He didn’t know if Miller believed in any of this or not, but he understood that Miller knew that they did and, no matter what, he had to use that belief against them. He had to prove that they had closed the Gate. But Angell could not deny the evidence of his own senses: the eerie underground cavern that served as a Tomb for a being of impossible size and unearthly contours that even now was vibrating wildly under his feet like a tea table at a Victorian seance; the Pythoness that was Jamila, an otherwise sweet daughter of the Yezidi who suffered so greatly under Saddam, channeling the Creature in the Tomb; the spiritual sickness that he was feeling even now, so much worse than he experienced at Mosul all those years ago when the Yezidi—Jamila’s people—were taken out and slaughtered. This was religion?
“There is no religion here,” he heard the voice shout in his head, reminding him of what he had been told only an hour earlier. The voice of the shaman. How was that possible? Angell stared madly around him at the sound. Where was he?
“This has nothing to do with religion! This is not ideology, or theology. Not some battle between the forces of Good and Evil. There are no angels, no demons. There is only Us and Them!”
Adnan sees his opening, and takes it. He fires a short burst at Miller that plows into his chest, sending him crashing to the floor.
Miller is stunned, more at the fact that he has been shot at all and less at the fact that he is dying and has at most only a few seconds to live. His life telescopes in front of his eyes. Events from his childhood are squeezed together with things he experienced only days, or weeks, ago.
You thought everything was a joke, something to entertain adolescent boys. Monsters from space. Haunted houses. Depraved cults. Forbidden books.
And then it happened. Lovecraft died before World War Two began. He died before we learned of the Holocaust. He died before the atomic bomb was dropped. Before Cambodia. Vietnam. Before UFOs and The Exorcist
and Ancient Aliens. Before the Manson Family and serial killers and Jonestown. Before the Arab Spring. Before Erich von D niken and Zecharia Sitchin. Before the Anarchist Cookbook. The Sayings of Chairman Mao. The Story of O. …
Before 9/11 made terror cults common knowledge and household words.
Haunted household words.
Before the modern world made Lovecraft’s world a reality.
Not so funny anymore, is it? Lovecraft as seer, as prophet of the New Age? An atheist as visionary?
Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?
The crowd begins to converge on Angell as Miller drops to the ground. He grabs the Book with one hand and begins firing at the crowd with the other. Panic firing. He is not even sure how he is able to fire an AK-47 with one hand. Miller’s Tibetans rush into the crowd, firing their own weapons, and the din is horrendous in the enclosed space. Adnan where
Jamila’s screams can be heard over the gunfire and the moans of the wounded. Something is happening and it is not certain that even Miller or the accursed Book was ever able to stop it.
Something … someone … is rising from the stones and tiles of the cavern’s floor. Rising from the floor and from the walls and from the ceiling, all at once, an effect that is contrary to every law of the third dimension. As the blood of the maniacs spills and pools on the ground, spattering the walls, raising a stench of copper that competes with the awful incense and makes Angell wonder, crazily, if copper is sacred to Venus because it smells like spilled blood, the crowd pulls back with a collective sigh—an “Ahhhh ” that seems to go on forever.
Jamila is now silent. Her face has become almost beatific. The only sound in the world is the strange buzzing of a horde of invisible insects, like a delegation from the East. The buzzing rises higher and higher. Al- Azif, he thinks. This is why. When Kutulu rises from R’lyeh …
Jamila points at Angell, her smile becoming flirtatious and seductive. She glides over to him, ignoring Miller’s corpse and the Book in Angell’s
hand, and puts her fingertips tenderly on his shoulder as the shadows around the cavern gather and become more concrete, more sinister, more lethal.
Above her head, Angell can see what appears to be a face coalescing out of angles and tricks of light and darkness and the clouds of incense and cordite. It is something that partakes of the sea and the land, of the swamps and marshes of Mesopotamia as well as the sunken temples of Mahabalipuram and the Gulf of Khambat; of the forgotten cities of the Hadrahmut buried under aeons of sand and fear. There are tendrils—of smoke, or of flesh?—what appears to be an eye, a nightmare of mismatched organs and limbs, yet at the same time incredibly ancient. A nagging memory of DNA and wrong turns on the evolutionary path.
