THE AVATAR STONE (Part 2)
“If I could have your attention, please, this is Captain Collins,” his voice crackled over the 1MC a few moments later. “There is a large, amphibious creature of unknown origin loose onboard the ship. All we really know about it is that it has tentacles and teeth and likes to use both. If anyone thinks I’m joking, come take a long look at what’s left of Ensign Landry and Lieutenant Harris. This thing killed them both – and it is extremely dangerous! If you see it, report its location to the bridge immediately.” He paused for effect, then continued. “I’m not even sure if bullets will hurt it, but I want all weapons qualified personnel to report to the small arms locker and the landing force locker immediately for weapons issue. This is for your defense only – if you spot the thing before it spots you, don’t be John Wayne! Report its location and stay clear. Again, this is not a joke and this is not a drill. Mister Thompson or I will be on the bridge at all times. This thing must be stopped, men, or it will kill again. That is all.”
Thus began the most difficult twelve hours of my life. Nothing was seen or heard of the creature, but the men remained on alert. A few still persisted in thinking of the whole thing as a joke, but the Captain made sure the two corpses were available for viewing by anyone who didn’t believe him. Shortly before sunset, another was added to their number. A lone radioman, shredding classified materials in an auxiliary space, was found dead, his severed hand still grasping the hatch-handle of the space.
As night drew on towards dawn, I suddenly turned to the Captain as he sat, a stern colossus, in his deck chair.
“Sir, did you send that message to Professor MacDonald at the Miskatonic?” I asked him.
“Yes, I did,” he replied. “Let me make sure it was transmitted.” He leaned forward and hit the button on the ‘bitch-box’ that connected the bridge with the major workspaces on the ship.
“Radio, bridge,” he said. “This is the Captain. Did that long flash message go out yet?”
There was no reply, so he pressed the button again.
“Radio, bridge, did my message go out yet?” he asked.
Still nothing. I knew my radiomen were competent enough to answer the CO if he called, and I turned pale at the next thought that entered my mind.
“Good God, Captain, do you know how many AC vents there are in the radio shack?” I said.
His eyes widened in horror.
“Shit!” he exclaimed. “XO, take the conn!”
We pounded down the ladder from the bridge to the second deck, and then raced down the portside passageway, he with his .45 and me clutching my saber in one hand, praying we wouldn’t be too late. The CO pressed the cypherlock combo on the door, and it opened with an electronic buzz and click. I pushed it wide and gagged at the sight that met my eyes. Four men had been on watch in the space, and not one of them was left alive – or in one piece. At my feet lay the corpse of RM3 Gates, an amiable young man who was always there with a joke to cheer me out of a foul temper. His arms were both gone, ripped from their sockets with nightmarish strength. Beyond him lay the headless body of Chief Reid, recognizable only by his khaki uniform, amid the dungaree-clad bodies.
Then we heard it. As long as I live, I shall never be able to shut out the sound of that bubbling, gurgling, obscene laughter from my memory. I hear it in my nightmares to this day. Advancing into the radio shack, we saw the monster we had been seeking.
How can I describe it? A good five feet tall, it looked like an unholy mixture of squid, dragon, and ape created by a mad sorcerer. A single leering eye glared at us above a mouth lined with row after row of needle-sharp teeth, and tentacles or feelers wriggled from its monstrous face. It was a nightmare, an abomination, something that had no place in a sane world – and yet, in every detail, it was a living duplicate of the monstrous statue I had picked up at the little shop in Kowloon.
It regarded us silently, with a terrible sentience, its feelers waving gently about its face, its rubbery claws clenching and unclenching. I advanced until I was between it and the ventilation shaft it had entered through, cutting off its escape. I tightened my grip on the saber, praying that some arcane power from the Elder Sign had rubbed off on it. Was the avatar able to sense it? If so, it gave no indication that it felt endangered. Instead, it burbled forth its obscene laughter again, and spoke those hideous words that I recognized from my dreams of the titanic underwater city: “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah-agl fhtagn!” Then it lowered its nightmare head and charged at me.
