Return to the Mountains of Madness

1

The day was nice – bright, sunny, and warm; typical of the dying summer in early September. Autumn hung heavy in the air. Leaves had already begun to turn a myriad of colors, early for the season. Some had even begun to fall as a result of a recent cold spell, unnatural for this time of year in Ohio. The falling leaves also heralded the onset of an early winter. When winter came, northern Ohio would again be buried in a frozen white blanket, smothered for what would seem an eternity until the warmth of a new spring would slowly begin to strip away the cold snow cover.

Persephone; death and rebirth, Karl Mayburg thought as he pulled to a stop in the little gravel parking lot. He had been peering at the colorful woodland display of autumn leaves and had nearly missed the turn. At the last minute he whipped the steering wheel of his old beat up navy blue 1979 Chevy Van, Mayburg Paranormal, Inc., painted in white on both sides, into the parking lot. A squeal of brakes and angered bitching behind the van brought a chuckle from the remaining two members of Mayburg Paranormal, Inc. – Jenni Osborne and Bernie Howe.

Karl had hired Jenni to his fledgling ghost hunting business on false pretenses. True, she was a sensitive, could easily read something dead at a hundred yards. But she was a real looker too. A knockout. Her figure to kill for, painted on jeans, painted on tanks, and dishwater blonde hair that she usually wore in a long bushy pony tail had more to do with her getting the job than did her abilities as a sensitive. Karl dug her.

Bernie, on the other hand, was a tie-dye wearing Phishhead, born too late to be a Deadhead (although some would say you’re never born too late to be a Deadhead). When he wasn’t on the ghost trail, he was on the Phish trail, a trail that was soon coming to an end when the band stopped touring. He was a living caricature. A flesh and blood version of Scraggy. Most important, he was an electronic whiz kid, and it was his abilities with ghost hunting equipment that landed him the job…unlike Jenni.

The ghost hunters jumped from the van and glanced at the expanse of ancient trees blanketing the hillside on the far side of Beaver Creek. The trees seemed to be caught in a more advanced stage of autumnal decay. The coloring of the leaves was more pronounced, a myriad of reds, yellows, and browns. Bernie shrugged his shoulders. Dying. Like death; like a cemetery.

“You Rick Forney?” Karl suddenly said to the approaching kid who had his hands shoved in his pockets.

“Yeah, hi,” Rick replied, pulling out a hand and offering. “You Karl…?”

“Karl Mayburg,” Karl said, shaking hands. “And my team, Jenni Osborne and Bernie Howe.”

Rick nodded nervously to the others, and then turned to Karl again.

“Up there, huh?” Karl questioned with a nod across the creek to the hillside.

“Yeah, that’s where it’s at,” Rick squeaked nervously. “I remember my dad telling me about the caves up there, but never anything like what I saw. It looked like a crypt.”

“A beautiful view along that creek,” Bernie observed with a sigh. “So, how do we get to this cave?”

“There’s a path that leads down along the creek,” Rick replied. Pointing, he continued, “At those two trees, it turns uphill. It’s a long walk. There’s a little family cemetery up there. The Chandler’s. Four or five old graves with a fence around ‘em. The cave is about fifty yards further on up the hill. You can barely see the cave entrance through the trees from the little cemetery.”

“Gonna have to pack light,” Bernie said.

“Well,” Karl said with a nod, “the dead can’t hurt you; only the living. Shall we?”

“Yeah yeah yeah, and we’re gonna kick some Casper ass,” Bernie replied. “Let’s go.”

The three ghost hunters left Rick standing in the parking lot, crossed the narrow concrete bridge, and turned onto the path along the creek. Bernie, a pack slung over his shoulder, glanced up at the trees. Their branches mingled far above, casting a pall in feeling and light over the path. He noted the sun riding low, its rays trying to cut through the thick woodland with little success. And a chill of apprehension settled over him. They made the turn onto the uphill path. The sound of the flowing creek faded behind them while deep in the woods the darkening shadows danced.

“Milton Robert Chandler,” Karl was reading the inscription on the seemingly ancient and weathered old headstone. “Born 1777, died 1844.”

