Strangecraft, Part VI—Much Ado About Shoggoths—Mikael Thompson SpecGram Vol CLXX, No ν Contents Strangecraft, Part VIII—Douce Amitié Souvent Perdue et Recherchee—Mikael Thompson

Strangecraft

by Mikael Thompson

- VII -
Ces Petits Corps Qui Tombent de Travers

The summer started much the same as the previous had. Trevor returned to full time work in the labs, Helen continued working on her project, and Finley was inducted into the Cree folklore division of the research project. For my part I was pleased to learn that all three of my underlings were staying on campus over the summer: April had her regular commitments, Barbara pled poverty and boredom, and Clarice seemed to be committed to an incipient librarianism for the long haul. Helen started a program of reading ahead intensively much as I had done for so long, while I decided to spend the month of June reading as the spirit moved me.

“Grazing, eh?” she called it upon entering the suite early one evening at the beginning of June as I read an atrocious mystery novel well over two centuries old, and I said, “Yummy grass in some pastures. I seem to have found the bitter weeds.”

Trevor looked up from a technical report and glanced at the spine of my book. “I’ve heard of that guy. Insufferable prig they say, author and detective alike. Influential though.”

I chuckled and said, “Listen to this, Trev. Would it be mauve or mulberry? ‘That house is polluted, Markham. It’s crumbling in decaynot material decay, perhaps, but a putrefaction far more terrible. The very heart and essence of that old house is rotting away. And all the inmates are rotting with it, disintegrating in spirit and mind and character. They’ve been polluted by the very atmosphere they’ve created. This crime, which you take so lightly, was inevitable in such a setting. I only wonder it was not more terrible, more vile. It marked one of the tertiary stages of the general dissolution of that abnormal establishment.’ Not only did they bother reprinting this thing, they wasted acid-free paper on it.”

Trevor had looked up sharply shortly into the second sentence and at the end said, “Let me see that.” He took the book and looked at the title page. “Well I’ll be. Must have been something in the air.”

“It certainly sounds like it. Positively miasmal. No wonder air pollution killed so many people back then.”

“Look around you, Hugh,” said Helen, “Do you really think this place is a far sight better? Was that novel set in Boston? ’Cause it sure sounds like it.”

“New York.”

“Hmm. Well, anyway, I have some news, love.” I sat up attentively and she smiled, “I found a job. Flandry was looking for someone to help him set up a project. Experimental semantics. It won’t pay much, of course...”

“Of course,” I said, and Trevor chuckled.

“But it’s great experience,” she ended.

“So say all grad students,” I replied, “but that sounds like it’s true.”

Trevor waited until we had finished kissing to ask, “Experimental semantics. I don’t really see...”

She replied, “Think about it in real time processing, Trev. Suppose you hear a sentence with a word in it like, say, a personal pronoun or a demonstrative pronoun, something that’s not a content word. It doesn’t name a class of things like a common noun does but instead refers to something in the surroundings or the speech situation. How do you interpret it if it’s potentially ambiguous? How quickly do you interpret it if there’s a clue to disambiguation later in the sentence? That’s the basic idea. It’s much subtler than that since psycholinguists have been experimenting on such things for well over two centuries now.”

“Interesting. I’d love to hear more about the earlier results along that line whenever you have time, but tell me, will your work be purely exploratory or will you be testing something?”

She smiled, “This is New England, Trev, of course we’ll be testing a theory. Basically they’ve developed an incredibly intricate edifice modeling human language abstractly, and that’s what they consider most important: Providing a model of the logical structure of language. But occasionally someone asks how closely the model resembles actual processing of language. It’s a pretty fuzzy problem and most attempts to make concrete predictions based on the different varieties of the model have failed pretty spectacularly. Whether that’s due to the fuzziness of the problem or the inadequacies of the model is a disputed question. We plan to muddy the waters so thoroughly you can catch all kinds of trout.”

We chatted a little longer, then by the time Finley came in with a cheerful wɔ̄ʤijē we three were all deep in reading. That evening she and I took a walk after dinner, then returned to her suite: Emily was home for the summer and Chantal had been spending most nights in Pursleyville with her latest boyfriend. After going to bed and before we dozed off she said, “You realize I’ll have to go back to our old schedule, right?”

I nodded in exhausted drowsiness. “Sure.”

“But we’ll have four nights together out of seven.”

“I suppose it was too good to last,” I said and yawned; we were soon asleep.

The next day at breakfast Helen set out her new schedule for us. “I’ll be working a full forty during the week, so Monday, Wednesday and Friday after work I’ll be off reading ahead until really late. Sorry I won’t be able to hang out with you guys so much.”

Trevor and I nodded, but Finley said, “Can you still help me with Cree? I kind of have a full plate of it this summer and you’re better at it than Hugh.”

Helen smiled, “But of course, Finn! Just save up your problems.”

I said, “Just think, Finley, if you keep it up you’ll be the first folklorist at this university ever to attain fluency in a non-English language.”

Finley grimaced, “I’ll never be fluent in Cree.”

“Keep at it, Finn, and you might be able to move on to Seneca. And if your brain is still alive and kicking, we might get you addicted to something Athabascan.”

Trevor chuckled, “Look at Finn. I’d never thought to think what a guinea pig’s expression would be as he faced a biochemist putting on his gloves. Now I know.”

A few days later Gilbreath invited me to lunch. I met him at his office at 11:40 and he handed back my Manæhill materials. “I’m pleased with your work this year,” he said. “Don’t take the comments to heart. Rather, do take the comments to heart; you did miss a few obvious things. But don’t take them personally, as hard as that might be for a real linguist.”

After a second I smiled widely and said, “It was a great class. Would you please be so kind as to tell me something about this language I spent a year mastering?”

“It’s just Mongolian, Hugh.”

“Huh?”

“Well, a specially-pruned version lacking a good deal of culture-specific terms.”

“So...”

“It’s very easy to learn what everyone else thinks about it if you know what it’s called, especially one as supposedly well known as Mongolian in fact is not. You have your own views of it now. Slightly influenced by me, of course, but almost all your own doing.”

“I see, so what words did you cut out?”

“Passels, Hugh, passels. [tʰæːɢ̥ʰ] for starters.”

[tʰæːɢ̥ʰ]?”

“Means ‘taiga.’ It’s also spelled taiga in the native orthography. It has a homophone meaning ‘greyhound,’ curiously.”

“Curiously. I see.”

“A number of other native words, and a whole layer of Russian vocabulary, of course. Dead giveaway to where to look; besides, you should know the native equivalents instead of using your Russian as a pony. There were a few I decided to leave in as Easter eggs if you were quick or lucky enough to catch them. What’s the word for ‘deer’?”

[xæːr̥tʰ].”

He laughed. “Not ‘dear’ as in beloved, ‘deer’ as in the animal.”

“Oh. [ˈmar̥ɬ̩].”

“Sound familiar?”

“No.”

“You don’t know maral deer?”

“No.”

“The Great Outdoorsman comes up short. Well, that was wasted worry. Okay, what’s the word for ‘stamp’?”

“We didn’t deal with mail, remember?”

He chuckled, “No, as in a seal.”

“Um...[ˈtʰaməɢ̥ʰ].”

“Look familiar?”

“No.”

“If you went to Russia with goods, who would you have to get to stamp your papers?”

“Um, customs, таможня. [Pause.] Oh.”

“Yep. Old Turco-Mongolic loanword with nice Slavic palatalization.”

As we stepped out of his office, a smartly dressed drab fellow passed by with a large envelope in his hands and a campus policewoman a step behind him. Gilbreath grimaced and said, “Come on, there’s trouble.” We followed behind in the wake of a wave of shock as people glanced out of their offices, and soon we arrived at the departmental office. Nancy looked up and said, “What now, Farbish?”

“Let us into Aylesworth’s office.”

“She’s in a meeting.”

“Good, we won’t have to go look for her.”

“I beg your pardon, Farbish.”

“That’s Mr. Farbish. Open the door before we break it in.”

As the policewoman hefted a gun, Nancy blinked and stepped around the desk. She opened the door and poked her head in to begin apologetically, “Selena, I hate to interrupt...” The pair pushed past her and we heard Farbish intone, “Selena Aylesworth, the Office of the President upon consultation with the Legal Office has determined that you are making unwarranted use of bequested materials of a sort that has not been cleared by Human Subjects for non-confidential use, and the responses of your partners in this investigation have made it clear that the legal restrictions upon the use of such materials have been grotesquely and actionably flouted by several researchers in this institution. As a result, all materials bequested thereby and associated therewith are being sequestered and all research materials deriving therefrom are to be seized pending full investigation by the Monitoring Board of the Human Subjects Procedures Violation Legal Sanctions Commission. Stand aside and give full cooperation to Officer Braswell or face the appropriate legal penalties.”

As we pushed in, we saw Aylesworth holding a green slip of paper as she turned to Matthews and said, “You brain-dead moron, what the hell did you say to them?”

He shrugged, “I just told them how proud they should be that we will revolutionize shoggoth studies in the Northeast.”

“You can’t really be that mind-numbingly stupid, can you?”

Gilbreath interjected, “Selena, he’s a folklorist, not an anthropologist.”

Aylesworth faced him and said, “And what hand did you have in this?”

“None.”

“I doubt that, Harvey, very seriously indeed.”

“You nurse the vipers of stupidity at your breast and then try to blame me for the world of hurt that lands you in? You’re a fool.”

“You’re dead meat, Harvey. Mark my words well, I can see your fingerprints all over this. Do you seriously believe you could oust me and install your ludicrous functionalist naïveté here?”

“Why would I want to tarnish it by association with your lot?”

Officer Braswell interjected herself into Aylesworth’s face and said, “Ma’am, unlock your desk.”

“Wait your turn, I’m talking.”

Officer Braswell grabbed her and shoved her head roughly onto her desk as she handcuffed her. “I’m going to empty your pockets, ma’am, so don’t resist. If we don’t find the key, I’ll strip search you.”

After a pause, Aylesworth said, “It’s in my purse, upper pocket, clover leaf handle.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

Farbish came over to us and said, “You need to leave now.”

Nancy said, “The hell with you, Farbish, I’m not leaving you thugs alone with her.”

“You can stay, you know where everything is. The rest of you, clear out or you’ll be subject to arrest for interference with a judicial proceeding.”

I thought to ask what judicial proceeding that might be but Gilbreath put his hand on my upper arm and said, “Out, Hugh. We can do more for her outside.” Gilbreath, Morton, Matthews, two other grad students, and I filed out and in the outer office Gilbreath went immediately to Nancy’s desk and looked through her address book. He looked up at Morton and said, “Selena’s had dealings with Carver, right?”

“I think so, yeah.”

He turned to me. “Hugh, rain check. I need to call her a lawyer. Everyone, keep quiet on this.”

Matthews said, “This will never stand!”

Gilbreath looked at him fixedly and said, “Shut up, you blithering idiot. It’s your fault, you know, and in most circumstances it would be your hide. You do realize your own work is through now, right? You cut your own throat by opening your mouth, kind of like how you settle all doubt as to your level of intelligence and culture the rest of the time.”

He looked confused for a second and then said happily, “Culture is primarily oral, you know.”

A minute later we grad students managed to separate Matthews’ face from Morton’s fist as Gilbreath made final arrangements for a lawyer to come posthaste. Once he hung up, he waved me goodbye and I went off to find a quick lunch before returning to work.

That evening when I returned to the suite, Finley was moping in his chair as Trevor listened to him. Trevor said “Finley’s project was scrapped today.”

“I thought so. They green slipped our chairman too.”

“Your chairman was involved in it?”

“Did some translations and textual analyses. —So, Finn, what will you do now?”

“I’m looking around for another project to work on that needs Cree. Trouble is they’re all in anthropology and several students there have much better Cree than me.”

After dinner Trevor and I took a walk to the bench on the bank. “So tell me exactly what happened.”

I told him what I knew and at the end he said, “So the fool actually said it would revolutionize shoggoth studies?”

“Yes, word for word, I think.”

He gave a short low whistle and said, “Not a man versed in the ways of the world here.”

“What do you think it means?”

“No, you first, what do you think?”

“In what way?”

“What connections are involved, first of all?”

“In the department? Aylesworth and two other professors, two grad students doing grunt work for the usual pittance, and a post doc, according to Nancy. Our administrator. The project was started in some way by an earlier ling prof, but it’s under anthro and folklore.”

“Do you know who?”

“No, apart from Matthews.”

“Yeah, I got part of the folklore side from Finn. Do you know who the non-profs in ling are?”

“No.”

“Anything more general?”