The Captain’s .45 roared in my ear as he emptied his clip into the monster with no visible effect. Why I stood my ground I do not know to this day. Rage at the deaths of my friends, paralyzing fear, fascination, courage – I think I felt them all in the second it took the avatar of Cthulhu to reach me. As its bloodstained claws reached for me, I cried out in revulsion and swung the saber with all my strength. There was a flash of light, an inhuman wail of agony, and the sharp smell of ozone filled the air, as though lightning had struck in the crowded space. To my amazement, I saw the monster retreating across the compartment, stinking green fluid spurting from the stump of its claw, which lay on the deck flopping and wriggling like a wounded spider. I crushed it beneath my heel and advanced, barely noticing that my blade was glowing with an unearthly light and colors that were not part of any normal spectrum.
Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out the Elder Sign we’d found in Waite’s safe. The starstone shone like a small sun, bathing the room in its radiance. The creature shrieked and raved, but I was between it and the nearest vent, and it could not get past me. I found myself crying out loud in a tongue I did not know as I swung the blade again. Two of the waving tentacles fell to the deck. The bizarre, bubbling scream sounded again. I lunged forward, plunging my saber deep into that burning red eye. The light brightened and intensified, blinding the Captain and I for a moment. The scream echoed from the monstrous maw again, and I could make out the words “Cthulhu” and “Yog-Sothoth” in that dreadful cry or prayer, whatever it was. Then the hideous thing slumped to the deck, its life ended. Very little of it must have been solid matter at all, as we understand it, for in moments all that remained of it was a foul-smelling green ichor that mingled with the blood of the men on the deck.
I wiped the blade clean on the sleeve of an old jacket and slid it back into my belt. Then I looked at Captain Collins and smiled.
“It’s over,” I said.
If only I had known the horror was just beginning!
The next day we held a burial at sea for the men who had been killed, and swore the crew to secrecy about what had happened. I spent the day compiling all the evidence I could gather in order to convince higher authorities that the event had actually happened, but I was troubled and nauseous all day. That night, the nightmare came to me again, stronger and more troubling than before. A titanic underwater city, its inhuman architecture wrapped in seaweed, the building blocks too huge to have ever been moved or shaped by human hands. I was aware of an upheaval, a rising of this submarine ruin, until the tip of its highest peak stood above the waves, as it had done before down through the ages when the stars were right. As I drew nearer, I saw that the largest structure of all was on top of this mountain. I stood at its base and tried to make out the inscription at the top of the massive door – and when I succeeded, it drove me screaming back to consciousness. Relieved as I had been to destroy the avatar, I realized then that it was just an image of a greater evil that still lived on.
The next night I had the same dream again, but this time I saw the thing that had driven me to wakefulness the night before. On the door, hundreds of feet high, was the image of the mighty squid-dragon himself, Great Cthulhu. Rumbling from inside the depths of this tomb or temple was a deep and blasphemous incantation, of which I could make out only two words: “Cthulhu ftaghn!”
When I woke the next morning, exhausted and covered in sweat, I found that two men had gone insane during the night. One of them, a dreamy Yeoman named Carroll, had screamed something about the gates of hell opening up, and had run down the passageways of the ship for a half hour before he could be subdued, screaming of watery demons coming to devour him. The other, a second class signalman named Jameson who wrote poetry in his spare time, had calmly sat down at the mess table, taken a fork, and plunged it first into one eye, then into the other. He was not expected to live.
I noticed when I got to the bridge that our heading was changed, and when I turned to the Captain he handed me a long message, then returned his gaze to the waters ahead. I relieved the Officer of the Deck, and then settled into the command chair to read the long paper; it had come in over fleet broadcast the night before and was addressed exclusively to our ship. It was from Professor MacDonald at Miskatonic University.
