Awake. Light filtered through Scott’s eyelids, pain stabbing into his skull with it. Agony was the first thing he was aware of, but before he’d even had time to think coherently, a lurching in his stomach became his immediate concern. A cold band of roiling pain, followed by sweating told him what was coming next. A deep breath to steel himself tipped him over the edge and as the vomit surged up through his body, Scott opened his mouth and rolled over to allow it to exit. At least, he tried to.
Panic gripped Scott thoroughly, as realised he couldn’t move his body. Opening his eyes wide, despite the stabbing bolts of pain jabbing back into his skull, he tried to see why he couldn’t move anything below his neck, but his eyes filled reflexively with tears as he retched violently. Blinded by tears, his head snapped reflexively forward as the vomit welled up inside his mouth. Scott tried to spit out the the thick, gunky fluid as it filled his mouth and windpipe, but with mounting terror it rapidly began to dawn on him that his retching was fetching up more than he could force out with what little breath he had left. His throat filled with vomit that he tried desperately to swallow back down as it came up, but all it did was make his stomach react with even greater volumes of bile, half digested food and beer. Completely unable to breath, he knew he was dying; choking to death on his own vomit. He began to thrash wildly, but felt pain in his legs, arms and chest holding his panicked movement to a minimum. His tear blinded eyes began to lose what little vision they had as blackness closed across his sight. He continued to struggle, but knew he would be dead in a few seconds. Fucking bastard! – was the thought than echoed around his skull as consciousness began to fade from him.
“Don’t let it die, you idiots. Turn it over on its side.” A sharp, unnervingly familiar voice snapped somewhere above him. Scott felt himself, or at least the surface he was lying on, being turned onto one side. Vomit poured from his mouth where he spat weakly, clinging desperately to the notion that he might not be dead yet. Pain again shot through him, as he felt himself began to fall but was stopped by whatever was holding him down in the first place. He didn’t care about that though, he only cared about forcing that thick liquid out of his mouth and throat. For what seemed like hours, his body rejected everything he had put into it since yesterday afternoon. At last, moaning feebly and with tears flowing freely down his face, there was nothing left to expel and he was able to take real breaths again.
“Turn it over again. Let it get its breath back. The Child likes the anointed to know what’s happening to them.” Something in those words triggered a half memory that Scott couldn’t form properly. Panic and revulsion flooded through him at hearing that voice say those particular words, but he didn’t know why.
As he was turned once again onto his back, Scott tried hard to focus his strained and tear drenched eyes on what was going on around him, his heart racing and total confusion beginning to register in his mind for the first time since waking up. He couldn’t see anyone or anything except a dirty white and featureless ceiling. He was aware of several people clustered around him, but everything else was a blank. He didn’t know where he was, or what was happening and that scared him beyond everything he had known before in his life.
Pain lancing through his mind with every slight noise or thought, he tried to piece together what was happening to him. Everything was jumbled together in one giant web that he couldn’t untangle; his alcohol fuelled bender, the bizarre evening in Ingleton, the funeral, the long drive through the bleak Cumbrian landscape and lurking half formed behind all of it, the creature in the mirror and thing on the church window! Panic took him fully then, all attempts to piece together what was happening consumed by an overwhelming urge to flee. He thrashed and screamed, yelling his terror and confusion at the top of his voice, his still raw throat burning with pain, but he couldn’t stop himself. The feeling that he had to escape was deeper and more complete than any emotion he’d felt in his short existence.
“Hit it!” Fresh pain exploded in Scott’s head, white flashes jagging across his vision and a powerful ringing in his ears were the only thing he was aware of for a few seconds. “That’s better.” That same familiar voice said, “It shouldn’t scream too much before it knows The Child. It won’t have any terror left for the Ritual and my baby boy gets what he wants.”