Jamila puts her other hand on Angell’s gun arm. He looks down at her, afraid to glance into her eyes, and he sees not only Jamila and Inanna—but this scholar of religions and religious studies sees Ishtar, Sekhmet, Kali, Tanzler’s Elena, and Dante’s Beatrice, Poe’s Lenore, the Kurdish lizard goddess Shahmaran, and the Whore of Babylon.
Babylon. Of course.
And Jamila’s tender and flirtatious finger pulls the trigger of the AK-47.
The future is inevitable and precise, but it may not occur. God lurks in the gaps.
—Jorge Luis Borges, Other Inquisitions
Monroe is getting data directly from the drone flying over the Khembalung area. He has been on the phone with Aubrey almost constantly. Aubrey is understandably freaked out by the whole affair. There has been no word from the JSOC team and that is especially worrisome. The military buildup along the border with China is proceeding unabated.
The Raptor drone is equipped with the latest in infra-red cameras and they have not picked up any life forms near any of the entrances to the cave complex. The entire mountain shows up black on the screens as if there isn’t even any vegetation there.
The drone is also equipped with two Hellfire missiles, should it come to that.
Aubrey is a physical and emotional mess. He has been with Monroe for decades and he knows what is at stake. They are at the finish line, but that’s when everything can go wrong. He knows that from bitter experience.
He has been in Baghdad now for too long. He wants to get back to the States. He thought it would be good to get back in action again, an old man like him, but realized too late that this was a young man’s game. He had the experience and the wisdom, but he couldn’t transfer any of that to the people for whom he was responsible. They knew what they had to do, and
they made choices in the field, in the heat of the moment, that were not always the right choices, and that’s when he had to have backup plans.
Right now, he didn’t have any. He had to get Angell and the Book out.
Barring that, then just the Book.
He had come to like Angell; well, a little anyway. He was serious, depressed, cynical about life more than other people his age. And he had a right to be. But Aubrey had seen much more, been through much more, and had been responsible for a hell of a lot more, and still managed to retain his sense of humor. As he thought back to the last few days since leaving Brooklyn he realized he had never seen Angell actually smile.
He hoped there were still some smiles in Angell’s future.
His screen came to life again. More telemetry from the UAV. And his phone was ringing. It was Monroe.
Monroe hung up from the call to Aubrey. Still no word. He looked down at his desk, where the long-lost Cthulhu File sat there like a witch’s toad, fat and threatening. The Cthulhu file was the backbone of the Lovecraft Codex. It was retrieved from poor Barlow’s room at the university after the professor’s suicide. William Burroughs had handed it over to an official from the US Embassy in Mexico City in return for the US government looking the other way concerning the writer’s accidental shooting of his wife. That official—whose real job was hunting Communists for the CIA
—later became part of Monroe’s team.
All he needs is the Book, and his life-long quest will be complete. With the Book and the Codex the answers to thousands of years of human history would be revealed, putting everything into a new context and permitting an enormous realignment of powers, capabilities, and government focus. It could save the world, he thinks. Especially now, as the new cult that called itself the Islamic State was blatantly advertising its links to these ancient ideas and to the Cthulhu Cult. The black flags, the ninja costumes, the videotaped beheadings, the mass executions, the rape of women and young girls … didn’t anyone get the joke? It was the Manson Family again, except with Toyota Land Cruisers instead of dune buggies. That was ironic, thought Monroe. They’re in the desert, like the Manson Family. They should have dune buggies.
