The Sidereal Prophetess

Arthur Westmont, professor of psychiatric medicine at Miskatonic University, leaned across the low table that separated him from his associate, Professor Gilford Young, (also of the department of psychiatric medicine), and gestured to the latest edition of The American Journal of Abnormal Psychology, which lay on the table between them. "Very odd case, if the practitioner’s conclusions are to be taken seriously," Westmont stated.

Professor Young, keeping his voice low, (not because he feared being overheard, but rather to avoid disturbing the other denizens of the main lounge of the Miskatonic Faculty Club), smirked facetiously and replied, "Well, most of these cases are odd. That’s why it’s called ‘abnormal’ psychology. What makes this particular report especially worth mentioning?"

Ignoring his colleague’s attempt at wit, Professor Westmont replied, with his usual unflappable propriety, "Well, two things really. First, the patient reportedly suffers attacks of frenzied convulsions at the sight of stars – and not just any stars, it seems to be only certain, specific stars. Beyond that, she reportedly mouths incoherent phrases during these attacks. According to her doctor, despite the fact that her phrases are incoherent, she invariably recites a unique incoherent phrase depending on which specific star she happens to spy first."

"She has a specific phrase for each star but all of them are meaningless?" asked Prof Young, "Is her doctor sure that she isn’t simply speaking in a language that he doesn’t understand?"

"The report states that the phrases don’t resemble any known tongue. Her psychiatrist claims that he believes that, if her gibberish is indeed some sort of language, that this tongue was not designed to be spoken by human mouths. The pronunciation is extremely tortuous due to the preponderance of consonants and rarity of vowels in the phrases."

"Hm, sounds like Welsh," replied Young, half sarcastically.

"No, its definitely not Welsh," replied Westmont, "Look, the writer transcribed some portions of her ranting in the article. It’s not like anything I’ve ever seen."

"Eye-aah eye-aah fang cothooloo?" Professor Westmont mouthed perplexedly, attempting to pronounce the peculiar phrase.

As the doctor of psychiatry awkwardly articulated the recondite expression, a passing colleague suddenly lurched to halt, nearly tripping in mid-stride. "Excuse me!" exclaimed the newcomer as he thrust himself into the formally private conversation, "What was that phrase you just spoke?"

Professor Westmont, slightly taken aback by such an abrupt intrusion, hesitated for a moment, and then replied in a somewhat strained tone, "Professor Jenkins, how nice of you to join our discussion. We were just going over an article in a recent psychiatric journal – not really your field. I’m surprised that our little talk attracted your attention so keenly."

Professor Charles Jenkins smiled somewhat sheepishly and said, "I apologize if I startled you. I realize that the concerns of your Psychology Department rarely intersect with those of my Department of Archeology. However, I have, in the past, encountered a phrase similar to that which you just spoke. I was simply rather startled to hear one of my esteemed colleagues utter such an expression."

Professor Young arched his eyebrows, surprised by Jenkins’ assertion. He queried, "Are you saying that the phrase that Professor Westmont just spoke is indeed an actual language? One that you can speak?"

"Well, I’m not exactly fluent in it," Professor Jenkins replied, "I suppose you would say its something of a dead language, very ancient. I’m only familiar with it due to its usage by certain esoteric cults as a – um – ‘liturgical’ language."

Professor Westmont scowled slightly in perplexity and stated, "It doesn’t sound like the type of language that would be likely to have been encountered by a young Allegheny woman. It’s especially odd that she would only speak it when suffering fits, and then disavow all knowledge of it thereafter."

Professor Jenkins replied, "Actually, the cults that I mentioned tend to be especially popular amongst isolated hill folk. If she is involved with such a group, her insistence that she is ignorant of the language could be due to a vow of secrecy. These types tend to be rather circumspect. With good reason, actually, the rites they practice are the sorts that don’t usually meet with the approbation of the neighbors."

Professor Young looked slightly concerned and said, "I’ve actually got some family down in that area of the country. I’ve spent a good bit of time there myself. I don’t recall any religious groups in the area that are particularly dodgy." Then he added, as an afterthought, "…except for, of course, the snake handlers."

Jenkins looked at Young and stated in a serious tone, "As I said, these cults tend to be very furtive and taciturn. It’s quite possible that a group could be in the area without the community realizing it. Of course, there are usually some clues, such as an unusually high rate of children mysteriously vanishing, or reports of people clad in dark robes chanting in the middle of the night. At any rate, if you have family in the area, you may have cause to be concerned for their safety."

Young sat back and thought for a moment, then he said, "You know, Jenkins, I suspect that the psychiatrist that submitted this report would be very interested in having you meet with this girl, or at least having you listen to some of the things she says during her attacks. If you would be willing to take a trip down to that area, I could contact him and try to set something up."

Jenkins replied, "Well, seeing as how the summer is nearly upon us, I should be able to arrange my schedule to allow for such an excursion."

"Excellent!" replied Young, smiling, "I’ll make the arrangements!"

Nearly two weeks later, Professor Young and Professor Jenkins stepped onto the railway platform in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

"My cousin should be here to pick us up soon," Young stated, "He’s been kind enough to agree to allow us to use an extra truck he has on his farm while we are in the area."

"Wonderful!" said Jenkins happily, "Sometimes family can be a very helpful asset."

"Ah yes, and here is the ‘helpful asset’ himself!" quipped Young, gesturing towards an old sedan as it ground to a halt in front of them.

A moment later, a bearded middle-aged man in a slightly threadbare suit emerged from the car, tipped his hat to the pair and said, "Cousin Gilford! Nice to see you again. It’s been awhile since you were down this way. The family is all worked up to have their prodigal son back!"

Professor Young chuckled and replied, "Cousin Nate! You didn’t have to put on a suit for me! Especially seeing as how I’ve apparently been so prodigal and all."

Cousin Nate grinned widely as he came around the car and took their luggage. "Well, gotta get some use out of these fancy duds. Its not every day we get a fancy Harvard professor-type visiting."

"Well, Miskatonic isn’t exactly Harvard," Young said.

"Too true," agreed Professor Jenkins, "In fact, Miskatonic isn’t exactly like any other place at all. Its not every college where the faculty retirement home has its own attached psych ward…"

Cousin Nate eyed Jenkins quizzically while Professor Young rolled his eyes skyward and said, "Don’t mind him Nate. Professor Jenkins here is just one of Miskatonic’s more colorful characters. How’s everything going on the farm?"

"Well, it’s been kind of tough since Grandpa Clem passed away," replied Nate as the group climbed into the vehicle.

Cousin Nate turn the key in the ignition and revved the engine a couple of times until he was finally satisfied the sedan had no intentions of stalling. He threw the car into drive and maneuvered it through a wide turn, throwing gravel and dust in every direction.

"You know, Grandpa Clem’s special stock of tobacco just don’t seem to want to grow for anyone but him," Cousin Nate confided. "The old cuss was always so close mouthed about how he got that stuff to grow. He was always afraid one of us kids would be stupid enough to give away his secrets to every other tobacco farmer in the county. Apparently there were some tricks to growing it that he took to the grave with him. We’ve been having to plant a more common stock for quite a while now. There isn’t much left of his special blend."

"That’s a shame," said Professor Young, shaking his head sadly, "The world will be losing out on one especially nice smoke. I don’t smoke my pipe all that much anymore, but I was really looking forward to a bowl full of Clem’s special brand."

Nate gave Young a half-grin and said, "I figured you would be. I’ve still got a couple of tins of the old stuff back at the house. They’ve been in our best storage shed, so they should still be good. We’ll pop one open tonight. You can take the other with you."

"Aw, Nate, I can’t take the last of Grandpa’s special stock," protested Young.

"Don’t worry about it," replied Cousin Nate, "To me, smoking that stuff is less of a pleasure than it is a frustrating reminder that I can’t get the cursed stubborn weed to grow."

"Oh, well, I guess if I’d be saving you from frustration and all, than it would be kind of cruel of me to refuse," said Professor Young, smiling.

Professor Gilford Young and Professor Charles Jenkins spent the next couple days visiting with a small parade of the Young clan and enjoying the hospitality of Cousin Nate on the old farm. Jenkins wasn’t much of a smoker, but even he had to admit that Grandpa Clem’s special stock of pipe tobacco was a uniquely enjoyable fumigant.

Finally, having eaten more deep-fried okra than could possibly have been healthy, the pair set off for their ultimate destination, The Snodderly Charity Hospital and Lunatic Asylum – Appalachia’s own little Bedlam. As their truck rumbled along the mountain roads, Jenkins commented, "Well, at least the place has nice scenery for a nut-house."

"Yeah, its hard to beat the views in this part of the country," Professor Young agreed. "Unfortunately, the view is one of the few benefits of the area. People in this area tend to have a pretty tough life. My family has been pretty lucky compared to a lot of the people in the surrounding hill country. One of the worse things about this area is all the malaria. The mosquitoes get so thick with all these backwoods rivers and streams its almost impossible to control."

"Hm," said Professor Jenkins, "you know, there’s been some conjecture that the larger empires that managed to form in sub-Saharan Africa may have managed to control malaria by carefully modifying water levels in their areas via dam building. Basically, they flooded out the mosquito larvae during the proper seasons to control the pestilence."

"Interesting idea," replied Professor Young, "But I can’t see anyone bothering to do much large scale dam building in this area. However, if I happen across a gaggle of bored hydrological engineers I’ll remember to mention the notion. At any rate, most of the inmates at Snodderly aren’t there because of mosquitoes. Badly brewed doses of moonshine tend to be the most common malefactor in cases of mental illness around here."

"Well, I don’t think moonshine was the culprit in the case we’re going to be looking at," responded Professor Jenkins, "I can’t imagine that bad shots of hooch tend to cause many cases of ranting in dead languages."

"Heh, you obviously haven’t sampled some of the region’s finer vintages," chided Young, "A couple mugs of some of that stuff might add a new dialect or two to your vocabulary."

Upon arriving at the Snodderly Charity Hospital and Lunatic Asylum, the professors were greeted by the establishment’s chief psychiatric physician, Dr. Gertmoore. Unfortunately, Dr. Gertmoore greeted them with rather unwelcome tidings.

"I’m terribly sorry that you traveled all this way for nothing," said Dr. Gertmoore regretfully, "We were all shocked by the patient’s escape. It was completely unexpected, she had shown no signs whatsoever of intending to flee."

"Had anyone mentioned that we were coming to see her?" asked Professor Jenkins.

"No, only myself and a few of my assistants knew that you were coming," replied Dr. Gertmoore, "No one that knew of your impending arrival had had any contact with her aside from myself. Of course, I can’t really see why she would have wanted to avoid meeting the two of you, I’m sure that she would have had no idea who you were. But, at any rate, I’m sure I didn’t mention you to her."

"How did she manage to escape?" asked Professor Young.

"Well, it seems that she had some help," stated Dr. Gertmoore, "There were some odd tracks outside of the window of her cell. Then, of course, there was the strange way in which the window’s bars were removed. It was obvious that she hadn’t managed that on her own."

"How were the window’s bars removed?" asked Professor Jenkins.

