Police Force if they didn’t have a search warrant and even SWAT would need a cause such as someone’s life being endangered or there’s an imminent danger to the populace and all I was doing was posting on some Internet Forums, but okay, sure, why not?” He was fairly certain they would do whatever they wanted regardless of how he answered.
The men of the 3PF searched the Spartan room. Willy’s eyes were practically seared when one of them turned on the lights. Dust and an indiscernible powder leaped into the air with every step as they sauntered through the room. Dexter, in particular, was drawn to the decrepit bookcase as it was practically the only feature outside a few poorly put together furniture and tables.
He moved his fingers through the tomes. There were various books related to the macabre and the supernatural. One was of particular interest. A book bound in leather of various types and was forced shut with metal clasps. No matter how he tried, Dexter could not open the book. He could not fathom why anyone would bind a book in such a manner. He attempted to read its title aloud.
“Necker, Necra, Necker-me-con?”
“It’s the Necronom-” Willy paused. “I mean, it’s the Neko Nome Icon.”
“What the hell is that?”
Willy stroked his beard. “It’s a book about a singing cat named Nome who’s an icon in Japan. Neko means ‘cat’ in Japanese.”
Dexter scanned his volumes of books once again and noticed that amongst the various ancient manuscripts were Japanese comics. He had no idea who Junji Ito was, or for that matter Ken Akamatsu, nor did he care. Willy was concluded to be a Japanophile. Considering how lewd that type of media could get, the metal clasps now made sense. He returned the book.
“Still odd that you have so many books regarding the paranormal.”
“I ensure you that my interests in such matters are purely academic.”
“Captain, you ought to take a look at this!” Murphy had separated from the rest of the party and called for Dexter from an adjacent room. The captain and the rest of his squad joined his teammate with Willy right behind. They spread out across the room as they entered.
Overhead fixtures above these mixing containers offered little illumination but the men were able to see several beakers resting on quite a number of laminate tables. About half were boiling a green fluid which was, after a short period of time, moved around by the tubes these ampules were attached. The other half contained a milky white, sand-like mixture which seemed to be the end product of whatever compound the young man was attempting to create. A smell similar to chlorine, ammonia, and bleach wafted in the air. The entire room had reminded them of a chemist’s lab.
“What’s going on here?” Dexter asked.
Willy hesitated. “Look, I’m an amateur chemist. I either borrowed or purchased a lot of books from the Arkham Library and as you know, some of those books date back practically to when mankind learned to write. I mean, they are ancient. As such, it is prudent to keep their pages preserved with the proper concoctions.”
“You know, mixtures.”
“Ah, why didn’t you just say that? So you can’t just find these things online?”
Willy was momentarily silent once again. “And trust some product made by a soulless corporation? I would never deign to do that.”
Dexter remembered the various pieces of crude, “Do-It-Yourself” furniture in the previous room. He shrugged and nodded. “Liquid products that you can purchase online do tend to be either watered down or unsterilized so I agree that making your own products seems like a good idea. Assuming you don’t blow yourself up in the process, of course. Gathering all the ingredients can’t be cheap, though.”
“It’s not so bad if you purchase them in bulk. It saves money in the long run.” Willy smiled. “Come to think of it, seeing all those weird beakers and vials delivered to my doorstep probably did little to combat the ‘mad scientist’ atmosphere this house exudes. Even the greatest skeptic would wonder what a man is doing with those sorts of things.”
The captain nodded. “This room is probably producing the unearthly smell the townsfolk were talking about as well.”
Jenkins sheepishly raised his hand. “Uh, captain?”
“Can I use the bathroom?”
“Didn’t I tell you to go before we left?”
“I didn’t have to go then.”
“Can it wait?”
“If I don’t go soon, there might be a puddle on the floor.”
Dexter put his fingers under his mask so he could rub his eyes. He turned to Willy and gestured with his hands. “Would you mind if he used your bathroom?”
“Not as such, but I must warn you-”
Jenkins cut him off. “Thanks, dude! Uh, where is it?”
“What? Oh yeah, third room to the right, through the bedroom, but I have to tell you-”
Jenkins was out the door before Willy could finish the sentence. The young man cringed internally. He anticipated what was about to occur.
“Captain!” cried Jenkins, “You need to take a look at this!”
Dexter dashed out the door. Willy followed but at a more casual pace. He knew what had freaked the operative out.
“Take a look at this,” Jenkins said when his captain arrived. He pointed at the bathtub. It contained a gurgling, effervescent green liquid with an odor that seemed to blister the lungs.
Dexter gasped. “What the hell is this?”
“Ah, so you found it,” Willy said as he peered over the captain’s shoulder.
Dexter turned around. “Explain.”
“I have a confession to make.”
Dexter smirked though it was impossible to tell under the mask. “I suspected that you were hiding something. Spill it.”
“That’s my moonshine. Selling my bathtub bourbon to the hillbillies of this town is how I make my money. I know it’s against the law but it is also very profitable. It was too tempting to resist.”
