• Britney Dehnert

Hubby vs. Wifey vs. Friend: Post #11 A Mechanical Dog

Tonight's post is special because we were joined by a writer friend of ours, Andrea. Andrea picked the setting picture, and Wifey picked the dog picture. Hubby just had to write - no choices for him tonight. (Yes, he put up a bit of a fuss at the setting picture, saying he needed way more time than just tonight to build the lore required, but we hushed him and started writing anyway!) We all enjoyed this unique challenge: there is a lot packed into these two pictures! Enjoy! And vote for your favorite in the comments!



I had to dig to find the artist of this one, but I believe it came from liveforfilm.com and was possibly drawn by Phil Edwards.

Our Character:



Wifey's Sketch:


(Feel free to listen to the music that inspired me while I wrote: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ze2NiBA-YLA)


The wolf howls.


It’s foggy in Melsancor. The moon is hidden in the white and grey swirls.


Perhaps It will come tonight.


The residents don’t know. They never do.


But the wolf howls.


Trucks rumble by, diesel engines retching through the cobbled streets. Will it be tonight, the drivers wonder, as the wolf howls?


Fog is pushed aside violently, but it’s only the overhead barges making their way to the Moon Stations where their cargo will be disseminated.


The sound of thunder breaks the eerie background rumblings, but it’s only the reverberation of a rickety passenger ship steaming through town after a long day’s work.


The wolf howls on.


Pedestrians catch their breath as they listen to the throaty, mechanical sound, then continue walking, hoping it won’t be tonight. Any night but tonight.


All fog-streaked evenings go like this. After the fog lifts, all will breathe easily once more. It’s only in the fog that It comes from the Sea.


Mothers hug their babies closer in the nurseries, and fathers clutch their revolvers and smoke their cigars in a show of bravado – anything to feel control on a foggy night.


In the towering buildings downtown, office workers plow on with their work, slamming their fingers into the typewriter keys a little harder than usual, determinedly not glancing out the tall windows that line the hall until the boss’s secretary walks with a clickety-clack down the hall in her tall black shoes, cranking down the window coverings for an illusion of peace of mind.


On the streets, dogs whimper and crowd into doorways, cats hide in rubbish bins, and pigeons cease their cooing to seek invisibility under the eaves of buildings all over the city. All the animals flee to refuge tonight –

all but the wolf. The wolf that howls.


Then -

A sound.


The thunder of the passenger ship has disappeared in the distance. It isn’t that.


The trucks have all made it to their destinations. It isn’t them.


The barge has long left the atmosphere. It cannot be that.


The wolf’s howl is suddenly the only sound except for –

The great, deep, unearthly roar, the roar that comes from the docks.


All people in the city stop.


For a breathless moment, all is completely still.


Then, they race for the chutes.


Pedestrians on the street slide down the manhole slides without a thought for the slime, the stench, the muck that will remain on their clothes forever after.


Fathers herd their families to the apartment building chute; they snap at other fathers who are pushing their own families to the front of the lines. Babies fuss, and mothers whisper urgently. A semblance of order is kept even through the controlled hysteria as the fog thickens and the wolf howls and the roar gets – steadily– louder.


When the last vestige of panicked humanity has left the upper crust, It breaks through the fog.


Its tentacles gleam white in the street lamps. Its claws ravage the buildings that It passes – with no malice. This is simply what It does. Through the fog, out of the sea, It – must – walk.


And so It passes through Melsancor, absently laying waste to the homes, the cobbled streets, the buildings, the barges, the few trees.


The wolf howls.


It stops. It turns. There – in the town center – the wolf has come to meet It.


Next to It, the wolf looks like a mere dog.


The overlapping metal of his body could be seen as armor during the non-threatening day. Against the towering It, however, that metal armor might as well be a tin can covering a mouse.


But the tin dog rises.


He stands.


He faces It.


His light green irises shine in the foggy dark.


It stops.


The wolf howls.


Out of the shadows, a street child emerges, fear battling defiance in his small, pointed face. He crawls to the wolf and pulls himself up on the metal plated back. He faces It, his eyes wide, his thin hands clutching the metal ears.


The wolf howls.


It looks down.


It raises a claw and brings it crashing down through a building toward the insignificant duo.


The child shrieks a defiant, small shriek, and raises a white-knuckled fist.


The wolf howls.


Its claw stops, as though it encountered a wall that it could not break through.


Slowly, It turns.


It trudges back through town.


And passes into the sea.


Another night passes.


A future hero has made his first stand.


And the wolf howls.


Andrea's Story:


Markey’s Town Square

“Hey! What we got?!” Cal sounded cheery. Dang near chipper, actually. It didn’t fit the time, the place, or the situation, but experience does take its toll.

