Out of the Depths: A Sidehill Adventure – Part 3
by Joshua D. Taylor
A nearly imperceptible expression of acceptance crossed Al’s face. His jaw muscles bulged as he turned and went over to a high-backed chair between the fossil skull and the robot schematics. His back was stiff but he allowed his eyelids to sag. “Once upon a time, there were two brothers but one boy. One was wicked and one was studious,” Al murmured to himself. Henry turned his attention back to the action outside as bits of gossamer appeared on the breeze, and began to weave themselves together. After a moment, a human form began to emerge. Through the glass, the strange buzzing and clicking of unseen nocturnal insects could be heard, announcing that something was coming into the world.
“Hang on, Huxley. Eddie is coming,” Henry said into the radio.
“-ucking hurry-” was all that came through the radio in response. Then the breeze died, and a squat, horrid looking man with a hunched posture appeared on the beach. Behind Henry, Al continued to chant his odd and unsettling story. The squat man, Edward, looked up at Henry. The glass was tinted, and it was dark inside but Henry knew that Edward could see him. Henry pointed toward the shark. Without any form of acknowledgment, Edward turned toward the violence as Henry knew he would. Eddie was drawn to it like a moth to a flame.
Huxley’s feet were almost in the shark’s mouth; he had managed to flip himself over so that he was facing the monster. He raised his fists in the air, and brought them down like twin hammers on the shark’s head. The strange growths emerging from between its bony plates burst under the pressure, spraying black ichor then red blood over Huxley and the beach. The shark’s withered body lurched to the side, cracking the ice that encased it.
The shark’s hold on Huxley weakened as it focused on trying to free itself from the ice, kicking desperately at the frozen saltwater and blood with its free legs. Bits of ice pelted Huxley as he got his breath back. The momentary lapse in attention was all that Huxley needed. He grabbed a handful of sand, then rubbed it across the shark’s clusters of eyes.
Its mouth filled with a gargantuan tongue, the beast screamed in silence as it threw its head back and forth in pain. Huxley had sanded eyes off its head. Driven mad by the pain, the shark completely released Huxley, who scrambled away from the beast.
Huxley thought he was safe for a moment until a roar came from behind him that could shake the pillars of Heaven. Eddie rushed into view, moving in a bestial loping run. He leaped through the air, pointing his arms in front of him like an Olympic diver. Instead of plunging into the sea, his hands punched right through the shark’s gills, followed by the front half of his body, leaving his legs sticking out of the shark’s side.
Huxley sat in the sand and stared, utterly dumbfounded. It was almost comical in appearance, like something from a cartoon. He flipped his radio on. “Should I … erm, help?”
Henry glanced back at Al who was still seated in a trance, mumbling to himself. “No, keep your distance. Eddie can be unpredictable.”
“Will the key work on the shark if it’s dead?” Huxley asked.
“Probably not. Be prepared to cut the idol out.”
Huxley sighed, climbed to his feet, and then trudged back to his prep area to get some heavy rubber gloves and a machete. He switched his radio off so Henry could not hear him complain. The shark gave a final death rattle as Eddie’s feet slid inside its body. Its legs gave out, and it slumped to the side, shattering the remaining ice that was melting in the night’s heat. The great beast’s monstrous body lay there in the sand, motionless except for Eddie crawling around inside.
Black and yellow ichor that smelled of ammonia and sulfur leaked from its mouth around the monstrous tongue that had grown almost as large as its body, and from between the many irregular bony plates that covered its body. As its abnormally long life ended, it was quickly giving in to the entropy that it had kept at bay for centuries.
Then Eddie burst from the shark’s other side with a war cry that would have scared the hosts of Heaven on Judgment Day. He extricated himself from the quickly deliquescing mutant corpse, sand caked to his gore slicked body. He raised his fists in victory, one of them clutching the broken idol. Henry leaned forward, and pressed a hand against the glass. In the night, all he could make out was a vague, dark shape but the pull inside him could tell that it was indeed the idol he’d been searching for so long.
He was not the only one who could sense that the long-trapped idol had been freed from its fleshy carriage. At that moment, a subsonic ripple that was more felt than heard moved through the air, and then the building. It made Henry sick to his stomach, and rattled the bulletproof glass. Eddie clutched the idol to his chest, looked up at the sky, and snarled in defiance.
“Alfred, that’s enough,” Henry said, loud enough for the man to hear over his own chanting. With a gasp, Al’s eyes popped open, and then he was silent. A brief flicker of realization crossed Eddie’s face before he vanished, returning to Al’s mind. Without the tulpa holding it, the idol fell to the sand with a muffled thud. Henry helped Al out of the chair, and onto stiff legs.
“Is it over?” he asked.
“It’s over. The shark is dead.”
Al wiped his brow with a purple paisley handkerchief.
