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I know this is a story that runs deep. What I can put together from what I saw can only scratch the surface. But what I saw was more than enough for my nerves.
As you read this, you'll probably wonder why I didn't realize sooner that something was wrong. The truth is, when you go into strangers' basements for a living, you see a lot of crazy things and hear a lot of crazy talk. Lots of people are crazy, in part or in full, and their basements are where all the craziest things are. One fellow went into hysterics when I touched one of the vases he kept driftwood in. They were there to balance the foundation against the magnets in the clouds. He'd seemed perfectly normal up till then, and was even the assistant manager at my bank. Then there was the lady who wanted me to reverse the polarity of her outlets because her blood was starting to flow counterclockwise. While rewiring one basement I came across a baby carrier with little bones inside and a weird shrine around it, all in a hidden space under the stairs. I called the cops on that couple. Turned out it was the remains of their cocker spaniel.
Craziness is almost always harmless (to the visiting electrician, at least). I know I've come to lots more harm from dogs that were "fine with people" than from crazy clients or their crazy families or crazy guests. If somebody thinks Ronald Reagan is a black magician from the jungles of Neptune, it doesn't really affect me. I'm more concerned with how many appliances they think an outlet can support. Years of experiences with benign craziness are the reason why everything in this story stayed under my crazy-radar until I was in the thick of the plot.
It was a late evening service call to a place outside of town. The dispatcher was under the impression it was a church, but the building at the address wasn't marked as such. It looked like it was just somebody's house. It was the right place, though. The power was out, and some folks in albs were there to greet me. Fifteen or twenty people gathered, and nobody knew the first thing about circuits.
I mainly talked to a fellow named Iakchos. I think that was the spelling. The name sounded Greek, but he looked more Norwegian to me. He was a skinny, narrow-faced young man with long blond hair and eyes like a Siberian husky. Iakchos was hot to get that power back on in time for the holiday service that night. I didn't pry about what religion or holiday we were talking about there. Just the usual questions and pleasantries, and I was headed downstairs to have a look at the box.
The basement was divided into two rooms. The one on the right side of the staircase was finished, the one past the door at the base of the stairs was like a dungeon. I didn't see much of this at first, because it was dark and I was searching for the box with a flashlight. Naturally it was in the most remote and cluttered cranny of the unfinished room. I probably spent more time looking for it than I did working in it. It was behind a banquet table that had chairs and stools sitting on one end and a couple piles of stuff under blankets covering the rest. I tried to uncover the box without disturbing too much, but moving over one of the piles that obstructed it caused another pile to collapse and a blanket to fall to the floor.
I reset the breaker, the lights came on, and I found myself face to face with a monster. It only took me a second to realize it had lifeless marbles for eyes and no body to speak of, but that was one terrifying second. It was just the mounted head of some kind of razorback or warthog. The angle of light coming from the single bare bulb hanging in the room made it look especially threatening.
I turned my attention to the box. The problem turned out to be a twitchy G.F.C.I. I had a replacement in my truck. But before I went upstairs, I took another look at that ugly piece of taxidermy.
It wasn't quite like any animal I knew. In a way, it looked almost like a man. I'm not exactly Jim Fowler, but I thought I'd recognize any animal that'd be a trophy on somebody's wall (or in somebody's mountain of neglected possessions, as it were).
Another thing caught my eye, perhaps at the same time. The furnace, hot water heater, and support beams formed a partial barrier dividing the unfinished half of the basement in two. The wall in front of the stairs and the opposite wall with the breakers were the only places where you could see both sides. The side I'd come in on was an obstacle course of junk, but the side I'd foolishly overlooked was almost bare except for what looked at first like a big circular rug. At some point before things got crazy, I was surprised to see it was actually a mosaic of stones embedded in the cement floor.
There are seven more paragraphs and some lines of dialogue before things go crazy, just so you know. You might be bored, but I wrote this all down for a reason.
The concentric circles of stones were the only real feature in that half of the basement. The rest was cracked cement, pipes, utilities, and the unpainted half of the aluminum divider. There were no decorations, unless you count stacks of unused furniture, milk crates, and miscellaneous unremarkable objects collecting dust.