Clyde Markey could feel the years bearing on his shoulders as he looked over the poor dead woman lying in the middle of the square. Her deathly white skin highlighted her cherry red lipstick and the gaping hole in her chest.

He barely batted an eye. A heart should be in there, he thought passively. It came along with, did I turn off the oven?And the wife probably shouldn’t hear about this one.

“Ripped it right out, huh?” Cal sounded a bit more hesitant upon seeing the full scene. The young girl in a pretty yellow dress soaked in blood was a bit more daunting up close.

“Yeah,” Markey responded after a long pause. “Ripped it out. Didn’t cut it. You see?”

He knelt down and pointed at the edges of the horrid wound. ”A knife doesn’t make ragged marks in the skin like that,” he explained.

Cal just nodded. “Think it’s one of the Dultry Boys? They’ve been escalating, you know. Could be a warning, right?”

Markey frowned as he pressed his hands on his knees to make his stiff body stand upright. “Nah, that doesn’t suit them. Shooting up banks and running moonshine to ripping out a kid’s heart? It’s not their style. They won’t kill anyone unless they’re standing in front of a bag of money.”

Cal did some more nodding. “Sure, sure. Could be a cheating girlfriend, right?”

Just as Markey went to turn around, a metallic head touched his hand. He pulled himself away and measured his steps so as not to mess with the crime scene.

“Holy hell! Cal! What did I tell you about bringing this…this thing on investigations?!”

Cal took a step closer to the mechanical canine that stood between them. Its back was at Cal’s hip and its long snout pointed Markey’s way. On purpose, he thought.

“A pup scared you?” Cal laughed. “Department said it was okay. Besides, the world’s heading that way. Are you going to be that old man, stuck in the past, and ignoring everything moving on without him? I mean, he’s kind of cute, isn’t he?” He bent and scratched the mechanical animal’s chin as if it could feel a thing.

“Cute?” Markey asked, before realizing he might be yelling. “That toaster with teeth isn’t cute. It isn’t helpful. And…and…it’s not a he. Get it out of my sight before I unload a tommy into it.”

Markey stomped away, flexing his hand as if he could still feel that metal beast touching him. Was he stuck in the past? Maybe, but why did he care? Was it wrong to value the days of investigating by asking questions and interrogating people? Finding clues and making connections? Now everything had to involve robots and machines. Ridiculous!

He looked at the store fronts that lined the outer edges of the town square, the clock tower above the post office, and the water tower far in the distance. Not too many places for someone to see the square during the night. But someone had to have seen something…

He barely caught himself after tripping on a sudden dip in the ground. Train tracks. He would have kicked them if he knew other people weren’t watching him. That’s what started all of this “innovation” and “progress.” That stupid train.

They didn’t need trains. Even these fancy car-things were a bit too much. People can’t even be trusted not to kill one another and we expect them to drive a hunk of hot metal with both hands on the wheel? They didn’t need trains, they didn’t need cars, and they certainly didn’t need robot dogs!

Markey continued to walk until he made it to the post office. At the corner, two dirty little faces pocked from behind the weathered wooden paneling. But they quickly disappeared when he met their eyes, followed by the faint sound of footsteps and giggling.

He would have chased the kids if he thought they knew anything. But you don’t giggle after you see a person get their heart ripped out, he was certain.

He looked back at the crime scene from where he stood and pinched his lips. There was something off here.

“Hey guys!” he shouted as he marched back towards the body. “Hey! Get out of here!”

“What?”

“I said, move!” He wasn’t playing around. He never played. They should know that by now.

Confused but obedient, the couple of police officers and investigators shuffled out of the square and closer to the storefronts. Markey cringed at their slow, agonizing pace and bit his tongue to keep from saying something he’d regret.

Well, he never said much that he regretted but his superiors often regretted the things he said.

At the same moment, he hurried to the post office, went inside. “Clock tower,” he said to the checker vested clerk who had been told not to open the office yet.

“Clock tower,” the old clerk repeated dutifully. Markey suspected the officers had already thoroughly questioned him, leaving him shaken.

“The stairs!” Markey blurted. “The stairs to the clock tower.”

“O! Over that way!”

After brief directions, Markey was running up the stairs that got him to the roof of the post office. With a few more twists and turns, he could reach the clock itself, but that’s not what he wanted to see today.

With his hands on the molding of the roof, he looked over and into the square where he could plainly see the body. The poor dear stuck out like a yellow and red spotted flower in the bare and dusty square. And surrounding her swirled a pattern of shapes in the dirt. Certainly, much of the pattern had been kicked and shuffled away by careless officers, but what was left looked like a massive medallion imprinted in the dirt.

Markey just stared. From the ground, you would barely notice. Plus, a dead body was quite a distraction. But from the roof of the post office, it was a creation of purpose and design.

“This girl wasn’t just killed,” he said aloud, quickly pulling out his notepad and pencil to scribble out what little of the pattern he could make out. “She was sacrificed.”

