Story by DJ Tyrer
Illustration by Bradley K. McDevitt
“Oh, shh-oot!” If there’s one thing I recommend you never attempt for yourself, it’s firing a Tommy gun one-handed from the running-board of a speeding car. Somehow, I was doing it and hadn’t yet been thrown clear or shattered my wrist.
I clung on for dear life and tried not to think of where all the bullets would end up. We were racing through the meat-packing district, so perhaps innocent victims weren’t too likely.
“Keep on them,” I shouted in at Lenny, who’s the guy throwing the car about like a maniac.
‘Them’ were a half-dozen hoodlums in a fruit truck, two of whom were popping backfire at us as we chased them down side roads and alleys.
My Tommy gun clicked as the hammer hit a spent chamber. There was no way I could reload with just the one hand; besides, all the bullets I’d sent spitting about had done nothing I could see. I had a Colt stuffed in the band of my pants: If we could catch them up, force them to halt, well…
There was a sudden crash and I felt something wet splash against my face and ooze slowly down it. I swept my sleeve across it; entrails from a crate. Lovely.
The gunfire from the truck had eased for a moment but restarted now. Lucky stiffs, free to use both hands. Jimmy had been leaning out the side window, shooting at them, till he got hit it was impossible to tell what state he was in, but a quick glance told me Edna was leaning forwards, doing something to help him.
Sparks suddenly exploded up past me and the car skidded. Lenny was fighting to keep it under control. There was the bang of a tire blowing.
The fruit truck hit a hard left and we followed, only we slid in a wider arc, the vehicle barely responding to Lenny’s tugs at the wheel and crashed into a stationary meat van.
Lenny tried to get us moving again, but the car had had enough.
I swore and kicked the driver-side door.
“We lost them.”
“Hell, we know where they’re going,” said Lenny.
“Yeah, but if they get there, we can kiss goodbye to the city. We need a new car.”
“We need to get Jimmy to a hospital,” interjected Edna. “He’s in a bad state.”
“If we don’t stop them,” I replied, “we’re all in a bad state. We all knew that going in. Jimmy knows it.”
It’s cruel, she and Jimmy have a romance on the go, but it’s true. We knew Alfonse Sauvage had been after the Black Stone for a while and, when he arranged for it to come to the Metropolitan Museum, it was obvious we were on a timer. Too late, Edna’s research revealed tonight was the astrological conjunction he required and photos of the grand opening of Sauvage’s new skyscraper confirmed it was topped with a replica of the stone circle necessary to conduct the ritual of A’Khe’Na.
None of us knew what it did, but the vague hints in the Krypticon of Silander suggested it would be devastating.
“So, what do we do?” asked Lenny. “This car ain’t going nowhere fast and you’re not likely to find anyone tootling about in an automobile you can borrow.”
I took a breath, then paused to slam another magazine in place.
“You and Edna steal a truck and head for Sauvage’s skyscraper. Maybe you can stop them getting there.”
“But, what about Jimmy?”
I looked at Edna. “Sorry, but you’ll have to bandage him up and pray. Get him to a doctor if you can’t catch them up.”
“And, you?” asked Lenny.
“I’ve got an idea. I’m going to see Bruce.”
I admit it wasn’t an original plan, I saw it in a movie, but I’ll take Hollywood’s suggestions when nobody has anything better to offer.
I found a motorcycle parked in an alleyway. Easy enough to start. Some poor fellow would hear it roaring to life and rush out to see me vanishing off on his pride-and-joy. If only he understood the situation, he’d be thanking, not cursing, me.
I sped off. A motorcycle is easier to handle in the narrow confines of the meat-packing district and can still hit a decent speed.
Bruce is a pilot and has a small turf airfield just outside the city limits. He flew a Sopwith Camel with the Limeys, back in the War, and came home to the new profession of crop-duster. He didn’t have a fighter ’plane, but with him in the pilot’s seat, I could sit behind him and fire my Tommy gun. Two-handed, this time.
I just hoped he was still onsite and relatively sober.
Bruce turned out to be in a shebang about ten minutes down the road but hadn’t been drinking too long. He could stand up, which meant he could probably fly, and his partial inebriation made him willing to take me up.
“The end of the world?” he asked as I led him out to the motorcycle.
“Uh-huh. We probably have about ten minutes to stop it. So, come on.”
“Bully!” He climbed aboard and repeated his exclamation as I started it up.
We raced back to the airfield and bundled ourselves into his biplane.
“Here we go,” he shouted as the ’plane stuttered into life and taxied down the grassy runway.
There was a series of bumps as it drifted up, then dropped down again, and, then, we took flight.
“Woo-hoo!” I couldn’t help myself. Bruce had taken me up a couple of times before, but I still felt exhilarated as we went airborne. It was a childish delight, but knowing we could be dead any moment, any thoughts of embarrassment seemed to be whipped away on the wind with my cry. Overhead, the midnight-blue sky was dappled with stars. I wondered which of them made this night special.
Dark fields gave way to the stippling of electric light and we were flying over the city. Soaring above the buildings, we were unimpeded in our arrow-straight trajectory. We would reach the skyscraper in minutes.
Above us, the skies were darkening with storm clouds and, ahead, a cone, like a twister, descended towards the gleaming roof of Sauvage’s skyscraper. Sheets of lightning seemed to coruscate up and down the funnel’s length and spark about the building. As we grew nearer, I could feel the electricity in the air and taste ozone.