"Well, I’ll let you take a look at them yourself," replied Dr. Gertmoore as the group entered the room of the erstwhile patient. Dr. Gertmoore motioned towards the strangely warped and stained metal stubs that protruded from the stone window casement. "Its fairly obvious that the metal was weakened by some sort of chemical agent. You can still smell the substance rather strongly here by the window."

"Yes, some sort of extremely acidic substance" agreed Jenkins, "My God! Those tracks outside the window, what made those? Those look like claw marks! Rather huge claw marks!"

"Yes, it appears that they are claw marks, although I’m not sure what kind of creature would leave prints like those. If you look carefully, you’ll note that there are two pairs of human foot prints as well," Dr. Gertmoore continued, "There are a pair of boot prints and a pair that appear to be made by some sort of soft footwear."

"Soft footwear? Like socks?" asked Professor Young in disbelief.

"More likely some sort of soft sandal or moccasin," replied Jenkins, examining the tracks. "The heel on one of the boots is oddly shaped, as if its been eaten away by something."

"They must have spilled a bit of their acid on their boot," replied Dr. Gertmoore.

"Sounds likely," agreed Professor Young, "Have the authorities talked to the girls family and friends yet? Do you know if any of them would have access to strong acids?"

"Or access to creatures with really big claws?" added Jenkins, gesturing to the strange animal tracks.

"Reynie, that’s the girl’s name, Reynie Wheaton, she’s from up in the hills, not too far from here. It’s a pretty isolated little area up there, so she doesn’t know too many people. Her family brought her here, and she doesn’t really have any friends to speak of. So far, the sheriff hasn’t come up with anyone that would be likely to have come and helped her escape," Dr. Gertmoore said.

"And since she’s not the type of inmate that would be dangerous, I suppose there’s not a lot of effort being put into tracking her down," stated Young.

"Ah, yes, I’m afraid that is the case," conceded Gertmoore, "As to the acid or creature that made these tracks, neither of those things are really common in this area. At least, I hope the thing that made those tracks isn’t common around here…"

"You’re sure that she escaped?" queried Professor Jenkins, "I mean, are you sure that these tracks weren’t made by people that came here to kidnap her?"

"Well, I suppose that’s a possibility," replied Dr. Gertmoore, "However, its much more common for inmates in mental hospitals to escape than for them to be kidnapped."

Professor Jenkins nodded, then replied, "Yes, I can imagine. However, from the little I’ve seen of the documented paroxysmal verbalizations of this patient, I have reason to suspect that there are people that might have a rather fervid interest in her. I don’t suppose you have had anyone other than the pair of us inquire into this case?"

"There has only been one other inquiry. A strange little man named Dr. Haden. He came here all the way from Belgium. He was most interested in witnessing one of Reynie’s attacks. He claimed that there was a case back in Europe that was similar," stated Dr. Gertmoore.

"Really?" asked Professor Young, "That’s interesting. Did he have a chance to observe one of her fits?"

"Yes," replied Gertmoore, rather hesitantly, "however, he was rather disappointed by what he heard. For some reason, he kept on inquiring regarding her specific phrasing with regard to the star Betelgeuse. Of course, due to the season, Betelgeuse isn’t currently visible during the nighttime hours. I showed him phrases that I had earlier recorded that seemed connected to that specific star, and he seemed rather excited. However, he didn’t share any insights with me."

"Did you actually check into the credentials of this Dr. Haden?" inquired Professor Jenkins.

"Well, Dr. Haden had mentioned a number of articles that he had authored that had been published in various professional journals," answered Dr. Gertmoore, "I made an effort to peruse several of those articles prior to his arrival, mostly just so that I would have a familiarity with his work. I can attest to the fact that his work has actually appeared in several publications."

"He didn’t say anything odd while he was here that seemed at all suspicious?" asked Professor Jenkins.

"Well, nothing terribly suspicious," replied Gertmoore in a slightly doubtful tone, "Although, I must admit that his accent seemed more like that of an Eastern European rather than a Belgian. I have some relatives in the Low Countries that I’ve visited several times, so I’m rather familiar with the Belgian accent, both the Francophone and the Flemish. I have to admit that I couldn’t place Dr. Haden’s brogue."

"Interesting," replied Jenkins, "You mentioned that you have some records of the patient’s utterances during past attacks. Would you mind if we took a look at them?"

"Not at all!" said Dr. Gertmoore, "Its the least I can do for you after you traveled all this way."

As Dr. Gertmoore led the way to the record room, Professor Young quietly conferred with Professor Jenkins, "You think that this Dr. Haden is an imposter? Why would someone do such a thing in a case like this?"

Professor Jenkins quietly replied to his companion, "Its a possibility, I hope its not the case, but in a situation like this, its frightfully likely."

"Likely? How so?" queried Young.

"Well, it’s mostly the simple fact that Miss Wheaton appears to be speaking in R’lyehian that would attract a certain amount of malignant attention. If she is actually innocent of any association with the cult groups I’ve mentioned, then there is a likelihood that those same groups will suspect that she is being used as some sort of communication channel by a supernatural entity," Jenkins stated. "In that case, I suspect that they would be quite eager to spirit her off to some private location so that they could determine exactly what messages she is delivering."

"Here we are!" declared Dr. Gertmoore as he unlocked a door marked ‘Records’. He turned a switch that caused a long bank of bulbs to glare into life along the ceiling of the room. The chamber was long and thin, looking almost like more of a hallway than room. Along it’s entire length both of its walls were lined with filing cabinets.

Gertmoore didn’t hesitate at all, apparently being quite familiar with the record room. He briskly walked down the long corridor-like room for a few moments, then stopped, knelt down, an pulled open one of the innumerable drawers.

He pulled one especially thick folder free of the drawer, glanced through it, and then stated, "Here’s her file. Let’s find someplace a little more comfortable to go over it."

Dr. Gertmoore quickly led the small group back to his office. Once there, he paged through the file and carefully extracted a small sheaf of notes. Placing the papers before Professor Young he said, "Here are all the notes that I’ve made concerning the vocalizations of Miss Wheaton. I think you’ll find that the quality of my notations improved over time. The more I heard of the noises she was making, the more I became adept at recording them. You’ll also note that about halfway through those notes is when I began recording the specific star that she had seen. Prior to that point, I had not yet noticed the correlation between the stars that were visible in her window and the patterns in her verbalizations."

Both Professor Young and Professor Jenkins began to scan through the notes before them. After several moments, Professor Jenkins asked, "Would it be all right if I was to make copies of some of these phrases? I don’t think it will be necessary to copy everything."

"Feel free," replied Gertmoore. He pulled some blank paper and pens out of his desk and offered them to his visitors. "If you don’t mind, I’m going to go look in on a couple patients while you take care of that."

After Dr. Gertmoore made his departure, Jenkins instructed, "If we can just get one copy of a phrase for each star we should be fine. However, we have to make sure that we get the phrase for Betelgeuse. In fact, if we can find a couple different records regarding Betelgeuse, we might want to make a copy of each."

"What’s so important about Betelgeuse?" inquired Professor Young.

"I’m not sure," admitted Professor Jenkins, "However, if ‘Doctor’ Haden thought Betelgeuse was important, I suspect that we should pay special attention to it as well."

The pair scribbled madly for a quarter of an hour or so before Professor Young paused to rub his wrists and flex his fingers. "So, do you understand any of this gibberish?" he asked.

"Very little actually," confessed Jenkins, "However, I have a couple of acquaintances that might. Once we get back to the inn I’m planning on making some calls. With luck, we may be able to actually figure some of this out."

"You know, if we do learn something, we really should share it with Dr. Gertmoore," said Young.

"If you like," replied Jenkins, "However, if the things she is saying are anything like what I suspect they might be, I doubt that Dr. Gertmoore will find them very helpful. In fact, odds are that anything she is saying in R’lyehian is simply more likely to increase the length of her confinement her – provided they ever get her back."

 

Several hours later, Professor Jenkins came down the narrow stairs of the local hotel and entered the Spartan dining room that formed most of the first floor of the establishment. Professor Young was already seated. It was apparent that he had had ample time to select their table as he was sitting at the least wobbly one the inn had to offer. Moreover, he had apparently had time to order up a pair of helpings of the evening special. Jenkins was glad he hadn’t tarried long enough to allow his meal to grow cold.

"So, did any of your calls bear fruit?" Young inquired as Professor Jenkins joined him.

"Yes," replied Jenkins dispiritedly, "However, it was like fruit from the Tree of Zaqqum, unfortunately."

Noting Professor Young’s blank look, Professor Jenkins continued, "Sorry, I guess the Koran isn’t on the reading list for the Psychology Department curriculum. Suffice to say, the news is bad."

"Bad in what way?" asked Professor Young, looking slightly confused.

"Well, you remember that ‘Doctor’ Haden was especially interested in what Reynie had to say about Betelgeuse?" replied Professor Jenkins, "Well, it appears that there is something rather special about Betelgeuse. Moreover, it appears that Reynie may have had some especially momentous information to disclose regarding the inhabitants of that star system."

Professor Young remained silent, regarding Jenkins with a somewhat professionally appraising mien.

Jenkins pursed his lips and snorted at his associate. "Stop sizing me up for a straight jacket Young," he grumbled, "I know this all sounds crazy, but there are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

Professor Young arched an eyebrow cynically and replied, "OK, supposing that there is some possibility that an unbalanced, unlettered, rustic young woman, via some miraculous means, actually possesses some information regarding the inhabitants of this distance star system – what possible effect could this information have on us or anyone on our world? I’m not an expert in the field of astronomy, but as I understand it, a star such as Betelgeuse would be situated a nearly unimaginably long distance away. How could anything so remote produce any effect that could truly be considered either bad or good by our reckoning?"

"Well, you would be willing to concede that, despite the great distances involved, we are still able to perceive rays of light that originated from that star, would you not?" asked Professor Jenkins.

"Yes, of course," agreed Young.

"…And you are also aware of the existence of radiations such a radio signals and Roentgen rays that seem to travel in manner similar to visible light, yet produce other effects, are you not?" Professor Jenkins continued.

"Well, yes…" agreed Young, with a slight tone of hesitancy.

"So, as such known currents are able to impinge upon our world from across such immeasurable spans, are you truly able to declare with absolute certainty that there are not as-of-yet undiscovered influences that might also work some manner of like causatum?" concluded Jenkins.

"So, you are saying that this bad news concerns some sort of mystery rays that are being shot at us from Betelgeuse?" inquired Young aporetically.

"Well, no," responded Jenkins somewhat contritely, "Its actually somewhat more convoluted of a situation. As I understand it, there are certain entities that dwell within the Betelgeuse system whose existence is somehow fairly essential for the continued well-being of our world. The associates that I have so far consulted in regards to the utterances of Reynie Wheaton all seem to believe that the phrase she speaks in relation to Betelgeuse reveals certain information that may be detrimental to the entities. However, as Dr. Gertmoore’s transcription of her ravings was rather imprecise, the specifics of the detrimental information aren’t quite clear. This is actually rather fortuitous for us. The malefactors that have abducted Miss Wheaton were no doubt also unable to translate Dr. Gertmoore’s notes. If Miss Wheaton can be recovered before Betelgeuse is once again visible in the night sky, they can be prevented from ever learning the exact phrase. I believe that this should give us about a week in which to accomplish her rescue."