Dexter’s brow furrowed though again the mask obscured his facial tics. He pointed to the tub. “Then why is it green and bubbling and smells of formaldehyde and death?”
Willy scratched his oily skin. “I put in too much hops and fermented it for way too long.”
Dexter glared at him for a moment and silence befell the room. Willy’s mind raced with a possible alternative explanation or a possibly a means to escape.
Then the captain sighed and shrugged. “I couldn’t remember whether it was illegal to brew beer or alcohol at home. It hardly matters, though. I believe it should be legal regardless and besides, that’s beyond my jurisdiction. That’s a matter for the ATF.”
“Now that you mention it, what exactly is your jurisdiction?”
“That information is on a ‘need-to-know’ basic and you don’t need to know!” Come to think of it, did they have any authority to arrest him at all? Despite the name, they weren’t exactly a police force. Why was Willy so afraid of them?
Oh, right, the assault rifles. Those were a very good reason to be afraid.
“Can I have a taste?” Jenkins reached his hand toward the solution.
“No!” Willy screamed. He shoved the man with enough force that it was practically a tackle, The two collided with the bathroom floor in a heap of entangled limbs.
Both Dexter and Dexter stared at the young man. He awkwardly peeled himself from the man he speared and rose to his feet.
“That batch has had enough problems that I don’t want to see it contaminated by whatever is on those gloves.” Willy forced a feeble laugh.
“Hey Captain, check this out!” Murphy’s voice saved the young man from answering any further inquiries. The three men left the bathroom and headed to the source.
They arrived at the recreation room equipped with a pool table and a fully-stocked bar.
“Can we have a drink?” Murphy asked when they arrived.
“Of course,” Willy said. Murphy thanked him and eagerly poured drinks for each of his compatriots including the trio who just arrived.
“Why does such a place exist?” Dexter asked.
The young man sighed. “I wanted a place where I could entertain friends. Before that dream died, of course.”
“I think we’ve got everything wrapped up,” Dexter said as he walked with Willy leisurely around the pool table, “The sounds, the smell, the noises, all of it has been accounted for, except, of course, the missing cats but with the number of foxes we have in the area it’s not surprising that a few runaways and strays go missing every once in a while.”
“Indeed.” The young man took a sip of his drink and set it on the table.
“Odd that your bar is fully equipped, though, considering you said you don’t entertain guests very often.”
After a short pause, Willy said, “Well, I mean, isn’t a man entitled to enjoy a good drink every now and again even if it is by himself?”
“Fair enough.” Dexter played with the balls on the table with a free hand. “Odd too that the table doesn’t contain any dust.”
“Well, I play pool all the time by myself,” Dexter explained after another slight hesitation. “I’m just a huge fan of the game.”
“You know, me too. In fact, I was once a state pool champion.”
“It wasn’t in this state and it wasn’t exactly a state championship as much as it was a recreational league that met every third Sunday and I didn’t exactly win the whole thing but I would have had I not been screwed by lousy teammates. The point is, I was pretty good.” He took a large swig of his drink. “Pretty, pretty good. Well, I think I’ll have one more before heading out.”
Dexter staggered around the table. His feet slipped and he fell to the floor.
“Egads, are you all right?” Willy asked.
Dexter laughed raucously. “I’m fine, I’m fine.”
The laughter stopped abruptly. His eyes were transfixed on an object. It was silver, shiny, and metallic. He did not notice it before because the pool table covered it. Now he had the perfect view of a padlock.
Dexter pointed to it. “Open that trapdoor. I want to see what’s underneath.”
Willy shrugged. “Why? It’s just my wine cellar.”
“Ooh, wine!” Murphy said. The rest of his five companions set their drinks down and eagerly gathered around the pool table. Dexter leaped to his feet.
“No, you misunderstand. There’s nothing in there but empty shelves and caskets. I haven’t resupplied for a long time. There was no reason to do so.”
Dexter drew his gun and pointed it at the young man. “Open that trapdoor, now. That’s an order.”
The young man sighed. “All right, if you insist. I warn you, though, you won’t like what you find inside.”
He placed his back against the table and pushed it aside. The rubber soles minimized the damage on the wooden floor making it almost imperceptible to the human eye. He pulled out a key from his shirt pocket and placed it into a padlock and threw open the trap door.
A stairway was revealed. Pushing Willy aside, Dexter led his men down the steps.
Their collective breaths were taken with the mere sight of what lied at the bottom of those stairs. It was as if a great weight was placed against their chests.
One of the more taciturn men fell to his knees and cradled his head with his hands as he moved into the fetal position. He rocked back and forth unable to speak.
In the middle of the room was a swirling vortex of a peculiar violet color. It produced a crackling noise not unlike a sputtering vacuum. Sparks emerged from the edges and moved toward the center. It emitted a strange noise similar to a human growl. The ground vibrated as if it were in pain.