*****

Sacrifice. That was a weird word.

But it seemed to fit. What else is there to say upon seeing a dead body surrounded by mysterious shapes and pictures? There had to be a reason.

Maybe, twenty-five years ago, this case would excite or frighten him. But now, Clyde Markey was tired. He was tired of people dying, of people murdering, and of people lying about it. Why did everything have to be so stinking complicated?

Take Cal’s demon dog for instance. The department could have a normal dog and a normal office. But no! They needed a glorified alarm clock that had joints and gears that whirled and ticked every time it moved. Ridiculous!

Markey pushed open the door to his townhouse on Baker St and was welcomed by the sound of thunking metal on wooden floor.

“Daddy!” a skinny, curly haired girl with pink tails and a mechanical brace around each knee came hobbling to the door.

Not all innovation was bad, he thought as he scooped her up and gave her a hug, in the right circumstance.

That evening was normal. Reading the newspaper and watching Penny play with her dolls. Dinner was normal. Meatloaf and something the wife called veggie jello. Going to bed was normal. Meticulous teeth brushing and striped pajamas before settling into bed.

Allison always fell asleep fast. That was her superpower and Markey found himself envying her some nights. But at the same time, he was glad. She never caught sight of the blood or saw the people holding bloodied knives and smoking guns. That was his cross and his burden.

Somehow, tonight was a bit different. Instead of tossing and turning a little, he fell asleep oddly fast. Sleep took him in without any fight at all.

But it turned out staying asleep would be the hard part. It felt like mere minutes had gone by before he was awake and looking around the room for a disturbance. Dark shadows hung around the corners of the little, silent room and Allison remained sound asleep curled up in the sheets.

Markey huffed at the demons in his head and eased out of bed. Maybe Penny was up. He neared the door but was stopped when the door slammed shut. He stared for a moment, wondering who could have shut it, because it certainly wasn’t him.

He turned around but saw that Allison was gone.

“Allison?” He asked aloud. “Hey, uh…”

Instantly, his feet were knocked out from under him and his back and head were slammed and the floor. Ringing filled his jostled head. But by the time he had gathered all his senses, he found his arms and legs were being forced against the floor.

“Hey!” was all he said, which even sounded dumb to him. “HEY!”

Suddenly a shrieking wind tor through the room making the bed screech along the floor and a lamp crash into pieces. Markey’s voice was lost in the tumult and he could only frantically move his eyes, searching the darkness above him.

Only the darkness wasn’t just darkness. It gradually grew and moved into something else. A face, a hand…Markey fought against whatever held him in place but it was no use. The being appeared to consist of black smoke, formless and undefined, reaching out of the shadows on the ceiling and for him.

Finally, the hand was around his throat and head had no choice but to stare at the monster.

“He is coming!”

The voice was so clear and so defined that Markey didn’t know if it was coming from the being or from inside his own head.

“HE IS COMING!”

Markey felt himself slipping away by the hand around his throat. His eyes struggled to stay open and his mind grew fuzzy. The black monster speaking riddles was the last thing he remembered.

*****

“Clyde!”

Markey bolted upright, nearly knocking his wife onto the floor.

“You were screaming or… something,” Allison said, almost defensive. “I had to wake you.”

He looked at the window and found morning light beginning to leak inside through the shades. But more than that: the bed was in place, the lamp was in one piece, and a demon from the pits of hell wasn’t bursting through the ceiling.

“What’s wrong?” Allison asked, her voice quiet with concern. She rubbed a hand on his arm and he only tapped her hand in return.

“Nothing. I’m fine,” he said before looking over his shoulder and smiling. “I promise.”

*****

“You’re here early,” Cal said as he wandered into the police station. He immediately went to the far corner where the mechanical dog was kept when powered down.

“No, please…”

But Markey’s pleading went unheeded. Cal flipped a couple switches, turning a lever and the dog was brought to faux life.

Markey briefly remembered where he kept his gun but wondered if a bullet would actually kill the thing.

“Hey, you don’t look too good,” Cal mumbled as he took a seat at his own desk, which was cockeyed to Markey’s. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“I’m fine,” he replied as he turned back to the notepad in his hand. “It’s fine.”

“Really?” Cal unbuttoned his double breasted suit and stared at his fellow investigator for a long moment. “Say, you never said what you saw from the post office. Anything useful?”

“Yes!” Markey jumped to his feet, he realized in that moment how much his body was quivering. He tossed the notepad on Cal’s desk to reveal his quick drawing.

“Um…and what am I looking at?”

“Wh-what you’re looking at? It’s a message! Don’t you see? It’s... it was put there as some type of ritual. And I think it means something terrible.”

Cal nodded slowly, concern clear in his eyes. But he wasn’t looking at the sketch.