“You mean about the departmental situation?”

“Yes.”

“The three profs are all syntacticians with the usual attachments. Aylesworth seems to think that my advisor had a hand in it.”

“What do you think?”

“It doesn’t strike me as likely. Gilbreath is very cagey about that sort of thing; he knows he’s at similar risk and I don’t think he’d do anything posing a threat like that to himself.”

Trevor nodded. “Yes, a close look at one will often lead to scouring the whole place. But there must be bad blood between them.”

“Doctrinal differences, different fields. I don’t know about personal differences. Aylesworth at least is a good enough linguist that Gilbreath claims to respect her.”

“Hmm.”

I asked, “What about us?”

“Trying to get in? Well, as long as we’re the only ones who know our plans I don’t think we have to worry about it. They still rely on green slips, so they’re clearly satisfied with their defenses at admin. If they’d done something more surreptitious and criminal, then we’d have to worry about laying even lower; that would mean they suspect something out of the ordinary.”

“On your side, who knows?”

“My contact. No one else.”

“For me, no one. Texas only knows about my manuscripts from the library. If I told them about this, they’d get active and that would be a threat to both of us. Nose about here, make way for a new guy there, splash waves on everyone.”

“True. Officious chaps they are.”

I continued, “So, what is your view then?”

“Based on what you told me, it’s purely Matthews’ mental deficiencies at play. I had a short sharp word with Finn after the last time telling him to be quieter with the shoggoth comments, which I think scared him into utter silence, which is all for the best. Dunno about the others in his project, but they’re mostly uninvolved in shoggoth work. Those guys sure do have a thing for bears. Yeesh,” he shook his head.

“Do you think it’s our side or our opponents at work?”

That’s what I just can’t cipher.”

“Is there anything you want me to find out?”

“Anything you can pick up gossip-wise about their project.”

I left him ponderous upon telling him what Nancy had said about Aylesworth’s extracurricular analyses. “I can see that if that got out, either side would be interested in stopping her. Might be a loose cannon even to her own side. That doesn’t get us any closer to knowing where we stand, but it makes somewhat more sense. Who besides Nancy would know?”

“No idea.”

“You know where else to nose around then.”

I nodded and we returned to the dorm.

The next day I told Cornelius I’d be a little late the next day. “Take your time, Hugh. You guys are way ahead of schedule, so I think I’ll just give all of you a paid rest day. We have some construction going on anyway, so I’ll see about having the construction in your area done then.”

“Really? That would be great.”

“Sure.”

“What construction work?”

“Just maintenance in your area, fire control and the like. We’re updating fire control in parts of the stacks, but they need to make sure the whole system takes to the new stuff.”

“You sure the construction guys are trustworthy?”

“Good, Hugh, you’re starting to think like a library administrator. No, I don’t know and I plan to suspect them of every scheme under the sun just to be safe. We’ll have Grampa and Junior with them at all times and I’ll be popping in and out at random intervals. Really. I have tables.”

“Okay then.”

As I worked that morning, I skimmed through the last of the manuscripts I planned to remove after taking them from the small space in the first cubbyhole where the last pile had been cached. There was no rush in arranging for their transfer to the heartland; once that had been performed, my assignment would be finished and I could do pretty much as I wished, assuming nothing else came up. Obtaining the manuscripts in administration would be a nice touch, but it was purely my own lookout. As it came time for lunch, I drew forth my handy backpack and opened the seam at the top in the back and secreted a pair of manuscripts. “Done,” I thought, after pondering to make sure I had left no traces. To treat myself, I went out for a quick day plate at the student center cafe, but when it was served decided that if I wanted a treat I’d have to take Helen out to a real restaurant that weekend. After forcing the benighted mess down my gullet, I went back to work in a sour mood and waited for my underlings. The three of them seemed to have had the same dish, and the afternoon passed in a companionable surliness that was hardly even lightened by my news that there was to be pay for not working the next day.

The next day Helen and I awoke at the usual time and at breakfast I told her I had the day off. “So will you graze or nomadize?” she smiled.

“I might be in your neck of the woods. Wanna do lunch?”

“Sure, so long’s it’s not the student center.”

“Deal.”

“What are you doing?”

“Oh, going here and there to do this and that.”

“A man of mystery.”

I stood and gave her a mock bow and she shook her head with a smile. A few minutes later we rose and walked over to Flegel Hall, and as she went to Flandry’s office I went to the departmental library and looked through the catalog to see what the holdings were of Killian and Aylesworth’s. After an hour I went to Gilbreath’s office and stopped after the first knock as I heard Aylesworth’s voice asking, “So who did?”

Gilbreath soon opened the door and said, “Come in, Hugh, we should have a talk. Shut the door tightly after you.”

I said, “Dr. Aylesworth, I’m sorry about what happened.”

“I’m sorry you had to see it, Hugh. That’s what we need to talk about.”

I nodded and sat down. Gilbreath said, “You are not to tell anyone about what you saw, nor about this conversation, understand? It’s for your own sake as well as ours.”

“I see.”

Aylesworth asked, “Hugh, what do you know about shoggoths?”

“Finley talked about them one day and seems to have shut up after that.”

Gilbreath said, “A folklorist with discretion. Who’da thunk it?”

Aylesworth continued, “They’re curious creatures that have appeared in Athabascan folklore for some time. Shoggoths, that is, not folklorists. They don’t appear in the earliest sources. Possibly that’s just cultural contact at play, perhaps it’s earlier taboos fading away, or perhaps it indicates a spread of their habitat or a change in their behavior. They’re of some interest to a number of parties.”

“Finn said they were mythical.”

“They exist. I’ve seen two.”

“Then why are they so mysterious?”

“Most biologists don’t warrant their existence, and the few who get interested suffer a remarkably high rate of disappearance. I myself saw one once in the distance late at night; if the position relative to the moon hadn’t been exactly right, I’d have missed it. The second time, one of my informants took me on a canoe ride to where one was beached. One does not usually approach close to a shoggoth of one’s own free will, I assure you, but I was able to see it well enough.”

“So if biologists don’t accept their existence, why would anyone be interested?”

“Biologists don’t hold a monopoly on zoological observation.”

“And I gather you were investigating them?”

“No. I was investigating Athabascan records of their behavior. If you get close enough to be observed, you can sense something, possibly intelligence, and I’m curious what others have related of such experiences. Certainly some claim to have communicated with them, but in odd ways that they find hard to express. I’ve suspicions on that score, for they hold a good deal of promise for understanding the details of language processing in humans.”

“So why would the administration be so averse to your studying them?”

“The administration is in a difficult position here. Inhabitants of this part of New England are obsessed with shoggoths. Murderously obsessed. Any mention of shoggoths draws massively unpleasant attention to anyone involved. Whether the administration has pet researchers pursuing such work in top secret is, of course, top secret, but certainly they want no one to do anything to threaten the Institute and anyone working in it. So for your own safety, Hugh, as well as ours, we urge you to let no word of what happened transpire.”

“Dr. Gilbreath, what about you? Are you similarly inclined?”

“About shoggoths? Certainly not. Even if I were, do you think I’d tell you lot?” He laughed brightly. “No, Selena has her hobby horses, I have mine, and I give thanks mine are much less hazardous to my health. And Selena, don’t you have something else to say?”

She glared at him. “I have serious reservations still, but provisionally, Hugh, provisionally, disregard my accusation against Harvey. I wouldn’t put it past him if it had been managed more surreptitiously, but he’s possessed of too much low cunning to try to dispose of me so clumsily, publicly, and half-assedly.”

“Selena, even your apologies have teeth.”

“Keep that always in mind, Harvey. You too, Hugh.”

“What will happen to the other people in the project?”

“Other work will be found for them as necessary. Sarah will continue working for me on other work I have; Jay and Gus will continue unchanged.”

“Why?”

“The project deals with far more than shoggoths, remember. They’re working on bears.”

Gilbreath added, “Folklore’s got it bad for bears.”

“And that ain’t good, right, Harvey?”

He scowled, “Better than scrawny turtlenecked effetes stinking of patchouli and clove cigarettes.”

I interjected, “I’d appreciate it if you’d leave me out of this part.”

They nodded and I asked Aylesworth, “How might shoggoths indicate something about human language?”

She looked at me fixedly for nearly a minute and finally said, “For all of our sakes, this is the last I will say on the matter. Whether shoggoths are intelligent or, as I suspect, merely have evolved to react as if intelligent by reflecting back thoughts in some way so’s to better trap prey, there’s a period of adjustment with a shoggoth. You can detect evidence of the logical form of a sentence and a struggle as it recapitulates spell-out in reverse from the phonetic form, but not in the ways you’d expect. And with that, gentlemen, we have reached the end of the lesson.”

“Might I ask one more question?”

She glared at me. “You may ask. I might conceivably answer.”

“I just wonder about the thing you said about reflecting back thoughts. What sort of things are thoughts to be reflected?”

She pondered for a while and said, “A good question. It’s the terminology they use to try to evoke the experience. According to a couple of Koyukon friends, it’s as if you can see or sense or experience the thought as it’s being examined and processed, almost as if you can feel the shoggoth taking possession of it. Don’t bother quoting William James or Susan Glieber at me or some damn phenomenologist; I’m suiting the terminology to the description of the experience as best I can.”

After she left, Gilbreath said, “Look out in the hall just to be safe, Hugh.” I did and shut the door tightly again and he said, “She’s certainly right about the danger to you if you go on glibly about shoggoths or a red-ink list of about half a dozen other panic words. Keep deathly quiet about this. I know that’s what the administration wants, but it’s probably for the best, much as I dislike such secrecy.”

“But why is such secrecy necessary? What would happen?”

“A knife between the ribs on a walk in the dark, a garroting in an alleyway, any number of other mishaps.”

“By whom?”

“People you don’t want to mess with, Hugh. They’re deeply misguided, but that makes them no less dangerous.”

“I see.”

“So, are you up for lunch today?”

“Prior commitment. Next week?”

“Monday?”

“It’s a date.”

I then proceeded to the departmental office to chat with Nancy. “Hello, Hugh,” she said.

“How are you doing today?”

“I’m okay, and you?”

“Well enough. What happened Wednesday after I left?”

“They handcuffed Selena in a chair as they emptied her desk drawers and file cabinets, then they kicked us out, locked the door, and stationed a campus cop outside the office until they could clear it out after five. She spent the night in campus jail and yesterday at her home with a lawyer as they went through all her possessions to get anything about...that particular piece of work.”

I nodded, and at that moment through the door of Aylesworth’s office, which I noticed was not fully shut, I heard her say, “No, Sarah, I don’t think that’s right.”

“Why else would they suppress shoggoth studies?”

I heard a loud shushing and Aylesworth continued, “I told you why.”

“A likely story,” and with some surprise I suddenly placed the speaker as Sarah Prickle.

“It doesn’t matter if you buy it or not, it’s the truth and you will do as I say.”

“Oh, I’ll buckle under for now, but they’ll pay. All of them.”

Nancy’s eyes had widened further with each turn of speech, and at this point she rose very quietly to silently turn the handle and shut the door. “Don’t pass that on, Hugh, and you’d better leave,” she said in a low voice as I rose and walked with her to the door. “Sarah is...she has a grievance against everyone except Selena. Worships her so much it’s embarrassing. I do know she especially hates you. Says you’re a typical arrogant Texan. Her exact words are that you’re a curious beast, both an ass and its hole. If she knows you heard her, she’d make your life hell.”

“I doubt she could.”

“She’d try, and no one needs that irritation.”

She pushed me out the door and pointed down the hall. “She’ll be out soon, so go. Talk to you later.”

“Bye. Have a nice weekend.”

She shrugged and went back inside; as I walked down the hall I heard Prickle’s voice through the wall without, however, discerning any words. I waited for Helen on a bench next to Flegel Hall, and when Sarah Prickle left she glowered at me in her usual manner. Helen came out ten minutes later, and as we walked to a small pub she said, “You seem distracted.”

“I am. Sorry. You heard about Aylesworth?”

“Only not to talk about it.”

“That’s what everyone says. I want to bust this place wide open and make every secret public. Bleach the fungus growing everywhere, let the sunlight in.” I suddenly stopped when I realized that would redound to far from any benefit to me.

Helen seemed equally quiet all of a sudden, and finally she said, “I think that would get many people badly hurt, Hugh.”

“Yes.”

We ate our lunch subdued and pensive, and as I walked her back to work she said, “This place can be terribly oppressive. Let’s be happy the rest of the day.”

“Will you show me your work?”

