The Shadow over Lawndale
Daria walked at her usual casual pace toward Jane’s house. Her best friend had called her and insisted that she come over immediately. She paused for a moment when she saw Trent’s car parked in front of the Lane home.
"Great", she thought to herself. "Maybe I’ll get an opportunity to make a fool of myself in front of Trent again. Just the thing to brighten my day."
Daria rang the doorbell and was surprised when Jane immediately opened the door and stepped outside, with Trent in tow.
"Hey, Daria", Trent replied, after his usual lag behind the pace of the rest of the world.
Jane grabbed Daria by the arm and began leading her toward Trent’s car. "C’mon. Trent’s taking us out. We don’t want to be late."
As they reached the car, Daria immediately opened the back door and got in, ignoring the dirty look that Jane flashed her.
"Tough", Daria thought to herself as Jane sat in the front seat next to Trent. "She can play yenta with me and her brother on her own damn time."
"So, um, where are we going, exactly?", Daria asked.
"McGrundy’s Pub", Jane replied. "There’s a band playing there that Trent thinks you’ll like."
"You mean that they still haven’t gotten their liquor license back? You’d think that the city would have forgotten that incident by now."
"Turns out that they’ve been making more money without it than they did with it, so they never reapplied."
"In other words, they realized that they can make more profit if their product doesn’t render the customers unconscious while they still have money left to spend."
"So what’s this band we’re going to see?"
"Trent was telling me a little about them. They’re called ‘The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets’."
"The Who-of-the-What? And I thought ‘Mystik Spiral’ was ba…exotic."
"Hey, don’t ask me. I’d never heard of them before today."
"They’re a bunch of guys I know from Vancouver", Trent said with a smile. "They don’t play much outside of Canada, except for some gaming conventions."
"Gaming conventions?", said Daria. "So basically, they’re a bunch of fat guys with beards who live in their parents’ basements and wear T-shirts that say things like…’Wizards Do It with Big Staffs’." She immediately winced painfully and blushed as Jane smirked at her and Trent smiled again. "Oh, God. I can’t believe I just said that."
"Nah", replied Trent. "They’re cool. They even have a few music videos and a recording contract." A small frown that could almost be considered jealous passed over Trent’s face for a moment, before being replaced with his usual serene expression.
The car pulled into McGrundy’s parking lot and after several attempts at parking, they went inside the crowded pub. As soon as they saw the band playing on stage, Daria and Jane both froze. Their mouths hung open.
"Either those guys have some serious wardrobe problems…", Jane began.
"…or living in Lawndale has finally destroyed what sanity we had left and we’re experiencing some severe hallucinations", finished Daria.
"Oh, yeah", said Trent. "I forgot to mention, they always wear monster costumes when they perform. They’re sort of ‘theme band’"
"And that theme is ‘We need to be medicated’", said Daria
"Interesting use of color though", observed Jane. "Like something the Guggenheim threw-up."
The drummer was wearing a glossy black body suit with bat-wings, a barbed tail, and a triangular mask, faceless except for eyeholes. The lead guitarist was in a blue-green scale-covered costume that looked like an unsuccessful mating of the Creature from the Black Lagoon and Kermit the Frog. The base guitarist wore a blue-furred costume with eyes on stalks and a vertical mouth full of sharp teeth on the top of its head. The backup vocalist appeared to be some sort of crustacean, with multiple clawed limbs extending from his torso. The lead singer was in a vivid red costume with tentacled arms and…
"Dear God!!", exclaimed Jane. "Please tell me that he’s supposed to be some sort of cow!
"Yeah, Devil-cow", replied Trent. "Most people react that way the first time they see the udders. I keep telling Toren he should place them higher on the costume. I think he likes freaking people out."
"If Freud came back from the dead and saw that outfit, he’d die all over again", observed Daria.
"Heh. Good one Daria."
Daria, Jane, and Trent quickly found a table as the band began a new song.Can you see my body
Daria sat with a stunned look on her face. "Are they singing about…?"
"Yeah", replied Trent, "’The Haunter of the Dark’. A lot of their songs are inspired by H.P. Lovecraft stories."
"That’s why Trent thought you’d like them", added Jane. "Though personally, I don’t see why you would like Lovecraft. That whole business of humanity as a powerless and insignificant speck alone in a hostile and uncaring universe doesn’t really seem to fit you."