Professor Young regarded his companion with an especially bewildered expression for several moments. Finally he responded, "I’m sorry Jenkins, but I’m afraid you’ve completely lost me. I’m not at all sure that I’m understanding your meaning. How are these beings essential to us? What kind of information would be detrimental to them? And when you say we have a week in which to accomplish her rescue, you don’t actually mean ‘we’ as in ‘you and I’ do you?"

"Well, I’ll try to give a more comprehensive, and hopefully comprehendible, explanation," replied Jenkins, "However, in regards to the use of the word ‘we’, I do mean ‘you’ and ‘I’ – but not exclusively you and I. I strongly suspect that the local law enforcement officials will not be prepared to face the genre of felon that most likely perpetrated this misdeed. If you are not emphatically opposed to the notion, I would suggest that we offer our services as consulting experts in the fields of abnormal psychology and occult religiosity. I’m fairly sure that we could be a valuable asset to the authorities in this case."

"I’m not so sure that a backwoods sheriff is going to be especially keen on the concept of taking advice from any sort of ‘consulting experts’, but I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to offer," said Professor Young, "But if you start talking about entities from other star systems and magical beams and such, don’t expect things to go well."

"Duly noted," replied Jenkins, "I’ve already taken the liberty of checking with the proprietor of this establishment, the county seat is a few miles to the south of here, that’s where the sheriff’s office is located. Do you have any idea how long your cousin Nate will let us keep his truck?"

"I’m sure Nate won’t miss the old heap for a few weeks," replied Professor Young as sat back, pushing his emptied platter away from himself. "If you’re done eating, we should probably turn in early. We can head out in the morning and hopefully make it down to the county seat in time to catch the sheriff still in his office."

"Sounds like a reasonable course of action," responded Jenkins.

"However," continued Young, with a slightly demeritorious glint in his eye, "before we retire, lets allow ourselves the luxury of another couple of pipefulls of Grandpa Clem’s special stock."

"If you like," replied Jenkins agreeably, "Of course, you should recall that your tin is the last of its kind. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather save it for special occasions?"

"Well, yes, I would rather save it," answered Young, "Unfortunately, that would entail practicing a level of self-control that I simply do not feel like exercising at this particular moment. I quite plainly hear the tin calling to me and my will is not my own."

Jenkins smirked and stated, "That tin had best learn to curb its tongue or it will not be long for this world. Nevertheless, lead on my undisciplined friend."

In short order, the two academics were outside, leaning against the begrimed side of their vehicle, languorously enveloping themselves in a cloud of aromatic smoke.

"I wonder why your Grandfather would be able to grow this particular stock of pipeweed while your cousin Nate would find it so pertinacious?" wondered Professor Jenkins.

"Well, I can’t really offer any sensible explanations," replied his compatriot as he exhaled a small cloud. "However, I can relate a rather ridiculous explanation."

Professor Jenkins smiled and replied, "When there are no sensible explanations for a phenomenon, then one must confer merit to the seemingly ridiculous."

"Well, you can confer merit if you like," answered Young, "However, I suspect you are more likely to consider this tale to be little more than laughably daffy."

Professor Young then continued, "Grandpa Clem was always sort of a strange old codger. He migrated over from the old country when he was rather young and his voyage was basically fraught with tragedy. The ship upon which his family was sailing fell victim to some manner of plague. He was the only surviving member of his family to see the shores of America."

"Well, that would go a long way towards explaining any sort of irregularities in his thought processes I would suppose," commiserated Professor Jenkins, "Events such as that would adversely affect any young man’s sanity. It would be a terrible thing to lose everyone you know and have to start a new life all by yourself in a strange, new land."

"True," agreed Professor Young, "However, Grandpa Clem always insisted that he didn’t disembark from that ship unaccompanied. He claimed that, despite the loss of his family, he was still accompanied by a cadre of friends that had followed his family. He claimed that when his family decided to emigrate, a small host of friendly ‘little folk’ had decided to follow along."

"I suppose that this was a form of subconscious compensation for the loss of his family?" speculated Jenkins.

"One would think so," answered Young, "However, Grandpa Clem always had the most incredible luck with a variety of undertakings. He always credited his successes to his little friends."

"Interesting," said Jenkins, "that story is somewhat reminiscent of the tales told by Cornish miners regarding Tommyknockers."

"Tommyknockers?" inquired Young.

"According to the men who work as miners in the Cornwall and Wales areas, Tommyknockers, or Coblynau as they are sometimes known, are a race of diminutive beings that live unseen within the mines," explained Professor Jenkins, "The Cornish and Welsh miners claim that when a mine cave-in is imminent, the Tommyknockers knock on the walls of the mine to warn the miners to get out. However, the aspect of the Tommyknockers stories that makes them especially similar to your Grandfather’s claims is that the Cornish miners that came to work in America aver that some of the Tommyknockers came with them. One other interesting and related fact is that Cornish miners are known to be more likely to escape mine disasters here than people of other ethnic backgrounds. They claim they are aided in their survival of mining accidents via the warnings given by the Tommyknockers."

Professor Young shrugged and said, "Well, maybe they did bring some friends, who am I to say such a thing is impossible? There is one other bit of Grandpa Clem’s ‘little folk’ tales that is especially odd. Apparently, I had an uncle named Corry, (one of Clem’s sons), that disappeared as a young boy. No one ever discovered what became of him, but Grandpa Clem always claimed that Corry had disappeared because he could see the ‘little folk’ and had followed them into their hills. He always claimed that Corry was alive and well and happily living beneath the hills in the kingdom of the fae folk of this area. Grandpa Clem also said that he had made the fairies promise to hide from the rest of his family so that he wouldn’t lose any more kin that way."

"What do you make of that?" asked Jenkins.

"I suppose Grandpa Clem just made up that story to comfort the rest of the family," stated Young, "No doubt Corry had fallen into a swollen creek and been swept away or something. Still, the family always set out little gifts for Corry on his birthday; Grandpa Clem said the fairies would bring them to him. On one of those nights when the family set out Corry’s gifts, I snuck out and watched to see if Grandpa Clem was going to come and collect them up. I stayed up all night, but never saw Grandpa Clem go near the packages. A little before dawn, though, the packages all just disappeared. Damnedest thing…"

Professor Jenkins chuckled and said, "Sounds like they may be sizing up a nice straitjacket for you too one of these days, Young. I’m sure that seeing ‘little folk’ could get you a nice little padded room at the Snodderly."

Rather than retorting with some amiable jibe, Professor Young remained silent, his attention obviously fixed on some object near the other side of the parking area.

"Um, you’re not going to try to tell me that you are actually seeing one of the little buggers right now, are you Young?" asked Jenkins, somewhat sardonically.

"No, but I do see something rather amazing," replied Young as he suddenly began to walk quickly across the muddy lot. "Look here, near these weeds, see that footprint? Look at the heel; it’s just like that print we saw at the asylum! The one outside of the window!"

Professor Jenkins quickly scanned the area and said, "Here’s another one just like it. There’s another footprint nearby that looks like it was made by someone wearing soft footwear. No big claw marks around here though…"

"The people that took Reynie Wheaton must have stopped here!" exclaimed Professor Young, "Maybe they’re even still here!"

The two academics hastened within the hotel and located the innkeeper, a portly fellow called Bull Swain. "Hmm", intoned Bull, considering the questions that were put to him, "I don’t rightly recall no one with a bad heel on their boot, but then I don’t spend much time lookin at folks’ feet. Someone wearing soft shoes though, I bet that would have been that strange Indian feller that was here the day before. I think he was wearin them moccasins some Indians wear. He had a nasty lookin little white guy with him, that might have been the one with the bad boot."

"Do you know their names or where they went?" asked Professor Young.

"The Indian didn’t give a name. The little guy just said his name was Smith. Like as not he was lyin if he was up to something rotten. Strangest thing about the two, though, is that they spent a lot of time talking to an educated lookin foreign-type feller. Actually, seemed more like they were arguin a lot of time. That foreigner said his name was Haden," Bull continued. "Those two and Haden left in different directions, though. I don’t know if they actually knew each other or if they just happened to get to visitin."

The professors exchanged meaningful looks at the mention of the name Haden, each recalling the "Dr. Haden" that had visited Reynie Wheaton at the Snodderly Asylum. "Which direction did the Indian and his friend head in?" asked Professor Jenkins.

"They went southwards," Bull replied, "and they were driving a big gray truck, if that helps any. I don’t know what it was that they had in that truck, they kept it closed up tight all the time, but some of the other guests said they heard weird noises coming from it. A couple of them thought there might be some sort of big animal in it. The Haden fellow had a hired car that took him to the train station. I think he was supposed to be taking the train back up north."

The professors thanked their host for his helpful information and returned to the parking area. "I’m guessing the thing with the big claws was probably in the back of the truck," offered Young, "I supposed they might have stuck Reynie back there too."

"I think that we should set out for the county seat tonight," stated Jenkins. "This information should get to the Sheriff as soon as possible."

Dr. Young concurred and the two men were soon piloting their somewhat dilapidated conveyance southwards, dodging the obstacles that littered the rural roadway as best they could in the fading light. However, they were soon brought to a halt as they found themselves approaching what appeared to be the scene of an accident. A tow truck driver and several other men stood in the twilight, regarding several vehicles in various states of ruin.

Most prominent of the damaged vehicles was a large gray truck that was turned over on its side. The next most noticeable vehicle was a police cruiser with a smashed windshield and strangely corroded sections across its hood and grill. Another car had apparently veered off the opposite side of the road and gone a small distance down a brush-covered embankment.

Professor Young pulled their pick up over to the side and the professors got out to speak with the assembled men.

"Hi," Professor Young said as they approached, "What happened here?"

The local men nodded to the newcomers, then one of them responded, "Not sure exactly. Seems that this here truck went off the road and the sheriff happened to come by and stopped. Then some sort of animal must have attacked the sheriff and killed him. Another fella got killed too."

"Good lord, how horrible," said Professor Jenkins, "Did anyone see it happen?"

"Well, Shem Parker says he saw something. That’s his car over there, down the hill a bit. But when he went off the road he hit his head, and he ain’t making a whole lot of sense. He says that he saw some big lizard attacking the sheriff before he went off the road," replied the local man.

"A big lizard? That sort of sounds right judging by these big claw marks on the ground around here," said Jenkins, indicating tracks very similar to those that had been found at the Snodderly Asylum, "You think that this Shem fellow is confused just because he claims it was a big lizard?"

The local man shrugged and replied, "Well, that ain’t all Shem said. He also said that there were two men and a lady there and one of the men seemed to be telling the lizard what to do by hissin at it. Shem couldn’t see exactly what was happening after he went off the road, but he swears that it seemed like that was what was happening."

"What happened to the people and their lizard?" inquired Professor Young.

"Shem says that they somehow got another truck to stop and then they had their lizard attack and kill the feller driving the truck. They drove off in the truck after that," the man stated, pointing off down the road.

"Has anyone gone after these people?" asked Professor Jenkins.

"Well, that would have been the Sheriff’s job," the man answered, "Seein as how he’s dead now, I suppose we had better get together some men to try and look for them. Nobody has done that yet though."