“Did you get enough sleep? I know these cases…”

“I mean really terrible!” Markey exclaimed, unsure of how much clearer he could make it. “Don’t you understand? That girl was sacrificed! Her heart was ripped out because someone needed it! And if we decode this pattern,” he picked up the notepad. “We might know why and who it is that’s coming.”

“Coming?” Cal repeated. “None of the other boys noticed any pattern on the ground, Clyde.”

Markey shook his head. “You had to see it from the post office. If you had seen it…”

“Listen,” Cal rested a hand on Markey’s shoulder forcing him to stop moving for a moment. “We had people look at the wound a bit more. Someone shot her chest open and then animals and things bit at the edges. No one ripped it out. It was a sick crime I’ll give you that…”

“But that’s not possible!” Markey shouted.

“Why not?”

“Because…because the…” He was about to say something like ghost, monster, or demon and realized how insane it was making him appear.

“I know what I saw!” he snapped and walked away.

*****

“Got him! The sick freak.”

Markey’s head perked up from behind his desk as a young man with greasy hair hanging in his face was shuffled into the police department. The bright lights above brought out the gaunt features of his face and the deadness in his eyes.

“Got who?” Cal asked.

“It’s our killer,” one office pipped up happily. “Found him the basement of his mom’s house. He killed her then left and shot a girl that turned him down. He admitted to it too.”

“What?!” Markey asked pointedly. “No, that’s not right. He didn’t do it.”

The room fell silent as all eyes turned to the most experienced investigator in the room. Even the suspected murderer appeared perplexed.

“What are you talking about, Clyde?” Cal asked. His question was given so softly that it ignited anger in Markey’s chest.

“What I just showed you! The drawing, the heart, pattern…”

“But he admitted to it,” one officer argued. “We all heard it.”

“Then he’s covering up the truth!” Markey replied before standing up and marching up to the suspect who had been shoved into a chair, his handcuffed wrists hanging between his knees.

“Is that right, boy? You’re covering it up?” He knelt down until he was in the kid’s face, able to smell his unwashed body. “You know the truth. You know who’s coming, right? Who is it?”

“I – I don’t know,” the kid stammered. “I swear, mister! I don’t!”

“You’re a liar!” Markey grabbed the kid by his shoulders and lifted him out of the chair. “You’re a dirty liar!”

Everyone leaped to their feet and grabbed at Markey or the kid. The robot dog barked once Cal was involved and came closer to the scene.

“Get that thing away from me!” Markey shouted. “Get it back!”

He fought the hands on him until they finally let him go and moved the kid into a jail cell. Markey huffed and paced in a corner of the room with everyone staring at him.

“What are you looking at?” he grumbled. “Everyone needs to get back to work. You hear me?”

“What’s wrong with you?” This was the first time Cal had ever sounded harsh, especially towards one of his superiors.

Markey raised his eyes and glared at him. “What’s wrong?! No one is listening!”

“No, we’re listening,” someone with a low voice said. “You’re not making any sense.”

“You need to go home, Clyde.”

Markey snarled at Cal and his stupid, sympathetic face.

“Get some rest.”

Markey worked his hands into fists and felt the fury bubbling dangerously close to the brim.

“Fine,” he blurted when he realized he was losing. “Fine. Just, let me grab my things.”

“Of course,” Cal said.

Markey took calm slow steps. And the second he reached his desk, he yanked open a drawer and pulled his pistol. Already loaded, he took quick aim and fired into the mechanical dog.

Shouts and screams rang through the office as everyone ducked and pulled their own weapons. But it didn’t matter, the dog was still faster. Just like all those other machines people are making up now a days: it’s more efficient, more fancy, and more complicated.

He could see those complicated gears twisting as the jaws locked over his shoulder. O yes, he thought even as he screamed, this was progress.

*****

First it was a jail cell then it was a hospital room. Doors kept being locked behind Markey as he was brought to one place and then the next. And it probably wouldn’t end, he knew very well.

“They don’t see,” he said every night as he stared at the shadowy ceiling that stared back at him. “They don’t see.”

And they never saw. The ghostly faces creeping out of the shadows, the murders that would be a message, and the patterns that formed on the floor, signaling a coming. They would never see. They would never listen. And they would never be able to stop it.

*****




Hubby's Narrative:


Something cold touched the tip of O’Toole’s finger.

“Start from the beginning again, Mr. O’Toole.”

O’Toole was staring down at his hand. A drip of water fell off his drenched hat and into a growing puddle in his hand. The rain outside had soaked him through to the bone. He had long since abandoned concern for keeping dry. It was impossible to stay dry in New Abhoth during the month of March. Today had proven to be particularly difficult.

O’Toole, a tired man in his upper thirties with an extensive history of having trouble with authority, leaned back in the uncomfortable, metal chair.