"You found me out", Daria deadpanned. "I’m not really the upbeat Pollyanna everybody thinks I am."
The trio continued to watch the show, amused by the band’s onstage antics as they performed songs about shoggoths, insectoid love affairs, suffocating time travelers, and rampaging robotic engines of teenage vengeance.
"You were right", admitted Daria. "These guys are pretty cool…for raving lunatics."
"But as long as they’re raving, we’re safe", said Jane. "Remember, it’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for."
An exaggerated look of shock appeared on Jane’s face and she made a big show of edging away from Daria while casting nervous sidelong glances at her friend.
"Funny, Jane. I’ll try not to be too quite while I’m planting my boot in your ass."
The Thickets finished their show and exited the stage, their place taken by a second, far more mundane band. After a while, two men approached the table. Daria recognized the Thickets’ lead singer, a shorthaired man who sort of resembled a heavier, healthier, wide-awake Trent with wire-frame glasses and a general coating of stubble instead of a goatee. The second, a thin dark-haired man whose complexion and facial features suggested Native American ancestry, was a stranger. She suddenly realized that he must be the drummer, whose face had been covered during the show.
"Hey, Toren. Hey Jordan", Trent said as he nodded to the singer and drummer in turn. "Great show."
"Thanks", replied Toren. "So, who are your friends?"
"Oh, sorry. This is my sister Jane and her friend Daria Morgendorffer." He turned to the girls. "This is Toren Atkinson and Jordan Pratt."
"Nice to meet you", said Jane.
"Surreal, but nice", added Daria.
"So, what did you think of the show?", asked Toren.
"I’d have to say you were ‘adequately excellent’ musicians", replied Daria.
Toren’s face split into a wide grin. "Ah, a fellow fan of the Old Gent. Without him, we’d probably all be performing lame love songs."
"A concept that is somehow even more frightening than your costumes."
"Hey, it works for Gwar."
"Now there’s a convincing argument."
"Toren’s an artist too", Trent added.
"Really?" asked Jane. "Me too. What do you do?"
"Mostly art for role-playing game companies", replied Toren.
"So, in other words, you draw women with breasts the size of basketballs, who are barely wearing chainmail bikinis", Daria commented dryly.
"He wishes", joked Jordan. "Not really his style. He usually ends up drawing otherworldly monsters and their victims. Human, of course."
"Grant Wood’s ‘American Gothic Horror’."
"Exactly", replied Toren. "Although I did once do a drawing called "Where the Old Ones Are."
"You don’t mean…?" interjected Jane.
"Yeah. Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones drawn in Maurice Sendak’s style."
Jane smirked at the thought. "I’d love to get a look at that."
"Well…" Toren reached into his pocket and pulled out a pen and scrap of paper. He quickly scrawled a line of text and handed the note to Jane. "This is the address for my website. I have a lot of my art online, including that one."
The five of them continued to talk for over an hour. Or rather, four of them did. Trent resumed his normal behavior and his head was soon tipped back as he quietly snored.
Daria gestured toward Trent. "Sleeping…er…Beauty there told us that you usually don’t perform outside of Canada. What brought you to Lawndale?"
Neither she nor Jane really noticed the uneasy look that quickly passed between Toren and Jordan.
"The show was just an opportunity while we were here", replied Jordan. "We came to town for…personal business."
The man stood quietly, looking down at the lit candles and bloodstains that covered the desk in front of him. He raised his head and glared at the towering creatures that waited in the shadows.
"They’re here. Go. Kill them all."
Toren looked at a nearby clock and then turned rather sheepishly to the others. "Merrick, Bob, and Warren took the van to the hotel right after the show. Any chance Jordan and I can impose on you for a lift?"
"Sure thing", replied Jane. "Isn’t helping each other in the Brotherhood of Artists bylaws, or something?"
"Assuming we can wake up Trent", added Daria.
Eventually, Trent was revived and the group walked outside to his car.
"This time you can ride in the front Daria", Jane quickly said. She placed the back of her hand to her head in a melodramatic pose. "I’ll just have to suffer squeezed in the back with these two."
She didn’t see Jordan roll his eyes and silently mouth the word "Jailbait" to Toren. Toren smirked and shrugged in response.
They climbed into the car and pulled out of the parking lot.
