While I’d never visited Carland before, I knew the town well. Like the hundreds of other communities from Cape Cod to the North woods of Maine, the common, church and small main street of stores followed the same model.
The centerpiece of Carland was its Minuteman statue anchoring its public common. Adjacent to the now overgrown grassy area is the typical high spired meeting house. Its white washed facade peeling already, its Protestant congregation sign pulled down in some fit of iconoclastic violence. The facades of the local cafe and gift shop, once filled with overpriced Berkshire tchotkees and t-shirts, were looted gaping holes of jagged glass.
Based on this familiar layout as I walked along the sidewalks, I easily located the address of the woman that claimed she’d seen ” a falling star” spewed from the exploding moon on that June night.
Barbara Bryant, 70, retired librarian at the Carland community library waited almost 90 days to talk about the moon rock. Her story trickled out of the Berkshires to Boston, picked up by newspapers spread around the globe. Eventually experts confirmed that something did enter the Earth’s atmosphere on that night. Its trajectory came from inter-lunar orbit and appears to have landed in western Massachusetts. Like the Gold Rush of 19th century California, the Berkshires were now the location of the most important scientific hunt in human history.
Bryant was a typical New Englander, frugal, privately pious, sheltered and yet worldly. Her home, a crumbling Victorian, was almost made uninhabitable as every inch of floor space was stacked high with books.
“A few are from the library,” she guiltily confessed. “After things began going mad, I worried they would go after the books. I know it’s wrong, but I needed to rescue some of them. If not me, then who?”
“Tell me, Mrs. Bryant, about that night.”
The widow, one of ten children of an Episcopal minister, had left the town of her birth only a hand full of times seemed like no cloistered townie, but clear headed and of sound mind.
“I don’t sleep well since my George passed in 2010, so I tend to wake up around 1 or so, have a little cup of tea and read for a bit. It was warm, that night, and I had my windows open. There was no moon that night, who knew there would never be another. Then suddenly the entire sky lit up as if it were brightest summer day. I was scared, you know. Thought maybe the terrorists were coming or something. I got up and saw the sky dimming back to black, but right there above the trees was this awful, glowing fist in the sky. It reminded me of a fiery hand of God, reaching out ready to smite a wicked humanity. I fell to my knees and grabbed my Bible.”
“Were you scared?”
Bryant smiled in a reassuring grandmotherly way, “Why would I be? If it was the end, then that means I could be with my George.”
“But it wasn’t the end.”
“No, no it wasn’t,” Bryant’s tone saddened, perhaps with more than a little regret. “I looked back to heaven, seeking out God’s face, when I saw a fire ball shoot out of the air. It looked like a comet, almost amber in color, screaming an awful sound. The forest exploded with that same sulfur tint and dreadful rumblings. That’s when I knew it was the moon, or at least part of it.”
“If you saw this chunk of moon rock crash onto Carland, why haven’t experts been able to see it from the air?”
“I will tell you, like I’ve told all the other reporters and scientists, even the young woman from Boston who was just here. There is a bog at the foot of Mount Tyog, yes another one of those strange old Native names Massachusetts is known for. The bog swallows up anything, leaving nary a scar or ripples. That is where it is.”
Scientists had scoured every corner of the globe efforting to find a piece of lunar rock that might have been flung off from the moon’s detonation. Yet when that instantaneous explosion spit 81 million tons of rock into the void, not one pebble or chunk hit the Earth. It all streamed off into high Earth orbit like a rocky tentacle. Those learned men and all their billions of dollars of equipment and education were outdone by a retired Massachusetts librarian.
Before leaving Bryant’s home, I asked her about her most recent visitor, a woman from Boston.
“Dr. Minot is from a museum there, the Cabot Museum, she says. Nice girl. She seems to know a lot about the moon rock. You should find her, would be interesting for your story.”
My feet sunk into the greasy green earth, black water pooling around my shoes as I pushed towards the bog. An aroma hung low over the marsh, stagnant and rotting, like a city dumpster in summer.
I’d found the bog only after locating Dr. Minot skulking into the woods. Our initial meeting was a bit confrontational, with her taking me for a “one of them.” After a good 45 minutes of questioning and reassuring her I was interested in the story, not the lunar rock, she took me to the site.
From soft forest edge I looked about the watery depression of once verdant marsh reeds faded to dead brown. I aimed my camera to a strange yellow flicker of light playing amid the rooted bog.