His vision finally clearing, Scott tried to turn his head as much as he could, to see what was going on, to make some sense of the nightmare his life had become. To his left, he could see Billy and Nez and a few other faces he didn’t recognise. His memories came back into focus for the first time that morning, and some semblance of realisation came into sharp relief. The bastards are robbing me – he thought. A little voice at the back of his mind whispered that something far stranger was going on, but Scott forced it down.
Straining his neck forward to its fullest, he could see his own naked body tied roughly to a flat wooden board, vomit coating his chest. Above his toes, he could make out the forehead of Alice and what looked like it might be Gemma. There were other people to his right, but he only half recognised them from the previous night in the bar, which was where he appeared to be being held. He began to speak, but nothing came out except a small, somewhat pathetic, croak. He coughed painfully, trying to clear his throat enough to allow him to talk.
“This is a lot of trouble to go to for a shitty ten year old Volvo and the twenty quid I’ve got left in my wallet. The credit card in there’s tapped out and I’m in arrears on the repayments.” Worryingly, there were a few chuckles from the assembled populace of Ingleton. Alice stepped forward, her repulsive face and the upper half of her body coming into sharp focus at the foot of the wooden board he was strapped to.
“Does it really think we’d go to all of this trouble just to rob it?” She asked. “Everything it has that we want, we took from it last night.” Gemma giggled, away where he couldn’t see her and the panic and feeling of nausea washed over Scott again, although he still couldn’t figure out why. “Enough talk.” She turned away from Scott and spoke to the room at large. “It’s awake enough now. We can take it to The Child so it has something to play with during the ritual.” With that brief instruction, the menfolk stepped forward and took the edges of the wooden board, hoisting the platform Scott was strapped to up above chest level and moving Scott, struggling and protesting, towards what he guessed was the door.
Bright sunlight shone on Scott’s upturned face as he was carried across the street towards the church opposite. He yelled for help, hoping that someone who occupied one of the houses stretched out along the road through the village would come to his aid, phone the police, anything besides allow him to be taken into the church, but every yell was greeted with cheers and whoops by the crowd bearing him. He knew with sickening certainty what was planned for him. He would be carried across to the churchyard and left as a sacrifice for it. The mind deadening abomination which adorned the window, Shub-Niggurath they had called it. Even the name struck a chill into his heart.
Tears rolled freely down Scott’s face as he was carried through the gates, begging and pleading all the way for them to let him go, to kill him, anything except to leave him to the mercy of Shub-Niggurath. As they carried him once again past the rows of tortured souls on the portico, Scott found no humour in them, seeing only the eternity of torture and madness that lay ahead for himself. He began to scream again as they carried him around the corner and towards the bench that faced onto the window, the portal through which his doom lay. He screamed for mercy, for God, Buddha, Allah, Gitche Manitou and any other deity he could name to save him from Shub-Niggurath’s great maw, that hideous void from which nothing, not even light could escape.
With a suddenness that brought even his hysterics to a brief halt, Scott was tilted to his side, the ropes which bound him digging into his shoulders and ribs as his weight shifted. Alice’s face appeared in front of his own.
“Ha’d its screaming. Does it think I would put one as unworthy as itself before the Great Old One hisself?” Scott could only goggle at her, barely comprehending what she was saying, did she mean he would be spared? He could barely take in the concept of coming here to the church and not being placed before the “Great Old One” as she referred to it. What else did they have planned for him?
“It’s to be given to The Child while we perform the Ritual of the Quickening. My baby boy gets so upset when he hears the chanting, so he needs a distraction while his mam does what she has to. The rites have to be observed for the Quickening to take, does it understand? It won’t lose its soul to the Great Old One.” Scott’s heart briefly soared with elation and he felt tears of relief streaming down his face. “The Child saw it last night while it shaved its face.” Scott’s bowels lurched as he remembered what he’d seen last night in the mirror while he shaved. Alice smiled, her already repulsive and toad-like face made even more hideous by the expression. “I’m guessing it saw The Child, too. Well, The Child needs a toy and a meal. Why not kill two birds with one stone?” She cackled with delight, as Scott began to shout and scream once more. She stepped aside and Scott saw a small door built into the side of the church building down a small flight of steps. “Take it down.”