"So", asked Trent. "Where are we going?"
"The Dutchman Inn", replied Toren.
Jane tried to hold in her laughter. "At least that giant clog keeps any cockroaches from coming within a half-mile of the place."
"It has the same effect on a lot of humans", Daria added.
"What can I say. We’re on a budget."
They had been riding for several minutes when their attention was suddenly caught by an unearthly wailing screech, like an electric guitar fed into a trash compactor. The source of the sound seemed to be getting progressively closer.
Trent!" Toren shouted. "Stop the car! Now!"
As Trent stepped on the brakes, the screeching was joined by the tortured sound of tearing metal as a pair of claws began tearing the roof of the car open. At the same time a creature resembling a blasphemous hybrid of human, bat, and wasp crashed down onto the hood of the car. The engine suddenly quit as something vital was crushed. The creature’s beaked face glared through the windshield as its companion continued to work on the roof.
"Everybody out! Quickly!" Jordan yelled.
As everyone piled out of the car, a large caliber handgun suddenly appeared in Toren’s hand. He hit each of the creatures with several rounds, staggering them, but doing no noticeable damage.
"Jordan, the one on the roof. I’ve got the other."
"I’m on it."
Jordan seemed to blur as he ran toward the creature faster than anything Daria, Jane, and Trent had ever seen. He made an effortless 20-foot leap onto the roof of the car and drove his fist into the monster’s midsection with an audible crack. The creature shrieked and clamped its beak onto his left arm. Jordan just grinned.
"Sorry, no blood there for you to drain. Better luck next time."
He gripped the creature’s left arm and, with a grunt of exertion and a wet tearing sound, ripped it from its socket in a spray of green ichor. He tossed the arm aside, pulled back his fist, and drove it straight through the creature’s chest. With a gurgling whimper it collapsed, dead.
"Oops, guess there won’t be a next time."
At the same time, Toren reached into his jacket and produced a leather pouch. He quickly opened it and withdrew a handful of silver powder. He rushed the creature and threw the powder into its face. It roared in agony as the substance began to eat away at its flesh like acid. Half-blind, it spread its wings and lifted into the air, trying to escape.
Toren glared calmly at the fleeing beast. "Too late for that, bastard."
The creature burst into white flames in midair and moments later its blackened bones dropped to the ground and exploded into powder.
"Cool", said Trent.
"What..what was that?" Jane stammered.
"Dust of Suleiman", replied Toren with a shrug. "It disrupts the cell structure of nonterrestrial lifeforms."
"Not that!" Jane shrieked. "That…" She gestured at the fallen creatures. "Those…those things."
"Byakhees", said Jordan, placing a calming hand on Jane’s shoulder. "Servants of He Who Is Not To Be Named."
"Wait a second", interrupted Daria. "You mean Has…"
Toren’s hand shot out and covered Daria’s mouth. "Not To Be Named. There’s a reason for that."
Daria pulled Toren’s hand away. "But he doesn’t exist. He’s just part of the Cthulhu Mythos H.P. Lovecraft created back in the 1920’s. He’s just a story."
Toren shook his head. "Lovecraft was a Sensitive…a psychic. His dreams showed him information about the Old Ones and he incorporated it into his stories. That’s one of the reasons he was recruited to be a founding member of the Wilmarth Foundation."
"The what?" asked Jane.
"The Wilmarth Foundation", replied Jordan. "The organization that sent us to Lawndale. They work out of Miskatonic University in Arkham Massachusetts. In the early part of the century, several members of the faculty had encounters with agents of the Mythos. After that, they started pooling their knowledge and resources and recruiting allies, trying to keep humanity alive. Lovecraft helped the University librarian Henry Armitage build-up the Foundation’s databases before he…er…died. Anyway, several Foundation Sensitives felt that something was going down here, so we were sent to investigate."
"And clearly whoever is working here knows that we’re in town", added Toren.
"And since you need sidekicks like us like Trent needs sleeping pills", Daria commented, pointing toward Trent as he looked under the hood of his car. "We’ll just leave you to your suicidal fun."
"Too dangerous", replied Toren with a shake of his head. "This town might be going to hell soon, literally. Going home won’t protect you, so you might as well stay with us. It’s marginally safer for you and we can use extra eyes watching our backs."