She looked me in the eyes a long time and finally said, “No, Hugh. You know I like to keep work by itself. It needs quiet and isolation or it feels like it’s been spoiled early. I’ll show you when we’ve run experiments and gotten some results, but until then I don’t want the rest of my life looking over my shoulder.”

I nodded. “I’ll get us a bottle of wine and we’ll go out to the river tomorrow night.”

“Okay, that sounds perfect,” she smiled. After she kissed me goodbye, I walked around campus feeling at loose ends for a few minutes, then as I pondered the happenings I relaxed and considered some place not on my common run to think things over, and so I ended up in a small dank beer trough in the basement of a chemistry building that represented the only function on which any agreement for the disbursement of annual fees of the members of the Graduate Student Association had ever been attainable. I blinked and stood there for a minute as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, whether due to saving electricity or hiding fungus stains I wasn’t sure. There were three other people in the place, two of them staff, and out of curiosity and irritation I walked over to the music player to see what was playing; the display averred it was a live concert by Harmful Pasture Rodents of their decade-old dance hit “The Soft Stool Shuffle.” The barkeep saw my displeased scowl and asked, “Gotta problem, mister?”

“Dry mouth.”

“Ah, we can handle that.”

Just then the music ended and he pushed a button to shift play to the next chip strip. A howl erupted from the speakers and the display announced “Lolo-pops” by Notary Necktie. Just then the barkeep came back, and I showed my ID and got a cup of better than average non-green brew for a meager sum. I walked over to a booth far from the music player to nurse it while I thought about what I knew of Killian, Aylesworth, Gilbreath, and Prickle. The atmosphere brightened when the bartender switched to За Шнуром!, the most celebrated album of a once-famous Seventh-Wave ska-lezmer-techno band, Восточная Еврейпа, but while the music quickened the beat of my foot it failed to quicken my wits. After an hour I gave it up as a lost cause, and when to my displeasure Ugaritic Monster Kitty’s album His Nibs Hobnobs with Hoi Polloi started, I began my traipse back to the dorm to read before Trevor got in. Shortly after leaving I remembered to pick up a decent bottle of wine, and when I got back to the suite I read a few chapters of a history of early New England exploration until Hugh arrived a little after four.

“You’re early, Trev.”

“Let us go early. They’re redoing some of the fire safety equipment at the lab.”

“Same thing at the library...”

We looked at each other and simultaneously stood up and started off to the river. When we reached the bench, I asked, “How long have the renovations been scheduled?”

“A month or more.”

“They’d have to be, I think. Think they expect something to go down?”

“I dunno. Some serious renovations do need doing, so I wouldn’t put too much stock by it.”

I then told him what I had learned that day. “Killian had a few publications on Tɬįchǫ and Kaska folklore. I skimmed them and found a few places where words like ʃoʁgotɬ' were included but not glossed, or they were glossed innocuously. It’s clear she suspected something; the fact that she published them suggests she didn’t know what, and if you didn’t know what to look for you’d likely miss it. I wonder what she left unpublished at her retirement, but there’s no obvious trace of any documents being handed over to the linguistics library, nor do I remember her name from my work at the main library, not that I’d put too much store by my memory there. Dead end, I’d say.

“Nothing too much new about Aylesworth.” I related the day’s events. “She seems to have a purely scholarly interest in shoggoths due to personal experience with them; she claims to think they’re not intelligent but have evolved a mental trap for their prey. I didn’t get the feeling she has any lust for power through or over them. Lust for knowledge, certainly, and canny enough into the bargain.”

I then told him about Prickle. “She’s attached emotionally to Aylesworth. From what I’ve been able to discover, she’s from the western part of the state and has spent her entire life in New England, probably just in Massachusetts; all of the places she went to school are in the state, according to what I remember from our introductory meeting. She’s exceedingly abrasive and very much a loner; I doubt Aylesworth would take her on if she weren’t smart though, and she must be smart if Aylesworth is keeping her on after this. Sarah seems to have taken the green slip personally.”

After I told him the conversation between Aylesworth and Prickle, he said, “Interesting. I’d worry about Sarah if I were Aylesworth. On the other hand, she’s by far the likeliest of anyone to keep her under control. Prickle could cause a lot of damage if she tries to go public, and I’d be very afraid of any dealings with her for fear of encouraging her paranoia. Damn, I assuredly hope calmer heads prevail and she stays quiet or at least decides to serve her revenge cold. Still, if she’s a loner, that could be for the best: No one to blab to. It could also be for the worse, no social ties to keep her in check. And we have no idea what motivates her, and no way of finding out. Well, we’ll just have to keep our heads down and stay clean in the sight of the world. If she does blab, I can see Records suddenly become much harder to get into.”

We walked back to the dorm with no great advance in our plans. During the next week, our apprehension slowly faded as nothing else transpired; my lunch with Gilbreath came nowhere near touching the events of the week before and further reading of Killian and Aylesworth’s papers yielded nothing further of interest to shoggoth studies. Soon we had settled into a pleasant groove as conferences came up to pluck some lucky few of us out of the Miskatonic Valley for a while: Judy left a week early for a conference on moths in New York and promised not to return until early August, contingent on a research stay at a former professor’s museum; Felicia returned about that time from vacation and prepared to leave for a conference in Washington on new research on early colonial transatlantic zoological transplants (she was especially interested in a panel discussion of the spreads of different breeds of Old World horses in the New World); Anne planned to go to a conference at Lowell and take an entomological outing north through the Merrimack Valley to Squam Lake, then cut east across to Portland and sail back to Arkham; and Smith and Jones popped in and out from time to time as they went about secretive Teutonic-tinged doings that the rest of us suspected had precious little to do with scholarship and very much to do with escaping it.

And as June slid into July and I slid from one old book to another, my major thought was devoted to the utter boredom of my library job now that my task was finished. I had received word from a friend that she would be in New Haven for a conference in late July, so soon there would be no trace of my doings east of the Mississippi. It was perhaps this feeling of losing a secret life and becoming precisely what I claimed to be that kept my mind spinning around the administration building searching for a way in, yet perhaps it was instead or also a desire to bring fruition and conclusion to my philological endeavors, a fate so rarely awarded to philologists by the nature of the work. Whatever proportion of the two it might have been, it bedeviled my leisure reading and made me discern secret significance where surely there was none. After a desultory dip in the assorted scrawlings of Hawthorne that tired me of puritans and their opponents as seen darkly one to two centuries later and a deeper swim in the writings of the puritans themselves that told much of their inner souls but precious little of the dark doings they might have witnessed to contribute to such a sense of permeant decay, a series of justly forgotten mysteries set in the locale tired me of the genre and I turned to local history, the darker and more redolent of rot and mud and night and blood the better. Still nothing much came of it, for while many men had had dealings in the dark and some lived to recount their tale, they understood little of what had enveloped them. Finley’s readings on Algonquian folklore were somewhat better. Nonetheless, as the first week of July passed, I felt compelled to start reading ahead for the next semester of seminars and advanced classes and put aside grazing with a mixture of relief and a sense of failure.

The Tuesday a week before my trip to New Haven I awoke about 8 as usual and went to breakfast. Trevor, Finley, and I chatted with Chantal and Smith as I waited for Helen; even after a week and even among those of us who had seen it before, the firework display for Old Republic Day dominated the conversationand justly so: After about ten minutes of jaundiced yellow and gangrenous green plumes, sickly pukings of unwell shades of orange-brown and brighter greens the tint of caterpillar blood, and tiresome dull grays, a bright blue and white globe flashed into existence in the sky; the common sigh of relief soon turned to a universal gasp as a vivid, living cloud of inky blackness blossomed in front of it. After thirty more minutes of pitch black firework bursts looming menacingly above us as they swallowed the stars, only a few diehards remained on the lawn to catch the final burst of flames, angry flashing lime-green eyes with horizontal slits suddenly opening above us. A few of us continued to consider the technical question of how a conflagration could produce a vividly shining inky blackness; the majority simply shuddered together congenially. About 8:45 I asked Chantal, “Where’s Helen?” She shrugged and I continued, “Wasn’t she in your suite this morning?”

“I thought she was in the shower.”

“Could she be in trouble?”

“I think she’d have sent word.”

“What if she couldn’t?”

“Hugh, I’ll check on her, okay? Don’t worry, she probably just fell asleep at her desk last night, or maybe she went to work early.”

“Speaking of which,” said Trevor, “I need to go.”

We all nodded and cleared the table to head off to work to the sad glances of certain silly just-past-first-years shaking their heads at their silly seniors.

I arrived at work ten minutes early and worked until lunch. I ate a couple of sandwiches in the workroom as I leafed through one of our oldest recent finds, the proceedings of a session of the New England Ecumenical Council of Unlicensed Non-Unitarian Theologians from 1962 exploring the heretical elements of something called “A Hundred Pounds of Clay.” None the wiser an hour later, I walked out to the common room and surveyed the scene until I heard the main door to the rabbit warren open. “April, glad you’re here. We’ve got a full afternoon’s work ahead of us, so you check that we have enough supplies. Here,” and I handed her my keys, which I held by the key to the storage closet. She saluted listlessly and trudged into the workroom; I followed and asked, “You okay?”

“Just hung over like a frat boy, Hugh.”

“I hope you get a job in upper management as soon as you get out of the service, ’cause otherwise you’ll have to clean up your act.”

“Ha ha.”

Just then Clarice came in, followed closely by Barbara, and I said, “Ah, my full crew is here. I feel like a boss again.”

Barbara smiled while Clarice’s nostrils widened and ears twitched, her usual response to fun that might even conceivably be construed as at her expense, and I continued, “New pile today fresh for the picking.” I breathed in dramatically through my nose and said, “Ah, I feel like Jacob Saphir. So many possibilities for old knowledge brought to new light!”

April snorted, Barbara rolled her eyes, and Clarice did something obscure with her middle fingers almost out of my line of sight, and I said, “Good, good, you’re maintaining a solid grasp on reality. Let’s get this crap done, shall we?”

April handed out clip boards and pens and we sauntered over through the half-open space of the common room to a pile at the edge of the field of remaining piles and stood looking it up and down. I asked Clarice, “Coordinates?”

She pulled out a surveyor’s measuring tape and strolled to the appropriate walls and measured carefully but without enthusiasm as she glanced back at the pile. Finally she said listlessly, “Let’s see, 3.27 meters north by 7.42 meters east.”

As Barbara wrote that down, I pulled out a carpenter’s measuring tape and had April hold the end to the floor as I sighted along the top of the pile and said, “163.2 centimeters.” Barbara made the appropriate notation and I then sighted along the tops of each of the levels of the pile, “Top layer starts at 106.1 centimeters, middle layer starts at 54.7 centimeters.” After Barbara indicated she had recorded the figures, Clarice and I reached up carefully and lifted off the top layer, and as she held the bottom and I held the top, all four of us walked back to the workroom; April hummed ironically and Barbara occasionally failed to stifle a yawn. When we got to the workroom, Clarice and I placed the pile in the center of the table and Barbara dealt out the papers like cards. In a sullen silence of boredom refined to its essence we put our papers in the right order and numbered them in the upper right hand corner with a date stamp and the number of the document from the top; as I was always dealt first, I numbered my papers 1, 5, 9, and so on, and shortly Barbara muttered, “Why do I always get the maintenance reports?” and shot a nasty look back at Clarice’s “ ’Cause you’re a high-maintenance chick.”

We were about halfway through the first stage of work, recording a brief description of each document on a numbered list, when we heard shouting in the lobby. April groaned in day-after discomfort, Barbara looked up bored, and Clarice said, “Finally!” I looked sharply at her and she said, “Something exciting for once!”

I stood up and walked over to the door to look out; as I could see nothing but heard a lot, I quickly walked up to the door to the foyer inside the gates from the lobby and saw a line of about half a dozen burly fellows swinging sticks and knives at security and the bookers, the former giving better than they got, the latter using picture books as shields. A pair of the newcomers had fallen back to take possession of pieces of lobby furniture that they were arranging as a quick line of defense as security pushed them back slowly at the edges and the bookers held firm in the middle. One of the members of the incursion saw me peeking out and shouted, “You’re going down, scripty scum!” Two of them fell a bit back to the edge of their new couch fort and pulled out rocks; the first hit the wall four inches from my head and the second against the now-shut door just about where my head had been. I felt around for my keys and realized April still had them, so I ran back to the workroom, hoping the defenses would hold for a few more minutes. Barbara looked up expectantly and April rested her head on the table; Clarice was absent. “April, give me my keys.”

“Clarice has them. She went to get some more supplies.”

“Damn it. We have some trouble out front. Some people are trying to get into the library, and I think they’re aiming for us.” April looked up eagerly as if she had metamorphosed into a squirrel on amphetamines and said, “Thank God, this day won’t suck after all.”