“Wow,” I could only muster the uninspired exclamation. “Is it normal to still be glowing?”
The moon rock barely breaking the surface looked like a piece of modern art, twisted and pitted with dull light emanating from the interior. Tendrils of golden light pulsed like flaxen hair caught in a breeze.
She described the lunar fragment as we lay behind a large stone still concealed by the forest cloak. “Nothing about this event or this rock are normal. The rock is not rock at all, it’s like a kind of basalt and iron, the only way I can explain it.”
Attempting to rise from my muddied stomach Dr. Minot frantically yanked me down.
“What are you doing?”
She said nothing. Her eyes tracking something in the distance, opposite us. Something that terrified her.
The pine trees swayed in the diminishing light, the darkness at their heart gave up a trio of white, gauzy phantasms.
“The cult,” she whispered.
“That’s how you found the rock?”
“By following them,” she nodded, pointing across the clearing.
“Who are they?”
“They’re the Acolytes of the Son of Suen.”
“You know a lot about them,” I was transfixed by their pagan gesticulations.
“Days before the news about the shard broke, a member of the Suen showed up at the Cabot Museum. He warned me their great father had fallen to earth and was hidden in a bog. I dismissed him as a kook.”
“Why was he at the museum?”
“You’ve obviously have never been to the Cabot,” she sneered. “To see the Dyer Antarctic lunar rock collection. Ever since the explosion, we’ve had thousands of visitors a week to see our samples. We were lucky to get a thousand a month previously. And this guy announces himself as leader of the Acolytes of the Son of Suen, followers of the ancient Mesopotamian moon cult, and starts screaming about the end of the world, the rebirth of their father from his stone coffin.”
Knees sunk into the fetid mire around the stone, the two men and one woman began to heap mud and piles of reeds over the barely visible stone.
“We will poison her,” sang the two men now pulling their cloaks off to the waist.
“Ho ho,” the woman removed her hood, swaying in a rejoin.
“We will smother her.”
Their ritual chants darkened to rumbles as the woman pulled a small rough cloth satchel from her gown.
“What the…” I gasped as a still writhing hare was pulled from the bag. The two men reached out to the jumping rabbit, holding tight its head and hind legs.
And with a howl, they yanked the life from the hare.
“Oh god!” Minot squealed in horror.
Her muffled scream shot across the bog and the three cultists spun in unison towards us.
“You cannot be here, unbelieving children of Abraham,” screamed the tallest acolyte, rising like a bog ghost, his outstretched arm jabbed into the failing light.
My fist found a heavy branch, clenching it tight in a sense of fight and survival I had never felt before. As if in slow motion, the man and woman trudged towards us through the unforgiving suction of the bog.
“Go! Run! I can take care of them.”
“But what about the lunar fragment?”
“Go! I’ll take care of it.”
That was the last I saw of Dr. Minot, running back along the old country road tucked at the foot of Mount Tyog. I fled in the opposite direction, deeper into the woods, towards the rock fall, nearest the Berkshire peak. The younger man in the trio followed me into the dense forest, while the woman took after Dr. Minot.
I found myself blindly running forward, eyes flitting across the fence of trees and saplings that filled the forest floor. The sound of my own panting was matched in cadence by the crunch of feet on leaves giving chase.
It occurred to me then, the cultists did not want to merely scare us off. They wanted to kill us. I ran straight towards the pile of grey stone, shed like rocky scales from the mountain. Instead I stumbled towards a faint yellow glow just through the trees. How far had I run? Where was my pursuer?
I rushed to meet the light and my straight line had become a panicked circle as I tumbled into the boggy clearing of the moon shard and the raging acolyte.
I don’t remember making the swing that put the lead acolyte on his knees. One second I was tumbling in the mud, the next I was flailing away at a man now prostrate and bloody faced. He looked at me, shattered teeth and blood glistening in the last light of day, leading into another moonless night.
The moon shard rest right at my feet, its amber glow splashing light on my mud covered shoes. Jamming the bloodied branch into the murky water I got under the precious fragment and levered it up. Applying every last bit of strength I had against the heavy rock and suction of the thick bog mud, three furious times. The fourth dislodged the lunar splinter with a splash, landing just a fingertip away from the prone acolyte.
He reached out. Then froze.