“Your brother’s getting bigger,” Henry stated.
“Yes, I suppose that is bound to happen.”
The two men stood in silence for a moment, contemplating the ramifications of this observation for a moment.
“Come on, let’s go get our prize,” Henry said.
Henry and Al stepped onto the brightly lit beach as Huxley picked up the statue with heavy rubber gloves. The flare on the hand of glory flickered out nearby. Huxley held the idol out to his boss who took it without minding the blood or bile that dripped from it. “Thank you, Huxley. You did a superb job, as usual.”
He nodded. “When you call the staff back, have them gather wood for a pyre so we can cremate the shark.”
“It isn’t going to come back to life. This isn’t a horror movie,” Henry said.
“I’m not afraid of it. I’m setting it free. It was just a shark once, it didn’t want this.” Huxley gestured at the mutant corpse. “It deserves a proper send-off.”
“Of course,” Henry said. “I’ll see that it’s done just as soon as—”
They all looked up at the sky which swirled and luminesced with malicious intent. Dark forms were diving down below the tempest before disappearing back into the clouds.
“I would have thought that whoever was responsible for that would have made their move by now,” Al said.
“Yeah,” Huxley agreed. “Just so you know, I’m not prepared to fight something that can fly.”
“Why not? For all we know, the shark could fly,” Henry replied. Huxley merely shrugged. “Well, let’s head inside and reassemble the idol before it starts raining eels.”
Back inside, there was an audible hum emanating from the broken idol pieces as Henry brought them closer together. Henry’s hands grew numb as it buzzed with anticipation, and the humming grew ever louder.
He held the top piece, all tentacles and odd angles, above the base. Lightning struck outside, close enough to fill the air with static.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Huxley asked. Though the big man was not prone to being anxious, he looked distinctly unnerved.
“It’s just lightning,” Henry said, lowering the broken idol.
“It was green,” Al added.
The two halves of the idol snapped together like magnets. A shimmer moved through the dark green stone like a light in the deep sea. There was another subsonic whoop, and then the roof was pulled off the villa with a great crack that rained debris down on them, leaving the three men scrambling for shelter. Or in Huxley’s case, something to bludgeon with.
“I told you!” Huxley shouted over an intense gale that threatened to pull them out of the room into the sky. Henry and Al grabbed hold of bar stools, and tried to shelter under the edge of the granite countertop. The room filled with a shifting purple glow that made Henry sick to his stomach. Al covered his mouth.
They heard a wet impact over the howling wind as creatures that looked like over-inflated jellyfish fell from the sky, many bursting on impact. One hit the jar containing the humanoid fungus with a thwack, and bounced toward Huxley who had taken shelter in the corner of the room where a small amount of roof remained. The creature squealed like a drowning rabbit as he punted it away. “Who’s doing this?” he shouted at Henry.
“I don’t know,” Henry shouted back.
“This all seems a bit much,” Al said, looking at one of the burst sky creatures as double-ended worms crawled from its body. Then the wind and organic downpour stopped. Henry stuck his head out from under the counter and looked at the sky, while Huxley ripped a leg off a table and gave it a few test swings.
“Oh no,” Henry said.
“What is it?” Al asked, not yet venturing out from his hiding spot.
“I may have overlooked something,” Henry said, standing up.
Al came out from under the counter and the three men stood together, looking up at the swirling mass of luminous clouds as they parted to reveal a city block-sized manta ray draped in tentacles.
“The apex predator of the sky ecosystem,” Al said.
“Correct. Putting the idol back together must have summoned it into our world again,” Henry said.
“It looks pissed,” Huxley said. “You’d think it would be thankful.”
“I’m sure it’s feeling a myriad of indescribable sensations,” Henry said. “Huxley, what do you have?”
“For this, nothing. I left my deicide kit at home,” Huxley said. “We could run.”
What was left of the villa began to rumble around them, and anything that had not already crashed to the floor did so now. The mythical god-predator of an unknown atmospheric ecosystem descended toward them, segmented tentacles lashing out.
Al sighed. He walked over to the idol, gripped the top with both hands, and pulled it away from the bottom. Instantly, the tension went out of the air. The swirling clouds collapsed inward, swallowing up the sky-god-predator. The three men stared at the sky as the glow faded and the clouds parted to reveal the gentle twinkle of stars. Al thrust the top of the idol into his employer’s hands. “May I suggest we store these separately?”
Joshua D. Taylor is an author who started writing when he realized he was too old to play make-believe. He lives in southeastern Pennsylvania with his wife and a one-eared cat. He enjoys gardening, comic books, ska-punk music, Disney World, and traveling with his wife. Raised during the weirdness that was the late 20th century, Josh’s eclectic interests produce eclectic works. He loves to mix-n-match things from different genres and story elements to achieve a madcap hodgepodge of the truly unexpected.