Captain, it read, It was wise of you to contact me. I realize that the creature running loose on your ship is your chief concern at the moment, but let me assure you that the danger it poses is minor compared to the hideous menace to all human life which I greatly fear has awakened. The so-called ‘Cthulhu cult,’ although very secretive and difficult to trace, has been exceptionally active this year. For the first time in over forty years, the stars have aligned themselves again to wake the blasphemous being who slumbers in the cursed city of R’lyeh. The last time Cthulhu woke, in 1926, it was a very brave Norwegian seaman who stopped him from destroying the world by striking him with his own ship while Cthulhu was still weak from his slumber. This did not destroy the monster, but weakened him enough that when the city sank again beneath the waves it carried Cthulhu with it before any of the other great Elder Beings sleeping there could be revived. Now I fear it is once more the duty of a God-fearing, seagoing man to quell this threat. You must make all speed for the following coordinates –
I stopped reading for a moment and asked the duty quartermaster if that were indeed our heading, and he nodded that it was. I continued reading MacDonald’s message.
“As young Waite’s will may have told you, his family has been under the Innsmouth curse ever since Captain Obadiah Marsh brought the secret of the Deep Ones back to Innsmouth with him a hundred years ago. I gave him the Elder Sign he wore, and it alone kept him from answering the call of the Deep Ones before now. All the Innsmouth folks feel it, once they learn of their heritage. I am glad he left the other Elder Sign for you, for it alone is guaranteed to be effective against Great Cthulhu himself, if he has indeed woken and recalled his full power.
Listen! There is a great door at the peak of the mountain which has risen above the waves at these coordinates. Ask any of your more imaginative crewmen; they will have dreamed of it. He always reaches for the minds of artists, poets, writers, and madmen. This is how the cult has been preserved from the dawn of time.
There is one other thing that might help. I have delved deeply into the Necronomicon, and I did find the command in the sixth chapter which Waite referred to. It is in the tongue of the Great Old Ones, and it may or may not have some power over Cthulhu once he wakes up. It is what they said when they imprisoned him long eons ago. The Deep Ones worshipped Cthulhu in the days of his power, but in the time of his slumber they have come to hate and fear him. They have kept vigil over R’lyeh for long centuries, but they are powerless now, for they have lost their Elder Signs, and I fear they may revert to Cthulhu worship when he has fully returned to life. Here is the command:
“Tsaggith ngai R’lyeh ftaghn Cthulhu gwdlka Ashrothin!”
Loosely translated, it means: “To dead R’lyeh Great Cthulhu returns to slumber.” There is little else I can tell you, Captain. Be strong and courageous; my prayers are with you.
Walking over to the navigation console, I checked our position.
“We are still three hundred miles or more away,” I said. “How do you propose to destroy this thing once we arrive?”
Captain Collins smiled at me grimly.
“Any way I can, Mister,” he said. “Be he god or devil, he’ll find a five inch shell hard to deal with!”
I stayed at the bridge for the next day and a half by the Captain’s side, doing my best to ignore the rumors that were sweeping the ship. Some of the crew thought we had gone mad – the XO fell into this category, and we had to physically subdue him to prevent him from taking the ship away from us. Others said we were on our way to destroy a secret Soviet installation that was producing monsters like the one that killed half our radiomen. One persistent Bosun’s Mate insisted we were on our way to Subic Bay for a surprise port call! But those who had seen the avatar and the bodies of its victims knew that we were on our way to destroy a similar evil.
Well into the second day, we came across a mighty stone pillar which stood up high out of the ocean. It was carved of deep black basalt, and dripped with green slime. Its geometry was all off – no matter how hard I stared at it, or from what angle, I could not tell if it was cubic, cylindrical, or many-sided. It seemed to somehow be all three at once. The Captain ordered the ship to General Quarters as we slowly steamed in the rapidly shallowing waters towards an island peak looming in the distance.
By evening we were five hundred yards offshore, and the CO and I stood on the signal bridge, studying the long-sunken city through the high powered binoculars. Titanic monoliths reared their heads everywhere; statues and effigies of bizarre and evil things no man had ever seen alive dominated most of the buildings. The angles were outlandish; reflecting no earthly geometric pattern – one minute obtuse, the next acute, it hurt the eyes to stare at them for too long. The captain had one ship’s photographer busily snapping pictures of the dead city, and I asked why.
“The brass in Washington will be anxious to know the reason why I took my ship hundreds of miles off course and lost ten lives. Maybe this will show them why,” he explained.