There were three old and weathered headstones inside the black painted and rusted wrought iron fence enclosure, all three teetering at odd angles, ready to fall should a good stiff wind roar amidst the trees. In one corner was an old wooden cross, a part of the crossbar rotted away. And in the opposite corner was what looked to be a small unmarked grave.

Nobody’s been buried here in over a century, Karl thought as he surveyed the small weed choked cemetery.

“It’s pretty quiet around here,” Jenni whispered, a sudden uncharacteristic fear creeping over her.

“Look,” Bernie said suddenly, pointing up the path.

No more than fifty yards up the slope, through a jumble of trees and brush, stood an upheaval of ground that resembled an archway. It was coated in earth and vines, and overhung with weeds. Within the arch was a dark opening, the entrance to the cave the ghost hunting team sought.

“Must be the place,” Jenni said softly.

“Let’s see what’s there,” Karl replied, almost a whisper, as he glanced toward the cave entrance.

They skirted the old cemetery and started toward the cave nestled amidst the trees beyond. As they approached, they unconsciously slowed. Then stopped. The creeping vines were everywhere, in the low hanging trees above, and around the cave entrance like hair framing a face. The cave entrance was huge and shrouded in black shadows. Karl peered. It was darker there; more oppressive. A sudden alarm sounded in his mind. Quiet. Much too quiet.

Bernie pulled flashlights from his pack as he and Karl stepped closer. One went to Karl, another to Jenni, and Bernie kept a third. He tried his flashlight and frowned. It worked. He was hoping it wouldn’t. With a shrug, the three entered the cave, the flashlights struggling to cut through the darkness. The passage went into the hillside about twenty yards and then began to slope down at a gentle incline. Another thirty yards and it emptied into a large underground chamber cut into the hill. Forney had been right. It looked like some sort of crypt, but as their flashlights cut through the shadowy chamber, the ghost hunters knew immediately that this place was nothing like anything they’d ever encountered before.

“Man, we’re in way over our heads here,” Bernie said softly, a mix of awe and fear.

“What makes you think that?” Karl replied. But his sarcasm was a mask. By the looks of the crypt, he knew that Bernie was undoubtedly right.

The chamber measured about fifteen by fifteen feet. The ceiling was vaulted, at least twelve feet. And the chamber was empty. No coffins, pedestals, or altars as one would expect to find in a crypt. But what was to be found was alien to the three ghost hunters. Extremely alien. Around the top of the walls were petroglyph panels, about twelve inches high, the strange carvings set in some sequence like a series of events telling of some age old story long forgotten. There were eight to each wall, thirty two pictures in all. The only break in the series was at the entrance to the chamber.

Below the petroglyph panels the chamber was lined with large rectangular slabs made of sandstone, each about four by eleven feet, and all but two of them were carved with the horrid image of some monstrous alien creature. Of the remaining two slabs, the one opposite the entrance to the chamber had no image and the one just inside the chamber to the right had collapsed in a pile of rubble on the chamber floor. The broken slab had concealed a tomb, and the dust covered mummified remains were still there.

Bernie turned, did a double take, his flashlight beam coming to rest on the dead thing. “Eh, people; we have a real one here,” he said softly. “Now I know we’re in way over our heads.”

The chamber was indeed crypt, a mausoleum for something alien. And the thing in the tomb was the shriveled remains of the things depicted on the sandstone slabs. The dead thing, like the carved images, looked like a big stalk of celery or rhubarb with a huge starfish at each end. The top starfish stood upright, the bottom one lay flat. Around their edges were strands of coarse hair and fleshy tubes with eyes or mouths with pointed gnashing teeth. Around the center of the trunk were a series of tentacles. And the images (and the dead one) sported folded bat-like wings. The images were shown as living. And where the dead thing was shrunken, drooping, and leathery, it still stood about eight feet tall. When alive it had to have been at least nine or ten feet tall.

 “It’s dead, isn’t it?” Jenni questioned softly as she stared up at the starfish head.

“Yeah, I think so,” Karl replied, his fingers slowly stretching toward the dead thing.

“Don’t touch it!” Jenni batted his hand away.

“I wonder what it is?” Bernie said wonderingly.

“I have no idea,” Karl replied.

