This story is by Josiah Hockenbarger and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The uncaring November sun had set hours ago, plunging the man and the city into darkness; the alleyway had no illumination from the gaslamps of the street. Smoke flooded over the slick flagstones of the alleyway, sourcing from a circular mass of dark green liquid; clean, thick, and slimy, it floated on the face of the brick alley wall, dripping all over the stone beneath. Its fluidity was minimal, but it still moved around itself constantly, as if churned perfectly by innumerable unseen hands.
The man, pinching his overcoat to his body with raised, trembling arms, stood around the corner of the alley. He’d tailed his investigative subject all night, which had led him here, and though he tried to leave the alley moments ago, an unnatural pull had held his feet from running back to the sanity on the street. His subject, the Possessed, sat on his knees in the alleyway before the man, but the smoke had thus far kept the man from witnessing the fate of his subject.
As the smoke cleared, the Possessed screamed out, loud and visceral, before the talons of a monster, ungodly to the point of profanity, finally pulled completely tight. It turned its hand over, spreading the fingers, cradling the head of the Possessed. With the claws of its other deformed hand, it effortlessly plucked up the rest of the bloody corpse and flung both of its hands’ contents into the midst of the circle of liquid. The cadaver went cascading through the goop without a sound.
The humanoid thing stood at nearly eight feet tall, and seemed to be made up of some slick, reptilian flesh that turned to a crystalline structure as it neared the ends of its appendages. It had no face, just two burning red eyes. The man stared at the entity as it turned to him, and it then spoke in some sickly voice that echoed through the man’s mind.
“He allowed you to follow. You should not have followed.” The man allowed no more of this insanity. His hand moved rapidly, ripping a revolver out of his overcoat pocket and raising it to meet the monster. He let no seconds pass before he emptied the entire barrel at the thing, the explosions of the firearm crashing around the alley. The man watched in horror as the bullets cruelly dissipated as they met the beast. He pulled the trigger one last time, sending the empty sound of the click to echo. The monster stood, staring its blood eyes into the man. The man drew a sharp, painful breath. The monster took one step toward him, and the man put all his force behind his heels to turn, running before he could think at all about the things that pervaded his senses. He ran without looking behind him, back toward the end of the alleyway, back toward the street, back toward the people, the sanity, the world he knew. He ran. He kept running. As he reached nearly halfway back to the street, his progress slowly halted, though he did not. He looked down at his feet to make sure that they were moving at all, that he hadn’t been convinced by his adrenaline-pumping brain that he was moving when he wasn’t. Each stride cleared numerous flagstones, and he witnessed no less than twenty strides before looking back up, recognizing the horror that he hadn’t moved an inch closer to the exit of the alley.
He slowed and stopped, his breath coming sparingly, in heaves. A noise from behind him grew louder and louder, that same shriek screaming in his mind, the last scream of the Possessed mixing with the pitch of the beast and driving him mad. His vacant hand fumbled through his other overcoat pocket, and it emerged victorious, wielding a final cartridge. Panicking, he flung the gun’s barrel out, still facing away from the horror behind him, and looked down to load the bullet. His hands were shaking more than he believed they could. His legs were on fire, vibrating from his sprint. His muscles all pulled tight in terror, and the bullet slipped from his grasp.
He watched it clatter to the flagstones in the dim light from the impossibly-distant street.
A deep breath brought little comfort to the man, whose mind had been meddled with and stretched far beyond what it should’ve been. He sank to his knees, slamming his hand down on the bullet. Arkham’s musty rainwater soaked through his pants immediately, and his skin went colder than it already was. The bullet was caked in filth, having landed in a small patch of mud, but he wiped it with a clean thumb, turning it and sliding it into the chamber of the pistol. He slowly pressed the barrel back into its place until it clicked, then stumbled back up, looking toward the lighted exit of the alley, worlds away.
With constricted muscles and trembling hands, the man slowly turned. The monster stood no more than five feet behind him, patiently waiting for him to face his captor. It did not breathe; it made no sound. The man was surprised to find it standing with its sharp arm outstretched, a long arm that almost touched him as he turned. It held an object, almost closing the gap completely. The man met eyes again with the thing, then looked down at what was closed in its bloody talons.
“I disposed of him. Now you must take it.” The voice was the only thing now in the man’s mind: loud, clear, and in a tone that man should never hear. The man brought his empty hand up to grasp the small statue that the Possessed once held. As the monster moved its claws away, the figure could see the statue clearly. It was an idol, made from clay, depicting some horrible being, much worse than the thing mere feet from the man now. The man shivered at the sight of whatever the idol was, but he couldn’t look away. He held it up, turning it around, his face contorting in disgust from the thought of allegiance with, or knowledge of, whatever the statue was meant to represent. He let the idol slip from his rattling fingers. The monster didn’t flinch. The statue was suddenly but smoothly caught in the air and moved through the misty space back up into the monster’s hand. He held it out once again, and for a moment, that terrible screeching started in the man’s head again.
The man snatched the statue and threw it back into the alley as hard as he could, lifting the gun in his other hand straight up to his own temple. As all fear washed out of his body, he squeezed the trigger.