We Ought Never To Have Done It:Part Ten
Twelve hours after Hezekiah’s disappearance, the village elders meet to discuss what must be done.
"We must replace the stone, above all else. Hezekiah is lost to us, as we know him. He has been appropriated," says Elezra, the monk.
"All's not lost," intones Molhazranon, the priest. "If the stone is replaced, the thing is kept in check, and life shall proceed."
"I disagree," says Shantezikeriah, the smith. "The stone is moved, and the pact is broken. A new covenant is needed. A covenant not of oath but of material. I suggest we bind the Thing in a chamber of unbreakable material such that it cannot disturb the village again."
"How do you propose we do this, Shantezikeriah?" asks Molhazranon. "The thing has beset us for eons, and only now do you propose a mystical cage in which to ensnare it."
"My brothers," pleads Shantezikeriah, "we are advancing in skill beyond what our forefathers imagined for us. We know much now of metalworking, stonecraft, and even bindings which we previously thought were for the faeriefolk. I believe we now have the skill with which we can craft a chamber to hold the Thing. We need only survive it this coming night, and the chamber shall be done. It shall be buried in the ground to a depth of five hundred feet, carved out of the earth by the grace of the spirits which still hold us in favor."
"Shall we need sacrifice, brother Shantezikeriah?"
Shantezikeriah is silent. "The thing will come for us, I do not deny this. We shall lose many. But if those closest to the project are protected and shielded, we shall ensnare the ravenous thing come morning, and we shall be free forever of its plague."
The other Elders nod solemnly. "Let it be done," they chant as one.
That night, ashes are scattered around each hut, and some rings are smudged, though no Elder will admit to this and no neighbor will dare tell his friend. It is as it was ordained. The Thing will come and, it is known, it will be trapped. The material is known only to Shantezikeriah, but it is accepted as truth that he knows his craft. Trust is the foundation of the village. It is not broken.
The night falls, the shadows come, the hush arrives on a dozen lips. The Elders peer out from their windows at the village, breaking not their pact nor the unsacred covenant which they have bound themselves unto. It is to the Thing to move. It is the night.
The still is broken by the sound of twigs crackling through the night air. No one is fool enough to broach the forest line in the dead of night. The only option is that the contract is breached by the Things; the village is laid before them. The only saving grace is the ash circles, some smudged, some not.
Through his window, Shantezikeriah sees the Thing that comes for the village. At first, it is only a paw. He sees the paw loom into view and step, as though it belongs. He even imagines it as belonging to its original owner, Hezekiah. But in his heart, he knows Hezekiah is gone, and he knows that the paw belongs no more to that pet as it does to the west wind. Only a monster owns it now.
The paw comes down, and is followed by Hezekiah’s leg. The leg follows through with the foot and, finally, the rest of Hezekiah’s body steps with the limb. It [i]is[/i] the body that follows, despite the unusual angle of approach. Hezekiah slams into the ground, rotates around his waist as though it’s an ankle, and then ascends back into the heaven once more. He is a mere foot in whatever terrible scheme approximates him now. He is taken.
The Thing has him. It has had many before him, but it has always contented itself with just one of the villagefolk every so many years. Is one so great a sacrifice for peace? One poor pet to whet the appetite of a thing which holds to all it takes? The stone was meant to keep it for a generation yet, but it did not hold; youth saw to that. A quickening is called for.
Shantezikeriah’s circles see to that. The thing, the amalgamation as some would call it, is dropped into a pit after calling to it only those which were not spared by the ash. It squirms and shrieks in the pit. "Jolephtha!" some hear from it. "Brethren!" still others. "My children," hear only the oldest among the village. But the shrieks and cries are not taken into account, and only the cube remains. A molten material is poured over the entire body, one and all, and the entrapped are forever entombed, no longer bound to the little marker that once held them.
As the final marker is buried, Molhazranon stands above the pit. He raises his aged Kougra arms and speaks. "Thus is buried the Thing of legend, and the Thing of which we dare not speak. But what is buried is only a thing, and we must be ever vigilant of other things which creep out among us and destroy us. Let this not be a final resting place, but instead be a monument to knowledge of one’s place." He sprinkles a pawful of dirt on the ground where the giant cube lays buried. "I dare not speak too much of what lays here," he continues, "but I must say this. What lays here can be known to neither pet nor Faerie. It is a power unto itself, which draws to it all matter. A pet who touches it becomes it and cannot draw itself hence no matter the strength yielded." He becomes silent. "You may see the faces of friends among the beast that lays here, but do not be confused. This is a monstrosity. They are your friends no longer. Their minds are not theirs, their bodies constitute that of an abominable amalgamation. You cannot know them for them."
