Another past published story – I wrote this one in a sort of zone where I was convinced of my own ability to be funny. Lucky enough for me, the publisher bought it.
Everything was almost in place. Harold had read the book cover to cover, though some of it seemed unnecessary. Passages and passages on precautions, sigils and signs, secret names, and the proper way to flay a non-believer. There were diagrams and illustrations, and in one instance, an esoteric mathematical formula that was supposed to guarantee immortality, though to Harold, it looked suspiciously like the quadratic equation as applied to the alphabet.
He had come across the Necronomicon by accident, browsing eBay for rare books. It had been offered for little to no money, basically just next to the cost of shipping, and Harold hadn’t thought twice about jumping on the auction before someone else could.
“Only used once, smells somewhat of fish.” It was the only description the seller provided, and Harold actually liked fish, so he couldn’t see a downside. Also, there was the added bonus of it being a book written for the sole purpose of summoning dark powers to do one’s bidding, and Harold had plans.
It had taken some time to gather all the things he needed for the ritual. Blood of a mature virgin for instance. It wasn’t like he could go around poking spinsters with needles, so he ended up spending six months volunteering at the local blood bank, and screening every applicant that came in. When he finally found it, he had smuggled the chilled bag of blood out of the clinic in his underwear, while uttering a silent prayer to whoever was listening that his testicles would quickly re-descend.
Another hard to get item was the breath of a fish. He had stared at that sentence for some time, trying to puzzle it out. As far as he knew, fish didn’t even have lungs. He spent a lot of time and money on goldfish. At first, he tried holding their little fishy lips to a bottle and squeezing them. That ended awkwardly. In the end, he took several, threw them in a plastic bag together, and sealed it shut. After they had expired, the bag puffed up, and he considered it good enough.
The last item was “a chunke of meate from the moste dangerous beaste.” It was not pleasant, and had cost him about a hundred dollars, but he got it. Shame about Homeless Joe’s pinky finger, though. He actually felt pretty terrible about that, until he realized Joe had nine perfectly good other fingers, and he hadn’t even named that one yet.
It had been another three months of waiting, until Sarah had to take a trip to her sister’s, before he had been able to finally put his plan in action. He had kissed her goodbye and stood in the doorway, waving and watching her go, waiting until the silver Taurus had rounded the corner at the end of the street and receded behind the screen of homes on either side. When she was gone, he went back inside, closed the door, and fished the plastic bag from the toilet tank where he had been storing his ingredients.
In the dining room, he pushed the table and chairs to one side, and rolled up the area rug and propped that against the wall as well. He snipped the top off the bag of blood he had lifted from the blood bank, and with a basting brush from the kitchen, drew a circle in the center of the floor. Larger than a man, but smaller than an elephant, it was small enough to hold the entity he was summoning without risking his own safety, yet large enough to be comfortable. He didn’t see the need to make the thing any grumpier than it needed to be, especially not if that mood were directed at him.
A few quick strokes with the brush painted the requisite symbols and signs at the cardinal points of the circle, with the beast’s name at the top. Very carefully, he painted ‘CTHULU’, in letters large enough to enforce his intention. When he was done with that, he placed the finger on the east side, and the rattling bag of dried goldfish on the west. Finally, he stood in the south, and hesitated.
He considered for a moment that he could very well be quite insane by now, driven there by years of whispers behind his back. (He knew it was happening, and about him. Always about him.) He also considered the idea that this might work, albeit too well, and he would summon something so powerful it would simply break free, devour him, and quite possibly the entire block. He grimaced. The homeowner’s association would not like that.
Harold took a deep breath, and decided the only way to know was to try. He closed his eyes, began to whisper the Lord’s Prayer, then thought better of it. Probably best not to attract His attention. He remembered he had to prick his finger to start the ritual, and cracked his eyelids long enough to jab himself in the thumb with one of Sarah’s sewing needles.