The roof of the Sauvage building was flat in front with a conical rise adding another fifty feet at the rear. On the flat surface, Sauvage had planted a dozen rough-hewn upright stones that the newspaper report said were a ‘dynamic artwork’, but which matched the layout necessary for the ritual of A’Khe’Na. A cluster of black-robed figures stood amongst the stones and the funnel of dark cloud descended to meet the circle. The conical structure was surrounded by a scaffold of metal struts and wire mesh from which rose a forest of aerials, which, I suspected, were intended to facilitate more than international communications. Certainly, the structure was aglow with St. Elmo’s fire, and lightning danced about it.
I heard Bruce shout something. It might have been a curse, but between the wind whipping the word away and the noise of the engine, I didn’t catch it. But he pointed and I saw what had caught his attention.
The dark funnel of cloud had broken apart. It was still dark, but it was no longer cloud. It was more like a beam of light. Dark light. The sky above seemed to be torn as if a rip were extending from horizon to horizon. And, through that tear, something seemed to be struggling through, a writhing something with hundreds of limbs. It was like watching a grotesque baby being born. Wild winds seemed to engulf us.
The plane bucked and wobbled, the wings dipping to either side. I wasn’t sure if it was the buffeting wind or if Bruce was struggling with the horror of the thing that hung above us.
I slapped his shoulder and gestured upwards. We had to stop it coming through or A’Khe’Na would destroy us all.
As the plane fought its way up towards it, I readied my Tommy gun and wished we were in one of the latest fighter planes and not this old crate.
I pulled the trigger and the Tommy gun spat lead. They had to hit the horror, it was far too big to miss, but there was no appreciable effect. It was also too large, I knew, to be affected by anything short of a howitzer.
Either we were very high, or the struggling mass had succeeded in pulling itself some distance through the rent as black whip-like tentacles lashed towards us.
I fired again, desperate to do something, despite the pointlessness.
A tentacle struck the plane, smashing a strut and tearing away the end of a wing. We began to spin.
As we span away, I caught a glimpse of something like an eye, enormous, the size of a football field, malevolent and alien, gazing down at us. I vomited over myself.
I heard screaming. Me? Bruce? The wind rushing past the broken strut? I’d no idea.
Then, the ’plane seemed to right itself. The peak of the tower was dead ahead of us. The greenish-blue glow of electricity enveloped the craft as Bruce sent us rolling sideways to avoid a collision.
I was glad I’d nothing left in my stomach left to lose.
As we flew away from the tower, an idea struck me, and I slapped Bruce’s shoulder and gestured for him to turn back. Despite his eyes being wide with fear behind his flying goggles, he arced the protesting ’plane and pointed us back towards the tower.
I replaced the magazine of the Tommy gun and took aim at the chanting figures and, then, fired.
If A’Khe’Na was impervious to bullets, his acolytes weren’t. Stop them chanting and, maybe, just maybe, I could stop it coming through.
I fired and I watched them dance the jitterbug that accompanies the tune of the Tommy gun.
They fell, dead or injured, it didn’t matter. The electric glow about the aerials seemed to falter, waiver, but A’Khe’Na was still pulling itself through the gash in the sky.
The aerials! There wasn’t anything like them in the original ritual, but they appeared deliberately placed. Had Sauvage combined modern science with ancient lore? Was that structure what was holding the gate open and pulling the alien thing through?
I fired the last of my bullets, but they had no effect. We had no explosives.
Looking up, I was certain A’Khe’Na must be almost through: We had to act now!
As we circled around once more, I slapped Bruce’s shoulder once more. He looked around and I mouthed ‘Crash’ and pointed at the conical structure and its scaffolding.
Bruce mouthed the word back at me and I nodded, mouthing ‘Crash’ again, to be certain.
His eyes were still wide behind his goggles, which were misting with sweat, but he nodded and a moment later aimed the plane at the scaffold.
I saw Bruce reaching down by his feet and I did likewise. There was a parachute; I unbuckled myself and pulled it on.
We were almost at the tower: I threw myself out. Bruce followed me a second later.
I tugged the cord. There was an explosion as the parachute dragged me up and sparks showered about me, like falling stars.
Then, I plummeted to the earth.
— ♦♦♦ —
“You’re alive.” Lenny’s voice was almost accusatory.
“I am?” I felt numb. Pain seemed to nibble at the fringes of my body.
I looked about: I appeared to be in a hospital bed.
“Uh-huh. So’s Bruce. A few broken bones between you. Not bad.”
“Jimmy?” I managed to whisper. My throat felt as if I’d vomited barbwire. “Water.”
Lenny handed me a glass, then said, “He didn’t make it. He lost too much blood.”
I was silent for a moment as I took that in. It was hardly a surprise, the state he’d been in, but somehow, I’d hoped… Poor Edna.
I gulped down some more water. I almost felt alive again. I was also beginning to feel pain.
I groaned. “I take it we did it?”
“Yeah. The fissure closed when the plane hit the pylon. Made a real mess of the top of the building. They haven’t found any bodies yet, but Sauvage is presumed dead. The police wanted to arrest you for murder and the mayor was screaming about the damage you did.”
“Enough people saw what happened and they just want to make it all quietly go away. A trial would only mean questions, publicity. They probably wish you were dead. Instead, they’re offering to pay for your hospital bill in return for you signing a gagging order.”
I guessed I could keep quiet. It wasn’t like we boasted about our activities: that tended to land out sort in the crazy-house. A sense of satisfaction and being able to wake up in a world that still existed were our only reward.
I lay back, exhausted.
— ♦♦♦ —
Mark Wane was a producer in search of something unique. The modern horror trends in cinema had left him underwhelmed. When he meets a mysterious elderly man at a bar, he discovers what the new horror is.