“It’s real, isn’t it?” Bernie questioned. “I mean…” He fell silent, his eyes wide and still questioning. There was no reply.

Karl sighed, shrugged his shoulders, and then scanned the series of pictures around the top of the walls with his flashlight. “Check the artwork up there.”

“Yeah, what do you suppose that is?” Bernie questioned as he turned and scanned a few of the panels with his flashlight.

“Looks like a series of events, like they’re telling a story,” Karl replied. “And those starfish things are in the pictures.”

“Yeah; yeah they are,” Bernie said. He stepped forward for a closer look at a starfish image on a slab, grumbled under his breath, and then stepped back and turned his attention back to the panels. “Looks cold there. Snow storms. Mountains.”

“Wonder why this one’s blank?” Jenni suddenly said, her flashlight trained on the single sandstone slab with no image.

“Maybe it’s empty, waiting on an occupant,” Bernie offered half heartedly.

“Yeah, maybe,” Jenni said, staring at the plain sandstone slab.

“Well, we’d better get our gear from the van, pitch camp, and get some equipment in here,” Karl said. “I figure we set up a couple infrared cameras and thermometers, a digital videocam, a digital recorder, motion sensors…”

“And look for what?” Jenni interrupted.

Karl paused and stared at Jenni for a moment before speaking. “I don’t know,” he finally said. And he didn’t.

The dark was oppressive in the woods, the sun long gone. A crescent moon was nearly set, too close to the horizon to be seen. Too close to the horizon to shed any light on the camp. Three pack tents had been set up, and a small camp table and chair. The table was crowded with a laptop computer and various monitoring devices, a few cables trailing away in the dark toward the cave entrance. Nearby a shallow pit had been dug, ringed with stones, and a fire lit. Karl, Bernie, and Jenni sat around the campfire, their faces aglow in the soft orange light. Shadows danced on the pack tents and the table crowded with equipment. And shadows danced in the thoughts of the three young ghost hunters.

Jenni glanced down the hillside fifty yards away. She could have sworn she heard noises there. Maybe even movement near the small wrought iron enclosure of the Chandler graves. The Chandlers are awake tonight, the thought came to mind. She didn’t need to see the shifting shadows or the barely visible drifting globes of soft light, the orbs. She could sense their presence down there. And she knew they were restless.

While Jenni was preoccupied with the restless Chandlers, Bernie was preoccupied with the cave a few yards above them. What it contained, and perhaps had contained at one time, defied their experience. There aint no ghosts in there, Bernie thought as he stared at the cave entrance shrouded in shadows. A violent shiver of fear ran through him. He tensed up, froze, his eyes wide. He could have sworn that a sudden cold gust of wind had raced through their little campsite. And it had come from the mouth of the cave.

The cold wind had little effect on the campfire. There was a momentary flicker and then it was gone. Karl stared at the fire, and made no indication he had felt the cold air or saw the flames flicker. His thoughts were elsewhere, daydreaming of a place of snow, ice, and towering black craggy mountains. And Karl found himself there, but untouched by the cold. The wind howled across the snowscape, swirling snow devils spinning in all directions. There was a presence there watching him. He knew it, could feel it. Slowly he turned a circle, knowing that whatever was there… Karl paused. He sensed another presence. This one more primal than the first. Violent. Seeking to kill. And an overpowering odor so nauseous that…

“Phew!” Karl said suddenly, wrinkling his nose. He glanced at his companions, found them staring at him.

“You okay?” Jenni questioned. “You been spaced out in Spookville for the last few minutes.” She shrugged her shoulders and added as an afterthought, “Well, I’ve been spaced out in Spookville myself, so…”

“Yeah…yeah, I’m fine,” Karl replied. His voice was soft and distant, that dreamy look not quite gone from his eyes. His eyes drifted across the campfire for a moment, and then darted back to Jenni. “Just daydreaming.”

“We’re all spooked,” Bernie said, his voice soft with caution. “I still think we’re in way over…”

A grinding of stone on stone suddenly cut through the night, and Bernie fell silent. There was no mistaking its source. It was coming from the cave. Slowly, fearfully, the three ghost hunters turned their gaze to the shrouded cave entrance. The grinding stopped and it took several seconds before Jenni, Bernie, and Karl breathed again. They exchanged glances, all of them questioning, all of them silent.