“Really? Again?” O’Toole scoffed at the officer in front of him.

“Look, you’re likely gonna end up telling this to quite a few people by the end of this week, so get used to it.”

O’Toole looked around the room looking for anyone else who thought this was as

absurd as he did. The officer standing on the other side of the plain, empty table in front of him looked as if he had very patience left. The other officer by the single door leading in and out of the room didn’t seem to have any interest in what was going on. There was another man in the corner, a stenographer of some kind by the look of it, but if he was good at his job, he would also have a neutral stance. It looked like O’Toole was alone.

“Fine, fine.” O’Toole raised his hands in defeat. “I guess it all started for me around the end of February. I was flying over on an airship from an extended stay in Italy...”

Something cold touched the tip of O’Toole’s finger.

O’Toole looked down to see his canine companion, Rusty, gingerly nudging his aluminum-alloy nose against his fingers. Rusty was whining ever so subtly, the kind of whine that others might mistake to be an overdue servo or a gear that’s a little too tight. O’Toole had learned over the last twelve years that this particular sound was a sign of distress. Rusty may have been a construct of bolts and pistons, but he somehow still had an innate sense of danger. It was this sixth sense that had saved O’Toole’s life on multiple occasions.

There was a time in New York, when O’Toole was still with the Pinkterons, Rusty had given an advanced warning of an ambush set up by a few thugs from the Gambino family. O’Toole was getting close to uncovering a massive drug ring while looking into the murder of a local butcher. Even just last week, Rusty had sensed something was wrong when a pretty young dame had knocked on the door to his hotel room. O’Toole had figured the lady had just gotten the wrong room number, but it turned out she had been hired by the very same Gambinos responsible for the butcher murder. She had been paid a handsome sum to track him down and finish him off. She seemed lost and confused, he didn’t speak any Italian, she asked to use the audiophone in his room – it all seemed normal. But Rusty was on-edge, and O’Toole had learned if Rusty was suspicious, he had better be too. He was pouring her a drink but kept one eye on her from a mirror hanging on the wall. It was a good thing too, otherwise he never would have seen her pull that dagger from an inside coat pocket. O’Toole wasn’t one to hit a woman, but this seemed to be a unique encounter.

Both of those times O’Toole had relied on Rusty’s intuition. On the other hand, there was something different about this warning. In New York and Italy, Rusty had taken an aggressive stance. He had brought his head down low and the little metal plates on his back had stood up on end. There had also been something like a mechanical growl along with the whining. This was different. Rusty seemed agitated, but almost frightened. Rusty and O’Toole had been in some scrapes over the years, but he had never seen a reaction like this. Rusty’s ears were pointed down and his tail was tucked tight against his back end.

O’Toole leaned down to look Rusty in the eye. “What’s up, huh? Don’t like heights?” but he knew that wasn’t it. There was something that was really getting to Rusty.

Reluctantly, the dog moved over to the edge of the airship’s observation deck, glanced over, and then back at O’Toole. Following the gesture, O’Toole took hold of the railing and looked out to the horizon. He didn’t see any smoke, storm, anything. It was a crisp, clear morning with nothing interesting from the ship to the edge of the Atlantic. O’Toole eyed the observation deck. Nothing there either. He and Rusty were the only ones out this early.

“I don’t know what’s bothering you, Boy. I don’t see any...”

That’s when he did see it. Looking back over the edge, O’Toole looked straight down into the water. At first, he thought it was just the shadow of the airship. The USS Airheart was a bulky ship designed to carry passengers from New York to London – a marvel of modern engineering – but this shadow was even larger. It didn’t seem to follow along exactly the same path as the Airheart either. It was drifting farther and farther north. At least, he thought it did. It was hard to make out against the gentle shifting of the ocean surface.

“Oi, be landin’ in New York in ‘bout an hour. Best gather your things,” shouted an attendant from a catwalk overhead. O’Toole waved and nodded. When he looked back down at the water, the shape was gone.

“What do you think that was?” O’Toole asked Rusty, genuinely puzzled. Rusty seemed to return to normal and accompanied O’Toole at the side railing, cocking his head off to the side, mimicking his owner’s confusion. “Pod of whales or something, huh?” O’Toole patted his companion on the head. “And that’s why we fly.”


Something cold touched the tip of O’Toole’s finger.

O’Toole blinked and stared dumbly at the secretary. She was staring back at him both unimpressed and impatient. He realized the was holding a pen in his hand waiting for him to take it. By this time, she just set the pen down and returned to a pile of papers littering her desk.

“Sorry, long day,” he tried to explain.

She continued filing and simply mumbled a detached, “Mm-hmm.”

O’Toole signed his name under the “sign out” column and put the day’s date.