As the priest’s intonations rang out through the night, Jolephta looked into the fire, for his mother, for his long-lost father...for his friend, Hezekiah...And he thought he heard a voice crying through the dirt. He could not understand the words, but he thought that he was being called to something, though he did not know what.
80 YEARS LATER
Humphrey Haggerty sat in the dark, waiting for a sight that he could not see. The Buzz implored him that if he only stayed another few minutes, he would see the monstrosity that ate up all the other miners, and yet he could not sit still another minute.
"I demand you tell me the whole truth this instant!" he bellowed. "I’ll not take any more ghost stories or faerietales into account, and I’m beholden to the O’Grady account for this mount!" On the last, his firm voice shuddered. "I’m to tell them what’s happened here, and I need to know! I’ll not take your hollow tales of savage villagers into...into…"
Humphrey Haggerty ceased his yelling as he looked over the head of the short-hovering Buzz and saw with his own two eyes the sight that beheld him on the other side of the drilling equipment. What had supposedly been released by the action of the drilling was nothing less than a solid compound, if such was a word to be used, of pets. They were fairly welded together, composing all species and colors, and of those, he recognized several that were once part of his mining team. He could think of nothing less than that he had unearthed an organic wad of chewing gum, which stuck to it that which it touched. And upon such cognization, Humphrey Haggerty screamed and ran for the hills.
60 YEARS LATER
When, in his later years, Aloysius Tittlefeather was asked about his time at the Miflord estate, he inevitably responded that he wished in his most fervent heart that he had never been employed there. When pushed past this base rejection, however, he was wont to expound upon a singular incident that had happened on his final day in the employ of Richmond Jasper Milford.
He remembered the leaving of his employer on the final floor of the laboratory, and he remembered hovering off into the distance, far away from the wretched tower in the desolate clearing which should never have been allowed in the pine forest. But above all, when pressed, he remembered the sounds. He remembered the echoes from the elevator shaft, the echoes of his master’s voice, the ones that sounded both exultant and horrified, triumphant and aghast. Could his master have solved the secrets of cloning in that tower? The Pteri never knew, but he suspected.
He knew the same rumors about the place that his master did, and he knew the horrible secrets of that basement. R.J. Milford found things no pet ought to have found in that basement. And Aloysius Tittlefeather was privy to those horrors.
24 HOURS AGO
Nora could only turn and run for the front door as she saw the door splinter in front of her. What she thought she saw behind it didn’t brook thought nor explanation; there was no Neopian way that thirty different pets could simultaneously be beating down the door, not with all of them paws to feet the way she had seen them. And yet, they had been…
She beat a manic retreat to the front of the Milford estate, suddenly mindful of everything she had read and seen that evening. It all made sense, now. The mining, the cloning, the ancient superstitions. And here she was, caught in the middle of it. And poor Clarissa and Bruce…
At least, she thought, they would all be together again.
Landsdale draws away from the message immediately.
"I’m not paid enough for this stuff." He turned from the communication device and walked back towards the gate of the old Miflord estate.
Jenkins followed quickly after him. "Wait!" she cried, "Aren’t you the least bit curious what this all means? We have pawprints that could connect about a dozen pets to a crime, a cryptic message, and clear evidence of a break-in. I say this might warrant even some of the main Defenders coming in on the case."
Landsdale, who was almost at the gate, turned to face Jenkins. The sun had fully set by now, and the only light was the pale moon, reflecting everything as shades of grey and steel.
"Jenkins," he said, as kindly as he could muster. "You’ll learn this one day, but there are some cases where you know you can solve it, and there are some cases where you know that you should just leave well enough alone. And this is one of those." And with that, Inspector Landsdale left the ground of the Milford Estate and trudged down the path from the clearing on the hill. He left behind the ruins of the manor, the remains of the dig site, and the final entombment of a terror better left to the imagination.
Perhaps, after all, the crime was better left well enough alone.