"There’s no deputy?" asked Young.

"No, not much usually happens around here so the Sheriff didn’t really need a deputy. If something came up where he needed some help he’ld usually just ask some men to help out," the man replied.

Professor Young nodded then said, "Well, I suppose we had better get going, thanks."

Back in the truck, Professor Jenkins asked his companion, "Well, it looks like finding the sheriff isn’t much of a plan anymore. What do you think we should do next?"

Professor Young put the truck into gear and maneuvered around the accident scene as he replied, "I’m thinking that we should follow this road into the next county and try to contact the Sheriff for that area. Unless, of course, we happened across Reynie’s abductors and their pet lizard before we get to the next county."

Jenkins looked slightly alarmed at the thought and asked, "What are you planning on doing if we do happen across them?"

"Well, try not to get eaten I suppose," replied Young. Then he continued, "While we have some time, why don’t you try to give me that more comprehensive explanation about these Betelgeuse people that you promised?"

Professor Jenkins smirked slightly then said, "Well, I can try to explain to you what I know of them, but everything I can tell you is, quite frankly, mostly theoretical. A lot of this will be information that has been pieced together from various sources; some of these sources are ancient writings where the translation work is still quite open to debate. Some of the other sources are occult materials written by people whose level of sanity is rather impugnable."

"All right," replied Young, "tell me whatever you think is most likely to be correct then."

Jenkins nodded then began, "The entities that live somewhere around the star called Betelgeuse are known by a variety of names in the writings that mention them, or seem to be referring to them. However, its seems that the best-informed sources tend to refer to them as the Elder Gods. These Elder Gods are generally portrayed as being engaged in some sort of nearly eternal power struggle against another group of beings that are most often referred to as the Ancient Ones, or something similar."

"Ok, Elder Gods versus Ancient Ones," commented Professor Young, "I think I’m following you so far. Where are these Ancient Ones at? Are they on Betelgeuse too?"

"No," answered Jenkins, "the Ancient Ones seem to be sort of scattered around between various stars and dimensions. However, it seems that a preponderant number of them may actually be here on Earth."

"I see," replied Professor Young, "are these men that kidnapped Reynie Wheaton some of these Ancient Ones then?"

"No, I’m sure that these men are simply cultists that worship the Ancient Ones. The Ancient Ones are semi-divine beings that would tend to stick out in a crowd. They tend to be enormous and have tentacles and huge claws and such. For the most part, the Ancient Ones are bound by some sort of mystical energies that the Elder Gods have used to contain them. The primary exceptions seem to be a being named Dagon and another called Nyarlahotep. Those two seem to be able to personally take action on occasion. There are most probably others able to take action as well, but they are not as well documented."

"Hm, so then we are trying to help the Elder Gods and thwart the minions of the Ancient Ones?" inquired Professor Young, "I’m guessing that this means that the Elder Gods are the ‘good guys’ and the Ancient Ones are the ‘bad guys’?"

"That seems to be the most common viewpoint adopted by those knowledgeable in this area," replied Professor Jenkins, "Although, my own research has indicated that the situation may not be so clear cut."

"How so?" asked Young.

"Well, I would say that it may be more accurate to say that humanity’s current interests are more in line with those of the Elder Gods than with those of the Ancient Ones. However, I strongly suspect that if our interests were not aligned with those of the Elder Gods, the Elder Gods might not hesitate to sweep humanity aside like so much inconvenient detritus."

"Wonderful," commented Professor Young sarcastically, "Your lectures are great morale builders. Are you sure that we should even be bothering to get involved in this situation?"

"Yes, I would say we should," replied Jenkins, "If the Ancient Ones fully gain the upper hand in their struggle against the Elder Gods, it is likely that they would destroy humanity once they are free to do as they please."

"But you think the Elder Gods would do the same?" asked Young.

"Not exactly," replied Jenkins, "I don’t think that the Elder Gods have any particular reason to destroy humanity at the moment. I suspect that they have had reason to do so in the past, however."

"What makes you suspect that?" inquired Professor Young.

"I’m sure that you are familiar with the commonly told story of Noah’s Ark and the great flood," stated Professor Jenkins, "have you ever heard any of the other versions of the stories of a great flood that are recorded by various ancient cultures?"

"Ah no," replied Professor Young, "I didn’t realize there were any other stories of that sort. I had always just assumed it was a silly bible tale. Are you saying that there actually was such a flood? How could that be possible? Where would enough water come from to flood the entire world? And where did it all go to afterwards?"

"Well, I don’t think it is entirely correct to say that the whole world was completely flooded," answered Professor Jenkins, "My research indicates that the very highest mountains probably never were submerged. As for where the water came from and where it went, that is sort of complicated. It appears that about 10,000 or 12,000 years ago, the world was a lot colder and much of the water that is now in the oceans was then frozen into large sheets of ice. There was a massive ice sheet over much of North America at the time. The Elder Gods caused this ice sheet to melt rapidly, sending a huge rush of water into the surrounding oceans. The incredible rush of water caused the oceans all around the world to sort of ‘slosh’ up onto all the continents, thus producing a world wide flood and wiping out most of humanity. After the oceans had calmed, the continents as we now know them dried out, but much of the ancient world remains underwater. The ocean levels rose by about 100 feet. I believe the ruined cities of many ancient civilizations now lie several fathoms down along the continental shelves."

"Ancient cities from 10,000 years ago? I wasn’t aware of any ruins that were considered to be that old. If there are cities that old that are now underwater, how come we haven’t found any that are still up here on dry land?" inquired Professor Young.

"Well, if most of the world’s water was locked up in ice, the world would have been much drier. Most of the readily available water would have been in the low-lying areas, as water tends to flow downhill. Thus, any large cities that existed at that time would have been built in the lowlands, near the water. The lands that are now above sea level would have been too dry to support any large settlements. Thus, when the waters rose, the civilized world was completely flooded," explained Professor Jenkins.

"How did the Elder Gods melt all of that ice so fast?" asked Professor Young.

"Well, if you look at a map of North America, you can see a line of large lakes across the northern section that sort of resemble massive impact scars. I’m speaking of Great Bear Lake, Great Slave Lake, Lake Winnipeg, and the five Great Lakes. I believe that the Elder Gods caused some sort of extremely hot, huge objects to strike all across the ice sheet. I think that triggered the great meltdown," answered Jenkins.

"I see," said Professor Young, "Speaking of floods, it looks like we are starting to get a bit of a down-pour ourselves. If this rain gets any heavier we may need to pull over. Anyhow, back to the subject, why did they decide to cause the big flood? What made them want to kill off humanity?"

"Surprisingly enough," replied Jenkins, "Hebraic scriptures actually probably contain a hint at the true motive behind the attack. The canonical text that refers to the event, the sixth chapter of Genesis, makes somewhat vague and confusing references to ‘Sons of God’ mating with human women and giving birth to giants or heroes. Then it goes off to give the impression that the flood was sent because mankind had become too wicked. However, there is another ancient Hebraic text that was not included in the Christian scriptures that goes into much greater detail regarding the activities of the so-called ‘Sons of God’, this text is called the Book of Enoch. The Book of Enoch makes it clear that the flood was sent to wipe out a race of powerful half-breed humans that had been bred by the ‘Sons of God’. It wasn’t so much humanity and its wickedness that was the target, it was this half-human race that someone apparently felt was a threat."

"In addition," Jenkins continued, "the Book of Enoch claimed that the ‘Sons of God’ taught humanity a variety of subjects that also caused men to become more powerful in their own right. These teachings included such dangerous topics as making weaponry, using magic, and how to properly apply eye-shadow…"

"Eye-shadow?" asked Professor Young.

"Yeah, strangely enough, cosmetics were apparently invented by these mysterious ‘Sons of God’," answered Jenkins, "Or perhaps Enoch just disliked make-up and decided to add it to the list of evil things men learned, who knows? At any rate, I suspect that mankind’s willingness to accept knowledge from these beings may have been the true ‘Fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’ that supposedly caused the fall of man. I think that the legend of the Garden of Eden was simply an allegorical tale that sprung from the activities of these ‘Sons of God’."

"What exactly were these ‘Sons of God’ supposed to be?" asked Young.

"Enoch claimed that they were something called ‘Grigori’ or Watchers, and that they were a variety of Angel that went bad. However, I suspect that these ‘angels’ were not anything like the modern conception of good-looking people with wings. From the Garden of Eden legend, and throughout the rest of the scriptures, serpents are a peculiar combination of symbolism for both temptation and knowledge. This is a theme that is echoed in ancient texts from around the world. In a wide range of ancient societies there were records of serpent or dragon-like creatures that emerged from the oceans and taught man a variety of skills. I think that these aquatic reptilians were the ‘Sons of God’ mentioned in Genesis."

"That sounds pretty far-fetched," stated Professor Young, "Of course, the whole topic is fairly bizarre. You don’t actually believe that ancient humans cross-bred with reptilians from the ocean do you?"

"Yes," answered Jenkins, "and I don’t think that the deluge managed to eliminate the practice either. I’m sure that you’ve heard of Sodom and Gomorrah, I believe that those cities were attacked for practicing the same type of cross-breeding."

"Oh, come now," chuckled Professor Young, "everyone knows that Sodom was supposed to have been incinerated for practicing rampant buggery."

"Well, that has become a common misperception," replied Professor Jenkins, "Actually, the texts are really quite nebulous on the subject of Sodom’s great sin. The term used to describe their actions was ‘yadha’. This seems to have some sexual connotation, but its exact meaning isn’t known. The term commonly used for sexually immoralities, such as homosexuality or bestiality, in the Old Testament was ‘shakhabh’. Shakhabh is used over fifty times in the scriptures, so it is very odd that this ‘yadha’ suddenly appears in the context of Sodom and Gomorrah. In another passage, it states that the people of Sodom gave themselves over to fornication with ‘strange flesh’. Once again, the term ‘strange flesh’ is extremely mysterious. However, I have personally happened across passages in other ancient texts, which have recently been discovered by archeologists, that use similar phrasing. Those texts are quite plainly speaking of people having intercourse with demons. Sodom’s great sin was not buggery, but cross-breeding with non-human, sentient races."

"In fact, there was an interesting pattern to Sodom and Gomorrah’s rise and fall. Those cities suddenly became quite wealthy for no apparent reason, their people became extremely insular and hostile to strangers, rumors arose about strange sexual activities, and neighboring communities began to regard them with utmost suspicion. Disturbingly enough," continued Jenkins, "this pattern, among other things, has lead me to believe that certain communities of modern humans are, quite possibly, still engaging in actives of this sort, albeit much more stealthily. You’ve heard of the ‘Innsmouth look’ haven’t you? There are people today that are, quite conceivably, not exactly genetically wholesome."

Young glanced over at his companion with a skeptical expression. "I’ll admit that the Innsmouth clans tend to have rather grotesque features, but I think it is extremely unlikely they inherited their looks from fish-people."

"Well, maybe you should go spend some time in Innsmouth. I think you would be rather unpleasantly surprised at what you would discover." muttered Jenkins darkly.

Young snorted derisively and replied, "Why would some sea creatures want to breed with humans anyway? And why would entities on another world care if they did?"