When I saw the finished half in the light, I realized it looked better in the dark. It was a large room with cement walls painted an anemic shade of yellow, an ugly yellowish brown shag carpet, uglier yellow, brown, and orange-striped furniture, a couple plywood tables with a tiny T.V. and a seashell lamp that looked like it was stolen from a motel, a plywood case of books on theology and geology, and stacks of cardboard boxes that seemed to be gradually encroaching on the living space. The dividing wall was corrugated aluminum that was clearly installed and spray-painted by an amateur. You could actually see up over it into the dark half of the basement. Something had gone wrong installing the knob on the cheap plywood door, and so there was an extra hole in it. It appeared that the same do-it-yourselfer had started putting backs on the stairs, but only made it about half a dozen steps down. I know I'm spending a lot of time describing the building when I could just get on with telling what happened there, but I think this will help you picture the scenes that unfold soon. Besides, a basement that ugly and poorly-renovated deserves to be documented.
But back to the G.F.C.I. While I was up in the kitchen explaining to Iakchos what I was doing and what it would cost, I made a little small talk.
"What kind of animal did that mounted head come from?" I asked after a bit.
Iakchos didn't seem to know what I was talking about, and asked what it looked like.
"Big furry thing with a snout."
By the look on his face, I'd say the snout part rang a bell.
"Where did you see something like that?" he asked.
"In a pile of stuff on that big table in front of the breaker box."
"It's hard to say what that is," he began, and he rattled off a list of people and establishments whose things the family or church had acquired or was storing for one reason or another. He remarked about the collection of crazy junk with a nervous-sounding laugh. The question obviously bothered him, and I let the seemingly trivial subject pass.
As soon as the basement door closed, I could hear them arguing on the other side. I just ignored it. I had the new G.F.C.I. in and tested in a few minutes. While I was doing this, I kept looking back to my good friend, the decapitated pig. I think it was then that I read the plaque on the mount. It was badly tarnished, and I had to hold my flashlight up to it to make out the letters. It was engraved with two lines:
His 2nd Incarnation
Slain by heretics in the hallowed year 8627
I think it was also then that I started feeling rather uneasy about that snouted beast, that house, and the whole situation altogether. But I might have held that off until I heard the ominous music from upstairs. The arguing in the kitchen had given way to singing in a more distant room.
I hastily punched up and scribbled down a bill, gathered up my tools, and would have sprinted across the basement and up the stairs if I hadn't worried about offending my clients. I didn't want to let on that I couldn't wait to get the hell away from their building that may or may not be a church. I was either in too much of a hurry to leave or too distracted by the eerie singing, because I left all those things on the banquet table. I realized as I came to the top of the stairs that I'd have to go back. If only that had been the worst inconvenience I encountered that night.
When I looked back in the unfinished half of the basement, I thought it was on fire. There was a red glow coming from the empty half of the room. The utilities and piles of junk were casting shadows on the right wall, but they were steady, like the light source was something more constant than flames. I flicked the light on, and didn't see any smoke. I was more worried now than when I thought it was something mundane like a fire. I sensed I was in terrible danger and should leave the house immediately, clients be damned. But there was no way I was leaving my tool-case with all my best tools in it. They don't even make cases like that anymore. So I crept into the hellishly lit room.
Everything looked normal except the circle of stones in the floor. They'd changed from dull grey to terra cotta red. I wondered if that was really enough to give off all that light. I got my answer when I switched the light bulb back off. They not only glowed red, I could see through them to other pellucid red stones continuing down indefinitely. It was like looking through one of those clear plastic tubs of candied cherries.
I didn't let my curiosity detain me too long. I walked over by the table where the big black tool-case was sitting without taking my eyes off the glowing circle. I just didn't trust it. Once I could reach the handle, I grabbed the case and made my way back around the circle. It didn't give off any heat I could feel, but I treated it like a bonfire that would singe me if I didn't keep my distance. Once I'd rounded it and was back at the door, I ran up the stairs. The door at the top was locked.
My next move wasn't my brightest, and I almost left it out of this account.
I banged on the door and yelled, "Let me out of here, you God damn crazy hippies!"