I said, “April, Barbara, come with me. We need to hold the door closed as long as we can. Look for things to barricade the door until I get back with the keys.” As I turned back from the hall to the warren, Clarice came out of the cubbyholes. “Clarice, give me the keys.”

She lifted the gun I had secreted and said, “Like hell I will. Tell me where all the manuscripts have gone.”

April glared at her appraisingly while Barbara looked lost, and I said, “Barbara, keep watch at the door,” and moved to block her from Clarice’s aim. Clarice came two steps closer and said, “Hugh, you moron, I know you’ve been removing manuscripts from the library and I want to know where you’ve taken them. Tell me now and we might kill you quickly. If you don’t tell me now, you’ll tell us eventually.”

Playing for time, I said, “Dunno wutcha mean.”

“You’re slurring your speech, so I know you’re lying.” The gun went off and I felt a bullet nip the edge of my right ear. “The next one’s a flesh wound, Hugh. Where are the damn manuscripts?”

“Special remote storage. President’s Office orders.”

“There’s no special remote storage.”

“Who’s the moron now? No way in hell we’d tell a lowly grunt like you.

She looked lost, and as her aim wavered a loud smash came from the wall behind her left. As Clarice turned to look, April launched herself from the wall and wrapped her hands around her throat; the gun went flying. Clarice fell back and eluded her grasp just long enough to shout, “Get off me, you militarist bitch,” and as April pressed home she shouted back, “Crawl in a hole and die, you two-faced backstabbing voyeur freak!” As Clarice tried to break free, April demonstrated no prior knowledge of fair tactics, or if she had been introduced to them at some time in the past she had merely scoffed and turned away. Soon Clarice was bruised and battered on the floor and April had tied her hands and feet behind her back. “April, do you need to hogtie her?” I asked as she pulled out another rope from her backpack.

“Never can be too careful, boss.”

“ ‘Voyeur’?”

“Who do you think recorded our schedules in and out of the library, Hugh? It sure wasn’t those thugs out there.”

As I watched her gag Clarice with much more force than absolutely necessary, I said, “Hope I never get on your bad side, April.”

She looked up at me and said, “Don’t worry, boss, you’re too harmless for that.”

As April picked up the gun and put it in her belt, Barbara shouted, “Need some help here, Hugh,” and I picked up the keys and rushed up to her to lock the door. As matters stood we were trapped, alas, like rabbits in a warren, and as I thought about the best exit route we heard shouting from the west side of the library through the high narrow windows of the common room. “What the hell!” shouted April, and as she rushed over and climbed up on a chair she put up on a table she had pushed under a window to try to get a view out, banging started at the door to the foyer. April jumped up, grabbed the window sill with her right hand, and held up a mirror with her left to look out the window; she wiggled it around quickly and dropped down. When she came back to the entrance to the common room, she said, “There are about fifteen people on each side going at each other with knives and sticks. They have other stuff in their bags I’m sure they’ll use when they get the chance to. I don’t know what they’re doing, but they do have arm bands. Lots of green tentacles on one and ugly red-edged black hatchets on the other.” Clarice made a sharp noise at that and a frightened look came into her eyes, and when I said, “That sounds a very bad sign,” April grinned, “Think we should toss the excess baggage here out the window? Might make a nice peace offering.”

Suddenly the knocking and banging stopped at the door to the foyer, and a roar went up in the lobby. I went up to the door and listened just long enough to hear ominous scrapings, and as I backed away a smash came against the door. I ran back to the common room and said, “They’ve got some sort of battering ram. We need to leave now. Come with me.”

April said, “You go ahead, boss, I’ll stall them,” and hefted the gun. “Wish you didn’t have such a girly gun. This wouldn’t stop a mangy dog.”

“Come on, April.”

She looked at me with a raised eyebrow and indicated the gun with her head, and I said, “Okay, do as you will, but don’t waste time.”

She grinned and took a well-practiced stance aiming down the hallway. “Leave the baggage with me, I’ll bring it with.”

“You’re responsible for her safety, April. I don’t want to have to fill out a form because you damaged her any more than you already have.”

She grinned, “She’s safer with me than any of the punks running around this place.”

“We’ll be leaving by the east emergency exit.”

She looked up. “Do you have the outer door key?”

“Yes, and I’d like you to be there to cover us when we get out, so hurry.”

Just then the door shattered inward. April peered down the hallway and let off three shots. As the last shot rang out, gunfire opened up outside the windows. “Told you, boss.” One of the windows shattered inward from a large brick, and as I took a shell-shocked Barbara by the arm and rushed off towards the east exit, April fired off two more shots and grabbed Clarice by the feet and threw her over her shoulder. We hadn’t gone three yards when a Molotov cocktail flew through the shattered window and the hallway to the foyer burst into flames. Another cocktail flew in the window from a different direction and landed near the north wall of the common room. Soon the remaining piles of papers were aflame, and I suspected strongly that the cubbyholes were going up as well. We ran to the emergency exit. As I pushed it open, someone opened fire on us from another window near the northeast corner of the common room. April shouted, “Sniper, damn it,” and pushed us through the door. I looked back as she crouched and took a bead on the window, and after half a minute she fired through the thick smoke and smiled, but when she reached down to grab Clarice she stopped short and came through the door with her left shoulder and back drenched in blood and other matter.

“I told you bring her with.”

“The sniper got her right through the temple. Sorry, boss.”

We hurried down a stairwell and April took position as I picked out the right key. When I found it, I said, “How do you want to do this?”

“You have the standard clip, right?”

“I think so.”

She opened the clip and looked in. “Yes, nine more bullets. That’s nine of them I can down. We know they were on the north side of the library. One of them was, anyway, probably an advance. We need to hurry to have a chance of not being surrounded. You open the door and I’ll rush out and to the left. If it’s clear I’ll wave you out, and we’ll go straight away from the door to the shed. Ready?”

I nodded and unlocked the door. She pushed the handle and took a quick turn to the left and crouched; she looked in all directions and peeked back in. “Move it!” I pulled Barbara with me and ran with her to the shed as April covered us and soon joined us; there were a few bodies visible on the grass here and there but none in our immediate vicinity. April said, “We need away from here soon’s possible. Where d’you plan to go, Barb?”

“Home.”

“Your room in Pursleyville?”

“Chicago.”

“I’m not escorting you that far. Where’s your sister’s room?”

“Harborough Hall.” She winced and moaned as another flurry of gunshots went off fairly close at hand, and April squeezed her shoulder and looked at me. “Boss?”

“My dorm.”

She nodded. “I’ll escort you two, but after that you’re on your own. All hell’s having a party. There’s heavy smoke over Pursleyville, there are gangs prowling everywhere with sticks and knives, the student building is smoking, the library’s about to collapse in flames, and there’s suspicious smoke from other parts of campus too. I heard explosions earlier. We need to go now, or else we might get hit by the walls of the library.”

I nodded vigorous agreement as a loud explosion went off among the science buildings, but just then we heard a shout and Cornelius Lee slid down a rope out of a third-story window. I shouted at him and April took a stance at the corner of the shed and looked north as he ran over to us. “Good rappelling, Mr. Lee,” said April.

“Not that good. I skinned the hell out of the base of my thumb.”

“Like I said, good rappelling. You could have taken off the whole palm.”

“We need to go,” I said, and we rushed southeast. When we reached the main quad, April said, “Okay, we need a quick rest. We should be okay over by Harper Hall.”

“The alcove?”

“Yes, so long as we don’t get trapped there.”

We rushed to the side of the building and halfway down turned into a small alcove sheltered by bushes that was often used by students for reading or napping on spring afternoons. April crawled under the bushes to keep watch as Barbara collapsed on the ground; Cornelius and I sat against the wall and I satisfied what I could of my curiosity. “What the hell happened?”

“A gang of the old staff rushed in about 1:45 and tried to gain entrance to the library. The bookers were lounging around, as usual, and they held them off for a while. Grampa, Uncle, and Sonny did a good job with their help until the other gang pulled out their knives; all three are dead. The bookers got two of them and held off the rest, but another group had snuck in behind them and made their way to your department. Clearly you three made it out. Anyway, as they were smashing your door, another group came in, entirely different, and attacked the first gang. Started attacking the bookers too, but a sniper on our side started taking them out.”

“We had a sniper?”

April chuckled, “How many’d you get, Mr. Lee?”

“Seven. Three got away. One of the second gang spotted me and set up cover fire. —I noticed, by the way, that the entire group that smashed its way into Unbound Holdings was shot through the heart. Your doing, April?”

“Of course, Mr. Lee.”

I asked, “Who were they?”

“The second group? Oh, they were a bunch of old information science grad students.”

“What? Why?!?”

“Information scientisticians hate libraries with books. They had commissioned a detailed plan to convert the library into a combination coffee shop, movie theater, sensorvid lending library, and kindergarten for children of all ages after burning all the books on the quad, but they were laughed out of the Faculty Senate. Clearly they figured this was their big chance to impose their plan on us by force.”

“Every can of worms for miles around seems to have been opened and upended on us today,” I said.

“Don’t go out after dark. Hugh, Barbara, try to get away from campus. What happened to Clarice?”

April snorted, “That slimy grub was working for the other side and turned on us. She got taken out by one of their snipers.”

“What was she after?”

“Manuscripts, it sounded like.”

Cornelius looked pensive and soon said, “What happened exactly?”

In a distracted state I watched April as she said, “She wanted to know what happened to a bunch of manuscripts. Hugh told us they’ve been green slipped and sent to a secret facility.”

He looked closely at me and said, “News to me.

I nodded and replied, “I had to distract her so April could disarm her.”

April snorted, “Lousy amateur. One little wrench in the works and she was toast.”

“What exactly did she say?”

“She said a bunch of manuscripts had disappeared and asked Hugh what happened to them. She had a gun when she asked, so Hugh had to answer something.”

“How’d she get a gun?”

“I think she’d hidden it earlier.”

We heard a distant crash, and Cornelius shook his head and said, “I think that was the library finally caving in. It lasted longer than I expected.”

I asked, “So tell me, what happened to our brand spanking new fire control system?”

“You mean our slightly refurbished fire control system?”

“No, I mean our utterly ineffective overpriced work for the featherbedders.”

He smiled sadly, “When the fire started, I left the lobby area and went to the basement to make sure the system was running on all cylinders. Cylinders of CO2, that is. Everything looked fine on the boards, but I saw the fire was still spreading. I looked more closely at the wiring and found out a bit too late that instead of draining the cylinders on each floor, it was hooked up to vent in outside air. Damn system was just fanning the flames. I rushed upstairs to get the rest of the office staff out, but by that time they were gone, one way or another, and I had to get out through the window. So, probably sabotage, but it could have been simple criminal incompetence.”

I sat there stunned for a few seconds and asked, “So anyway, who were the groups on the west side?”

“Yes, I saw them as I was about to go cover the lobby. I’ve told you before, Hugh, there are lots of crazy people around. Those were two other gangs interested in the manuscripts. The ones with the tentacled emblem are...troublemakers interested in spreading chaos, with supernatural help if possible. The others are a very dark group no one knows much about. They’re vicious and deadly. They were probably the ones who started the firenot sure why, probably though to keep it out of the hands of the others. You don’t know this, but I got a call just before the lines were cut. The Pursleyville library was also attacked. It was burned down too, though that seems to have been to cover the tracks of a successful theft.”

I had a sudden idea of the theft of what, and to keep lids on various crocks I said, “What will happen to the university?”

“It’ll probably recover in a year or two. I’ll have to stay and see; we need all of us on our side in case the other groups try to take it over.”

“Your side?”

“In the administration. We’ve been fighting a rearguard action against all these groups for several decades now, Hugh. In a few minutes I’m going to have to go to the admin building and check up on my friends.” He patted his breast. “And take care of any other needed business.”

I asked, “Cornelius, were you responsible for getting April into Unbound Holdings?”

“Of course. I knew they’d try to get as many agents as they could into the library staff, so April was my point man.”

I asked April, “So you’re not really ROTC?”

She smiled innocently back at me, “Of course I’m really in the Corps. I’m just not only in the Corps. I’m also in Cornelius’s corps.”

Cornelius shrugged. “They have paramilitary forces, so we do too. I’m just surprised they managed to sneak Clarice in. She fooled us all.”

“What happened to the bookers?”