"I’m not exactly clear on the reasons behind these activities," admitted Professor Jenkins, "However, for the Elder Gods to see it as a threat, I can only assume that it could somehow lead to the release of the Ancient Ones."

"So did Noah actually worship the Elder Gods then? Is that why they saved him?" asked Young.

"Actually, I don’t think the Elder Gods actually tipped off Noah, or anyone, about the flood. The Hebrew texts are the only version that claims that the deity that caused the flood was the same deity that saved the Noah-type character. The Babylonian texts actually state that it was a deity very similar to Dagon that instructed Utnapishtim, (their version of Noah), to build the ark. The Hindu version state that their Noah, Manu, was warned by a giant horned sea creature named Matsya that actually towed the boat to the Himalayas. Frankly, it appears that it was Dagon that gave the warning, not the Elder Gods," said Jenkins.

"I’m not exactly clear on why you insist on this whole alternative theology to explain a Bible story," stated Professor Young, "I mean really, when you come right down to it, how are these so-called ‘Elder Gods’ different from Jehovah? Aren’t the Ancient Ones just another name for the Christian Lucifer?"

"Actually, in a certain sense, the Elder Gods are sort of the same as Jehovah. However, it would more accurate to say they impersonated him rather than that they were actually him," responded Jenkins, "You remember that I mentioned that one of the Ancient Ones that tended to be the most active was named Dagon? This is actually the same Dagon that is mentioned in the Bible. This Dagon is probably the main reason that the Christians worship an entity named ‘Jehovah’."

"Please explain," requested Young in a aporetic tone.

"I believe that around 1200 BC or so, this Dagon being was becoming rather powerful in the Levant region of the ancient world. It seems that Dagon had once again interbred with humans and produced offspring that he then set up as God-king style rulers over a fairly powerful nation of seafarers called the Phoenicians. The Ba’al of Tyre appears to have been a sort of semi-divine ruler that was likely to champion a new empire that would give Dagon a dangerous amount of influence over that part of the world. As the situation was limited to a rather small region, it seems that the Elder Gods felt it wasn’t necessary to inundate the entire globe again, it appears they chose to pursue a more subtle course of action to counter this new threat," stated Professor Jenkins, "There was apparently some sort of demonic spirit that was widely regarded as Ba’al’s arch-enemy at that time. I’m not sure exactly what this thing was, perhaps some bad-tempered relative of Ithaqua. It appears that this entity could somehow cause storms. At any rate, the thing was called Yaw or Yahu. I believe that, since this Yahu entity was already a known enemy of Ba’al, the Elder Gods chose to impersonate Yahu and contact a human ‘prophet’ that they could then use to raise an army to unleash against the inhabitants of the Levant region. They found a convenient ‘prophet’ in a fugitive noble of Egypt named Moses and convinced him to lead a rebellion and march a huge mass of invaders across Sinai into the lands controlled by Dagon’s followers."

"So, you’re implying that this storm demon, Yahu, became the Jehovah that the Hebrews worshipped?" inquired Young, "Weren’t the Hebrews already worshipping Jehovah before the time of Moses, though?"

"If you take a close look at the earliest scriptures, you’ll see some confusion in the name of the God that the Jews venerated," replied Professor Jenkins, "At the beginning of Genesis, their god is continually referred to as Elohim, not Jehovah. This is especially interesting due to the fact that the ‘im’ suffix in Hebrew indicates that a word is plural. Apparently, the Hebrews weren’t originally monotheistic. Moreover, the ‘Eloh’ portion of their word of their deity is female; the male form would have just been ‘El’. The original descendants of Abraham actually apparently worshipped a pantheon of female deities. The Elder Gods, however, seem to have managed to convince Moses that this pantheon of female deities had actually just been Yahu all along. Of course, at that point in his life, Moses was pretty down on his luck and was likely to swallow just about anything that might give him a leg-up."

"I’m kind of surprised that this Yahu entity didn’t get rather upset at being impersonated," stated Young dryly, "one would think that it might end up causing problems eventually."

"Well, that’s exactly what happened!" replied Professor Jenkins cheerily, "There is a very strange section of Exodus in chapter four where Jehovah and Moses appear to be getting along quite well and then Jehovah suddenly shows up and tries to kill Moses. Near the beginning of the chapter, Jehovah is giving Moses instructions and Moses is carrying them out faithfully. Then, when Moses and his family stop at an inn, Jehovah supposedly shows up there and attacks Moses. Moses is saved when his wife cuts off a piece of flesh from their son and gives it to the angry Jehovah. Modern translators interpret this as God being angry because Moses had not circumcised his son. However, it is odd that Jehovah didn’t bother to mention the matter before just barreling in and trying to kill Moses over it. It appears much more likely that this was a rather upset Yahu showing up to kill Moses and ruin the plans of the beings that had been impersonating him. However, the blood sacrifice offered by Moses’ wife seems to have appeased it. Perhaps Yahu decided that obtaining worshippers under false pretenses would be tolerable so long as the followers made sacrifices to him."

"Interesting," replied Professor Young, "But if this storm demon was named ‘Yahu’, how did the Israelites end up worshipping him as Jehovah?"

"The Israelites didn’t actually refer to their god as ‘Jehovah’," answered Professor Jenkins, "In fact, they didn’t refer to their god by name at all. Speaking the name of their god was taboo for them; so taboo they killed anyone that dared do it. The only ones allowed to speak the so-called ineffable name were the priests, and they were only allowed to do so when in the Holy-of-Holies in their temple. When the Romans destroyed the Jewish temple and wiped out the priesthood, everyone that actually knew the true pronunciation of the Hebrew god’s name ended up dead. No one today really knows for sure how their god’s name sounded when spoken aloud."

"So why does everyone say his name is ‘Jehovah’ then?" inquired Young.

"The only remaining clue to the Hebraic god’s name that is known today is the fact that it consisted of four of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, Yod, He, Vau, and another He," Jenkins answered. "The ancient Hebrew language, or ‘Lashon ha-Kodesh’ as they call it, is an Abjad, meaning that it is written with no vowels. The vowels that are inserted between the consonants are generally assumed to be known by the reader. However, as no modern readers know what vowel sounds belong between the Yod, He, Vau, and He, the true pronunciation is a mystery. In fact, the exact sounds used for the consonants aren’t even clear in this case, as all of the letters in the name have some variations in their pronunciations."

Professor Jenkins elaborated, "So, if one picks certain pronunciations for the known letters, one arrives at the name ‘Jehovah’. However, the name ‘Yahu’ is another viable pronunciation. Personally, I sort of suspect that the real reason that the Hebrews enforced a taboo against speaking the name of their god was that they were rather keen to cover up the fact that they were worshipping an entity that was widely regarded as a particularly unpleasant demon."

Professor Jenkins then went on, "There are numerous passages that portray Jehovah as a rather bloody-minded storm god. The actions of Jehovah in much of the Old Testament are a perfect match for what might be expected from a being like Yahu. Jehovah ordered the Hebrews to wage a war of genocide against Yahu’s enemies. Jehovah slaughtered huge numbers of Jews just for simply complaining about rather mundane things while crossing the Sinai. In the second book of Samuel, King David described Jehovah as having smoke coming out of his nostrils and fire coming out of his mouth as he flies around throwing lightning bolts. If Jehovah isn’t Yahu the ill-tempered storm demon, he certainly does an excellent impression of him."

"As for the Ancient Ones being Lucifer, well, to be perfectly honest, the concept of Lucifer is completely fallacious. The idea of Lucifer being the adversary of Jehovah is due to a rather pathetic misinterpretation of some verses from the book of Isaiah. The Hebraic scriptures don’t actually ever mention anyone named Lucifer. The whole thing is nothing more than a myth based on a translator referring to the planet Venus via a name the Romans sometimes used for the planet, Lucifer. However, I think you would be completely correct in thinking that the Ancient Ones are synonymous with the ‘Serpent’ that the Hebraic scriptures mention repeatedly. I’m convinced that the ‘Serpent’ is either Dagon or one or more of his minions. Although, generally speaking, between the concepts of Lucifer, the ‘Serpent’, the Devil, and Satan, the scriptures get pretty confused. It’s nearly as bad as the confusion with Elohim and Jehovah. Of course, its hard to find any ancient belief system that lasted for thousands of years without getting rather murky in their details."

"Your theological beliefs are certainly extraordinary," commented Professor Young, "however, I can’t imagine that you’ll ever manage to convert many people to your particular dogma. Frankly, its a bit disturbing."

Professor Jenkins chuckled and replied, "When it comes to my theology, I think that the term ‘religious beliefs’ would be best supplanted with ‘religious suspicions’".

"So, no one actually knows who or what these Elder Gods are at all?" asked Professor Young.

"There are a lot of theories and guesses," admitted Jenkins, "It is commonly thought that at least a few of the old pagan gods were likely actually one of these Elder Gods. A fairly common opinion is that one of the major Elder Gods is the Babylonian deity Marduk. The vanquishing of the primeval goddess Tiamat by Marduk is often interpreted as a survival of the legendary battle between the Elder Gods and the Ancient Ones."

"However," continued Professor Jenkins, "I have my doubts about Marduk’s legitimacy as one of the Elder Gods. This is primarily due to two facts. First of all, Marduk is considered to be the son of another god named Ea, or Enki. Ea is a god that lives in the sea and who sent his servants to teach mankind a wide variety of skills. You might note the extreme similarity between the stories of Ea and Dagon. It seems very likely that Ea is simply an alternate name for Dagon. This would mean that Marduk would actually be another of Dagon’s half-breed offspring who was set up to rule as a God-king, just like Ba’al. This theory is further bolstered by the second fact, which is that in the very earliest versions of the legendary battle against Tiamat, it was not Marduk that fought and defeated her, it was Anu. Thus, it seems more likely that Anu is actually one of the Elder Gods than Marduk."

"I see," replied Young with a blank look, "of course, as my field is not ancient Near-East studies, none of these names mean a thing to me."

Professor Jenkins shrugged and replied, "Sorry, I sometimes get a little over-excited when discussing these kinds of things. At any rate, in regards to … ARGH!!!"

Professor Jenkins’s sudden exclamation had been precipitated by a sudden, blinding flash of crimson lightning that cut through the dark rainstorm like a violent gash. Professor Young was equally effected by the unexpected bolt, slamming on the brakes and attempting to stop the truck before he blindly drove off the road. Just as the dilapidated vehicle slid to a stop, the temporarily sightless academics heard the ‘thud’ of the truck impacting some soft object.

"I think we hit something," stated Professor Jenkins, blinking his bedazzled eyes and trying to stare out into the downpour.

Professor Young carefully opened his door and stepped out into the storm. Shielding his eyes from the onslaught of rain with his hands, he craned his neck trying to see over the hood of the vehicle. "Hello? Is there anyone there?" he asked loudly.

A grunt and a slight moan from near the front of the truck came back as a reply. Professor Young hurried forward and knelt down in the muddy road next to a prone figure. Within a moment he was joined by Professor Jenkins.

"Hello? Are you all right? Can you talk?" Professor Young asked anxiously as he attempted a cursory examination, looking for injuries.