"Yeah", commented Jane. "We can watch your backs as your spines get ripped out by some bug-eyed monster. Might make an interesting painting though. Can I wake up now?"
"Disintegrate later", snapped Toren. "We need to get moving and hook up with the others at the hotel. It wouldn’t surprise me if they had been attacked too."
Trent rejoined the group. "We’re going to have to walk then. The car’s not going anywhere. Fuel pump’s crushed."
"Great. Well, let’s get going then."
The five of them walked down the sidewalk in relative silence. After a few minutes, Daria and Jane both found themselves looking at Jordan.
"So", asked Daria. "What’s your story?"
"What do you mean?" replied Jordan.
"You know what she means", said Jane. "That stuff you did in the fight was definitely not normal."
Jordan replied with an enigmatic grin. "Sorry. Your security clearance isn’t high enough. Let’s just say, if I quit my day job, my bosses would have a lot of surgery to do to reclaim their property."
"Cool", commented Trent. "Like Steve Trevor."
"Or Frankenstein’s Monster", added Daria.
Both girls shuddered involuntarily.
Toren gestured for everyone to stop and drew his handgun. "Nobody move. I just heard something. Something unpleasant."
The group froze in the island of light created by a nearby streetlight. From the darkness around them came a dull clicking sound reminiscent of footsteps. Half a dozen human-like shapes emerged from the shadows. As they approached the light, they were revealed as emaciated subhuman beasts, clad in rags and encrusted with mold. Their hoofed feet clattered on the pavement and their canine faces snarled hungrily.
"Somebody get Quinn. Her dates are here", Daria said, fighting to control her fear.
Toren glanced at her in confusion for a moment, then returned his attention to the creatures stalking toward them. "Ghouls. Corpse eaters. Used to be human. We don’t need this right now. Bullets hurt them, but not much. We should be able to take them though." He drew a bead on the lead ghoul.
Trent held up his hand to stop Toren from firing.
"Hang on a second, I know these guys", Trent calmly stated as he approached the pack of ghouls. "Hey Leon, how’s it going?"
Trent continued to speak to the ghouls, but his speech changed to an incoherent mixture of "meeps and glibbers". After several minutes of conversation, the ghouls turned and calmly wandered into the shadows and Trent returned to his companions, who were gaping at him in shock.
"Traditionalists", he said as if to offer explanation. "They’re ok guys as long as you don’t bug ‘em. It’s the Heretics you gotta watch out for. But they mostly hang out in Manhattan and Jersey."
Trent seemed oblivious to his friend’s stares as he continued. "They don’t have anything to do with what’s going on. In fact, they’re heading for their tunnels to evacuate the town before it all goes down. They did say that some of them have seen someone digging up bodies from the local cemetery and taking them toward Lawndale High. I suppose we should check it out."
"The end of the world has its roots in Lawndale High", Daria commented with a sigh. "Why do I get the feeling that this will involve either Ms. Li or the Fashion Club?"
"A solid recall of past events?", offered Jane with a wry smile.
"I’ll pretend that I know what you’re talking about", said Toren as he turned to face Trent. "Where did you learn to speak Ghoul?"
"Oh, that", Trent placidly replied. "I learned it from King Randy a while back, the last time I visited Ilek-Vad. He said it might come in handy."
"King Ran…Randolph Carter?", Jordan exclaimed. "You’re a Dreamer?"
"I don’t know about Dreamer, but he’s certainly a Sleeper", Jane commented. "He spends more time asleep than awake."
"Yeah", replied Trent. "I found the Seventy Steps of Light Slumber right before I finished High School. Cool place."
Toren and Jordan just shook their heads in disbelief.
Toren turned to Daria and Jane. "What’s the fastest way to get to the High School?"
Daria turned and pointed. "Um, down that street, left on Walker, three more blocks. But shouldn’t we go get your friends?"
"I don’t think we have time. Don’t worry. They can take care of themselves."
The Dutchman Inn was in flames. Smoke poured from most of the windows and the massive wooden clog on the roof burned like a funeral pyre. From inside, drowning out the alarms, came agonized screams, inhuman howls, and the crack of gunfire. Police cars and fire engines began arriving, little suspecting what awaited them.
When they were a block away from the school, Jane turned to Daria.
"We’re heading for the high school to stop demonic forces from destroying the world", observed Jane. "When did our lives become ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’?"