“Three of them are dead, including Janet, and the other five are pretty badly cut up. May is mobile but the rest might not make it, what with all the disorder. There’s serious triage right now at the clinic, and that’s going by what I was told at 2:15. Of course, the first gang was entirely wiped out in turn, and the other two groups did most of our work for us. Apart from you three, that’s an appalling casualty rate. It will be a horrific night. Hugh, Barbara, I’m not sure of the best way out, not at all. Try hiking to the Miskatonic and over to Bolton if you have to go it alone, or at least Topsfield. Stay the hell away from Arkham and Innsmouth, and probably Ipswich as well. Don’t stay in the dorms; they’ll be charnel houses once midnight’s past.”

“So what, Cornelius, did they decide to slaughter everyone because their eggs were undercooked this morning? Or was it just for the hell of it?”

“Calm down a bit, Hugh. Several professors were killed last night, a couple of high admins too, Volecat and Pressburg. The ones I know about were all on our side, or at least known to be reliably opposed to our enemies. Killing them seems to be what set it off, though I’m far from clear what was going down. Each of the groups has agents in the other groups, and at least one of the groups was responsible for the murders. Maybe it was the first move of a plan, or perhaps another group feared the retaliation would cripple them so they struck the library; and when that gang moved against the library that was a threat against the positions of all the others, and every group decided to move against its nearest enemy or rival, or steal a march on the others. It’s always something confused like that. Anyway, there were attacks all over campus, guns and bombings and stabbings, and as a whole they were uncoordinated. That’s lucky for us, too, because they probably spent half their efforts attacking each other, so we’ve been able to quell most of the attacks, or at least we had a slight upper hand when the phones died. So in short, now the whole mural is collapsing and everybody has been at war with everybody. It’s calmed down a bit right now, but with dark reinforcements will arrive from beyond the Lip and we’ll be completely outnumbered.”

Barbara asked, “The Lip?”

Cornelius said, “The end of the relatively flat land around the Institute, where the deep woods start. You need to get out of here before they arrive. They won’t have any idea of who is who, so they’ll just go for slaughter.” He thought for a second and asked, “Hugh, how well do you know Harvey Gilbreath?”

“He’s my advisor.”

“He was killed last night. I’m sorry.”

I sat there quietly for a minute until April said, “We’ve rested enough. We need to move. Harborough Hall is close.”

“Harborough? Good, they’ll have organized something to get people out, so we need to get there soon so Barbara has a chance. Then cover me as I go to admin, April. Take Hugh after that. Hugh, I’m afraid you’re in it deep.”

I nodded. “Let’s go. I’ll worry about that later.”

April rose and rushed to the corner of the building. She surveyed the quad and motioned us forward. “We’ll go through math and out the back. Then it will be five minutes to Harborough; should be cover enough.” She pointed at the side entrance behind us, and we quickly ducked in. Cornelius took the lead as April took the rear, and when we reached the side exit he pulled out a passkey and ducked through. A few seconds later he motioned us through and April covered us as we reached the sidewalk to Harborough, whose tall shrub border gave us some sense of security, however false. After a forced march we reached Harborough, and someone shouted, “Who goes there?”

Cornelius said, “Admin,” and a young man came out with a rifle on us. “Cornelius, glad you made it out of the library. How bad was it?”

“You see half of the survivors right here, at least that I know of. Some of the office staff might have gotten out okay, but in my division it was a bloodletting.”

At that moment a woman’s voice shouted, “Barb!”

Barbara shouted back, “Linda!” and Cornelius asked, “Are you about to leave?”

“In half an hour. We’re taking them to a safe house in Topsfield. Don’t worry, we have more than enough room for Linda’s sister. We lost half of our students today.”

“How?”

“Harborough’s mostly summer housing for food services, you know. Some sick lot blew up central kitchens right around 2:30 this afternoon. Decided to toss a bit of starvation into the mix, doncha know.”

Cornelius turned to me as Barbara was led into the dorm. “Hugh, you want to go with?”

“No, I have to meet my suitemates.”

An appraising look came to his face. “Would that have anything to do with certain missing manuscripts?”

“No.”

“It sounds perfectly clear from what April told me that Clarice was paying close attention to manuscripts. If they disappeared, you’re the man responsible, whether through negligence or crime.”

I first thought to argue Clarice must have been mistaken but immediately saw no advantage there, and as I pondered the best reply Cornelius said, “I see. Stymied, are you? What happened to the manuscripts? What did you do with them?”

“They’re safe. Long gone by now.”

“Long gone where, Hugh?”

“Gone to Texas.”

He looked at me closely and breathed out slowly. “I see. You did break the rules and violate my trust. I’m morally certain it was you who smuggled in the gun too. You were the only one who had any real opportunity. You’re not affiliated with these butchers, are you?” I immediately raised my fist and he reached inside his coat and said, “I’ll kill you now if you are. Are you really from Texas?”

“Want to quiz me?”

He stared at me closely for half a minute and finally said, “I have my suspicions who you are. God, agents everywhere. What were you looking for?”

I said quietly, “Shoggoths.”

He winced slightly and said, “Well, we do have a fine collection of documents on that subject, I’m sure. We did, anyway, one way or another.” After a long pause he said, “Truth be told, I’m glad they’re gone. They made our lives especially difficult.”

“Now it’s our burden.”

“That’s fine, but if I see you doing anything later that’s the least bit threatening against our students, I will cut you down in your prime and leave you gutted for the birds, hear me?”

I nodded, and he motioned to April, who had taken up point at the end of the shrubs along the sidewalk with one ear out for our conversation. She came over and after a quick discussion they settled on the best route to admin. We arrived quickly and went to the same entrance that Trevor and I had designs upon, and as April crouched warily by the railing at the top of the stairwell, which was filled with an acrid smoky smell and showed signs of burning on the walls, I went halfway down and peered the other direction. The camera and all sensors had been smashed but the keypad remained operational, and as I glanced around and back as Cornelius entered his code I managed to catch the numbers. When he opened the door I glanced back around again and he said quietly, “You probably saw that. If you have business in here later, you might reconsider. If I can’t dissuade you, then good luck, assuming I don’t have to gut you.”

“It was good working with you.”

“And you. Don’t make me regret it, Hugh, understand?”

I nodded, and after he went inside I climbed up the stairs and nodded to April. “Usual route, Hugh. I think it’s pretty safe. Who’d want to bother a bunch of surly grad students? You guys would give a lion a stomach ache. But get out before dark, like Cornelius said.” A few seconds later she said, “So they got the Pursleyville library too. Do you think the pretty library lady got out?”

“She was one of the ones who wanted in. I’d say it depends on whether she was at work. I suspect she’d have stood her ground and gone down with the ship.”

“I’m sorry, Hugh.”

“That’s long past. It’s not her I’m worried about.”

She nodded, “Yeah, I’ve seen you two around. Hope she’s safe.”

After a couple more minutes, she added, “So you’re a spy?”

“Yes.”

“A very good one, I have to say. I had no suspicion at all. You seemed like a typical academic drudge punching the clock in the cloud-top ivory tower.”

“Thank you, I guess.”

She smiled, “The best spies don’t need to pretend to be someone else, you know.”

“Hope you’re not upset. We’re on the same side, you know.”

“As long as you made my work easier in the future, I don’t mind in the least.” She soon added, “Besides, you did a pretty good job blocking Barbara and playing for time with a gun pointed at you, and then despite that still tried to keep Clarice safe.”

We walked warily and quietly to the dorm, and when we reached the lawn she motioned for me to crouch down as she surveyed the scene closely. “Okay, I think we’re clear. Come on.”

The main door opened as we reached the porch and Betty Fuller aimed a rifle at April’s chest. “What business do you have here?”

“Admin special security. I’m escorting Hugh.”

“Name?”

“April Galloway.”

“Unit?”

“Library.”

“Supervisor?”

“Cornelius Lee.”

“Show me your card. Slowly now.”

April pulled out a small wallet and handed it over.

Betty looked her over very carefully and said, “What happened at the library anyway?”

“Most of us were killed. They burned it down.”

“Did Cornelius get out?”

“Like an action vid.”

“How’s your ammunition?”

She handed over my gun. “I’ve been using Hugh’s toy. Do you have something for real women?”

Betty looked at it with slight distaste. “Yeah, I figured he’d shoot like a girl.”

To my surprise April retorted, “That’s not what the women say.”

Unperturbed, Betty replied, “I meant with a rifle.”

April smiled, “You can’t expect a grad student to shoot like an adult.”

Betty nodded and said, “I have an extra rifle and a box you can take. Guard the door for three minutes.”

After she left and April took up position, I asked her, “What will you do? Tonight, I mean?”

With relish she replied, “Patrol. I’ll be busting heads.”

“Bust a few kneecaps for me, will you?”

“Indeed I will, boss,” she saluted. “And if we ever cross paths again, allow me to buy you a beer.”

“Second round’s on me.”

“It’s a date.”

Shortly Betty returned with a rifle much the same to my eyes as hers, but April said, “Well, can’t be choosers. Thank you, ma’am.” She took the rifle, loaded it from the box Betty handed her, and pocketed the box. She turned to me, “Stay safe, boss.”

“You too, April.”

April then turned to Betty. “Permission to go to my unit?”

“Granted.”

She saluted and crouched off, and Betty turned to me. “We’ll try to get everyone out in a bit over an hour. If you have other plans, get them started before dark, but you’d be well advised to come with us. Take your gun from the table if you want it; the more people we have armed the better.” She then turned brusquely and looked unblinkingly out the window beside the main door, rifle at the ready. She added, “Trevor and Finley are in your suite.”

I turned and went thither. Trevor nodded pensively as I came in and Finley breathed out in relief. “We heard about the library.”

I told them briefly what had happened, and Trevor said quietly, “They released us from the labs shortly after the first attacks started. Shortly after we left, bombs went off in three of the labs, including mine. I doubt it’s a coincidence. I came back here to wait for you. Do you want to leave, or should we try tonight?”

I replied in almost a whisper, “We’re going in tonight. I know how to get us in.”

Trevor brightened and said, “Good man.

“Is Helen here?”

Trevor darkened again and shook his head no, and I asked, “Any idea what her chances are?”

“Which buildings would she have been in?”

We discussed it briefly and Trevor said, “I don’t think there were any attacks where she was. She’s probably holed up somewhere waiting to be removed, or else on her way out of the area. That’s all I can tell you though.”

Just then Purnell knocked on the door, also armed with a rifle, and said, “Trevor, I’ll be serving an early dinner in fifteen minutes. Would you work the line?”

“Sure.”

“Hugh, Finn, care to join in?”

We nodded agreement and Purnell left. Trevor closed the door and said, “We have our basic plan. I’ll think about how the situation has changed things at dinner and we’ll plan out the new details afterwards. It’ll be damned dangerous out when the woodsmen get here, so we should take up watch in a classroom. You know which one.”

I nodded and we noticed Finley watching us intently. Having caught our tone, he asked almost in a whisper, “What in the world are you two doing?”

Trevor said, “Hunting shoggoths, Finn. You’re either coming with us or you’re leaving in half an hour and telling no one anything of what you’ve heard the past ten minutes. I’d rather you come so there’s less chance our cover’ll get blown.”

“I’m coming. It sounds like folklore in the making.”

Trevor replied, “I seriously doubt it. It will probably be a state secret for generations and forgotten after that, which suits me just fine.”

“What are we doing?”

I answered, “Breaking into Records. We’ll tell you more after dinner, so hold your horses until then.”

We then went to the dining room. Trevor served us and we ate quickly; I then went to wash dishes and Finley bused tables and emptied the trash, which with our reduced population took each of us about five minutes. We pitched in for a quick and sloppy clean up with three other grad students who had just returned, and Betty Fuller came in with her rifle and said, “There’s a van out front for those that want to leave now. I will pull out my detail an hour after that, once we’ve locked up and checked everything. You really need to leave by then, because we expect the dorm to be occupied by some very nasty characters some time after dark.” Of the twenty-odd grad students in the dining room, all but us three indicated they would leave. “Okay, half of you can go now, and another van will be here in fifteen minutes. I assume you three are going to hike out?” We nodded. “You’re stupid as hell, but you have a better chance at that than anyone else on campus, I warrant.”

We went back to the suite. I took three minutes to collect the last of the manuscripts I had smuggled out and the other effects I needed, and realizing I would not be back, I added all my notes from classes, my correspondence, my diploma, three or four books, and two changes of clothes, all arranged to provide the best padding for Veronica’s sketch of Helen, which I wrapped in several layers of newspaper and cardboard. Trevor similarly had a backpack ready, and Finley soon joined us with his. We then huddled together and spoke low to Finley: “This is your last chance to leave.” He shook his head and we prepared to fill him in on the plan; Trevor started, “I’m glad you’re coming, Finn. We need a lookout, especially before we get in admin and when we’re in Records. We only have two guns, so you’ll have to find something you feel comfortable fighting with, but remember, we want to be silent and unseen, so only use it if absolutely necessary and be prepared to kill. It’s very dangerous where we’re going. It’s you or them, understand?”