In the under croft of the church, the light was yellowed and dim, coming through only one grime covered window no larger than a shoebox at the level of the ground outside. Scott cast his eyes about himself, trying frantically to see what was around him, where The Child could be lurking. He was alone now, or at least there were no other people with him. Nez, Billy and the other menfolk had simply leaned the board he was strapped to against a squat supporting column for the many arches which were placed evenly around the room in which he had been left.
The room seemed to cover the whole floor area of the large church above him, and appeared to be used as a storage area from what little of it Scott make out in the gloom. Uneven piles of crates or boxes were scattered haphazardly around, along with folded trestle tables, stacked chairs and the other detritus of a thriving church. There was no sign of another occupant, but Scott couldn’t see even half of the cavernous space from where he was positioned and even then, most of what he could see was shrouded in shadows. A scraping sound from the space behind him was enough to bring a small terrified yell from him, causing Scott to begin thrashing again.
This was the first time Scott had been in an upright position since he’d come to, what seemed like hours ago, but could only be perhaps ten or fifteen minutes beforehand. His heart skipped a beat as he realised that he was tied to the board in such a way as to keep a prone person helpless, but not in such a way as to hold secure someone who was upright. His hands weren’t secured at all, but bound at the elbow by a rope passing over his body and seemingly tied at the back of the board. The same with the bindings around his upper chest and the two ropes around his thighs and calves. Hope began to flutter inside him, as an idea formed.
Willing himself to be calm, Scott began to breathe carefully, each breath more shallow than the last. He could feel the ropes holding his upper body becoming slack, as his chest and stomach contracted with each tiny inhalation and exhalation. The scraping sound behind him was still there and Scott was convinced it was louder now, as if the thing making it were drawing closer to him. He forced himself to ignore it and focused himself on what he planned to do.
Forcing every scrap of breath out of his body, his torso shrunk enough to allow him room to wiggle his arms and shoulders within the slack that was created. Within seconds, his already exhausted and abused body was crying out for oxygen, but he ignored it, knowing that to breath in was to make a potentially fatal delay. He couldn’t say how, but he knew that The Child was in the room with him, perhaps only feet away from him and to hesitate was to die. Chest heaving and eyesight beginning to fade, he made a final push with his wriggling and contorting.
YES! – Elation ran through him as he was able to free his arms, the binding on his upper stomach sliding downwards as he forced the one restraining his chest and upper arms over his shoulders. He breathed in gratefully, letting his lungs fill to capacity, trying not gasp loudly as he wrestled with the far tighter ropes around his thighs whilst struggling not to let his elbows appear at the sides of the board, letting The Child he was certain was behind him know he was more than halfway to freedom.
No matter how much he relaxed his leg muscles, he couldn’t force the ropes around them any further down from his upright position. With a sickening lurch of fear, he admitted to himself that he would have to bend forward to push the bindings down far enough that he could step out of them. As soon as he raised his arms to lift the topmost of the ropes over his head to give himself the room to do that, it would be obvious that he was free and The Child would attack him at that instant. Taking a deep breath to steady his nerves, and trying not whimper in panic as he did so, Scott quickly fought loose of the rope around his neck and bent down to struggle with the ropes trapping his legs in place. The ropes came down agonizingly slowly, but after a few horrifying seconds of being exposed in his flexed position, Scott was able to step forward and away from the board which had held him trapped.
With his first movement, his legs turned to jelly and Scott sprawled forward, landing on the hard rock floor with a jarring thud. Despite the wind having been knocked out of him, he rolled onto his back to better see the space behind where he had been trapped just mere seconds before, the space from which The Child had watched him. The space was empty, but for a canvas covering over some piece of junk or other, flapping slowly back and forward in an errant draught, making a slight scraping sound as it gently caressed the granite floor on which it lay. He cast his eyes wildly to the left and right, searching for The Child but nothing was visible. He knew then, in that moment of panicked searching and empty space, exactly where The Child was.