“What was that?” Bernie finally squeaked a question.

“I have no idea,” Karl replied.

Bold and brazen, Jenni grabbed her flashlight and stood. “Well, that’s what we’re here for – to investigate.” And she turned and started for the cave.

“Jenni, hang on a sec,” Karl said as he jumped to his feet, but the dark cave entrance had already swallowed her up. Karl grumbled under his breath, grabbed his own flashlight, and followed. Bernie sat alone at the campfire, staring into the night.

Bernie nervously paced back and forth at the campfire. Several times he stopped, glanced impatiently at the cave entrance, sighed, and began to pace again. There was silence in that cave. An unnerving silence. Unnatural. Karl and Jenni had only been in there a couple of minutes. Surely nothing had…

“Come on, man!” an impatient and fearful Bernie called out as he stopped pacing again. “I told you this was way over our heads!” He paused, waited for a reply. None came. “Don’t make me come in there after you!” He paused again; still no reply. And then shaking his head, he hesitantly started toward the cave entrance. “If you two are tryin to pull some kind of prank on me, it ain’t gonna work,” he said as he entered the cave.

There was a light in there. Somewhere down the passage. Maybe in the crypt. Bernie followed the light. Slowly, cautiously. His breath was short hollow gasps. He didn’t want anyone or anything to hear him. And he didn’t hear the voice in his head telling him to turn and run. That he would be a fool if he stayed. Nothing wrong with leaving and living to ghost hunter another day. But he was a fool, and stayed, and entered the crypt to find the source of the light. The flashlights. Both of them. Lying in the middle of the floor, dust dancing in their beams. And all the equipment they had set up was still there, but Bernie’s two fellow ghost hunters were nowhere in sight.

“Hey you guys,” Bernie whispered fearfully, his eyes locked on the opening on the opposite wall. It hadn’t been there before.

The only plain slab in the crypt had been moved aside to reveal another corridor, this one perfectly cut. Smooth flush surfaces, marble-like. Thirty feet into this second corridor was a shimmering gossamer-like curtain of light that barred further access. The light was hypnotic, soothing. And Bernie was caught in its spell as he approached the corridor, paused momentarily upon hearing a soft humming noise, and then entered and approached the shimmering curtain.

“Some kind of energy field,” he thought softly aloud, slowly raising a hand. A ghost hunter to the end, he added, “Shoulda brought my EMF meter.”

And then he touched it. There was a momentary shock of cold that immediately went away. Bernie didn’t have time to be puzzled, afraid, or awed. It grabbed him, yanked him through, and sent him sprawling to the floor of some room. A room in a deep freeze and coated in layer upon layer of ice and snow.

2

Bernie had picked himself up off the snow covered floor of some huge room, brushed himself off, and peered about before hesitantly starting toward what appeared to be a doorway and a corridor or some hallway beyond. He was amazed at the spectacle, this strange building, the room coated in snow and ice. And he was fearful at the same time. The shimmering field of energy and the crypt were gone. Disappeared. Replaced by this…place. And something tugged at Bernie’s thoughts, something strange that seemed to be eluding him until he finally recognized it. The place was coated in snow and ice, yet he was warm, comfortable. Normal room temperature. And although he knew he was way in over his head, he couldn’t find voice to express it.

What he didn’t know was how far in over his head he really was. He didn’t know of the great cyclopean blocks of black stone hidden beneath the layers of ice and snow that comprised the construction of this great city as old as time. He didn’t know that he had been transported through a gate to this city of the ancient Old Ones, to this city buried beneath the snow and ice of Antarctica, a city that had fallen into ruin ages past when the slave masters were conquered by their slaves.

Corridor after corridor after corridor Bernie wandered aimlessly, pausing at every room he came upon. Some were cavernous, others rather small and compact. Some were empty, some contained strange and exotic items – implements of some alien design that Bernie couldn’t even begin to guess as to their purpose. Some rooms contained rows of what appeared to be windows that were glazed over in a film of ice. Some were windowless and dark, strange shadows looming in the dark, forms of things alien. Bernie passed these rooms by. And in all his wanderings there was absolute silence.