He gulped apprehensively and said, “I understand.”

We pulled out the maps and huddled around Trevor’s desk. Trevor pointed out various places on it for Finley. “We’ll be going in this small maintenance door on the side. It’s a strong metal door locked with a keypad. Ordinarily there’d be a camera and other sensors there, but Hugh says they’ve been taken out.”

I interjected, “Looked like a small fire bomb went off. Didn’t damage the structure, but it charred a lot of stuff. —Odd thing. Didn’t even break any windows.”

Trevor said, “The windows aren’t glass. They’re only a little weaker than the walls around them.” He looked at the map and continued, “This part of the basement is not very well secured, or at least it wasn’t a decade ago; security is lax and routine inside the building until you reach the third floor, which is quite secure. You have to remember, according to our informer, they treat the basement just like any routine administrative building, or at least used to treat it that way. We’ll be going down this hallway to this junction and turning right towards the back of the building, then left. A decade ago there weren’t cameras in the back hallway, since it’s mostly routine things like supplies and maintenance there with a lot of unimportant movement during peak hours and nothing the rest of the time; there might be cameras by now, in which case I’ll have to take them out.”

I added, “What’s likely is routine patrols. They used to run once an hour.”

Trevor said, “But since the administration is under attack, it’s quite likely the security staff is stretched to the bone. You also have to remember, the building’s got a very tough structure. I suspect most of the security guards who are still alive will be shifted to weaker points on campus, like the physical plants, reactor, police station, corps armory, and clinic, and the security inside the building will have a full meal on their plates coordinating them. I also have hopes that a couple of the explosions we heard this afternoon cut the power lines.”

I ended, “Or we could be utterly misreading the situation and get caught as soon as we stick our noses in the door.”

Trevor added, “For which possibility I’ll be the first one to go in. If I give the all clear, Finn, you’ll come in next. You’ll have to watch and listen. No sounds, do you hear? If there’s a camera, after I take it out, you’ll go to the corner here. When we get to Records, I’ll open the door and you’ll stand just inside it listening for noise in the hallway like your life depends on it, because it will. It should be very quick inside, and then straight back out. No dawdling.”

We then left and said goodbye to the last of our fellows as everyone else filed out. As they settled themselves in the van, we walked off into the woods parallel to the edge of campus towards the Miskatonic. As we walked I asked Trevor quietly, “And if we get back out, where will we go?”

“You’ll get to meet the fellow who scoped out our path tonight. He also provided your gun. He’ll hide us until morning, and then we can take a boat to just north of Boston. After that, we’ll have to play it by ear. It’s an ugly city to have to hide in, but it should be safer than Arkham or any wretched place like that.”

A mile after we passed out of sight of the dorm, we turned towards campus. It was coming on dusk and we hastened quietly through the woods until we reached the outskirts of the quad. We turned southward and passed leisurely between two shrub walls growing out from neighboring halls, then we hastened to a side door that Trevor quickly unlocked and relocked behind us. He walked up the stairs and motioned for us to follow, then managed to open the door to a hallway without a sound. Again he motioned to us, and we walked through the empty hallways of a classroom building until we came to a seminar room that was locked after hours. Trevor quickly unlocked it and locked it after we entered. We sat underneath the table for an hour as the shadows deepened, and when it was fully dark Trevor whispered, “Let me check out the window.”

He got up and looked out for several minutes. “Okay, let’s go. I saw no movement at all on the green or the quad, and we should be able to get in and out before the woodsmen are here in force.”

After again locking the door, we made our way quietly to the main door, which Trevor slipped out of quietly. He crouched in the shadow of the portico and after a minute motioned us out. He and I looked out on the green and quad and at the blackened windows of admin and saw no movement, so we rushed across the ten yards of open to the stairwell gaping black below us. We then stood watch inside the stairwell, peeking over the edge of the low concrete lip, as Finley looked both ways and rushed across. When he was standing at the bottom I walked over to the key pad and tried the door, which did not budge. I typed in 26546739, and a low click answered. I opened the door and peeked inside to see a dim passageway intersecting a corridor three yards ahead. I listened and heard nothing, not even the susurration of a ventilation system.

I stood aside and Trevor passed through. He crouched at the corner and inched a mirror around. He stood up and motioned us in, and Finley went in next as I checked the exit release; as reported a decade before, it was still a simple switch; I let the door close silently. Trevor gave us a thumbs-up, so Finley went to stand beside him; he looked both ways and listened for a few seconds, then went right to the next intersection with Trevor’s mirror. Apart from a dim emergency light around the corner that flickered at times, the halls were dark and oppressively silent. Finley crouched and peeked with the mirror, then nodded. He walked to the small dog leg to the left ten yards past records and listened again; satisfied, he waved to us and we stopped halfway down on the right. Trevor and I looked at the door, which had a simple lock that he easily opened, and we passed inside. Finley stood just inside the closed door keeping an ear out as Trevor and I made a quick pass through Records.

The arrangement was much the same as in the chart and except for the couch identical to my dream. We nodded at each other and went each to his respective row; again, the chart was accurate and we quickly found our file cabinets. I pulled out a pen light and looked through the drawer, where I quickly found the three manuscripts I was interested in by their old catalog marks amid a profusion of timeworn paper. I glanced at some of the othersrecords of local skirmishes in King Philip’s War of dubious authenticity to bolster the claims of a local family, unbridled speculations on the deaths of local livestock in the 1750s, and the record of a dark forgotten trial of a witch as a Loyalist, or perhaps a Loyalist as a witch, at an Arkham Court of Oyer and Terminer in 1779. Shaking my head, I glanced briefly through the three manuscripts and saw repeated instances of scoggothus and Veteres tenebrarum on several pages. I quietly unzipped my backpack and slipped them in, and after I silently closed the drawer I saw Trevor standing at the end of my row and nodding as he held his backpack up and pointed at it. We nodded at each other and slipped back to the door. A mere five minutes had passed.

After another three minutes we stood outside the door in; Trevor crept up the stairs and glanced around for a minute, then motioned us on. We rushed back to the portico and prepared to duck around the side of the building when Trevor held up his hand with a short intake of breath and said, “There’s movement by the main gate. Probably woodsmen. Through the building.” We ducked in the door, hidden from the gate by the edge of the portico, and snuck to a different exit opposite the main gate. Several times at the beginning of our trek we heard scrapings outside, most likely from a gang going towards admin that I hoped had passed by the time we reached the exit. With extreme care Trevor stood and listened, then after a minute opened it a crack and looked and listened some more. After another minute he opened it wide enough to pass through, and after yet another half-minute motioned us through as well. Shortly after we stepped off the porch a crash of glass and a silent flash of light came from the administration building, and I gave thanks we were standing in the shadow of the building when it went off. We immediately dropped to the ground and looked around; Trevor pointed at each of us and a direction, left for me, right for Finn, and we looked carefully in our appointed direction. Although I saw nothing untoward in the areas that were lit, the three of us remained prone for a minute; a pair of corpses on the edge of space where we lay inspired us to imitate them for fear of becoming three more. Finally, Trevor whispered, “Let’s make a break for the right side of the building ahead of us.” After reaching it, it was a short trip back to the woods, and we turned towards the Miskatonic and planned to go near Pursleyville.

When we reached the path we had aimed for in the woods, Trevor held up his hand and said quietly, “That was close. Could have been much worse. You’ll notice there wasn’t any response to the cocktail they set off; I was probably right that there’s no force to spare inside the building. Anyway, congratulations, my friends, for we are now the latest enrollees in the brotherhood of lockpicks, cat burglars, sneak thieves, and all-round cowardliest of the cowards, lowest of the low, and reprehensible of the reprobates. If you had dreams of heroism, you’ll have to redouble your efforts henceforth to wipe this shame off your record. In short, damned good job, you two.” We grinned and he said, “Now let’s move.”

We trudged carefully in the dark along the path, which Trevor and I knew implicitly, Trevor leading the way and me bringing up the rear. Suddenly Trevor motioned for us to stop and muttered quietly, “We’re in trouble.” I looked where he pointed and saw the flicker of flames far off.

After a moment I asked, “Our destination?”

Just as he replied yes, the report of an exploding magazine reached our ears and he said very quietly, “There goes our ammunition, our food too. But the lack of shelter’s the worst of it. In Pursleyville we’d be noticed immediately. On the road we’d be sitting ducks, and in the woods we’d be easy prey of other sorts. Which is it, guys?”

I said, “I vote for the road and try to make Topsfield. Surely there will be other friendly foot traffic we can blend in with, and in any case we’ll make the quickest time that way.”

Trevor nodded. “Time is the most important factor, I agree. Topsfield’s not too far off and it’s largely in friendly hands. We’ll have to be careful when we get there so we don’t draw enemies after us to a safe house, but it’s the least unsavory alternative. Finn?”

Finley swallowed and nodded. “It makes sense. You two know better than me. Let’s do that.”

We then marched hurriedly towards the Miskatonic and were twenty yards from the turn onto Bank Road when a shadow came out of the woods and stopped momentarily. All three of us breathed in sharply as we saw our first shoggoth.

It was a translucent silvery shape that moved swiftly in the moonlight, and as it came near I could see ripples pass along its surface. It rose above Trevor to twice his height, and when he turned to run it leapt with incredible swiftness to grab him. His eyes widened and he tossed his backpack towards me a split second before it completely enveloped him. We heard the beginning of a sharp scream cut off a second after it started, and Finley ran up to the shoggoth and jabbed at it with a pointed stick. With a short lurch it grabbed him, and as he shouted, “Hugh, run!” it pulled him entirely inside itself. As I stood there in brief doomed indecision, one of my later lessons with Gilbreath pulled itself into full focus. In anger and loss I raised my right hand palm out against it and intoned, “tʰos xʰuniˑ ɛɬnɪg tʰuʃaːɬ̥ tʃʰ tsɯrtʃʰsŋ̩ ʃʰɔːgːətʰ bɵᵋ ɪʰtg̥ɛːd̥ɪt tsɵxɪ̥x ɪrguːniˑ xʰɛrʲoːtsɬ̥ɨ̥ɣɪŋ tsɪrɪɣtsʰɛˑ tsɛxr̩ʁaːniˑ ʃʰiːʰtg̥ɬ̩ nɔgdoːɬtʃ tʰʉːniˑg̥ nɪg̥sariˑŋ xʰɯd̥ɬ̩ʰmʉriˑŋ xʰɯɬ̥sniˑ d̥ɔːt xʰɪmd̥ʒɛːg̥ tʰɛwʲɑˑs d̥aɬdɛxŋ̩ nɪmɪgdʉːɬ̥sn̩tʰɛɪ tʰɪntsʰɨx xʰɪmd̥ʒɛːniˑ tʰɯgrɨgɯˑr tʰɔrgn̩.

As if outside myself I saw it come to a halt and an interrogative mood filled my mind, vivid and concrete as a joint dream but without the concomitant dreaming distortions. Some degree of calm and indeed of wonder passed over me despite all. I bade the shoggoth to wait as I familiarized myself with the mental language of its interface, for want of better terms, and thought what to do next. I had no need to stay in the area, nor any desire. I queried the shoggoth about places on possible routes out of New England. Arkham was likely to be extremely dangerous, it informed me, and Boston certainly perilous. The best chance seemed to be an escape direct to New Haven. Could it carry me there? Yes. A cavity of the requisite size opened in its side and with some trepidation I climbed in and sat on a small shelf it left for me in the space, and as it traveled at a fair clip west and then southwest, I started posing questions to keep from thinking overmuch of the way it wrapped itself around me to hold me still as it traveled.

Shoggoths had located themselves at key spots throughout the world upon general guidelines from their mastersthe Old Ones, who did indeed sleep somewhere the shoggoth did not reveal to me. Most cities had a shoggoth at home a mile or more underneath them in the halls and tunnels they made for themselves, and most of the shoggoths simply observed passively, keeping track of the doings of the latest creatures to attain some small degree of intelligence for their better use by their masters on the day they might awake. A few were more active, responding to our minds to take a fuller measure of us. Such was mine, which resided in a hall deep under the campus of the Institute and amplified the mental doings impinging on it to examine how well our minds were adapted to it and how well developed our faculties were analogous to those by which the Old Ones controlled them effortlessly. Not very, it continued; with such a marked inability to control our dreams and the riot with which our philoprogenitive urges flourished in the hothouses of our skulls, we were abysmally unsuited to supplanting their masters.