Turning his head slowly back towards the place he had originally been positioned to face, he heard a damp, gurgling hiss, something which sounded suspiciously like laughter. The creature watched me. – He thought, in rising terror. It watched me struggle free for a fucking laugh! – He felt a brief flare of anger, but it faded as quickly as it had appeared when he heard the sound of claws dragging across stone.
From the blackness into which he had been staring all the time he had fought to free himself, he saw a malformed shape come gradually into relief in the sickly yellow light cast by the window. A muffled scream escaped through his clenched jaw, he wanted to shriek his revulsion and fear at the loudest he could, but the muscles in his face wouldn’t obey him as he saw those serpent-like tentacles and the clawed, backwards jointed legs again. His mind tried to close down, to shut out the abomination he was looking on, to make him curl up into a ball and scream his terror until those vicious claws tore him apart and ended the madness for him. Some deeply buried instinct saved him though, as he recoiled backwards, hurling himself back against the board which had been his prison just seconds ago.
He backed up until he could go no further, still whimpering and with tears streaming down his face. The creature opened its mouth and those smaller tentacles, slithered out, waving back and forward rhythmically in the gloom. It raised its arm-appendages and Scott reeled to his feet, adrenaline bursting into his system as a fresh scream, louder than he thought he could have managed from a throat that had screamed so much already, issued out of him.
The Child leapt forward, quicker than its misshapen body would seem to allow, arm-appendages and mouth tentacles fully extended, while the repugnant vestigial head on its chest snapped and clacked its raptor’s beak, now alert and fierce looking as it sensed prey. Scott sidestepped automatically, feeling the slash of a claw along his left shoulder as he turned around to try and run, while another dug into his left wrist, preventing him from putting any distance between himself and The Child. Spinning around with a shout of pain, he lashed out randomly, knocking the board down with his right arm and sending the creature staggering backwards and releasing its grip on him, while Scott flung himself backwards as well, his instincts forcing him to put as much distance between himself and the abomination as was possible.
The Child wrapped the arm-appendages around the board, throwing it aside and moving towards Scott again, covering the distance he had gained in a flurry of clattering, chitinous, claw scraping hops, the wicked claws at the ends of its ropey arms flashing out quicker than Scott could avoid them and opening up wounds on his arms and chest. He recoiled, arms raised defensively as it stalked forward, hissing from both its mouth and vestigial head, as he watched it smear the blood on its claws onto its translucent skin, to be absorbed immediately, like a sponge soaking up water. He felt something brush the back of his legs, but before he could stop himself moving backwards, he stumbled and fell hard onto his back, feeling the rough texture of canvas on his back as fresh agony lanced through him.
The Child bunched its powerful legs and leaped high into the air, the claws on its feet extending downwards as it moved through the air towards Scott. His fingers dug reflexively into the canvas beneath him as he tried to roll away from what would be a killing blow should it land. He felt the power of the landing as it crashed into the pile of junk sending him sprawling to his right, Canvas still clutched tightly in hands.
He looked down at the back of the translucent creature, picking out the shape of its organs beneath the skin, while it thrashed to disentangle itself from the collection of broken chairs and tables it was trapped in. However horrified he was, some instincts never entirely leave and the ex-con part of him saw a chance at that moment when his enemy was vulnerable. He twisted himself so that the canvas he was holding was in front of him, then threw it over the head and torso of The Child, pinioning the prehensile tentacles it had for arms, as he slammed his head repeatedly into the back of The Child’s skull, lashing out again and again with his knee into the place where he knew its kidneys were.
A furious and agonised hissing let him know his blows were having an effect. A ripping sound alerted him to the fact that its vicious claws were shredding the canvas, but the excruciating pain he felt as the claws dug themselves into the back of his legs was unimportant. Vile and horrifying as the creature was, it could feel pain and Scott lashed out with all of his might, blindly bludgeoning something that every fibre of his being screamed at him should not be, something alien and against nature.