There was no answer. The strange singing didn't even pause. I should take a moment to describe it. Readers with musical knowledge may cringe at this part, since I don't know many terms or if I'm even using the right ones. It was difficult to tell if there were words of a foreign language in the song, or if it was just sounds. The rhythm and tones were easy to make out, and they hardly varied. There was a two-note cadence that half the singers would moan in unison, drawing it out for several seconds. The other singers would echo it at a higher register. After doing this three times, they would join together to repeat the first moan and bark out three briefer notes. The middle note in the triplet was usually a step higher than the other two, but sometimes the latter two would be a much lower note uttered twice. Sometimes the second note in the cadence would be replaced by a wobbly trill. But it was mostly the same pattern over and over and over, and it really wore a groove in my mind by the time this was all over.
I kept banging on the door and yelling for a while. After it was clear no amount of repeated demands to be let out punctuated with swearing would provoke any response, I started making threats.
"I can cut the power," I let them know. After a moment's thought, I realized this was a poor threat. I'd be hindering myself at least as much as the people upstairs, especially now that I'd told them what I was going to do.
"I've got a DynaTAC!" I shouted next. "You hear me? I've got a mobile phone. Let me out or I'll call the cops!" That was an even emptier threat, and of course it didn't work. After that, I stopped shouting and started working on an escape.
There were no windows on the finished half of the basement. It was probably all underground. Given the grade, the unfinished half would have enough above ground that there might be windows. That was also the side with the enclosed porch. Failing all else, there could be a space leading under it to the outside. So that's where I went next.
That thing of stones was still burning bright, but the proper and normal light wouldn't come on when I flipped the switch. I could see the cord swinging like a pendulum. It looked like the bulb had been smashed, but it was hard to tell in the half-light. I noticed something else wasn't right. The shafts of crimson light were shifting. Someone was in the room with me.
I froze, and a feeling of utter terror immeasurably more powerful than any of the fear I'd already felt that night came over me. It seemed to spread through my blood like poison from a bee's stinger. In my paralysis, I caught a glimpse of the person's silhouette in between the furnace and a beam. He had fur.
I should have snuck out carefully, but instead I went straight from standing still to bolting for the door. I don't even know how I navigated around the clutter. I was running on instincts instead of thoughts. Just as I was coming to the bright rectangle at the end of this sepulchral room, a pit opened up in the floor and my left leg fell in up to my thigh. At the same time, I heard a howl from the other end of the room. It was in two notes, very much like the cadences that made up the song. A roar, then a long trumpeting drone. But this wasn't a human sound. It wasn't even much like an animal sound. It was like a klaxon from beyond. My mind almost left and didn't come back at that moment.
Somehow, I got my stick back on the ice. The hole I'd fallen in wasn't supernatural. A rotten plywood drain cover had collapsed like a soggy graham cracker. Nobody takes care of their basement these days. I scrambled out, got halfway off the floor as I stumbled to the doorway, and fell as I slammed the door shut. I could hear shuffling footsteps heading my way. I sprang into action, pulling down a bookcase to block the door and then pushing the couch over to join it. If only I had that kind of energy every day.
I ran up the stairs, hoping to find a way through the locked door. The beast pounded and clawed at the door below, and kept bellowing in response to the musical moans from upstairs.
The door at the top of the stairs wasn't coming out of the frame easy. I keep a short but sturdy nail puller in my tool-case, but there was nowhere good to force it into. The door opened outward, and the jambs were behind oak strips that wouldn't budge a hair's breadth. Screwdrivers wouldn't do me any good either. The hinges and back-plate were all soldered. Real fine craftsmanship. That house could've been a beaut if the remodeling and decorating hadn't been such hack-work. I needed something big and heavy to break down the door.
It's a good thing I didn't come to that realization sooner, because I would have been pulled underneath the staircase if I'd started walking down three steps earlier. A four-fingered hand covered with fur the same tan as the shag carpet reached out from between two stairs.
There was no going back down those stairs. Either I'd get past the door using the tools I had, or I'd die. I looked at all those different implements resting in pouches in the black leather interior. My hand danced around senselessly as I frantically tried to think which one could help me and in what way. I had a thought when my eyes paused on the nail sets sitting there in descending order of size. I used to be pretty good at picking locks, and the tools I had here weren't too different from what I used for that.