At this moment the mists that shrouded the peak of the island lifted, and we gasped as we beheld it – the massive door, hundreds of yards high, that held the image of the monstrous squid/dragon/ape that we had learned to despise. The photographer snapped another picture, and then the captain pressed the button on the intercom connecting him to Gunnery Plotting.
“Focus your fire on that massive door on the side of the mountain,” he said. “I want it down!”
The sleek barrel of our five-inch gun mount adjusted itself and settled into position with a series of mechanical clicks that seemed extremely loud in the still waters.
“Ear protection on!” barked the Captain, and everyone up topside donned the heavy metal ear covers that never could completely block out the roar of the guns.
“Stand by for the first round,” called the CO. Then he pressed the mike button again. “You may fire at will, Mister Langley,” he said.
There was a moment of hesitation, and then an orange blossom of fire shot from the barrel of the gun, and the signal bridge shook with the recoil. Watching the great portal through the binoculars, I saw the massive stone slab shatter, huge shards falling as the top half of the door was broken to rubble by the shell’s impact.
The Captain spoke again.
“Lower the angle point five degrees and give it another round,” he said. Once more the gun roared, and the lower portion of the great door exploded into huge chunks of broken rubble. The Captain stood immobile on the deck, feet planted apart, his eyes narrowing as he glared at the massive cavern we’d uncovered.
“All right, Cthulhu, you bastard,” he said. “Come and take your medicine!”
And Great Cthulhu came. Merciful God, it came!
The XO, who had escaped the confinement we’d placed him under when he tried to take the ship from Captain Collins, had made his way up to the signal bridge at just that moment. He went utterly mad at the sight, collapsing to the deck gibbering and weeping. A signalman who had been staring through a pair of binoculars screamed and threw himself fifty feet into the sea, which was suddenly teaming with fishlike creatures that swam like men. They latched on him and dragged him under right away.
Collins stood his ground as the blasphemous shape heaved itself up out of the cavern, towering hundreds of feet high. It was inconceivable that anything could be so big! The massive tentacles about the head waved in horrible unison as the Elder God, member of a race that filtered down from the stars when the earth was young, saw the source of the attack on his lair. Then with a roar that blasted the hearing from my ears for a few seconds, it lumbered down the side of the mountain towards the shoreline – and us.
“Gunplot, Bridge,” the Captain said. “Hit that thing, and keep hitting it! Everything we have – HE, incendiary, white phosphorous, the works! Kill it!”
The gun roared, and Great Cthulhu roared back. When the shell hit, a huge chunk of his upper body splattered across the island like foul green rain, but almost immediately the liquid ran up those titan legs, and reformed itself into the missing flesh, so that Cthulhu stood before us just as he was.
“Keep firing!” snapped the Captain as it advanced again.
I was paralyzed with fear for a moment. The horror of the avatar was nothing, a child’s copy at best, of the monstrosity it represented. Insanity yawned in my mind like a black pit, hungry for my mind and soul. But then my sense of duty and self-preservation kicked in, and the beginnings of an idea formed in my mind.
“It’s too powerful, sir!” I shouted. “Listen! You speak the command over the bullhorn, and I’ll attach the Elder Sign to one of our HE shells. If that doesn’t stop him, nothing will. I’m headed for the ammo magazine now. Give me a minute, and then read the spell.”
His eyes lit up with a fierce hope.
“Go!” he said. “It’s already advancing again!”
So it was, taking fifty yards at a stride, raving and gibbering like Azathoth, the blind god of Chaos. I opened the hatch and pounded down the ladder three decks and ran to the magazine as quickly as my legs would take me, missing what happened next. Captain Collins picked up the bullhorn, and shouted as loud as he could the words from the Necronomicon: “Tsaggith ngai R’lyeh ftaghn Cthulhu gwdlka Ashrothin!”
The massive beast stopped, as if its unearthly mind were registering astonishment for perhaps the first time in its long existence. The command still had some power of compulsion, for the huge form remained still, there in the shallow water that still covered most of the ancient city.
Meanwhile, I had made it down to the magazine and explained to the chief Gunner’s Mate what it was I wanted him to do. He looked at me strangely, and then took another look at the behemoth through his scope, as it stood like a statue in the shallows.
