by R.T. Allenson
After several months pestering Professor Cadwell, he finally allowed me to come with him on an excavation. It’s a dream come true.
Rather, it would have been a dream come true, except the archaeological dig is going to be in Antarctica, and I didn’t bring my sweater. The barren wasteland is the last place I’d think of spending my first archeological dig, but I will never get another chance to take part in a dig like this with old man Cadwell.
Now that I think about it, I think he allowed me to come along just to spite me.
It’s been roughly three and a half hours now, and he says we’re almost close the frigid wasteland where we’ll be spending five months digging in the Vestfold Hills. Apparently, one of the University’s survey team found something near Stinear Lake.
I say ‘interesting’ because I’ve never seen Professor Cadwell’s eyes light up like it did when we received the news. For a second, he looked like a seven-year-old unwrapping a present. It was hilarious, in a heartwarming way – he’s not exactly the friendliest professor.
“How long till we get there again, Professor?” I ask him. He tears his gaze away from the airplane’s window and looks at me almost with an amused and sort of irritated look.
“Three. Three more hours. And you’ve asked me the same number of times.” He says annoyed. I smirk and roll my eyes and he returns it with a firm stare.
“Go fetch me the bourbon from the fridge will you.” He says, looking back into the window, “And leave me in peace for a while, if you would.”
“Of course,” I reply in my most annoyed voice. He laughs, his back to me, and shoos me away. I grab a cold one from the fridge and place it on my seat. Professor Cadwell doesn’t even turn around; he’s enamored at the prospect of digging in Antarctica.
The private jet is rather small, but there’s enough space to accommodate half of Miskatonic’s archeological branch. There’s Professor Cadwell, me, and Professor Duvall’s who is currently passed out and sleeping somewhere in the back seat. Jun, the transfer student from The Philippines is also with us, but he’s too busy reading up on the textbooks Cadwell gave him a few days ago.
And then there’s Milo Goddard, the new photographer that Miskatonic hired just three days before we left for Antarctica. Mr. Brandt, our original photographer fell sick and he was the only one who wasn’t committed to a project within the University. Professor Duvall actually objected to bringing him along because he’s totally green – this is both his first stint with the University and his first real ‘job’ as a photographer. Cadwell, however, undermined his authority. I’ve seen his portfolio and it’s not that bad to be honest.
But to be brutally honest, I’m really glad he’s coming. I’m not sure if it’s just curiosity or but I think I’m falling for him. The way he smiled when Cadwell asked him to get ready for the trip to Antartica made my heart jump and melt.
He’s sitting a seat back across Jun, fumbling with a camera. I think now’s the right time to get to know him better.
Nervously, I walk towards the row where he’s sitting on the back of the plane. He’s too busy to notice me sitting beside him, and when he does, his face makes a cute surprised look that’s irresistible.
“Sorry. Professor Cadwell’s getting tired of me sitting next to him.” I say to him in the most confident voice I can muster. I try to play it cool, and I make an irritated stare towards where Cadwell is sitting. He laughs and extends his hand to me. “You’re Milo, right?”
He nods his head, placing his camera away and extends his arm to mine. “Nice to meet you.” His smile is so perfect; it’s enough to make me lose my senses.
For a while, we just sit there silently. His gaze rapidly turns towards the window, and then back to the front of the plane. I guess he’s trying to not appear so awkward; he seems like the timid type, but I guess I’m just basing it off his actions. I guess anyone would feel uncomfortable sitting next to someone they don’t know.
“You know.” I blurt out, “I’m glad Cadwell allowed you to come with us. We almost canceled this trip because the previous photographer can’t come.” I turn towards him, mustering the courage to face him directly. “None of us know how to operate a camera.”
“Really?” he asks, laughing under his breath. “I would have assumed one of you knew how. That other professor, what was his name again?”
“Yes, him,” he says, fidgeting in his seat. “He kind of made it clear that he didn’t want me with you guys today.”
“Don’t mind him,” I say smiling. “He’s like that with everyone new. We can’t get rid of him since he’s the only biology professor who was actually willing to go all the way to Antartica.”
“Oh, I see.” He says. “Then Professor Cadwell is?”
“Is what?” I ask.
“I mean, what kind of professor is he?”
“Oh!” I lean back on my seat, slightly stretching my legs. “He’s the head archeologist of Miskatonic University. I’m surprised you don’t know what he does. He’s the one who found an additional dig site in Oman a couple of years ago.”
“You mean Ubar? That’s amazing!” He says, eyes widening. “I’ve been fascinated with archaeology since I was a kid you know. But I always felt more comfortable behind a camera than digging in the dirt.”