The door lost my attention when the beast tried to get at me again. This time he stuck his head through the gap in the stairs, and I saw a living version of the mounted head in all its horror. I dropped my nail set and cringed on the top step.
Some of the people I've told this story to have suggested that the beast was just another participant in this mad act. That it was a ceremonial costume or a bizarre prank. Nobody who saw what I saw would say that. I could see his long snout wrinkling and twitching as he smelled the air. He looked down the stairs, then up. His ears pricked up when he caught sight of me. His lips were moist and pliable as he snarled out of the corner of its mouth then bared all its stunted and crooked tusks. The short fur on his misshapen cheeks and temples bristled, and the hair on the top of his head shifted as the muscles of his sloping brow wrinkled up. His eyes burned with an energy I can't even describe. There was no question that I was looking at a living thing.
My hands were shaking terribly as I picked up the smallest nail set and a drift. When I went to work on the lock, I made a startling discovery: The key had been in it the whole time. You can always count on an electrician to over-think a simple problem.
I thrust the drift into the hole and the skeleton key clattered on the hardwood floor. I couldn't get my hand far enough under the crack of the door to reach it, but I had pliers. I unlocked the door, started to run into the kitchen, then knelt down for a second to toss the loose tools into my case and lock it up. The beast burst through the door at the bottom of the stairs just as I slammed the one at the top. I locked it and ran through the house.
Everyone upstairs was lying on a giant crazy pattern painted on the floor of the front room. Some were twitching. I think all of them were alive. The singing hadn't abated. I felt it had grown powerful enough that it didn't need human throats to exist. A more reasonable explanation would be that it was a recording played on speakers I didn't see, but I wasn't in a reasonable state of mind.
I ran to my truck. I almost expected it to stall or get stuck in the mud (that was the kind of day I was having), but I got out of there safely. The singing faded into the distance until I couldn't hear it over the sound of tires on gravel. The trees gave way to reflective chevrons, and I saw the welcoming city lights.
That was the last house call I ever made. You'd think a cult would just light candles.
The story's not over, though. It would make a better story if I ended it there. But it isn't just a story. It's a series of facts, and it's a fact that this story has a postscript.
I made an anonymous call from a 7-11 to the local police station. I said as much as I could without sounding crazy, and urged them to take a look at what was going on in that building. I never heard anything more. A tornado touched down near here not too long after. Took out the house and everything around it. I didn't think that happened by chance. They called forth something that the forces of nature wouldn't stand for. I thought it was over. Then, one day, I saw his face again.
I was working for the city then. I came home one October evening after a long day's work. Got out of the truck, slammed the door, turned around, and found myself staring straight at that same horrible visage.
I jerked back and fell off the curb. It was a rubber mask with artificial fur glued to it. Somebody'd stuck it on a pole like a scarecrow. It was part of the Halloween decorations somebody in my building had put up. But it was a mask of his face. I knew that for sure. I knew whose decorations these were too. This couple with a little boy who lived downstairs. I grabbed the mask and marched straight to their door.
"What in the name of God is this!?" I asked. They all laughed at me. The mask came from Venture, they said. They told me who it was. Oh, if only they really knew. They told me where to see him, and I did.
It was just a mock-up, made by human hands. No more real than the rubber mask. But it was the same beast. There was no mistaking that. Maybe his followers were responsible for this, or maybe his ghastly form was injected into the mind of some designer who never knew its meaning. Maybe it's in all our minds, if we could look deep enough. Seeing him move around again filled me with horror. The memory of that night came back to me more vivid than ever. I heard that howling in my head. I couldn't stand it for very long. I turned off the T.V.
I can guess at his plan. He wants to desensitize the world to his appearance, making all the mindless sheep see him as benign and fanciful. People who speak the truth would look silly, and people who saw him would welcome him as a friend. But I know that's all lies. He's not friendly, and he's not from anywhere out there. He's the most evil thing I've ever seen in the flesh, and he comes from somewhere deep. I can believe he eats cats, though.
Written by Floyd Pinkerton (Lee Sherman)