It was a day ten years ago, it continued, when Gilbreath had found the means to controlling it, and he programmed it to accept a passage of Manæhill as a turnkey. He made modest use of his control to observe the observer and probe it with questions, though beyond this simple statement there was no record of his doings that I could find. There were many others in the region who showed an intense interest in it, but their dreams, demands, and incantations had no effect on it; apart from Gilbreath, it was beholden only to its masters, and were Gilbreath to have gone beyond certain strict limits, reflexes would have been triggered that would have digested him immediately, much as my friends had been, it stated simply. I quickly checked to see if it could recall the circumstances of Gilbreath’s death, but there was a simple absence of any reference. Yes, it replied, Gilbreath had long been able to block observation by shoggoths and did so continuously until, clearly, the time of his death.

I probed further back to find out what I could of the causes of the Subsidence. Us, it stated forthrightly. The masters had started to waken, it continued. There had been ceremonies performed in several parts of New England that started peeling back the spell of sleep in which the masters were locked, and one of the masters had dreamed a bit more vividly to make a way for their return. This involved eliminating any obstacles to their ambitions; and while humanity might some day be bred into a useful tool, at that moment our globe-spanning society was a bit more than an irritant, rather less than a threat, and if begrudged its survival would greatly reduce the malleability with which our raw material might be reworked into something suitable for their use. At the same time, counterattacks from other groups hampered the fading of the spell and counterspells were issued that held the matter in delicate balance for many minutes. The shoggoth under Providence, where the battle was the fiercest, was fatally crippled, though in the shoggoth way of things three or four centuries would have to pass before its vestigial processes finally faded away; its death throes sank an extensive area as it released a wave of slippage that propagated to the shoreline of present-day Providence Bight. The shoggoth under Boston was quickly restrained by its enemies, but not before it had done extensive damage. And while shoggoths became largely passive again after the war accompanying the Subsidence had gone against their partisans, they continued to prevent any return to the earlier state of affairs in New England and while unable to receive any direct orders from the masters acted as seemed fittest to their usual practice.

Spells, it continued, were the best humans could conceive of the faculties by which the masters exerted control. The words were simply an outward correlative of the requisite mental state that served to focus the enchanter’s attention in the appropriate way. I probed some of its memories of old New England spell-making with a mixture of fascination and horror and then turned to the communal memories of the shoggoths of spells throughout history. Unreliable, scattershot, frequently backfiring and constantly misinterpreted, spells were the fetish that their practitioners worshipped, shadows of the reality of which humans only rarely and haltingly attained a vision; but during the Subsidence some of us had used them ably, it admitted without begrudge. Their partisans had nearly carried the day and wakened the masters; their opponents had as ably balked them.

None of the soldiers involved long survived the Subsidence, it answered. Most of the enchanters were killed by the spells, the rest by each other, and the rest of the people doing battle slaughtered each other in a vast dispiriting bloodbath that raged throughout New England for three months and left only a fine stubble of the former growth on either side. Oh, certainly, it continued, enough of the memory remained to inspire the rebuilt partisan rump in Boston to maintain influence and build esprit de corps by hunting their opponents in nightly recreations of the highlights of the long three months of ignoble squalid strife, or later anyone who might become an opponent, or later anyone who looked a choice animal of prey, and their opponents were ever so easily twisted into the cul de sac of neo-Puritanism with just the slightest mental pressure from the shoggoth below, while the rest of the population was quelled into passivity by frightful dreams tinged by each dreamer’s worries and hates automatically reflected back and amplified, and so in Boston fear, unreason, and philoprogenitivity fused unceasingly into the fetid brew the human mind so often ferments. No, neither side was of much interest to the shoggoths, for their entire histories demonstrated how little respect or dignity they warranted. Yes, it answered, the shoggoth under Boston was experimenting with various techniques of protoplasmic engineering to see what new tools might be created for the masters, a project inferred from an odd dream of one of the masters that imprinted itself on it as the Subsidence started.

Yes, it continued, it had collected a fine store of memories and impressions from the Subsidence. I blinked and felt myself in the person of a young woman in an assembly hall. “Hey, Brian, when do the finals start?”

“In just a minute,” he answered. It was near noon, and crowds filled the space around tables on which a wide variety of games were being played, but she only had eyes and ears and heart for the latest offering from the Mental Vittles Gaming Company. Not only were intricate ceremonies involved at every stage of the end game, but the brilliant young people staffing it had constructed their own language to make it ever so much more realistic and vivid! She had heard some of them proudly boasting to each other that they had finally trained a critical number of speakers of their conlang to give everyone the show of the millennium, and she proudly polished the button on her chest that they told her announced “Semifinalist” in that same language, though it differed greatly from each of the other semifinalist buttons.

She traipsed off to the corner of the hall under the emblem of Miskatonic University where the Mental Victualers, as they liked to call themselves, were coordinating the ceremony opening the finals. She chanted along in their harsh constructed language, and suddenly she felt most unwell; the earth started trembling and colors she had never seen before flooded the hall from the power circle of finalists on the stage, and as she fancied a black tar filled her abdomen and started to rise in her throat, the walls sundered and the floor tilted. As she grabbed at a spar that gave way under her weight and cast her into the void opening under the hall, her last coherent thought was, “Oh, this isn’t what I wanted at all.” And many more revived memories told the same story, repeated at almost every major university in New England on the first and last annual New England RPG Extravaganza, held on a bright, fresh mid-April weekend and a success far beyond the dreams of its most committed organizers, not that any of them survived to mark it so.

I then proceeded to probe about the means by which shoggoths are controlled by thought, but this was fruitless on the whole. Humans think of ourselves as a space inside a body within which processes take place that we can observe only with difficulty, unreliably, and elusively, but which can at least be held in conscious focus as single distinct objects of awareness and analysis. This possibility seems to have been expressly eschewed by the Old Ones, who clearly intended to keep their tools as tools, unable to reflect upon themselves as being comprised of bundles of processes or collections of parts and instead viewing themselves, as nearest I could gather, as indivisible points in the worldnot the outside world, as we might say, for such a distinction carried no weight with the shoggoth when I tried to tease out such a viewand thus to that extent unlikely to develop an independent streak. Certainly it made any questions based on its private experience utterly fruitless. At most the shoggoth could be brought to admit itself as a perfectly uniform region within which its highest degree of control over the world could be exercised, but given the ease with which it could relax the integrity of its outer boundary, there was no trace of the fundamental human view of the skin as a crucial boundary the protection of whose integrity is of the most intimate importance.

This is not to say that I made no progress whatever in gaining some idea of the nature of the shoggoth communicative faculty. On the lowest levels of language use, certainly, there was little difficulty. With direct reference mental deixis sufficed (while it admitted that my use of mental images was sufficient, it was crude compared to the common mental matrix of shoggoths and the Old Ones, in which other senses than ours were active and much richer networks of connections of ideas made reference a much subtler, more elegant affair), and for concrete events the organizing principles would be much the same: an event schema with slots for participants; the participants could be named using mental deixis or categorial terms. At that point matters diverged increasingly the more abstract the level of discourse, for even the basic figures of the syllogism rested in actual use on shared divisions of the many things of the world, and the points of connection between them and us were tenuous and easily strained to breaking.

Nonetheless, communication could proceed after a fashion, but it required close attention to the shoggoth’s responses, which at least were easily read. Speech alone would never work, for speech is a reduction by radical translation of a logical form with several incommensurable dimensions to one dimension; even for a fluent native speaker the instances are numerous in which the projection of a mobile onto a line can cause ambiguity that is either hilarious or tragic. Instead, a shoggoth required mental access to the process of speech production, which with training and forbearance it can learn to read. And so while vocalization was not even necessary, subvocalization was essential. But more detail than that I could not obtain in the time before New Haven; no doubt Gilbreath had learned much of value on that count, but he had made the shoggoth erase from itself all memories of their informant sessions.

As we neared New Haven after a journey of perhaps an hour and a half, the shoggoth indicated it would leave after I disembarked. In response to my query of any gleanings it could give me of the Old Ones, it projected for me and in me a brief flash of its experience unbelievably many millions of years before, from a time when the Old Ones ruled in their full power and glory. Most of it was as beyond my capacity to grasp as my thoughts were to a hummingbird, but what I understood staggered me to the core: A feeling of complete control of the many things of the world, as natural to them as breathing was to me; a subtly articulated knowledge of the many things of the world that had been fashioned over more generations of full intellectual maturity and clarity than humans had walked upright; and an overwhelming confidence in the rightness of all the many things of the world and their place in it that no human could ever earn or perhaps even conceive of possessing after a full five centuries of life lived to the very fullest of utmost Aristotelian perfection.

I disembarked at the edge of New Haven. Before it left I pondered what I might be able to order the shoggoth to do to improve the condition of the Institute, or at least to give less opportunity to its partisans, but each was silently turned aside by the shoggoth except for my final demand to reduce the intensity of the communal dreaming. In that small respect at least I consider that I made an improvement to the lives of all my fellows, friends and enemies alike. My final order was to erase all memories of my time with the shoggoth and to give no indication that I had survived and escaped to New Haven; from what I had gathered, this was unnecessary unless the Old Ones themselves awoke, but perhaps some day one of the partisans of the Old Ones would learn Manæhill, and then my doom might come swiftly.

With no ado the shoggoth left me and sped noiselessly away, a curious glassy glint in the moonlight easily ignored as a trick of light. As it left, the thrill of knowledge and the calming influence of its mental environment faded and the grief and anger that minutes before seemed unspeakably petty returned. I took my bearings, pulled out my cell phone, and called Pamela. “Hugh! How wonderful to hear from you! You’re early!”

“Yes, I’m very early. It’s not a problem?”

“Not in the least.”

“I’m sorry I’m calling at such an ungodly hour, but it’s a bit of an emergency.”

She asked my location and told me how to meet her, and half an hour later ushered me into the only warm and friendly home in New England. I sat down in their new living room. “Hugh, you look terrible. What happened?” She told me the next day that I proceeded to bawl for half an hour until I fell asleep.

The next morning I awoke near noon. Within a second I had full recall of the events of the day before and wished I were still asleep, then remembered my dreams: Trevor and Finley were riding in the shoggoth beside me, strapped in on seats like mine, and the shoggoth slowly extruded itself around them; suddenly their eyes opened wide with a start and for a short time they begged for me to get the shoggoth to release them as it suddenly enveloped and digested them and ignored everything I tried on their behalf; despite their prolonged pained screams, I did not awake and merely frantically watched their dissolution. I had slept on the couch; when I got up, Pamela spoke from behind me, “You’re finally awake. What in the hell happened to you?” I trudged lifelessly into the kitchen, said hello to her and Veronica, and sat down at the table. Pamela poured me a cup of coffee that I stared at for nearly a minute, then I started telling them about the events that I was shocked to realize had happened only the day before.

On my first pass through, I told them only that a fit of murderous violence had swept campus; many were killed and many of the rest evacuated. Trevor, Finley, and I had tried to escape, but they were killed before I was able to get away. Here I reached the first fork where I had to make a grave decision. My news had quieted them to a silence as deep as my own, and I thought how much to tell them and pondered how much they would want to know.

After a minute Veronica asked, “How did you get here so quickly, Hugh? Were you evacuated? Why didn’t they take you somewhere for help? And why would anyone attack a university? What the hell happened up there?”

“How much do you want to know? Really want to know? I’ll tell you if you insist, but you’ll...you’ll probably be at risk. You’ll have to keep quiet. I probably shouldn’t have come here and I shouldn’t come back to New England. So we might never see each other again and it would be a shame if you didn’t understand why, but it’s your choice since it’s your risk.”

They looked at each other for a time as I sat exhausted, and Pamela asked, “What about Helen?”

“I don’t know what happened to her. She disappeared the night before last. I’m very afraid of what happened to her.”

“So why didn’t you go look for her?”

“I didn’t know where to look. She always studied alone, and no one knew where. She didn’t come back the next morning, and when the attacks started I was too busy getting my employees out, and then...”

Veronica interjected, “Then what? Martial law? Lock-down?”

“Yes, that was part of it, but if she had gone to work it was likely she had been evacuated and had not been in the direct attack. And there was no way of knowing where she would have been evacuated to.”

“So will you go back when it’s cooled off and try to pick up her trail?”

I took a deep breath and said, “Probably not. I might be too dangerous to her. If word got out I was looking for someone, they might possibly be at risk. It’s too great a risk in any case.”

Veronica flushed and said, “Then why the hell did you lay a trail here, Hugh?”