Then somewhere, down some corridor, a soft clinking sound interrupted the stillness. It sounded like the faint rattling of chains. Bernie paused, caught his breath, and waited. The sound came again. Yeah, chains, he thought. Definitely chains. He followed the sound until he came to a room lined with glazed over windows. There was an open doorway. The door was gone. And Bernie quietly slipped into the room and paused just inside the doorway. He peered about, couldn’t dismiss the impression he got that this was some type of operating room. Cabinets, tables, a large overhead light. Strange implements resembling surgical tools. And jars filled with fluids and strange living matter. Then came that sound again. The rattling of chains. Like something had moved. Nearby. There was movement in a far corner. A shadow shifted. And Bernie saw the shadow.

On silent, slow, and cautious tiptoes Bernie moved toward the source of the sound. A few steps. A pause. A few more steps. Another pause. The chains rattled. There was a gurgling grunt. Bernie held his breath, and then continued. Slower than before. He passed what he took to be an operating table. It was freshly wet with green, blue, and crimson fluids, and something that looked like yellow puss. Just as he passed the table, he stopped and stared wide-eyed at the thing chained to the floor in the corner. And the thing looked up at him and grinned a lopsided grin.

“Why are you here?” Karl gurgled as he tugged on a chain shackling his left wrist.

“I…I…,” Bernie stammered, and then gesturing with a thumb over the shoulder, he added, “I came through the tunnel in the crypt. A few minutes after you and Jen…”

“Days, weeks after,” Karl gurgled. “A gate in time and place.”

“What?” Bernie questioned, confused.

“I left crypt minutes ago, but been here weeks,” Karl said, shifting his pained position again. An iron collar around his neck, shackles on his wrists, all bound by short lengths of stout chains, he could do little more than crouch. “Time gate. The shimmering light. Keeps tem…perature. Warm. Change…body chemistry.”

Bernie glanced back at the freshly wet operating table and then turned his eyes back to the thing that had been Karl Mayburg. Six four foot long tentacles had been grafted around his waist. A fleshy tube had been grafted to each shoulder, one ending in a blinking eye, the other ending in a gaping maw lined with small razor sharp pointed teeth.

“Grafting body parts,” Karl gurgled, noting Bernie’s gaze. “Make us like them for sacrifice to shoggoths. Shoggoths won’t know difference.”

“Huh?” Bernie scrunched up his face. “Shoggoths? Make you like what?”

Karl gurgled strangely; Bernie had the distinct impression he was chuckling.

“Old Ones grafting,” Karl gurgled. “Starfish things called Old Ones. Shoggoths made by Old Ones to be slaves. Now Old Ones slaves and shoggoths are masters. Old Ones need sacrifice to shoggoths. They graft. Make us look like them for shoggoths. If not, then shoggoths come for them. Before I was caught I learn their history in library. Big city here. Long ago.”

“Where?”

“Here,” Karl gurgled. “This place. Mountains of Madness. In the middle of…”

A sudden high pitched whine echoed down the corridor outside the room. Bernie’s head and eyes darted to the door opening. Karl strained his neck to see, the alien eye at the end of the fleshy stalk blinking, the needle teeth gnashing, the tentacles writhing excitedly.

“Old Ones coming!” Karl gurgled forcefully, rattling the chains. “Go!”

“But…”

“Go!”

“Where’s Jen…?”

“Go…get out! Go!

Shadows, like crawling black masses on the frozen wall, crossed his path as Bernie ran into the corridor. They were large hulking things, lurching unsteadily from side to side. Starfish heads on bulky stalks. The musky pungent scent of the creatures grew stronger as they neared. Too late to avoid them and flee, Bernie ducked into the doorway of an adjacent room. The starfish creatures, two of them, squealed as they lurched through the doorway and into the room where Karl crouched, chained in the corner.

The overhead light came on. Shadows were cast through the door and onto the opposite wall of the corridor. Bernie watched and listened. There was hissing and squealing. The chains rattled, and Karl gurgled and growled. The shadows played events on the corridor wall, the two starfish creatures – Karl had called them Old Ones – were dragging the thing that had been Karl atop the freshly wet operating table. The eye tube thrashed about, the waist tentacles writhed, and Karl gurgled his pain as another grafting operation began.