His once pale skin spotted in dead blacks and browns, until his body looked like a bog mummy. While his body stiffened like so much burned pigskin, his eyes and mind were exercising in panicked.
And that inanimate chunk of lunar debris began to crackle and shiver sending off ripples in the shallow bog. The faint golden glow of earlier was now brilliant and blinding. The stone exploded, sending shrapnel in every direction of the compass, peppering my shins and dropping me among the marsh grass.
I pulled clump after clump of weeds from the bog as I attempted to crawl away from the hissing stone. Making it ten feet from the acolyte and the sizzling moon rock, I rolled back over, clearing the caked mud from eyes, to see not a stone anymore. Writhing next to the acolyte in the center of the swamp was a creature of unspeakable horror. The ugly slithering beast, starting out as nothing more than an oily black slug, split from the stone like a demonic birth from a bitumen egg.
The acolyte choked, gurgling what sounded a laugh as his eyes glistened with excitement as the slug became large. It tripled in size as it hissed and thrashed in the mud. Its smooth glossy form began to bubble and erupt in gruesome pustules, popping and giving birth to slapping, darting tentacles.
Eyes, or what appeared to be eyes, blinked and swirled on the broadest part of its ‘head.’ Those puss born tentacles grew with astonishing rapidity, flailing overhead as to grasp for something. It can’t be me. I can’t die here. I am not ready to die.
I struggled to prop myself against the rock that once concealed Dr. Minot and I, given a clear view of the creature’s ultimate form.
The beast whipped its longest tentacle about, snagging the paralyzed body of the acolyte. Savagely the creature snapped the acolyte in half with its once concealed, now grossly obvious toothy orifice. Bones, muscle and flesh crunched and burst within the beast’s jaws.
“Ho! Our father has awakened from his slumber,” the voice came from behind me. The female acolyte ran into the marsh, ignoring me. As she passed, enthralled in unnatural ecstasy, I caught from the corner of my eye her hands, covered in blood. Dr. Minot’s blood.
She ran with rapturous abandon towards to creature, nearly leaping into its flapping tentacles for a deathly embrace. The demon welcomed its newest feeding as hurriedly and hideously as the first.
I wish I could tell you I reacted like a hero, saying or doing something noble, but I did not. I turned from the clearing and ran into the woods. I heard a man’s shout, prompting me to turn back to see the other male acolyte run to the swamp, dropping to his knees in prayer before being bitten in half by the beast.
Suddenly there was a stiffness in my legs, alarming me. Broken? Torn? Exhausted? Or was the creature doing to me as it done to the leading acolyte? Starting at my feet and rapidly working up my legs and torso, I found my paralysis unyielding as it was inexplicable.
I flopped to my belly, head turned left watching bugs inch along the forest floor, passing me in a rush from the marsh. I was paralyzed, but my eyes and breathing continued to flutter in panic. I would wait for a terrible end.
And there it was, sliding along grass, crushing saplings and bending trees with every inch forward. I was wrong, those tentacles were not appendages, but seven heads with small snapping jaws and a dozen greasy eyes. The beast of Armageddon in physical form.
I wanted the noise to go away, the panicked cries of birds fleeing the woods, the sounds of ancient conifers snapped under its ponderous form. They were drowned out, as if on command. Replacing the noise of a dying world, was a voice, guttural, low and foreign. No, alien? No, ancient? Both? An ancient voice hammered a mad monologue into my head.
“Reborn from Budur’s rocky womb, product of my father’s seed, I have come to reclaim this world in his name.”
“I killed my mother, Budur, the moon, because her pale light hates me. All but one piece of her stony corpus was spit into oblivion. A single shard, however, was given back to Earth for my rebirth. Without her light I can thrive and without her weight upon the sea, my father can rise. Commanding my soon to follow armies, we will feed on the corrupt and debased crumbs of humanity and resurrect my progenitor from his briny grave. ”
I prayed for the death I long feared. But in a strange alien tongue, the beast mocked me with salvation.
“Boy, you are witness to a rebirth of an empire lost for an unfathomable millennia. And you shall live to describe my triumph and record for those chattel left behind.”
Terrified, I wanted an answer from the voice in my head. And so, I asked, “Who are you?”
“I am Ghatanothoa, destructor of humanity, first spawn of Cthulhu. The long excruciating Apocalypse has come.”
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