I pondered a moment and quietly said, “I didn’t. I’m scot free for the exit and left no traces, but I can’t go back.”

After a long pause Pamela said, “Tell us what happened, everything that happened. We need to know the risk to us putting you up.”

I nodded and took a deep breath. “Either of you ever heard of shoggoths?” Veronica shook her head, but Pamela nodded and said, “Of course. Vicious beasts from what I hear. We all suspected there are some underneath Boston.”

“Just one. And one under the Institute. And one under every major university and major city and in the bottoms of many lakes.”

“We used to joke they put the crypt in cryptobiology.”

“I wish that were just a joke.”

“So a shoggoth attacked the Institute?”

“No, but its partisans did. They just tore into the place and each other.”

Veronica put up her hand to halt us. “Pam, tell me what you know about this.”

Pamela gave her a short but largely accurate recital of the tales surrounding shoggoths and finished, “They attract lots of cranks, really nasty ones, and lots of stupid secretive people addicted to knives. It’s worse the further north and west you go in New England.”

I continued, “They’ve been in local English legend almost since colonization, and appear quite a bit in the darker parts of native folklore. As Pam said, they are reputed to be highly intelligent. They are thought to be organic machines created by the Old Ones.”

Veronica sat quietly and finally said, “The Old Ones. So that’s not just a turn of phrase.”

“No, people do believe in them. Shoggoths are thought to be the key to awakening them, at least for some of those groups. And there are a lot of groups. There’s no unified doctrine on their side, just any number of traditions drawn from one part of the legends or one set of facts. They distrust each other as much as they dislike the rest of us. They either want to rule us, or restore the Old Ones to power to rule over us, or to rule over the Old Ones.”

Veronica asked, “So they attacked the Institute. Why?”

“I don’t know, but they smashed a lot of campus. Some of them attacked the library and another group burned it down. They set off several bombs on campus and killed...I don’t know how many people, but I was in the vicinity of dozens of victims.”

Veronica looked at me piercingly and finally asked, “Why would they attack the library? And why, Hugh, are you at risk?

I took a deep breath. “Those are...connected questions.”

“What have you been up to, Hugh?”

I exhaled my deep breath, took another, and said, “I’m a spy.”

Veronica continued staring at me while Pamela suddenly began to. “What kind of spy?”

“A deep informant, actually. My job was to smuggle out manuscripts that had information about shoggoths. To get them out of the vicinity of the people who would do something like that.”

“Why, could people learn how to handle shoggoths from them?”

“Yes, that was a possibility.”

“Did you succeed?”

“Oh yes, I certainly did.”

Veronica interrupted, “And what fine group has them now?”

“Some of them are in the hands of a group in the heartland, the rest I’ve hidden. The actually useful ones.”

“You mean you can actually learn to control shoggoths?” asked Pamela excitedly.

“Yes, you probably could from those.”

Veronica interjected, “And how the hell do you know that?”

I took a pair of deep breaths and answered, “I confirmed it with the shoggoth at the Institute as it transported me here to safety.”

In the silence that little bomb left in its wake I told them the full story of my doings and my escape. I told them about what I had learned about the Old Ones, the causes of the Subsidence, the malign doings throughout New England, and what we had done at the Institute: shoggoth biochemistry, shoggoth folklore, and shoggoth philology. I ended by saying, “Shoggoths largely ignore us; they pay us the attention they do because they’re awaiting orders that almost certainly, if ever given, will spell the end of humanity. We’ll become chattel or raw materials or extinct. But until that time, no one will have any dealings with the shoggoth, and I wiped the evidence of my meeting it just in case.”

“How can you be so sure?” asked Veronica.

“From my dealings with it. They’re sentient in their own fashion, but they have strict, binding regulations built into their deepest levels. Only an Old One or some creature with that level of faculties and facility could undo those ties, and I learned enough to cover my tracks and obliterate my traces.”

“So the Old Ones do exist?”

“If what the shoggoth showed me is not a fabrication, then yes, they certainly do, and we’re living in a perilous state. They are condemned to sleep under the seas until...no one knows, thankfully. Their partisans are constantly seeking to wake them up. The Subsidence was when they nearly succeeded. The Subsidence was the first stage of what the shoggoths will do to us if the Old Ones do fully awake.”

After a minute Veronica asked, “Assuming that what you say is true, what will you do next?”

“I’ll return to Texas once the coast is clear.”

“How will you get there?”

“Boat to New York, probably, then I have a number of possibilities.”

“Well, Hugh, I don’t know if you’re just making an elaborate hoax or what...”

Pamela interrupted, “I believe him.”

“Why?”

“It fits too many experiences I had working in Boston. I never told you about them, no one who dove there ever talked about them with outsiders, but when you get down in the hotter parts of the old tunnels, you can sense something watching you, testing you...sometimes talking to you. Something intelligent and alien, calm and frightening and reassuring all at once. Once you’ve experienced that, you can sense it behind the dreams there. It will draw you on in the tunnels, then leave you just on the edge of experiencing something, you’re sure, or you suddenly rebel against going any deeper and it sort of...chuckles and snaps off. And my dreams, often they had tantalizing hints of what’s going on in the depths half a mile or a mile below me. Vast plans charted out in bewildering detail just at the corner of the mind’s eye, momentary glimpses of...perhaps the Old Ones. Enthralling and terrifying.”

Pamela’s testimonial swept aside enough of Veronica’s skepticism to return her to a solicitous state, and we spent the next couple of hours making plans and then chatting of happier events that had happened since our last meeting as we made dinner together. After dinner we sat in the living room with the curtains closed against the dusk and I listened as Pamela told Veronica some of the odd happenings that had been the communal property of the divers and some of the worse dreams connected with them. I shared what little I had learned of the doings of the Boston shoggoth, and Veronica replied, “Toldja. Herd animals being led to the slaughter.”

I nodded, “Yes, you’re right, we are.”

It took three days for news of the happenings at the Institute to spread to New Haven. While outbreaks of violence had broken out at other universities, the toll at Miskatonic was the most severe. Preliminary estimates put the death toll at 465 associated with the campus and well over 700 injured, and several hundred other bodies had been counted. While local pro-administration forces of obscure affiliations had held the major strong points of the Institute and retaken the buildings around administration, there was sharp fighting as the dorms were stormed one by one during the day, often repulsed, and sometimes reoccupied by the attackers at night. Two units of the state militia had been ambushed on their way up the Miskatonic from Arkham and Innsmouth, concerning which there was evidence of extensive mutiny and betrayal; at the same time, there were flurries of explosions and fearsome violence in the woods some distance from the Institute causing at least one major forest fire and serious famine.

Reports the next two days varied little; a net gain of three dorms had been retaken, and after pacification of Pursleyville and Topsfield some of the evacuated students there had volunteered to return to fight at the Institute, which allowed the towns to retrieve their units helping at the Institute to patrol the approaches from Arkham and Innsmouth more effectively. Fortunately, the attackers seemed to have used up much of their firepower the first two days; there were no explosions after the third day and by the fifth enough of the defenders’ dwindling ammunition had been shot accurately that much of the campus had been either retaken or subdued. The death toll had risen to over 750 of the campus populationbetween a fourth and a third of the estimated summer populationas well as several hundred each in Pursleyville and Topsfield; however, the region was pretty much isolated from concrete assistance as violence spread throughout the coastal area: Arkham was drenched in blood and all word of Innsmouth was missing, while the less combatant populations of Salem, Bolton, and Ipswich were confined indoors as gangs roamed the streets with knives. Further north, Lowell was showing signs of unrest at rumors of bands of dark woodsmen roaming the Merrimack Valley from New Hampshire, and all areas were left on their own by the state authorities as they put the boot heel down hard on Boston and areas nearby (for, as expected, throughout the time of troubles Boston had refused to apply to the Confederation Council for assistance); martial law had broken out already into firefights between and within the police units set to cow the city into silence and for two nights violent strife and fire devastated half of Boston as the internecine police struggles left the city lawless, but disorder was eventually put down with unflinching blood and iron by loyal militia units (though loyal to whom or what was not always clear) and no further violence was in evidence.

The next two days saw a news blackout owing to a swift and vicious targeting of journalists in eastern Massachusetts, most of whom met an early end the ninth night along with thousands of their fellowsand about two thousand besiegers, it was later estimated. That night was the worst after the first and probably the grimmest of all; over the next four days the woodsmen faded back away into the woods, though to judge from reports of surveys carried out a month later, a significant number returned home to starve and die amid scorched earth, famine, sickness and ambush, and at least two more forest fires cleared vast swathes of forest until unseasonal rains turned the land to ash-dusted bloodsoaked mud. The death toll in the backwoods was horrific, while the populations of Arkham, Innsmouth, Ipswich, and Bolton were reduced by half to two-thirds in an unnatural decease caused by a bewildering variety of means. Besides the usual stabbings, stranglings, shootings, stonings, crushings, burnings, drawings, and quarterings were a profusion of diseases new, old, and unidentifiable and unclassifiable instances of mass insanity. Perhaps upwards of a hundred thousand were killed in Boston, though likelier figures reached only as high as eighty thousand. People streamed south to Brockton as food started streaming in from the east and was sent north; for a month the Miskatonic Valley and north Boston reeled from the fighting but slowly recovered as trade routes with New York and with the rest of New England were restored.

By that time I had long since vacated the area. I stayed with Pamela and Veronica for eleven days, trying to keep some measure of cheer as the grim news rolled in and the chances of finding Helen quickly (I studiously avoided “alive” in such thoughts) continued to decrease, leaving me holding my breath in anguish with each new piece of information and suffering the fears, anger, and uncertainty battling with duty that every soldier in a war feels when pulled away from the front lines. Finally the contagion seemed well enough contained for me to leave the house and complete my task without overmuch fear of a sneaky knife from the side, and I arranged passage on a steamer returning from transporting food to Brockton; at that point there was still no traffic west, so I could look forward to a leisurely, lonely trip. In the four hours before the ship left, Pamela and Veronica took me for a quick final dinner. The dinner was scanty, as food stocks that could be spared were being collected for shipment east; we quickly finished it and had an hour to say our last thoughts and farewells.

I began, “Business first.” I handed over a small slip of paper. “The first address is where I can always be reached. Don’t use my name; choose a pleasing pseudonym.”

“Belinda Florentine,” said Pamela, and Veronica retorted, “Bordetella Pertussis.”

Pamela coughed and said, “That’s hardly pleasing.”

“Besides, it sounds like the proprietress of a house of pleasure with pretensions to culture,” I added. “Why can’t you pick a boy’s name for me?”

“Boys have cooties,” giggled Pamela, and Veronica added, “Plus they smell bad.”

“Girls have cooties too,” I shot back, and Veronica retorted, “They’re anti-cooties. They cancel out a boy’s cooties and cause an explosion, after which the young man has to go change his pants.”

“Play nice, Ver,” said Pamela after we stopped laughing.

I continued, “The second address is Helen’s family address. Please write a letter in a couple of weeks so she’ll know to contact you. Give her my address if...when she writes back.”

They nodded and Pamela placed the slip in her purse. “So what will you do now, Hugh?”

“I’ll report back, oh, enough of what I saw and did to make them realize I was money well spent. After that, I dunno. Go to school down there, I hope. See the natural beauty of Ohio in the regular order of things. I really don’t care now.”

Veronica said, “I really hope Helen’s okay, Hugh, but I’m not that optimistic. The whole area’s a mess. I can’t think of anything to help you find her.”

Pamela retorted, “Don’t be so harsh, Ver.”

“Why should I lie about the truth?”

“It’s okay, Pam, she’s right,” I interjected. “Let’s talk of something else.”

“Yes, this is probably our final farewell,” said Veronica, and I replied, “I don’t see us meeting again soon.”

Pamela said, “Be sure to write us when you think it’s safe.”

Veronica added, “Yes, Bordie, we’ll be waiting.”

We chatted about strolls around Boston, hikes I had made with Trevor, and assorted silliness of Finley’s as a wake of sorts, and soon it was time to leave. They walked with me to the pier and hugged me goodbye. On deck I waved at them and they locked arms and high-kicked their left legs in the air, ankles gloriously uncovered, in a sharp dance move and waved as I started laughing; they then walked off arm in arm and occasionally glanced back. At the corner they turned and waved again, and after they passed from view I went to find my cabin.

Strangecraft, Part VI—Much Ado About Shoggoths—Mikael Thompson
Strangecraft, Part VIII—Douce Amitié Souvent Perdue et Recherchee—Mikael Thompson
SpecGram Vol CLXX, No ν Contents