“What’s the time, Ma’am?” He glanced toward the secretary, but she was putting files into a large cabinet. She was certainly close enough to have heard him, but she didn’t respond. O’Toole could hear a clock ticking from behind the counter. “Don’t worry, I got it,” he said with exaggerated enthusiasm as he leaned over the edge of the counter. Seven thirty-five, was it really that late?

He double checked his sign in time: Ten fifteen. What a day. He jotted down the time and looked up with a polite smile, but the secretary was uninterested and acting busy. O’Toole immediately dropped the façade and adjusted his overcoat. He made his way to the front door and stopped at the entrance for a minute staring resentfully at the downpour outside. He hated coming down to make statements for the police, always had. He found it ironic that he had pursued a career as a private investigator. True, he didn’t have to take order from anyone, but at the same time, that meant he had to take order from everyone. Whether it was the man paying him for an investigation, the landlord of a tenant he was investigating, an ex-convict who knew something O’Toole wanted, they all had a say over him. He didn’t care for that. And now, not only had he wasted an entire afternoon at the station, but he had to walk home in a rain storm. O’Toole gave a heavy sigh, flipped up the collar of his coat, and trudged outside.

This most recent visit with the police had been about a break-in at an antiques shop a few blocks away from where O’Toole lived. The robbery had happened shortly after he had returned from Europe and the authorities had so far been unable to capture the culprit, or culprits; they really had no idea. A few items had been stolen, but nothing of particular value. The official report so far was that a couple of hooligans needed something to do on a weekend, so they decided to break a window in old man Marsh's shop and grab the first few things they saw. O’Toole had a different conviction about the incident.

The most interesting detail he had found was that out of all the items stolen, only one of them was too large to fit in a coat pocket. Everything else could easily be hidden without any trouble – nab it, run a few blocks, act casual. No one would know the difference. But that one book...

Whoever had broken in had stolen a book, an ancient book of unknown origin. It seemed old enough to have some kind of historical significance, but no one seemed to be able to read it. It had been brought to the Abhoth Historical Society for translation, but to no avail. Some experts said it was Arabic, or some for thereof, but it was generally nonsense. The book was deemed worthless for a few years and was considered by the locals to simply be an odd collector’s piece.

O’Toole simply couldn’t bring himself to believe that some delinquent would break into a store for kicks, grab a few odds and ends, and then think, “Golly gee, I’ll grab this large, heavy, ancient, and easily recognizable book to add to my spoils!” It didn’t make sense. His theory was that the book was the target and the other items were a diversion. If he was right, that plan was working. The authorities were not genuinely concerned with tracking down the book, or any of the items for that matter.

O’Toole ran through the rest of the details from the case as best as he could remember them. He hadn’t eaten since breakfast and the unrelenting rain had already re-soaked anything that had dried in the station. He was so lost in thought he hadn’t heard the man walk up right beside him.

“You O’Toole?” His voice was low and thick.

O’Toole jumped shoving his hand inside his coat to the .38 special at his side. “You startled me!” He put a hand to his heart and took a deep breath. “Yeah, I’m O’Toole. Who’s asking?”

The man was heavy set and his face was obscured under an umbrella. His breath stank like a fish market when he spoke. “O’Toole the detective?” The man must have been heavier than he looked. His speech was slurred through fat lips.

“Yeah, still me. What do you want?”

The man raised his head slightly and O’Toole caught a glimpse of pale-green skin. He smiled with an impossibly wide, toothless mouth and replied, “For you to die, Mr O’Toole!”

Of all the days to leave Rusty back at his apartment...

O’Toole jumped out of the way just as the large man slashed at chest height with a curved dagger. It tore cleanly through O’Toole’s coat and part of his shirt, but missed his stomach, barely. The attack had left the man wide open, so O’Toole lunged. He planted his feet firmly and twisted around with what should have been a devastating body blow, but his attacker was thicker and heavier than he seemed. It felt like punching a heavy bag in a boxing gym while the trainer was holding it still. The man reached in and threw O’Toole against a nearby building. O’Toole hit hard and bounced off the wall. A bright light flashed in his eyes and he saw everything in double.

“No way he’s that strong,” O’Toole thought to himself.

The man closed the distance with incredible speed and stuck the dagger deep into O’Toole’s stomach.

“Or that fast,” he added.

O’Toole slid to the sidewalk clutching at the dagger sticking out of him. The man stood over him with his disturbingly wide smile. O’Toole blinked hard up into the rain and thought he made out another figure approach the fat man from behind. There was a thunderous explosion and O’Toole’s attacker collapsed heavily to the ground. A second man now stood in his place and slipped what appeared to be a flintlock pistol into a large sleeve. The man reached out a hand toward O’Toole.

“The enemy of my enemy,” O’Toole started, but searing pain shot up from the wound and cut him short.

“Shh, best not speak,” the man replied. His voice was hoarse with age, but his grip was firm. The man hoisted O’Toole to his feet and put one arm under his. “Best get you off the streets.”