Toren briefly flashed her a dirty look.
"What?" asked Jane.
"Nothing really", replied Toren. "Old resentment. We sent a tape to the studio to try to get our music on the show and they completely ignored us."
"Probably just as well", observed Daria. "Their average viewer probably thinks Lovecraft is something to do with the Kama Sutra."
At this, the others all burst out laughing.
As they approached the entrance to Lawndale High, Toren shook his had sadly.
"Cultists lurking in a place of learning. Reminds me of when I helped raid the library at Alexandria."
Daria stared at him. "But, the library was burned in 411 AD."
Toren blinked at her calmly. "Yes?"
Jordan grabbed the front doors of the school and pulled, snapping the locks with a loud crack. Everyone quickly entered the building, only to jump as the doorway-mounted metal detector reacted to Toren’s pistol.
"Damn!" Toren swore as Jordan drove his fist through the control unit. "I think we just lost the element of surprise."
"Why didn’t it react to you?" Jane asked Jordan.
"High-strength polymers and non-ferrous alloys", explained Jordan.
"We can make him sneaky. We have the technology", said Daria. "So where do we go now?"
"How about that way?" Trent commented, nodding down the corridor.
They turned in the direction he indicated and saw another horde of creatures carefully shambling toward them from far down the hall. These creatures appeared to be human, but all were horribly disfigured. Some were missing limbs, some had extra limbs, some had their limbs in the wrong places, and one even had its legs fused into a single snail-like appendage. But all showed a mindless savagery in their expressions.
"What the hell are those things?" asked Daria.
"They look like living Picassos", commented Jane.
"Onlie the liveliest awfullness", replied Jordan. "Now we know what was being done with the corpses. When a dead body is reduced to its essential salts, it can be restored to life with the right spell. But if part of the body is missing, you get those things. At least we’re not dealing with the Herbert West formula. Serum zombies are a bitch to kill."
"Enough talking. Here they come", shouted Toren.
As the creatures reached them, Jordan leaped into their midst, tearing and crushing with his bare hands. One of them slipped past him and attempted to attack Jane, only to suffer a devastating kick to the groin from Trent, followed by a punch to the back of the head, reinforced by the rings on his hand.
"Thanks Trent", Jane gasped with a stunned look on her face.
"Hey, nobody messes with my kid sister."
Toren", Jordan shouted. "There are too many of them. The civilians are gonna get killed. Is that reversal ready yet?"
"Ready", Toren shouted. He made a sweeping gesture toward the walking corpses and began chanting. "OGTHROD AI’F GEB’L-EE’H YOG-SOTHOTH’NGAH’NG AI’Y ZHRO."
When the final syllable was uttered, the creatures froze in place and, like an otherworldly time-lapse film, dissolved into small piles of bluish-gray dust. All but one of them.
The last surviving beast desperately leaped past Toren and Jordan and threw itself at Daria. With a howl of rage, it lashed out with its claws as it pounced. Daria screamed as her arm was torn open and she collapsed with the creature on top of her. It opened its jaws, preparing to bury its fangs in her throat. Suddenly, with a roar like thunder, its head exploded in a spray of blood and bone. A dark-haired young woman dressed in black stepped from a nearby doorway, clutching a still-smoking shotgun.
"It’s about time you clowns showed up", she snarled at Toren and Jordan. "What kept you?"
"Nice to see you again too, Andrea", replied Toren with a smirk.
"Andrea?!" Daria and Jane exclaimed in unison.
"Hey", said Trent.
Andrea looked at the three of them and smirked. "I should have known you people would get involved here. Seems like you get caught up in everything else that happens in this town." She looked down at Daria’s bleeding arm. "We need to take care of that arm. I’ve got a bolt hole set up that should be safe for a while longer. Come on."
She led the group into a nearby classroom. The windows were barricaded and several heavy objects were positioned to be quickly moved in front of the door.
"We should be safe in here for the moment."
The others watched the door while Andrea wrapped a makeshift bandage around Daria’s arm. She gave her patient a sympathetic look.
"I know what you’re going through. It was a little over a year ago that I joined the Foundation the hard way, just like you."
"Wait a second. Nobody said I was joining your little army. My regular life was weird enough without worrying about fighting creatures from the dawn of time like some bleach-blonde cheerleader wannabe. Sorry Toren."