The Child slumped forward, the claws lashing at Scott’s back and legs growing weaker. Dizzy from the pounding his own head was receiving during his frenzied attack, Scott switched to using the point of his elbow, driving himself down onto The Child’s head with all of his bodyweight. A nauseating crack, let Scott know that he had fractured The Child’s skull even before it fell limply onto the junk. He let go of its arms, ripping the canvas away from it as he reached around from behind it and closed his hands around its throat, squeezing with every ounce of strength for several minutes, determined that the abomination wouldn’t rise up again.
When he realised that he was whimpering the word “die” over and again as he squeezed the throat of a corpse, he stood up on quivering legs, looking around himself, but he didn’t know what for. Without the all pervading aura of The Child, it was just a dingy and dark cellar. That was when became aware of the noise coming from the church above him. A muffled, rhythmic, sing-song noise he couldn’t identify.
I was a distraction! – he thought, a fucking sideshow so those bastards can do whatever they’re doing while that… that thing used me as a chew toy. – Rage built up inside him, a determination that those in the church above would pay for what they’d done to him. He looked around himself for something, anything, with which to arm himself before confronting the people who had abused him. He settled on a piece of broken wooden from the junk on which the corpse of The Child lay, before looking around for the staircase that would lead him up to the main hall. He saw it, shrouded in shadows at the opposite end of the room from which The Child had first appeared.
As he drew closer to the stairway which climbed to the main building, his anger drained away and was replaced by apprehension. The chanting grew louder as approached the foot of the stairs, a guttural litany of words he couldn’t understand, but which filled him with a dread he couldn’t articulate, even inside his own head. He climbed the stairs, not of his volition, but out of some strange compulsion he could no more resist than he could resist the pull of gravity, holding him to the earth on which he existed. Pressing his ear to the thick oak door which separated the under croft from the church proper, he could still make out nothing of the language the words were spoken in, but the pressure building behind his eyeballs alerted him to something else.
A presence he had felt once before, a presence which he had beheld briefly yesterday afternoon, when he had thought himself to be swallowed as unknowingly as he would swallow a bacterium. Through the wood and stone, through the floor beneath his feet and through every atom of his body, he became aware of a fragment of Shub-Niggurath. His began to gibber as he knew what he sharing a dimension with, even if only a shade of it, a mere reflection of the true thing. His sanity clinging by a thread, he became aware of something else.
IT SAW HIM!
Scott couldn’t even scream, he simply voided himself and backed away from the door, trying to put distance between himself and that knowing. He turned away from the door and ran down the staircase towards the small door he had been brought in by. The door was unlocked and he stepped through it in a daze, ignoring his nakedness and the bitter cold that belied the sunshine that flooded his eyes, he made his way around the church, past the front door to avoid being in sight of the window where He was. A shout from Alice barely registered in his consciousness as he tried to escape the sense of being seen and broke into a blind run, his mind empty of all but the knowledge that it was aware of him.
“She has taken the unwilling seed of a mortal man and lain with one of The Children of The Goat, bless this child with a Quickening, O Great One, so that her Child may serve you as faithfully as her brother has done!”
News report from page 5 of the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, dated 18th of September, 2009.
MISSING MAN FOUND.
Northumberland resident Scott Hayden, 32, has been found by police after being reported missing by his mother 9 days ago. He was found wandering in the Pennine foothills near Barnard Castle by a pair of hikers, who phoned the police on their mobile phone to report a naked man wandering the Pennine Way, crying and shouting incoherently at passers by.
The police have described the recently bereaved Mr. Hayden as “severely distressed” and refused to pass further comment on the matter, however one of the people who reported him to the police has told the paper he was “Shouting about Old Ones, children and somewhere called Ingleton. I’ve looked in my A-Z and on the internet, but there doesn’t seem to be any village or town called Ingleton. I think the poor man must be touched”