The news coming in from all parts of the world is more than alarming. He knows the White House is running scared, in complete disarray
because it has become impossible to focus on any one—or any dozen— crises as more and more keep appearing. He is using that distraction to his own purpose and maneuvering to divert the resources he needs to Nepal, but he feels for the administration. They were used to dealing with existential threats in a more twentieth century fashion: find the bad guys, root ‘em out, done. But the bad guys were just the witless tools of some really bad guys, and these really bad guys were taking orders from some lifeless but dreaming corpse buried beneath the mountains and the seas. The source of radicalization—Islamic, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, whatever—was not the Internet, which was just the medium. The source was not economics alone, or history, or religion. These provided what the magicians call the “material basis” for the manifestation of the Evil Spirit: a Force and an Entity that is not so easily defined, identified, and neutralized. For that you needed an exorcist, and the last exorcists with that kind of juice died sometime in the sixteenth century.
As the reports coming in show the outlines of an ugly and sinister Force coalescing out of the pain, bloodshed, and horrors of ancient antagonisms, natural disasters, and technology gone amok, Monroe can almost look into the face of Cthulhu itself, like that demon face that some people claimed they saw in the fires of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.
Even the increasing warmth of the world’s oceans is contributing to Cthulhu’s resurrection as his undersea abode rises to the surface. Schools of giant squid, jellyfish, and all manner of bizarre sea creatures are swarming in incredible numbers. The Antarctic ice sheet is melting, revealing structures and terrain impossible to imagine only decades ago. The dimensions of Cthulhu are staggering and defy any rational, Euclidean sense of geometric proportion. It is simultaneously in the deep Pacific, under the Himalayas, channeled in Louisiana, Mexico, Kiev, Lagos, Beijing, Yogyakarta, a farm outside Perth, a crack house in Brooklyn, among child prostitutes in Cambodia, drug-crazed militia in Peru, a mosque in Somalia … It is rising from all points on the Earth, all at once, as if shrugging off the dimensions of space and time, one by one.
In a town in Missouri that night an unarmed black man is gunned down in the street by two heavily-armed police officers. As the man is dying on the asphalt in a pool of his own blood, the people begin to come out from their
homes, their shops, their churches and wordlessly they start to surround the two officers…
Why didn’t we pay attention, asks Monroe of himself and the world. Our artists, our writers, our musicians see farther than we do. The rest of us just play catch-up. And now it may be too late.
… I will merely say that caves played a role in prehistoric initiations
—Mircea Eliade, Rites and Symbols of Initiation
The shot that Jamila has fired from Angell’s weapon has hit the old shaman, center mass. Angell twists around at the sound of the blast and sees the man against the wall, a flower of his own blood blooming across his chest. In his right hand, he was holding his antique knife and was about to plunge it into Angell’s back.
No time to lose, Angell returns to the Book and the closing of the Gate. The Book is open to where Miller had left it, and Angell feels he has no choice but to continue Miller’s work.
He stares at the page in front of him, the one Miller had been reading, and realizes that he can make it out as a Sumerian chant written in Greek letters.
He believes none of this, he tells himself. None of it. But he sees the growing fog around him like the one at Tell Ibrahim, and he smells the stench, the foetor of that fog like the offal of a badly buried dinosaur. He cannot deny the tremendous vibration of the entire chamber as the floor itself begins to disappear, replaced by a thin transparency like a caul over the newly-forming cranium of a thing about to be born from the corpse of its own body. There is no God! Screams the shaman in his brain. There is no Devil! There is only Us and Them!
He is standing between the Us and the Them; he is standing at the juncture of two worlds. He is enough of a scholar to understand liminality
and knows he is standing at the Mother of All Liminal Boundaries. And so, he chants. Between two worlds.
What the hell else was he going to do?
And Jamila still stands before him. Hearing the words of the Closing of the Gate, eyes closed in a kind of existential ecstasy, she grabs the weapon from Angell’s hand. He releases it, thinking that she is relieving him of it so he can better hold the Book.
But she is the Gate. She had been channeling Cthulhu in Cthulhu’s own Tomb. She cannot trust herself not to be used again. Like Miller and his involuntary viewing, she does not want to become possessed by the Thing in the Tomb once again.