Each of the still upright men tried to speak but words did not escape their lips. They were mesmerized yet appalled.
“I knew you wouldn’t like it,” Willy said with a sigh.
“What is this?” Dexter rasped.
“It’s a vortex to another dimension.”
“How the hell did you manage to create one of these things?”
“Technically, I don’t think I created it. I think I more just opened it as it was always there or something. I’m not sure. Some of the passages of the Necronomicon are still a little bit difficult for me to read.”
“That cat book?”
“I regret to inform you that I lied. Let’s just say the Necronomicon is a book of great mystical power.”
“Why the hell do you have one of these things?”
After yet another pause, Willy said, “Well, it’s for garbage.”
“Oh yeah, like that one episode of The Simpsons,” Murphy said.
“That’s where I got the idea!” the young man concurred.
Dexter screamed. “You summoned a portal to Hell to use as a garbage can?”
“I don’t believe it actually leads to Hell and I’m an environmentalist at heart. I’m trying to find a solution to our nation’s growing waste problem.”
Murphy asked, “What’s in there?” He crept toward the portal.
“I wouldn’t look in there if I were you,” Willy warned.
Deep down Murphy knew that the young man was correct, yet something compelled him forward. It was as if he was entranced by the Siren’s call. Curiosity gripped him and refused to let go.
He sauntered toward the vortex. At various points, he looked over his shoulder toward his mates as if he expected them to pull him back. His allies merely stared and did not say a word. They were equally interested in what he could potentially find. He realized nobody would stop him. With a resigned sign, he stuck his head inside.
Murphy would regret it for the remainder of his short life.
The man fell backward after a mere glimpse but what he had seen in that second was enough to damage him forever. His skin was wrinkled and pallid. His body shook uncontrollably. His hair became brittle and broke off in fragile clumps. His lips quivered as he furiously removed his mask and goggles in a vain attempt to claw out his eyes.
His frenzied, incoherent screams drowned out the cacophony of the voices that beckoned him to cease his frantic behavior. The attempts from his allies to subdue him were met with superhuman resistance. Murphy was not strong than any one his squadmates nevertheless the entire crew, nor was he granted any supernatural strength from the mysterious dimensions. All he had was pure, unadulterated terror. It was enough.
Not that it mattered for long.
They did not know how they sensed that the creature was about to arrive. It emitted no sound but a slight hum that was hidden by the man’s terrified shrieks. Nor was there any increase in ground vibrations. Nor was the smell particularly pungent. It was not even visible to the human eye.
Something deeper alerted them to its presence. Something more primordial, more instinctive. A natural urge for self-preservation. A natural fear toward those that threatened one’s life. By the time these feelings washed upon them, it was too late to even panic.
Murphy was dragged to the portal. In an instance, the screams ceased and his body disappeared seemingly to the ether.
“Stop this!” Willy shouted. He turned to the terrified men “Don’t worry. I know just what to do so if you excuse me for a moment, I just need to get a couple of things. I’ll be back in a second.” He turned and somehow managed to escape the room with ease.
Had they heard him, the young man’s words would have done little to reassure them. The creature defied their imaginations and did not even attempt to hide their fear. Expletives and various blasphemies flew from their lips as they hastily attempted to draw their rifles to fire at the portal.
Dexter was pushed against one of the adjacent walls. A hole formed in his stomach and bifurcated him. His upper and lower bodies were seemingly collected and disappeared as they moved toward the vortex.
At the same time, Jenkins had his foot wrapped around an invisible appendance. His body was dragged toward the swirling whirlpool of light. His hands left bloody claw prints on the floor before he disappeared.
The remaining men managed to fire a few shots but their resistance was futile. One’s head was popped off. Another lost his arms and the last remaining member lost his legs. None of the three remaining men suffered for long. Their bodies were quickly devoured by whatever creature performed their impromptu decapitations and amputations.
Willy arrived shortly after with a pouch of white powder in one hand and the Necronomicon in the other. He looked around the now empty room newly decorated with blood and placed his hands on his hips. A frown furrowed on his brow.
He opened the book and spoke in an unfamiliar language that could roughly be translated as, “What did I tell you about eating my guests?”
The young man then read a passage from his tome, spoke a few words of enchantment, made some signs with his hands, and poured some sand on what seemed to be an empty part of the room near the entrance of the vortex.
A revolting creature whose head with multiple eyes, a large protrusion that served as its nose, and giant fanged teeth rested upon a bed of slimy, purple tentacles appeared. Willy read more passages from the cursed grimoire to scold the creature, chastising him for what he had done. The creature kowtowed in remorse.
He peered into the creature’s eyes. A smile curled on his lips. The young man said what could roughly be translated as, “Oh, how could I stay mad at you? Just behave next time, all right?”
The creature let out a horrific, screeching noise that would have driven lesser men insane. Willy wrapped his arms around one of the creature’s tentacles. The creature rested his head carefully on the man’s shoulders.
“Oh, I know. I love you too, little brother.”
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