“That’s great. I think it’s amazing how you can capture the excitement of an archaeological dig through photos. It’s a real great way of telling a story.”
“I hope I don’t disappoint then.” He says smiling. “Say, where you ever in any digs or expeditions with Professor Cadwell?”
I was about to say no but then a thought raced through my mind; he doesn’t know me at all, and he’s easily impressed by the thought of an archaeological dig. I’m sure a little white lie won’t hurt if it would make me look good in his eyes.
“I, uh, I was part of the expedition to Leng last summer,” I say, trying to hide the twitch in my voice. It’s a lie of course. I wasn’t part of the Leng expedition. I wasn’t even part of the archeology branch yet, but it was the first thing I could remember. My heart was racing, waiting for his reaction.
“You were?” His eyes widen again. “You know the news about Miskatonic finding the Plateau of Leng was the reason why I applied as a camera man in your university. I can’t believe I’m sitting next to someone from that expedition! You must have an interesting story about your experience there.”
“Yeah, it was an amazing experience alright.” I laugh nervously. I try to think of the things Cadwell and the others found during the trip to Leng, but the only thing that I could remember were the black monoliths from Brandt’s pictures.”
“The black structures,” I blurt out nervously. “I mean, the monoliths. They were really impressive. And so cold to the touch too.”
“Monoliths? There were monoliths in Leng?” His voice is was giddy and excited, and we talk for a while about Leng and the archeological dig in Valusia seven years ago. “Were they manmade?”
I piece together all that I know from Cadwell and the other professor’s discussions about the dig sites and findings. The discovery of the monoliths on the plateau of Leng in the distant mountain range of Tibet was astounding, not because of sheer impressiveness of the pitch-black structures, but of the age. Relative dating done by Cadwell and his associates showed that the Monoliths were built at around the same time the actual mountain ranges were formed. This means the structures are around 55 million years old, which means the monoliths were built at the very end of the Paleocene period of Earth’s history.
“But who could have built those structures, right?” He asks inquisitively.
“Majority of the mammals at the time were all rodent-sized. Which means something else must have built those monoliths.” I say in an almost matter-of-factly way, trying to hide my deception.
“That’s just amazing.” He says, sighing. “An important find like that’s going to rewrite history, don’t you think?”
I nod back in a daze; I avert my eyes from him and we talk more about the dig and Cadwell’s theories on the Leng structures. I think I’m masking my lie pretty well, but I’m starting to feel bad for lying to him. I feel so desperate pretending to be a part of something just so I can impressive the cute photographer.
“You know,” he says, closing his eyes as he sits back. “I’m really glad that you sat next to me. I really couldn’t muster the courage to talk to Professor Cadwell about the expedition to Leng.”
“What do you mean?” I ask, sitting up in my chair.
“I’m really interested in the Leng expedition and what you people found there, but most of the people that were part of the team aren’t open about discussing it with the press.”
“Did you work for the press?”
“No.” he replies flatly, “But Miskatonic University was pretty adamant about keeping the discoveries in Leng a secret. The local news where I lived was convinced that your team found something that could rewrite history. And, well, those monoliths speak for themselves, right?”
“I-Indeed.” He laughs, noticing my stutter.
“I think what you people will find in Stinear Lake may be as interesting as what you found in Leng.”
A chill runs down the length of my neck, and I struggle to form the words in my mouth. “H-How did you know we were going to Stinear Lake?”
“Oh.” He slumps back into his seat, averting his gaze. “Jun told me. We talked. Earlier.”
“Really? We were given instructions to not tell anyone where we were going. That’s why we’re taking a private jet. And I was sitting next to Jun earlier before I sat next to Professor Cadwell.”
A soft, menacing chuckle escapes from his mouth. “Then I guess you’re not the only liar in this plane after all.”
“W-What? What do you mean?”
“You were never part of the Leng expedition.” He turns to me slowly, his eyes tinged with a certain quality of annoyance. “I saw the pictures of the expedition team. You weren’t in it.”
“I was the one taking the pictures.” He laughs, giving me a pat on the shoulder. “Don’t lie to me anymore, please. It’s pathetic. Earlier you said none of you knew how to work a camera. What happened? Did you suddenly forget how after the expedition?”
I’m sweating now; the hairs at the back of my neck standing on its end. It’s not fear of being caught in a lie, but fear of who this man really is. I try to get up from my seat, but he grabs my hand, pulling me down forcefully.
“Please, don’t.” He says in a firm, venomous tone. “It’s just going to make thing difficult for you.”
“What do you want?” I ask, trying to hide the fear in my voice. “Are you from the government? Who are you?”