That was enough for Bernie. In a fit of madness he lunged from the doorway and ran blindly down the icy corridor. The shortest and quickest route he ran. No detours, no cutting down side or adjacent corridors. Just straight ahead. Past ice and snow covered stone and glass. At least what he thought was stone and glass. And when the snow covered stone of the city merged with a black stone passage of the Mountains of Madness, still Bernie paid no heed.

A soft light ahead guided Bernie’s course. He hadn’t stopped to think what that light might be or if it posed any danger. Just to get away, get out of that city and away from those horrors. Get out? Go? Where? He shook his head and kept running as the light ahead grew brighter. It was an opening, a cavern opening to the outside. The light was the sun on white. The white of snow. And Bernie burst from the cavern passage into the field of white, tripped over his own two feet, and fell face first into the snow. Strange, still warm… Karl had said something about the gate changing body chemistry.

“The gate did it,” Bernie muttered to himself as he got up and brushed away fresh snow.

He found himself alone in a vast frozen wilderness. Nothing but ice, snow, and mountains. Tall craggy black mountains. The mountains towered over him, rising high into the sky, an unfathomable height. They were majestic, darkly so. With their deep crags and towering pinnacles that were shrouded in swirling clouds of ice and mist, their blackness against the stark white background, the black range appeared menacing and foreboding. They were the highest mountains Bernie had ever seen.

Bernie peered up at the towering black range, saw the vast clouds of ice and mist swirling about the pinnacles. The frozen clouds glowed, an eerie eternal incandescent beacon that danced on air, seemingly sentient, yet their destiny controlled by those great silent and unearthly black peaks. The view was astounding, truly amazing, almost hypnotic as Bernie stared. He placed his hands on his hips and shook his head. The mountain range stretched in both directions as far as the eye could see. And even with a winter wind howling down the mountain slopes, the clouds of ice and mist swirling gale-like about the great pinnacles, it still seemed deathly quiet.

Slowly Bernie began to back away from the entrance to the passage  in the sheer wall of black stone that he had just came from. The terrain was deceptively illusory. Never before had Bernie such a feeling of absolute loneliness as he had then in that frozen field of snow beneath those towering black pinnacles. Everything was so sterile, dead. Yet, everything was so beautiful. It was a land ruled forever by the frigid hand of winter.

A sense of fear rushed through Bernie. He had a sudden feeling of being watched. Someone or something was there, nearby, watching. Somewhere. “Someone or something’s out there,” he said softly, slowly turning a circle and glancing over the blanket of ice and snow.

There was a sudden sound, a high pitched squealing from behind, beyond a rock strewn rise. Bernie turned and stared wide eyed. “The Old Ones,” he thought aloud. “Those starfish things.”

Suddenly it appeared. No more than a hundred yards away. It shuffled atop the small rise and stood there. Bernie stared and could only guess that it was staring back. His eyes narrowed. It looked just like the carved images back in the crypt. Bernie guessed it to stand about ten feet tall. Its body color was gray overall, but slightly varied in hue from light gray to dark gray. Cilia around its head was a rainbow of colors, the head itself a dirty yellow as were the fleshy tubes that supported its eyes and mouth with gnashing teeth. The eyes at the end of each tube appeared red. The tentacles about its midsection were green, and the base was concealed by the snow on the rise upon which it stood. But this one exhibited one marked difference than the ones depicted in the crypt. This one had no wings. Come to think of it, it dawned on him, the shadows of those things back in that room didn’t have wings either.

The Old One stood there for a couple of minutes, swaying back and forth, its tentacles writhing in the air. Then it turned and shuffled down the far side of the rise and out of sight, kicking up snow as it went. Bernie tried to understand why the Old One had just watched him and then had turned away. He failed. There was something going on…he knew…

With a glance over his shoulder at the sheer black wall of the mountains, Bernie turned and followed a narrow path strewn with blocks of ice and rock that lead up the slight rise, and crested between two large jagged boulders of ice, black rock, and snow. He fought his way up the curving pathway, passed over the summit and onto an open space, more like a small plateau or a small bench. Beyond was a narrow valley that stretched to the base of the great black stone wall of the mountains.