Andrea sighed patiently. "Daria, once you know what’s waiting Outside, trying to reclaim our world, you have three choices. You can pretend it never happened, and slowly go insane. You can end it quickly with a bullet in the brain. Or you can take a stand and fight for the future."
"Sure", chimed in Jane, shaking her fist in mock anger. "We may all be doomed to die an agonizing death, but at least we can take some of the bastards with us."
"Exactly", replied Andrea.
"Too bad I was kidding."
"Besides", continued Daria. "If what Lovecraft wrote was right then what’s the point. Eventually, the stars WILL come right, the Old Ones WILL revive, and humanity WILL be destroyed. The best we can do is…" She paused to think for a moment. "…push the snooze button on the Doomsday Clock."
Toren glanced over from the doorway. "Well, to continue your analogy, there’s no reason we can’t keep hitting the snooze button again and again. And given enough time, we might find a way to turn off the alarm."
Daria sighed. "I guess."
"Now, if Andrea’s done patching you up, we’ve got to keep moving."
The trail left by the resurrected corpses led them to Ms Defoe’s art classroom. In the center of the room sat a bloodstained desk covered with lit candles. Before the desk stood a hooded figure holding an ornate metal knife.
"Party’s over pal", shouted Toren.
The hooded man spun around, a look of rage on his face. His left eye bulged grotesquely.
"You FOOLS can’t really EXPECT to STOP me, DO YOU?" he screamed. His eye throbbed as if to punctuate each word.
"Whoa", breathed Trent.
"I never did really like him", commented Andrea, covering him with her shotgun..
"Mr. DeMartino?" Daria asked in disbelief.
"REALLY, Ms Morgendorffer. I wouldn’t expect YOU to ask a QUESTION with such an OBVIOUS answer. OF COURSE it’s me."
Toren rolled his eyes. "Let me guess. Blood sacrifice, open a gate, release the Old Ones, end of the world, blah, blah, blah. Been there, done that. Just put down the knife. It’ll be easier for you."
"FOOLS. Soon the STARS will be RIGHT, and the OLD ONES will awaken, WHATEVER you do. They will sweep HUMANITY of the Earth like the DUST that fills your THICK skulls."
During this tirade, his eye bulged more and more, until it exploded in a shower of blood and fluid. From the ruined socket emerged a long sinuous tentacle, dripping black slime and tipped with a vicious barb. Andrea briefly lowered her weapon in shock. Before she could recover, the tentacle struck. A bloody gash opened on her cheek, which immediately began to swell and blacken. Her eyes glazed over and she collapsed in a senseless heap.
"Andrea!" shouted Daria, wanting to rush to the aid of her savior, but not daring to move under the maddened teacher’s watchful gaze.
"Don’t worry. She’ll RECOVER. I want as many of you ALIVE as I can, so I can KILL you PROPERLY."
"You seriously expect us to be intimidated by a two-bit cultist wanna-be like you?" mocked Toren. "We’ve faced bigger threats than you in our sleep."
"OBVIOUSLY, You both FAILED to realize the SIGNIFICANCE of this DAGGER that I’m holding", Mr. DeMartino screamed.
"Just looks like ordinary copper to me", Toren replied with a smirk.
Suddenly Toren and Jordan glanced at each other, a look of realization appearing on both of their faces.
"Oh, Hell", groaned Jordan.
With a flash of blue light, two ape-like creatures with rugose hides and wrinkled, nearly featureless faces appeared behind Toren and Jordan. Moving like lightning, they wrapped their talons around the two men’s necks. With a second flash, they vanished, taking the musicians with them.
"I HOPE they both ENJOY the little VACATION my Dimensional SHAMBLERS sent them on! They WON’T be coming back!" Mr. DeMartino’s voice sank to a sinister whisper. "Now, it’s your turn."
"Um. We’ll just be going now. OK?" Jane stammered.
"I don’t THINK so Ms. Lane. I NEED several SACRIFICES, and since you were KIND enough to COME HERE on your OWN, you get ELECTED!
His tentacle reached for Jane and wrapped around her arm, pulling her toward him. Trent started to step forward but Daria stopped him with a hand on his arm. Mr. DeMartino’s tentacle withdrew into his eye socket as he placed his hand over Jane’s mouth. He used her as a human shield, his dagger held tight to her throat.