The two of them limped for a block or so before turning into a deserted alleyway. There they found a spot where the rain wasn’t hitting the ground as hard and leaned against a building. The man grabbed a few discarded items from nearby and built shelter enough to keep the rain off them for the time being. He then turned his back to O’Toole and started a small fire. O’Toole didn’t see exactly howhe had started it, but in his condition, he didn’t really care much either.

“Thanks for that, Mr...” O’Toole hoped for a name in response.

“Nope, no name,” was all he got.

Giving up on that endeavor, he tried something else. “What just happened back there?”

“Nope, no talking,” the man waved a finger over his shoulder.

This would have been a great time to have Rusty; O’Toole had no way of gauging this situation. He had met some strange people in his years of travel and investigation, but these last two were the strangest.

“Look, I appreciate what you did, but there’s a body in the street and...”

“Nope, drink this now.” The man cut him off again and handed him a tin can steaming with some kind of drink.

“I make a point not to drink things handed to me from strangers unless I have strong confirmation it’s a bourbon.”

“Nope, not a bourbon. Help with the wound.” The turned slightly and gestured to the knife still in O’Toole’s stomach.

O’Toole had no reason to believe the man. In fact, he didn’t believe him. However, he had just saved O’Toole’s life, so why go save him from certain death just to kill him in an alley instead? O’Toole sniffed the drink. It didn’t smell like anything. He wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Wanting to keep this strange relationship cordial, O’Toole took a sip of...whatever it was. He chose not to swallow just yet, though.

“Good, best to keep you alive.”

This became more interesting than the mysterious drink. O’Toole swallowed the little that was in his mouth. “I agree, I would like to keep myself alive, but why are you concerned?”

The man gestured for O’Toole to drink more, which he obliged. “Need to keep you alive. You’re the key.”

O’Toole swallowed again. “The key to what?”

The man shifted his back to him again and removed something from his coat. He lifted up an old, leather-bound book.

O’Toole blinked hard trying to reason himself out of his situation. “Please tell me you didn’t get that from...” He paused hopefully.

“Yep, Marsh’s Antiques.”

O’Toole went to say something but the strange man interrupted him. “It says everything right here.” He flipped open to a page somewhere near the center of the book.

“That’s stolen property, you can’t just...”

“Yep, stolen. So I took it back.”

O’Toole paused again. “Took it back?”

“Nope, no time for that now.” The man spun around to face O’Toole. “You need to go back. Bits are still missing.”

“Bits? What bits? What is going on here?” O’Toole tried to stand but the pain kept him on the ground.

“Nope, not ready yet. Just a moment.”

“What are you...talking...”

The edges of O’Toole’s vision started to darken. A black tunnel closed in all around him. The last thing he remembered seeing was the man’s face turning toward him in the dim firelight. Two, dark sockets where eyes should have been stared directly at O’Toole.

“It will all become clear.”


Something cold touched the tip of O’Toole’s finger.

A smartly dressed woman slid a glass of bourbon with a single large piece of ice into his hand. The woman’s dress, the desk between them, the rug on the floor, even the glass in his hand had an air of extreme wealth.

“Thank you again, Mr. O’Toole, for meeting me on such short notice.” Her high English accent only added to the ostentatiousness of the room.

“Of course Miss Mayfield...Mrs. Mayfield?”

“Professor,” she clarified taking a small sip from her own glass.

“Professor Mayfield,” he confirmed mechanically raising his own glass. He stopped just short and glanced at an elaborate grandfather clock against the wall.

“Something the matter?”

“No, a good drink is always welcome in my line of work, but isn’t ten in the morning a little early?” He took a second glance at the clock.

Mayfield’s thin lips curved into a rehearsed smile. “the relativity of time becomes somewhat inconsequential in my line of work, Mr. O’Toole.”

O’Toole accepted the answer without fully understanding it. He was more focused on the time. It felt as if it should have been later than ten by now.

“O’Toole?”

“Sorry, long day.” De ja vu?

“I called you here to ask you about something of great importance.” Mayfield walked around the desk to a large, locked cabinet opposite the clock. She produced a ring of keys and open it. Inside was a large collection of books. She grabbed one and brought it to the desk setting it in front of O’Toole. It was thick, well-worn, and bound in leather.

O’Toole saw a quick flash of a heavy man with a wide smile and the glint of a dagger.

“Ok, wait...I know this book.”

“Yes, I’m sure you do,” Mayfield replied knowingly. She waited patiently for him to get his bearings.

“There was some fat guy...no wait. Another man had it. A blind man.”

“There’s a difference between a man that is blind and a man without eyes.”

O’Toole looked up at her slowly. “You know?”

“Know what, Mr. O’Toole?”