The figure groaned again, but began to push itself up off the ground. As the near casualty rose to his feet and began to wipe mud from himself, another flash of lightning briefly illuminated him well enough for the two academics to perceive that he was an elderly man of Indian blood.

"Are you sound? Can you walk?" pressed Professor Young.

"Hrm, maybe I could walk," responded the Indian as the rain cut rivulets through the muck spattering his face, "But now that you have run me down, I think that you should offer me a ride."

"Oh, well, yes, yes of course!" responded Professor Young, "Let me help you into the truck!"

As Young helped the elderly Indian into the truck, he was surprised to note that Professor Jenkins had not returned to his seat. Glancing back to the front of the truck, Young saw that Jenkins seemed to be scanning the surrounding woods, although Professor Young could not imagine why.

Young slogged back through the rain to the front of the vehicle and asked, "Jenkins, what are you doing? What are you looking about for?"

"The fellow who ran the hotel said that one of the men we were looking for was an Indian," Jenkins responded, "I was just looking around to see if there was any other people hidden in the woods here, or any big lizards."

"Oh yeah, that’s true," replied Young thoughtfully, "I think we had better get in the truck and get going. If this is the Indian we’re looking for, I think it would be better if we didn’t meet up with his pet lizard."

Back inside the truck, Professor Young began to apologize profusely to their new passenger as he shifted the truck’s gears. "I’m terribly sorry to have struck you, sir. I’m afraid that I was blinded for a moment by that incredibly bright lightning strike. It must have struck somewhere very near here. Thank goodness you weren’t injured badly."

"If you don’t mind me asking," interrupted Professor Jenkins, "Where exactly were you heading? I suppose we should inquire, seeing as how we’re going to be taking you there. It certainly is a nasty time to be traveling with this raging tempest."

The elderly Indian nodded soberly, agreeing with Jenkins’s assessment of the current traveling conditions, then he said, "The rain can be unpleasant, although its impact is less painful than that of a truck. I am journeying to a home not too far from here. There is a family there that needs my help. You will need to continue along this road for a short while longer."

"The family needs your assistance you say?" responded Young, "What is it you do? What kind of help do they need from you?"

"The grandmother is very sick, she will die soon," the Indian replied, "I am needed to stop a tormentor that will not leave her in peace."

"Stop a tormentor? Do you mean that you will be able to help ease her illness so that she will not be tormented by pain?" asked Professor Young, somewhat confused.

"I will ease her pain," stated the Indian, "but I must also provide her with protection against thieves, evil men that would steal from her while she is weak."

"Stealing from a poor, old, sick woman? These people you are dealing with sound like complete cads!" exclaimed Professor Young, and then he added, "Oh! Sorry to be so rude, in all the furor we neglected to introduce ourselves. I am Gilford Young and this is Charles Jenkins, we’re both Professors from Miskatonic University up in Massachusetts."

"I am called Gigagei," the old Indian replied.

"Pleased to make your acquaintance, although I regret the method via which or meeting occurred," replied Professor Young, "How far are we from your destination? Will you be able to direct us there?"

The old Indian nodded wordlessly, then motioned off to the right of the vehicle, where nothing was visible but pitch black, storm enshrouded, forest. Nevertheless, Professor Young slowed the vehicle and was surprised to soon see that there was indeed a turn off in that direction.

"Hm, you must know this road rather well to be able to point out the turn in these conditions," he commented.

"I have not walked this road before," responded the elderly man cryptically. Nevertheless, despite the darkness and lashing rain, the old native unerringly directed Professor Young through a veritable maze of back roads, until finally, they arrived at a dilapidated old shack, high up on a heavily wooded mountain.

The three travelers disembarked from their vehicle and trudged through the mud up onto the home’s creaking and badly listing porch. Just as they reached the door, the professors were shocked to suddenly hear yelling erupt from somewhere near the back of the shack. This was followed by the noise of a heavy, yet soft sounding, object apparently striking the walls, ceiling, and finally the floor of some unseen back room. The old Indian proceeded to knock on the door, unperturbed by the strange commotion.

Eventually, the door was pulled open from within, screeching irritably as it was forced to recede. The opening door soon revealed a young Indian man, not much beyond his pubescence, dressed in worn pants and a shirt, clothes of a distinctly non-native style. The young man scowled in surprise as he saw the elderly Indian standing outside, then, as he noted the two Caucasian, tweed-wearing men standing behind the old Indian, his expression altered towards pure confusion.

"Who are you people? What are you doing here at this time of night?" the young man asked, "We can’t have visitors now, my mother is very ill."

"I have come to help your mother," Gigagei replied, "I was sent for."

"What?" exclaimed the young Indian, "No one here sent for anyone. I’m the only one here that can walk all the way out to the local post and I haven’t sent any messages to you."

"Cheesoheha!" a hoarse voice suddenly called from somewhere behind the young man, "Do not be rude! Invite those people in out of the rain."

"Father, please call me James," growled the young man, "You know I don’t like using that other name anymore."

As the two professors and the elderly Indian entered the home, another older Indian, apparently the father of the young Indian, shook his head in disgust and muttered, "Its that ‘school’ the government men took him away to for all those years. They put all sorts of bad thoughts in him. They poisoned his head and made him hate our ways." Then, noticing that two of his new guests were white, and apparently fearing that the despised ‘government-men’ might be back, the man suddenly became quiet and looked slightly alarmed.

"Do not fear," said Gigagei, "These men are not here to cause trouble, at least no trouble beyond running me down with their truck. I have come to help your wife."

"Ah! You are a medicine man!" exclaimed the man; "I have been praying that the Red Man of the Thunder would send a shaman with strong medicine to help my wife. She is dying and evil beings have found her, they will not let her go in peace! I am Anikituaghi, welcome to my home, welcome!"

"You sent for him father?" questioned the younger Indian, "How did you…"

At that moment, the conversation was cut short by another eruption of bedlam in the back room. A sudden cacophony of crashes sounded, as some heavy object once again seemed to be battering itself against the walls. The entire group rushed to the door of the room.

As they peered into the room, which was only dimly lit by the light shining in from the front room of the shack, the two professors were dumbfounded to behold what appeared to be an old Indian woman flying about the room, violently colliding with the walls, floor, and ceilings. She moaned in agony as her limp form was battered repeatedly against every surface in the chamber.

"They have her again!" screamed Anikituaghi, "They are attacking her! Trying to take her spirit!"

"Sunna’yi eda’hi," muttered Gigagei, then he quickly turned and strode out of the cabin.

Professor Young quickly followed the old Indian and asked, "Where are you going? I thought you were here to help her?"

Gigagei simply held up his hand to silence Young without responding. The old shaman then began to walk around the home, taking sharpened sticks out of a leather bag that hung from his shoulder and sticking them into the muddy ground. As he planted his odd impedimenta, he constantly murmured in a tongue that was unknown to the academic.

Having finished his circuit of the property, the medicine man then re-entered the home, with the professor still trailing him. Professor Jenkins, and the two householders were meanwhile in the back room, attempting to grapple the levitating woman back onto her sickbed.

As Professor Young stared at the bizarre scene in the backroom, Gigagei extracted a pipe and a bag of tobacco from his sack. He proceeded to carefully fill his pipe, light a splinter of wood on a nearby candle, and set his pipefull alight.

"What are you doing?" demanded Professor Young incredulously, "Something is still trying to throw that old woman against the walls in there! Do you really think this is a good time to stop for a smoke?"

Gigagei once again held up his hand to silence the professor’s protests without saying a word. Puffing at his pipe to build up a good brume, the old shaman proceeded to walk into the back room.

Stepping up next to the bed, Gigagei then spoke in a loud, strong voice saying, "Listen! In the Frigid Land above you repose, O Red Man, quickly we have prepared your arrows for the soul of the Imprecator. He has them lying along the path. Quickly we will take his soul as we go along. Listen! In the Frigid Land above you repose, O Purple Man. Ha! Quickly now we have prepared your arrows for the soul of the Imprecator. He has them lying along the path. Quickly we will cut his soul in two."

Having uttered his strange phrase, the shaman then inhaled deeply from his pipe and blew a large cloud of dense, odoriferous smoke that covered the entire bed and everyone near it. As the brume billowed forth, the air was suddenly rent by a stentorian groan that seemed not to issue from any of the people present, but rather to come from the area above their heads. As the preternatural moan sounded, the elderly Indian woman suddenly collapsed onto the bed, the inimical force that had been trying to seize her apparently finally giving her release.

"Is it gone for good?" asked Anikituaghi, desperately attempting to ease his debilitated wife’s distress, "Have you killed the night-goer?"

Gigagei nodded solemnly and said, "A night-goer has been killed here tonight. However, there were two spirits attacking her. The other was not a night-goer. It was more powerful and could not be killed by my medicine. That was the spirit of a Ravenmocker."

"A Ravenmocker!" gasped the elder Indian, paling slightly and holding his wife closer to him, "What can be done? How can we keep so strong an evil away?"

"The Ravenmocker will not return here," replied the shaman, "My medicine could not kill him, but he is hurt and will not dare to return to this home. But, he must be found and killed while he is weak. A Ravenmocker cannot be left alive if we can shorten him."

"Ravenmocker? Night-goer?" asked Professor Jenkins confused, "What are these things? And why do you want to make him shorter?"

Gigagei regarded Jenkins soberly and replied, "Night-goers and Ravenmockers are evil sorcerers that send out their spirits to feed on the spirits of the dying. This gives them stronger medicine and longer life. Ravenmockers are stronger than night-goers, but they are very scarce. This is good, for they bring much sorrow. I do not wish to make the Ravenmocker’s height shorter. To shorten a Ravenmocker is to shorten his time in this world. I wish to make his time in this world very short."

Gigagei then continued, "Tomorrow, we will go out and hunt for this Ravenmocker. He must be found before he can become strong again."

"We?" asked Professor Young apprehensively, "Who do you mean when you say ‘we’?"

"I mean me and the two men who have weakened me by hitting me with their truck," replied the old shaman, "I am not strong enough to hunt him alone now that I have been run down. You will help me find this Ravenmocker because you have helped weaken me."

"Oh, all right then," replied Professor Young, somewhat abashedly.

The next morning, the shaman Gigagei and his two conscripted assistants, Young and Jenkins, set out sometime before sunrise. After walking a considerable distance into the wilderness that surrounded the remote shack, Gigagei stopped and took some tobacco from his pouch. After placing the tobacco on a low, flat-topped rock, he moved back some distance, motioning the professors to do likewise. Finally, Gigagei sat down in a grassy spot and began to utter a soft chant.

Both Young and Jenkins sat down behind the shaman. Each of them was obviously wondering exactly what the elderly Indian was about, but neither felt it was the time to interrupt.

The shaman continued to chant, the professors continued to wait, and the tobacco continued to lay upon its rock for the next half hour or so. Eventually, Jenkins was surprised to note that his companion, Young, had suddenly assumed a much more tense posture. Jenkins at first assumed that his fellow academic had been bitten by some creeping denizen of the Appalachian wilderness, but then he noticed that Young’s attention seemed to be keenly fixed at some point near the stone upon which the tobacco had been placed.

Professor Jenkins attempted to detect exactly what Young was so intently watching, but could not espy anything especially noteworthy in the area at which Young appeared to be gazing. At length, he could contain his curiosity no longer. Leaning over to Professor Young, Jenkins whispered, "What is it man? What are you staring at?"