"Your SOULS will soon all be FODDER for the OLD ONES! At LEAST you can take COMFORT in the FACT that your WORTHLESS lives can find some SMALL use in the universe!
Thinking quickly, Daria placed her hand on a nearby chair and made an emphatic warning gesture toward the empty air behind Mr. DeMartino. "Ms. Barch, don’t!" she shouted.
Still recalling the severe beating that the bitter divorcee had administered to him over a recent yearbook dispute, Mr. DeMartino turned to face his imagined attacker. His obscene tentacle lashed out like an enraged snake. Taking advantage of the distraction, Jane smashed the heel of her boot onto the arch of his foot and sank her teeth into his hand. Mr. DeMartino bellowed in pain as Jane dove to safety.
Daria tightened her grip on the chair and suddenly threw it, striking the enraged teacher solidly in the stomach. He doubled over in pain and the glittering ceremonial dagger flew from his grasp.
With a single fluid motion, Trent caught the weapon and hurled it back at Mr. DeMartino. The eight-inch blade buried itself solidly in his forehead and the madman collapsed like a puppet with cut strings.
Daria and Jane stared at Trent and said, in unison, "Where the hell did you learn to do that?"
"I’ve won the knife throwing tournaments at Celephais for the last three years", he said, as he stared at his hand curiously. "Never been able to do it while I was awake though. Weird."
A static-like crackling sound behind them caused them all to turn. A glowing white hole appeared to tear itself open in midair. From the opening emerged Toren and Jordan. Their clothes were in tatters and they were covered with cuts and burns, but they appeared to be unharmed. They stared, stunned, at the dead teacher, but quickly recovered. Toren quickly moved to examine Andrea.
"Good thing we brought you with us", commented Jordan as he checked Mr. DeMartino’s body.
"Well, how could we pass up an opportunity to kill one of our teachers?" joked Jane.
"And with any luck, Ms. Li is a servant of Cthulhu too and she can be next", added Daria.
Toren muttered under his breathe while he ran his hands over Andrea’s face. His fingers began to glow with a faint blue luminescence and the swollen black welt left by Mr. DeMartino’s tentacle healed in moments.
"How did you do that?" Daria asked.
"You fight the Mythos for as many cent…years as I have, you pick up a few tricks", Toren replied with a knowing wink.
"I had to ask. Can we go home now? Or do we get to help with clean-up too?"
"We can handle the mess. We have a lot of experience with that sort of thing.
Trent shook hands with Toren and Jordan.
"It was good to see you guys. Give me a call the next time you’re going to be in the area. We’ll get together again."
"And we can make sure that we’re out of town", added Daria.
"I hear Innsmouth is a nice place to vacation", commented Jordan.
"I don’t like seafood", Daria called over her shoulder as she, Jane, and Trent turned and left.
Daria awoke late the next morning, her head still aching from the previous night’s ordeal.
"Man, what a nightmare. I’ve got to stop reading Lovecraft right before bed. Or stop eating Dad’s cooking."
When she climbed out of bed she noticed Andrea’s bandage still wrapped around her arm.
Later in the afternoon, she went online to check her e-mail. The last message she opened stopped her dead.To: DMorgendorffer@lawndale.com
It is always a pleasure to welcome such an erudite scholar as yourself into the ranks of our august body. Andrea will soon be bringing you and your friends a series of files that you will need to study in order to fully comprehend the forces that we combat, but I wanted to take this opportunity to welcome you in person. Or at least as "in person" as I am currently capable of functioning. Should you so desire, a place is guaranteed for you here at Miskatonic University once your high school education is complete. We strongly believe in rewarding skill such as yours and I am certain that your presence at this institution would be beneficial to you, the University, and the Foundation.
I look forward to our future correspondences.
Yr Obt Svt
Howard Phillips Lovecraft
Note: The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets is a real band. Their names, likenesses, and song lyrics are used here without their permission. But I doubt that Toren and the others will really mind. Their website is located at http://www.holycow.com/thickets. They have a recording contract with Divine Industries (www.divineindustries.com) where their latest CD can be purchased. Toren’s personal website, mentioned in the story is at http://users.uniserve.ca/~thickets/.
The rather exotic abilities given to Toren and Jordan in this story come from the bios on the band website. So don’t blame me for their delusions.