“I don’t know what good that thing will do when an HE shell doesn’t even slow that monster down,” he said, “but I’ll still attach it!”
He lifted a seventy pound shell as easily as if it were a small child and unscrewed the nose, placing the star securely in next to the detonator.
“Hurry, man, that thing won’t hold forever!” I snapped, looking through the scope. Already I could see Cthulhu’s massive tentacles beginning to squirm again.
“Go on back to the bridge, sir,” the Chief said sharply. “I’ll have this thing attached and ready to fire by the time you’re there.”
Reluctantly I left and scrambled up the ladders to the signal bridge. Great Cthulhu had not advanced, but he was swaying on his mighty legs, obviously fighting the power of the spell, his huge feelers waving the air around his gaping maw. Suddenly the spell broke and with a roar that shook the entire ship, he surged forward. I screamed then, I think. What man wouldn’t, at the sight of that mountain of obscene flesh bearing down on him.
“Fire now or we’re all dead!” the Captain shouted into the mike, and in response, the gun roared. I saw Great Cthulhu draw himself up to his full, hideous height as the shell struck in the center of his enormous three-lobed eye.
There was a second scream, a wail that reached to the stars and beyond, where the blind idiot god Azathoth himself must have heard it. The entire form of Cthulhu dissolved into fine green droplets, which in turn were caught up into the sky in an unearthly beam of light that came, not from the setting sun, but from the darkling east, where a single red star shone like a burning eye near the horizon. In a moment, all the remnants of Cthulhu shot skyward, towards the outside whence he came, never to return to earth again, I prayed.
Then I heard a sound that chilled my blood – echoing up from the waters all around us, from underneath the waters all around us, as the Deep Ones witnessed the departure of their hated god, and the other imprisoned Elder Beings beneath the city shrieked in horrible empathy. Then the peak of dead R’lyeh burst into fiery lava, and with a rumble the ancient city began to sink beneath the waves.
“Main control, Bridge!” the Captain barked into the intercom. “Get us out of here! Full reverse!” He then turned and looked at me with a grim smile. “Well, Thompson, either you and I will get a medal out of this, or we’ll wind up in the loony bin. I hope those pictures turned out!”
After a lengthy inquiry before a board of Admirals and the Secretary of the Navy, the entire crew of the Davison was reassigned under the strictest warnings of secrecy. Those who broke their oath spent the rest of their careers at postings like Diego Garcia and McMurdo Naval Air Station in Antarctica, while those who kept their silence were rewarded with choice duty stations and early promotions. Eventually both Captain Collins and myself were awarded a letter of commendation from the Chief of Naval Operations, after we each spent a year at remote duty stations. Until now, the only other person I revealed these events to was Professor MacDonald at Miskatonic University. I had only one question for him after he finished grilling me for every detail I could recall of the whole episode.
“Did we really kill it?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “But you destroyed Cthulhu’s earthly form, and he can never return here again, unless certain rites are performed when the barriers that separate his world and ours are at their weakest. Even then, he will be but a shadow of his former power and terror. But there are other Elder Gods out there, buried in the deeps and deserts, and there will always be wild and evil men who worship them and try to release them from their prisons. ‘As a foulness shall you know them,’ said the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred. Men like you and I must always be on the lookout for them.”
Years passed. MacDonald died on the job, in his beloved Miskatonic library, of natural causes. Captain Collins and I went our separate ways. He attained three star rank and held the office of Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, before his career ended. I also was promoted to three stars shortly before I retired. But a little over a year after the “Avatar Incident,” which remained classified until last month, we met in Arkham by chance and went together to the old cemetery at Federal Hill, where the new marble monument we had raised in memory of Daryl Waite stood like a proud icon.
“He’s not really dead, you know,” I said after we had stood there awhile.
“I know,” said Collins. “And – as repulsive to our eyes as the Deep Ones are, I can’t help but be a little comforted that he is out there with them. Maybe, someday, their world and ours will meet, and we can dwell together in peace, now that they are freed from the tyranny of Cthulhu’s hold on them.”
Then we turned, arm in arm, and went down the hill into misty and legend-shrouded Arkham, and there this story ends.