"Don’t you see them?" Young whispered back, "They are all around the rock over there. Its incredible, I never would have guessed that I would actually see anything like them."

"Like what?" whispered back Jenkins, "I don’t see a thing."

Just at that moment, Gigagei rose from his sitting position and slowly approached the stone holding the tobacco, still chanting in a subdued tone all the while. Upon reaching the stone, he stood there for some time, appearing to Jenkins as if he were conferring with some unseen and diminutive entities.

Finally Gigagei turned and approached the two professors. Upon reaching them he stated, "The Yunwi Tsunsdi have agreed to help us. However, as a payment they wish for you to give them the tobacco you are carrying in your knapsack."

Professor Young regarded Gigagei in surprise for a moment, and then he quickly reached into the knapsack he was carrying and drew out the tin of his Grandfather Clem’s special tobacco. "This is what they want?" he asked, "If it is, tell them they can have it, but it is the last of it that there is anywhere. We can’t get them any more."

Gigagei nodded, took the tin, and returned to the rock.

Jenkins again leaned over and began to whisper to his companion, "What is going on? What are the Yunwi Tsunsdi?"

"I’m guessing that the Yunwi Tsunsdi are the little people over there," replied Young, "That’s who he is giving the tobacco to anyway."

"Little people?" exclaimed Jenkins softly, "What little people? I don’t see anyone over there but Gigagei."

"Maybe you just can’t see them," replied Young, still staring at the area, "but they are definitely there. They look a lot like miniature Indians, less than a foot tall, but they have very long hair that hangs down all the way to the ground. They seem to be giving Gigagei some sort of advice, or maybe directions, they are pointing off into the distance a lot."

Professor Jenkins didn’t reply. Instead, he simply looked at Young, then at Gigagei, then back again, repeatedly. He was uncertain if he was the only one present who was sane, or if he were the only one there that had something wrong with him.

Finally, Professor Young told him, "They’re gone, they’ve gone back into the woods."

A moment later, Gigagei approached them and stated, "The Yunwi Tsunsdi have told me where we can find the Ravenmocker. He lives in a cave not far from here. The cave is hard to get to, however. It is at the top of a small mountain that is surrounded by a swamp. On all sides of the swamp, the surrounding mountains fall off as cliffs. They will show us the way there and give us a rope to climb down the cliff. But they say there are other things there that are dangerous. They also say that the Ravenmocker has a dead man and a live woman with him. They say that those two are white, like you."

"I wonder who those people are?" said Jenkins.

"The dead man is the night-goer that we shortened last night," replied Gigagei, "I don’t know who the woman is, but the Yunwi Tsunsdi say that she is scared."

"Ok, so what do we do now?" asked Professor Jenkins.

"We follow the Yunwi Tsunsdi," replied the shaman.

Several hours of hiking later, the three men stood at the edge of a cliff looking down at a boggy area that lay below them.

"The Yunwi Tsunsdi say that this is the only place to climb down that does not have quicksand in the marshes below," stated Gigagei, "However, they have also told me of creatures that guard this place. They say that a large snake with legs lives on the slope beyond the swamp. They say this creature spits water that burns the skin off all it touches."

"That sounds sort of familiar," interjected Jenkins. Turning to Young he asked, "Do you think that this thing could have been the big lizard that killed the sheriff?"

"Perhaps," responded Professor Young, "If this thing spits acid, that would explain where the acid came from to burn through the bars at the asylum."

"The Yunwi Tsunsdi also have warned of two huge horned birds that live in a cave halfway down the cliff below us. They say these birds will kill and eat men," Gigagei added.

"Good Lord," uttered Young, "This Ravenmocker fellow keeps quite a nasty little menagerie. I’ve never heard of a bird with horns before, I wonder what those things could be?"

The elderly shaman then bent down and picked up a long coil of twine that was hanging near the bottom of a nearby bush. "Ah," he said, "Here is the rope that the Yunwi Tsunsdi promised us. We can tie this to a tree and use it to climb down."

"Rope? That’s not rope! That’s twine!" protested Professor Young, "We can’t climb down that! It will snap immediately and send us plummeting!"

"It is stronger than it looks," replied Gigagei calmly, "It will hold us, the Yunwi Tsunsdi weave very strong rope. However, as my hip was injured when you ran me down, one of you will have to climb down it first, so that you can catch me if I fall."

Both of the professors seemed about to make some sort of dissent against this announcement when the shaman suddenly continued in an urgent tone, "We must go into the trees now, the birds are returning, they must not see us or they will attack."

The two academics looked skyward and saw two strangely shaped creatures flying towards them at a distance. Apparently feeling disinclined towards taking their chances with the man-eating raptors, the professors quickly followed the shaman into a thick section of the surrounding woods.

As they watched from cover, the men observed two very strange creatures fly down past them towards the cave in the cliff face below. Both of the creatures were easily as large as a horse. Despite having wings and bird-like talons, their heads were oddly non-avian in appearance. The creatures seemed to have fanged muzzles rather than beaks. Most peculiarly of all, both of the winged beasts bore deer-like antlers sprouting from their skulls.

"What in the world were those monstrosities?" exclaimed Professor Young in a hushed voice, "I wouldn’t have believed that anything like that actually existed if I hadn’t just seen it fly past."

"Believe it or not," replied Professor Jenkins, "I’ve read of two different historical reports of lusus naturae that could have been related to those creatures. In some ancient texts, there are records that claim that around 200 BC, a Roman General named Publius Cornelius Scipio encountered a flock of similar beasts near the Strait of Gibraltar. According to these accounts, Scipio and his soldiers were attacked by the animals. These records claim that the creatures seemed impervious to their weapons. In these narratives, these creatures are normally referred to as Perytons."

Jenkins then continued, "There is another winged, horned creature that today is most commonly known as the Piasa Bird. There is a mural of the Piasa Bird on the bluffs of the Mississippi river up in Illinois. It was painted by Indians long before white men came to the area. The Indians claimed that the Piasa Bird used to live in the caves near where the mural is now painted. According to their legends, the Piasa used to attack, kill, and eat people who lived in the surrounding villages. As in the reports of the European Peryton, the creature seemed to be immune to weapons. The creature was finally slain by a party of Indian warriors that brought it down with a volley of poisoned arrows."

"Oh great," muttered Professor Young. Then turning to Gigagei he asked, "I don’t suppose you have a bunch of friends around here somewhere with poisoned arrows do you?"

The elderly shaman shook his head and replied, "No, we will have to deal with them some other way. We should probably just sneak past when they fly off again."

After a wait of nearly an hour, the group was gratified to see the strange creatures once again take to the sky. After watching until the monstrosities had safely disappeared over the horizon, the shaman signaled his two helpers to emerge from the foliage.

Securing the perilously thin looking "rope" to a sturdy tree, Gigagei said, "One of you climb down."

Professor Young and Professor Jenkins exchanged glances, then Professor Jenkins shrugged and said, "Can’t be worse than crawling down into some of those shafts in the Valley of the Kings. At least there probably won’t be any booby-traps."

"Or mummy’s curses," added Young, trying to sound cheerful.

As Jenkins inched downward along the hanging strand of twine, he paused for several moments before a cave-mouth halfway down the cliff. Staring intently into the dark opening he called up, "Wait for a moment, I have an idea."

Professor Jenkins then proceeded to swing himself around into a position where he could easily crawl into the aperture in the rock wall. Professor Young nervously scanned the skies for returning airborne fiends as his companion spent several minutes within the cave. Finally, Jenkins emerged with his shirt tied around his neck, two large eggs cradled in its folds.

"What on earth are you up to Jenkins?" exclaimed Young in a hushed, but extremely tense tone, "Are you trying to set those beasts on our trail?"

Jenkins called up, "Bear with me, I think I have a stratagem here that might solve two of our problems at once."

Professor Jenkins quickly lowered himself to the marshy spit of land at the bottom of the cliff. Not waiting for his compatriots to descend, he bolted into the brush, heading towards the opposite slope that led upwards towards the refuge of the Ravenmocker.

After reaching the edge of the overgrown area at the bottom of the slope, Jenkins paused and looked about checking for any danger approaching either along the ground or in the air. After satisfying himself that the coast was momentarily clear, he ventured out a small distance onto the slope and deposited both eggs within some sparse, thorny bushes. Immediately after, he hastily retreated to the thin rope and began to ascend towards his partners.

As Jenkins neared the top, Gigagei, the shaman, suddenly said in a hushed tone, "Hurry, the big lizard is coming this way."

Professor Young looked up towards the slope on the other side of the swampy area and saw that Gigagei was correct. A long, thin creature was coming around a bluff. The beast would have appeared extremely snake-like except for the fact that it sported four powerful looking legs, each of which terminated in wicked looking claws. Gigagei and Young quickly helped Jenkins up, over the ledge, and all of them retreated to the concealing brush.

"Its a good thing that you headed back for the rope when you did," said Professor Young, "It would have been a nasty thing if that creature had caught you down on the slope there. How did you know it was coming?"

"Well, actually, I didn’t," Jenkins admitted, "But I figured it had to be around down there somewhere. I just wanted to dump the eggs down there and get back out as quick as possible."

As the men spoke, the abhorrent reptile descried the eggs that Jenkins had abandoned. The creature quickly scuttled through the coarse foliage, crushed the shells with its claws, and began to feast upon the contents.

"Careful," Young suddenly whispered, "Get further back into the trees, those bird-things are coming back."

"Excellent," exclaimed Jenkins smiling, "Fantastic timing."

As the Perytons, and/or Piasas, swooped down towards their aerie, it suddenly became obvious that they had discerned that the great lizard below was devouring their potential offspring. Both of the horned predators veered off their intended course and began to dive towards the heedless reptile.

Within seconds, both of the winged monsters had impaled the lizard and grappled it with their talons. They began to rend their adversary as they beat their wings and lifted it skywards.

The lizard, however, was far from helpless. It quickly began to spew a thick spray of globules at its assailants, simultaneously raking at them with its own blade-like claws. Within a short time, the three combatants had inflicted such grievous wounds upon one another that they plummeted from the sky and impacted upon the ground in a spray of blood.

The monstrosities each made some enervated and pathetic stirrings after their plunge had reached its shattering conclusion, but it was readily apparent to the observers that none of the beasts was long for this world. Nevertheless, the two professors and the shaman waited for nearly an hour to be sure that the creatures were truly dead before daring to venture up the slope upon which the bloody horrors were sprawled.

"That was a brilliant bit of work there Jenkins," Young said appreciatively.

"Thanks," responded Jenkins, "However, to be fair, I have to admit I got the idea from a couple of old myths. I’m actually kind of surprised that it worked out as well as it did."

"I hope you will do as well against the Ravenmocker," Gigagei said, gesturing a bit further up the mountain that they were currently ascending, "There is the entrance to his cave."

"I was rather hoping that you would be taking care of him once we got this far," Professor Jenkins said, sounding slightly alarmed, "I was under the impression that you only needed us to get you to him and then you would take it from there."