Blood welled up immediately on the ball of his thumb, and he squeezed it out, then let it fall, just outside the southern border of the circle. It hit the hardwood with a wet ‘plop’, sending little droplets out in a pattern.
That done, he closed his eyes again, and began the chant the book had specified.
“Ia! Ia! Cthulhu Fthagn! Ph’nglui mglw’nfah Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn! Ia! Ia! Cthulhu Fthagn! Ph’nglui mglw’nfah Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn! IA! IA! CTHULHU FTHAGN! PH’NGLUI MGLW’NFAH CTHULHU R’LYEH WGAH’NAGL FHTAGN!”
He said each sentence louder than the last, the unfamiliar words seeming to form themselves to his mouth with each iteration, his voice becoming stronger, ringing in the quiet house. When he was done, the last syllables echoed away into the empty rooms, and he opened an eye and peeked.
The circle was empty. Outside, a car drove by, tires crunching on loose stone in the street. Further off, a dog barked. Harold looked around the room, and deflated a little. He knew he shouldn’t be surprised, or disappointed, and that hoping did not make something so, but still…it had been quite a show, he thought, with all the chanting and the blood. He turned away from the circle to fetch the mop Sarah kept in the hall closet, and muttered under his breath.
“Ash was right. Klaatu Verata Nicto, my ass.” He said.
“It’s not there! What do you mean, under the stairs? Margaret? Marga- oh.”
Harold stopped in his tracks, and spun around. Someone was standing in his circle, and he blinked.
“Hello? Hello? Excuse me, who are you?” The man said.
“Har- Harold.” Harold struggled to speak for a moment. There was a man standing in the center of the circle, hands on his hips, looking perturbed. He walked back, the mop forgotten, and sat in the chair he had set just south of the circle, and stared at his visitor.
He had been hoping for a big bad. Someone or something that could put a hurt on the world, someone who could avenge all the wrongs of his miserable life. What he got was, well, not as impressive.
He found himself staring at a middle-aged man with thinning hair and a receding hairline. He was dressed in chinos and a white button-up shirt, with the sleeves rolled back, exposing what looked like an old tattoo of an anchor on the left forearm. His eyes were too small, almost beady, and nearly black. A scraggly mustache sat above thin lips, and Harold could tell it hadn’t been trimmed recently, as there were several patches of hair that hung down over the man’s upper lip like tentacles.
The man had begun to glare at Harold, and he realized with a start that he hadn’t said anything since his name.
“Who are you?” He asked the man.
“Robert Cthulu. Not that you should know.” He said. He started to walk across the room, and stopped short, as though running into a glass wall. He rebounded as if struck, and his glare grew even more annoyed. After a moment, he sighed.
“I see. You were trying to call up some demon, some greater power, right?”
Bob turned a circle, looking at the things Harold had placed at each of the cardinal points. When he reached the north, he stopped, and snorted through his mustache.
“God damn it.” He muttered, and shook his head. He turned back to Harold, and walked as close as he dared to the edge of the circle.
“You spelled it wrong, you tit.” He said, and Harold heard judgment in his tone.
“Uh, what?” Harold said.
Harold eyed Bob, and a thought flitted through his head. Maybe this is a trap. Maybe he thinks you look tasty, and you won’t know until his head flips up like a trashcan and turns into a giant leech.
Bob sighed. “Look, circle.” He pointed at it with a toe. “Can’t get out.” He pressed his palms to the air, and appeared to mime being stuck in a box.
“I’m in a glass case of emotion!” He wailed.
Harold eyed him. “What?”
Bob dropped his hands and stepped back from the border of the circle.
“Anchorman?” Another blank look from Harold. “No? You don’t get cable here? Okay, fine, just whatever – look, just look over here.” He walked back to the head of the circle and waited.
Harold followed him around, and looked where Bob was pointing. He read it – ‘CTHULU’.
“You’re missing an ‘H’, genius.”
“Well, I don’t – how?” Harold said.
Bob shrugged. “Happens. Now, how about you break this circle, and let me out?”
Harold walked back to the chair and sat down. He shook his head.