He releases his grip from my hand and grabs his camera, fumbling about it meticulously. “No, I’m not from the government. And I’m not really a photographer.”
“This isn’t a camera either.” He says, pointing it at me. “Say cheese!”
“I’m going to tell Professor Cadwell. Whoever you are, you’re going to get in trouble.”
“Oh, I don’t think Mr. Cadwell will be of any help. I added a bit of cyanide in the bourbon you gave him earlier. He’s not getting up anytime soon.”
I swallow nervously, my heart racing faster and faster. “Professor Duvall’s not getting up either. Let’s just say having your spine broken isn’t exactly something you walk away from, especially for a man in his advanced age.”
“And Jun?” he says, grabbing a metallic box from his belongings. “Well, he’s still alive, but not exactly in a cooperative move.”
“In fact,” he whispers, pulling out a cylindrical container from the box, “I think he’s a bit brain dead.” I try to hold back my scream. In it was a human brain floating in a viscous fluid with strange metallic implements stuck directly into it as if it was a potato clock. Eyeballs, presumably Jun’s, were floating in it as well, staring at me from the grave.
“I told you. He told me about Stinear Lake. At least his brain did. It’s easier to extract information directly from a brain. The brain is like a zip file, you see. The way you get it is just a bit messier. Why do you think he’s sitting there like that, his face buried in a textbook?”
He returns that damnable cylinder back into the metallic case and turns to me with a menacing, serial-killer smile plastered on his face. “The information you gave me about Leng was still helpful even though you lied that you were there.”
He pulls a switchblade from his pocket and points it at me. “Unfortunately, you’re a loose end. I thank you for thinking me handsome, though. I’m flattered, really.”
He lunges at me with the blade, but I manage to knock it off from his hand before he could land it in my neck. He hisses at me, damning me as he reaches for something else from his belongings. I tear myself away from the seat and grab the switchblade from the floor.
I feel a painful thud on my back as he slams his foot into my body. With nothing else to do, I roll around and slash blindly into him. He lets out a shrill cry as I plant the switchblade in his chest, and tear it downwards.
His cry turns into pained cackling, as he pulls the blade out of from his body. “You’ve no idea who you are dealing with, child.”
Black fluid escapes from the wound from his neck, and slowly, he begins picking at the wound with his fingers. I find myself paralyzed as he slowly tears off his skin, revealing dark, membranous flesh. A pair of wing-like growths erupts from his back, and his smiling face gradually tears itself in two, revealing a convoluted ellipsoid of pyramided fleshy rings and antennae.
His laughter turns into chaotic screeching as clawed appendages shoot out from his chest, snapping angrily in my general direction. He shrugs what’s left of his human skin off from his two-toed clawed feet like it was a pair of pants that he couldn’t take off.
“The plateau of Leng is no longer in the control of the Elder Things.” His voice is that of Milo’s mixed with maniacal insect-like buzzing. “The portal to our world is now ours for the taking once more.”
“The last of their star-born race shall fall once we make for their fortress underneath Stinear Lake.” He grabs me with one of his clawed hands and lifts me, worming his antennae across my face.
“And you will be there to see it. Think of it as a gesture of my love.”
With one swift motion, he plunges one of his claws into my head. The pain is intense and a blinding light, like a camera flash blinds me.
It felt like an eternity, but my senses are coming back to me. Was it all a dream? I try to open my eyes, but I realize that it’s already open. I have no feeling in my body because I don’t have a body anymore. Jun’s brain is slumped messily on a rock in front of me, and I realize that I’m in the same cylinder as he was before.
An all too familiar buzzing sound erupts from behind me. I try to turn to look, but I remember that I have no more head as well.
“There you are.” Milo’s insectoid voice chirps at me, almost fondly. “I hope you enjoy the view.”
He raises one of his clawed appendages towards the horizon. It is then that I realize that we are no longer on a plane, but underground. I see cyclopean towers and ancient monoliths burning, with insectoid creatures flying noisily dealing death and destruction in their passing. The hapless denizens of the city flee its destruction, but their destroyers make quick work of their soft, barrel-like bodies. Their murderers tear their star-shaped heads from their bodies, placing them in cylinders just like the one I am in now.
“The last city of Elder Things is burning, and their kind with them. Once rulers of your planet, now an extinct race. None shall stop us in harvesting your world.”
He turns to me, looking at me directly with that strange ellipsoid face. With those fleshy things who were hiding behind a face of pure beauty and innocence. I could almost make out a smirk forming from his otherworldly countenance.
“But I’ll spare you. Out of love. It’s what you wanted from me all the long, right?” His voice rises into insane laughter and try as though I have no mouth, my mind screams and screams and screams and screams…