He went to respond, but caught himself. He hadn’t understood her question and was about to make a smart remark, but something started to click – or break – in his mind. “It’s ten in the morning.” Mayfield continued to wait. “You know the man had no eyes...but you knew I met the man.”

“But...” Mayfield was trying to get him to realize something.

“But...” O’Toole started feeling dizzy. “But I haven’t met him yet."

“That is both correct and incorrect. You have met him, but you have yet to meet him again.” O’Toole sat heavily in an armchair beside the desk and finished the rest of his bourbon. “Mr. O’Toole, for both our sakes, I need you to come to grips with a few rather difficult concepts rather quickly. First, as I’ve mentioned, time is relative. However, whether you accept this or not, it will continue to be true. It might help your sanity if you start to thinking in that way. Second, and this really is more important,” she paused only to walk over and refill O’Toole’s glass which he readily drank, “something is coming that very well might be the end of life as we know it.” She set her glass on the desk and took a chair opposite O’Toole. Mayfield leaned forward, a stern look across her face. “Someone has been working for a very long time to summon an entity. This entity is very old and, in a word, evil. It has no concern for life and it will undoubtedly destroy everything on this planet. This book contains the only means of summoning the entity as well as the only means of keeping this entity asleep and you seem to be the only one able to...well, activate it.”

It took a moment for Mayfield’s words to make sense in his mind. “To activate it?”

“That is correct.”

“But,” O’Toole was having a hard time putting thoughts together, “if you have it, this...entity, can’t be summoned. Right?”

“Again, relativity. I have thisbook, correct. But thisis not the book that was stolen. Multiple books, multiple times, multiple opportunities to both summon and seal the entity.”

O’Toole rose from his seat shaking his head. He hadn’t had enough to drink to have a headache this bad. “This doesn’t make sense. This can’tmake sense.”

“Whether it makes sense or not, Mr. O’Toole, it is reality and it needs to be dealt with immediately. I fear we don’t have much time before the entity...”

“No, thank you for the drink Mrs...Professor Mayfield, but I’ve had enough.” O’Toole started for the door.

“Do you need proof?” Mayfield’s confidence was as strong as ever. O’Toole’s hand stopped just as it gripped the door handle. “A very simple question: when did you last sign in at the police station?”

“Seven thirty-five.” He wanted, needed to see where this was going.

“What day?"

O’Toole couldn’t answer that. He wanted to so desperately, but he couldn’t. He threw open the door and bolted out of the Professor’s estates. He jumped on his motorcycle and tore down the street back toward town. Rain started pouring heavily, but he didn’t slow down. In nearly half the time it should have taken him, he reached the police station and burst in through the front entrance. An apathetic looking secretary gave him a confused look.

“I need to see the sign-in book.”

“Excuse me?” she questioned raising her eyebrows.

“The sign-in book! The book people use to sign in and out of the station.”

The secretary raised a heavy book from her desk up onto the space in front of O’Toole. It was already open to a set of pages full of names and dates. The first page and half of the second page were already filled in. He glanced past most of the names and checked the last one.

He couldn’t believe his eyes.

“O’Toole. Seven thirty-five,” he whispered to himself.

His eyes scanned past the rest of the page and he could feel his mind start to slip. Every entry on this page had an identical name and identical times for singing in and out. O’Toole at ten fifteen and seven thirty-five. A clock on the secretary’s side of the desk dinged a quarter past ten.

The ground shook. People outside started screaming.

O’Toole turned and could barely make out through the thick rain a colossal shape moving through the city over the tops of the buildings. He stepped outside and saw a beast of unimaginable size slowly making its way from over and through building after building. The top of its head was obscured by the low-hanging storm clouds. All he could make out was a massive, clawed arm and grotesque, writhing tentacles.

A vehicle came careening down the street toward the station and stopped just in front of O’Toole. Mayfield stepped out, book in hand.

“The book, O’Toole. You have to read it now!”

Still staring at the beast, O’Toole reached out his hands and took hold of the leather grimoire. His eyes drifted down to the open pages. Rain was falling on the pages, but they refused to stain. The writing looked to be random scrawling but slowly took shape. The writing formed words but they were only gibberish. Then they too started to make sense. It all started to make sense. O’Toole’s mind was filled with beautiful, horrible truths. Everything made sense and yet, at the same time, all became madness. O’Toole could feel the entity fighting against him. He could feel his mind tearing. He could see the universe and all its infinite possibilities.


Something cold touched the tip of O’Toole’s finger.

“Start from the beginning again, Mr. O’Toole.”

O’Toole was staring down at his hand. A drip of water fell off his drenched hat and into a growing puddle in his hand. The rain outside had soaked him through to the bone. He had long since abandoned concern for keeping dry. It was impossible to stay dry in New Abhoth during the month of March. Today had proven to be particularly difficult.

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