The old Indian shook his head and said, "No, I have realized this man is very strong, much stronger than is normal even for a Ravenmocker. He has very dark powers, very strong powers. These are not powers that even most Ravenmockers are foolish enough to try and master. These are powers that are not for men to use."

"So what do we do then?" asked Professor Young, "Have you got any sort of plan at all?"

"I can feel that the Ravenmocker has twisted the world within his cave. In there, nothing will be as it should be. When the two of you go in there you will need to be very careful," stated the shaman.

"What will you be doing while the two of us go in there?" asked Professor Jenkins.

"I will be working medicine to turn the Ravenmocker’s power back against him," replied Gigagei, "If you can overcome his power, even for a moment, I can turn it back on him and he will be consumed."

"And if we can’t overcome his power for a moment?" asked Professor Young.

"Then I will probably need to go find some more people to help me," responded the shaman.

Both of the professors scowled for several moments, then Young finally said, "Ok, so what exactly are we supposed to do?"

"Go into the cave and try to fight the Ravenmocker," Gigagei said, "But remember that everything there is twisted."

"When do we go in?" asked Jenkins.

The elderly shaman sat down, arranged himself for a moment, and then said, "Go now."

As the two men approached the cave mouth, Young murmured to Jenkins, "Are you sure that we should be bothering with this? This could really be dangerous. This Ravenmocker fellow could have a shotgun or perhaps another one of those big lizards living in his cave."

Jenkins quietly responded, "I’m sure this is dangerous, but I still think we should press onwards. I’m fairly certain that the girl in that cave must be Reynie Wheaton. I’m not a great believer in fate or destiny, but it seems like too unlikely a coincidence that we would happen to run down an old Indian and he would end up taking us right to her. I can’t help but feel that forces beyond our ken may be directing us."

"Unfortunately," responded Young, "according to your theories, there aren’t any ‘forces beyond our ken’ in the universe that are entirely altruistic and trustworthy. I’m not sure I want to volunteer to be cannon fodder for some abstruse and manipulative celestial beings."

"Well, remember," stated Jenkins, "there seems to be a good chance that the beings in question are not only abstruse and manipulative, but also vengeful and somewhat ebullient about exacting retribution. It might be more dangerous to turn back now than to face what lies ahead."

"Having a discussion with you never fails to take a dismal situation and shine a new light on it that reveals the circumstances to be decidedly more horrific and desperate then one had ever imagined," sighed Young.

As the two professors entered the cavern, they were forced to pause just beyond the entrance to allow their eyes to adjust to the gloom. As their sight slowly adapted, an image of a large, muscular looking Indian resolved itself before them.

"Oh, er, good day," said Young, both taken by surprise and generally uncomfortable with the concept of commencing spontaneous and unprovoked hostilities.

The Ravenmocker, however, proved to be entirely comfortable with foregoing pleasantries and proceeding directly to effusive bloodshed. This fact was incontrovertibly demonstrated as the large native reached out and sent Young hurtling into a wall of the cavern with naught but a graceful flick of his hand.

Professor Jenkins reacted quickly, throwing a punch towards the Ravenmocker’s jaw that had all of his weight behind it. Unfortunately for the good professor, he found that striking the Indian was very much like attempting to punch through a brick wall. The Ravenmocker stood entirely unfazed by the attack, simply sneering at Jenkins derisively.

A moment later, Jenkins found himself hurled backwards against the stone wall by a flick of the Ravenmocker’s finger.

Young had managed to clear his wits enough by this time to attempt an assault of his own. He rushed towards the large Indian and attempted to bring him down via a tackling maneuver aimed at the knees. However, once again, the onslaught proved entirely ineffective, leaving Young lying dazed at the feet of his adversary.

The Ravenmocker lifted one foot and gently placed it on the back of Young’s head. Despite the apparent lack of effort on the part of the Indian, Young felt as if his head were being compressed in some sort of industrial vice.

As Young writhed about on the floor, Jenkins unleashed another attack. Yelling at the top of his lungs and windmilling his arms in a completely maladroit fashion, he rushed the Ravenmocker. The large native once again stood utterly unperturbed as Jenkins futilely battered at him.

Reaching out, the Ravenmocker grasped a fistful of Jenkins’ hair and effortlessly lifted him off the ground, meanwhile, still holding Young down with one toe. Swinging his fists wildly as the Ravenmocker held him aloft by his coiffure, Jenkins managed to strike his enemy across the face with one particularly pathetic and rather effeminate slap. To his astonishment, the Indian was sent flying backwards, landing flat on his back.

Unhappily, as the Indian was sent hurtling backwards, he took a good handful of Jenkins hair with him. Soon after his impact, the Ravenmocker sat up, placed Jenkins’ hair upon the floor of the cavern, scratched some symbols around the hair while chanting under his breath, and then placed a small stone atop the hair. To Jenkins’ bewilderment, as the stone was placed upon his rent hair, he felt a irresistible force press down upon himself, pinning him to the floor.

As Jenkins lay impotently on the ground, he watched Young attempt several more completely ineffective attacks upon the Ravenmocker. After observing Young’s repeated futile aggression, Jenkins suddenly called out, "Young! The shaman said that the Ravenmocker had twisted things in here in some way! I think that he somehow managed to alter the nature of forces so that the intensity of a force has become inversely related to its effect."

While Jenkins spoke, the Ravenmocker tossed Young upwards against the roof of the cave using only his thumb. After enduring an impact with the roof of the cavern and then a subsequent impact with the floor, Young lay unmoving, wheezing weakly for several moments. Finally, he managed to gasp out, "Sorry, Jenkins, I missed part of what you were saying, could you repeat it?"

As the Ravenmocker advanced towards Young, obviously intent on visiting yet more punishment upon his bruised frame, Jenkins called out, "Hit him as soft as you can, he has made weakness strong and strength weakness!"

Young was obviously confused by the statement, however, due to his battered state, it happened that Young was only capable of striking at the Ravenmocker’s leg with the weakest of taps. The Ravenmocker’s leg immediately snapped back, slamming the Indian to the ground.

Apparently irritated at having actually suffered some minor harm, the Ravenmocker grasped Young’s’ neck, gently pinching his windpipe between his thumb and forefinger.

While Young choked and gagged, he desperately beat at the Ravenmocker, attempting to free himself from the vicious, yet gentle-looking, throttling. Jenkins attempted several more times to inform his companion that he should be striking softly at the Indian, but Young simply seemed too distracted to harken to Jenkins’ advice.

Finally, it occurred to Jenkins that the reversal of the tendencies of strong forces to have strong effects might also apply to his own situation. Accordingly, rather than straining against the force that pinned him to the floor, he relaxed and pushed upwards with only the slightest of pressure.

Jenkins was extremely pleased to find that his intuition was correct; he was immediately able to rise from the floor. At the same time, the small stone that the Ravenmocker had placed upon his hair rolled off.

As the stone was moved, the Ravenmocker suddenly collapsed onto the floor clawing at his own face and emitting a gargling screech from his contorted lips. Both professors watched silently as the Ravenmocker convulsed violently for several minutes and then finally lay still.

"What happened to him?" asked Young, wiping blood from his face.

"One of you managed to overcome his evil magic," replied Gigagei as he entered the cave, "As I said before, this allowed me to turn all of his dark power back on him."

Jenkins, meanwhile, peering about the dark cave, discerned a huddled figure, cringing in a corner. Approaching the disheveled shape, Jenkins noted that it was a woman wearing a smock that was standard issue amongst the patients at the Snodderly Asylum.

"Excuse me, miss," Jenkins said gently, "Are you Reynie Wheaton? We’ve been looking for you. We’re here to help you."

The young girl gazed up at him stupidly for some time, obviously too befuddled and traumatized from her recent maltreatment to comprehend the change in her situation. Her bewilderment continued for some time, however, Gigagei slowly managed to bring her around after speaking softly to her for an extended period.

Finally, as darkness began to set in, Young approached the shaman and said, "We had better start back if we want to be able to find our way."

Looking at the sky, Gigagei replied, "You and Jenkins should spend the night here and head back in the morning."

"Jenkins and I?" queried Young, "What are you planning on doing?"

"I have explained to Miss Wheaton that her visions will continue to put her in danger. She has decided to come back with me to live among my people where she can be protected," answered the shaman.

"Your people can protect her?" replied Young incredulously, "How are you planning on getting to them? Why aren’t you going to be staying in the cave tonight?"

The shaman held up his hand to forestall further questions and said, "You two will be safe here until morning. Thank you for your help. Do not worry about us. Rest now."

Having spoken these words, the shaman turned and he and Reynie set offwards down the hill, walking into the darkening evening.

"Shouldn’t we stop them?" Young asked, turning to Jenkins, "Surely we can drive them where ever they are going faster than they can get there themselves."

Before Jenkins could respond, both men were startled into silence by resounding thunder as a red hued lightning bolt leapt upwards into the night sky. The bolt seemed to originate from a spot where the shaman and asylum inmate had stood, a spot that was now abruptly devoid of their presence.

The professors stood stunned, staring skywards for several moments. Finally, pointing towards the shoulder of the constellation Orion, Young said, "Was I imagining it, or did that lightning bolt seem to disappear towards that star?"

"No," replied Jenkins, "I thought I saw that too."

"Which star is that?" asked Young.

"Betelgeuse," replied Jenkins stoically.

"So, exactly what would that mean?" queried Young.

"I assume you mean in regards to our understanding of the nature of the ‘Elder Gods’," answered Jenkins. After pausing to think for a moment he continued, "I suppose it could mean that the Indians’ ‘Red Man of the Thunder’ is one of those mysterious beings. However, given their history of impersonating other deities whenever it suits their purposes, I don’t really believe that we can necessarily draw that conclusion. All in all, in the final analysis, I would have to say we really don’t know much more than we ever did."

"So you do believe we just had a brush with some sort of divine power then, at any rate?" pressed Young.

"Well, yes," replied Jenkins, "That was my impression."

"I knew there was something especially odd about that shaman," stated Young. Then he quipped, "You know, men of a more mercurial nature than ourselves might be moved to initiate some manner of new religious movement after such exposure to the preternatural."

"Well, perhaps we were selected as participants in this engagement due to our natural tendencies to forego any such unreasonable responses to a situation such as this," replied Jenkins.

"Why do you say that?" queried Professor Young.

"It is my suspicion that the Elder Gods and their ancient foes have, for one reason or another, both grown increasingly circumspect in their struggles against one another. It seems that they both have shown a growing tendency towards quietly employing human agents to attain their ends, as opposed to monumental floods or fiery torrents from the sky. Hence, they would prefer to exploit humans who are most likely not to be overly ostentatious in their actions or reactions to the predicaments in which they find themselves embroiled," asserted Professor Jenkins.

"Surely that would be a good thing," responded Young.

"Yes, on the whole I would say so," conceded Jenkins, "Humanity is undoubtedly safer when our planet is not used as a full-bore battlefield for demigods and demons. Still…"

"Yes?" prompted Young.

"I cannot help but feel that the increasing clandestineness practiced by these otherworldly powers has somehow sapped men of their sense of wonder and caused us all to perceive the universe as less magical and awe inspiring than our ancestors did," replied Jenkins, "It is both a blessing and a curse that we live in an age when most men no longer glimpse the gods performing miracles."


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