“How do I know you’re not going to eat me, or worse?” He said.
“Ew. No. But I will be very cross, if you don’t let me out. Not to mention my wife. I’m supposed to be finding pickles.”
Harold thought about it. “Why can’t you just get out? I mean, if you’re not a monster, can’t you just walk out?”
Bob sighed again. Harold thought he must be either very tired or easily annoyed.
“Fine, look. Cthulhu is my cousin. I have a bit of the old family blood in me, and it makes it more than inconvenient when people go about misspelling names and painting circles around me. It doesn’t mean I’m going to go on a murderous rampage, or traipsing off across the countryside, squashing cottages.”
Harold thought about it, and shook his head again. “How about a deal instead? You do something for me, in lieu of your cousin, and I’ll let you out. I’ll even pay you.”
Bob appeared to consider it, and when he didn’t answer, Harold went on.
“I have uh, enemies.”
Bob let out a snort. “What’ve you done? Irritated the other accountants?”
Harold pretended to ignore him, and continued. “They taunt me, and generally make my life miserable. You make their lives miserable, and I’ll pay you, and let you out when you’re done.”
“Taunt?” Bob said, as though tasting the word. “Who says that?” A look of mild distaste crossed his face. It passed, and he seemed to consider. “They made you miserable?” He asked.
Harold nodded. “Yes.”
“Did you paint a circle around them? Because I can see how that might annoy a person.”
“Please?” Harold pleaded. “I’ve only got one shot at this, and I need to know there is justice in the world.”
Bob turned away, seemed to mutter to himself. After a moment, he turned back, and regarded Harold.
“Fine, I can help. First, bring me a toaster.”
Harold stared at him, not sure he had heard right.
“Yep, two slots, lever on the front, makes bread crispy.”
“You want this done, right?”
Harold nodded, and got up. He walked to the kitchen, and unplugged the toaster. He considered emptying the crumb tray, then reconsidered. For all he knew, whatever curse Bob might cast could very well require a ‘crumb for every bit of misfortune’. He carried the toaster to the circle.
“Okay, now hand it over.” Bob said.
Harold stretched out his arms, then snatched them back at the last minute. He had almost broken the plane of the circle. He caught Bob smirking at him, and smiled weakly back, then tossed the toaster underhand to him. The man caught it lightly.
“Thanks.” He said.
He placed it on the ground on one side, so the slots were facing the wall. Harold watched him intently.
With a shout, Bob jumped into the air and landed on the toaster. It crumpled under his weight, and pieces spilled from the bread slots. He jumped on it again and again, until it was a crumpled mass of plastic and metal. When he was done, he stepped back, and leaned over, hands on his knees. When he had caught his breath, he stood, and grinned at Harold.
“What was that?” Harold asked.
“That was a perfectly good toaster. Now let me out of the fucking circle!”
“Monster.” Harold muttered.
“You should try bringing me a hairdryer next.” Bob said, still smirking.
Harold sat down. His cell phone rang, and he picked up.
“Hello.” He said.
“Hi honey. Just wanted to let you know, my sister’s sick, so I’m coming back. I should be there in a bit. You need anything?”
“Um, no, thank you. Was just going to finish up some chores and watch some TV.” He said.
“Okay, see you soon, then. Love you.”
“Love you too, Pook.”
He hung up, and slipped the phone back into his pocket. He looked at Bob, who was no longer smiling. The man just stood there, watching him.
“Gonna have a hard time explaining all this, Harry.” He said.
“Yeah.” Harold got up, dejection sitting in his chest like a lead weight. He walked over to the circle, and with a heavy sigh, smudged the line that separated him from Bob.
“Go on, get out of here.” He said.
Behind him, there was a sound like wet paper tearing. He looked back, and wished he hadn’t. Bob’s head had flipped back, and in the gap between his neck and chin were teeth. A lot of teeth. All of the teeth. Not-Bob stepped out of the circle.
Harold barely even felt the first bite.