Bernie stepped onto the small snow covered bench and paused. Below, in the valley, a horror was unfolding for Bernie to see. There were three Old Ones moving as fast as they could on an awkward shambling gate toward an opening in the black sheer face of a mountain wall. They had left behind a fourth Old One and Bernie knew it was meant for sacrifice. This one was a hybrid.

It was a horror patched together with different body parts – starfish and human. Female human. Three starfish rays sprouted from its human neck. There were two fleshy tubes with gnashing razor teeth and two more that sported red roaming eyes. Part of its body was the gray crenulated trunk with writhing tentacles, and its base was part of another starfish with two rays. That was where the similarity ended. The three ray starfish head had been grafted to a human neck. Part of the trunk was human and it sported a human left arm and leg. It howled and whined in stark terror as it pulled against a long length of chain which kept it from escaping and following its brethren toward the cave.

Bernie stood in silence, his eyes locked on the grisly horror that riveted him the most. It wasn’t the three Old Ones hurrying toward the cave or the hybrid Old One waiting to be sacrificed. It was the sight of Jenni’s severed head impaled on a stake planted in the ice and snow. The skin of her neck was stretched and torn. It looked as though her head had been savagely ripped from her body and slammed onto the stake through her neck. Her long blonde hair had a thin coating of snow and ice crystals, the trailing edges matted with frozen blood. Her face was blue with small blotches of white, lips slightly parted on the left side of her face, a thin trail of frozen blood trickled from the of her mouth. One eye was closed, the other partly open and gazing across the frozen waste of eternal death.

There was no feeling or emotion in Bernie. The shock left him dazed. His face was blank, expressionless. His eyes seemed vacant, themselves dead. A blank stare. He slowly approached the severed head. Some insensible curiosity drove him on. Only a nauseous scent that suddenly permeated the air brought him back to his senses. He knew it wasn’t the musky pungent smell of the Old Ones, and peered around, trying to find its source.

The chained hybrid’s tone changed to what Bernie could only guess as squealing terror. And the Old Ones lurching toward the black mountains had stopped their hurried flight. They appeared to be conversing with one another, a high pitched, yet soft, trill echoing through the cold. They turned and glanced at the towering black wall, and suddenly became very animated. They’re afraid, Bernie noted, unconsciously grabbing the stake with one hand, the top of Jenni’s head with the other for support.

Through cracks in the towering wall a black gelatinous substance suddenly began to ooze. The jelly-like mass separated as it broke free of the wall, forming three protoplasmic masses that changed randomly from transparent to opaque to translucent. They pulsed with an internal light as they formed into rough spherical shapes about fifteen to twenty feet in diameter. They began to move, dancing on a multitude of tiny filament-like legs.

“Shoggoths,” Bernie voiced softly, pinching his nose at the overwhelming and nauseating stench.

The Old Ones were frantic as they tried to escape. But they were much too slow. One of them stumbled and teetered. A black tentacle-like stem erupted from the body of a shoggoth, wrapped itself around the teetering Old One, and dragged it to the ground. The shoggoth wound it in like reeling in a fish. In seconds the black jelly-like substance encompassed the Old One. It screamed a horrid squealing scream as shoggoth acid began to eat away its flesh. One by one the remaining two Old Ones were overtaken and enveloped in the acidic mass of slime. Their flesh peeled away, and their horrid squealing of pain and death echoed across the snowscape.

They didn’t stand a chance, and neither did Bernie if he dallied long. The shambling masses of black slime turned in his direction. He paused long enough to see a slime tentacle shoot forth and wrap around the neck of the hybrid Old One. It squealed, trying to break away as two more slime tentacles wrapped around it and dragged it to the ground. And then Bernie turned and ran.

But he didn’t know that a shoggoth had followed him out of the frozen city of the Old Ones, had followed him up the rock strewn path and across the rise. Bernie didn’t know that it waited momentarily on the small snow covered bench before advancing on him. And when he turned to flee, he ran headlong into the waiting shoggoth.

To Bernie, hitting the mass of black slime was like diving into a swimming pool. And as he tried to turn in the jelly-like mass to pull himself free, streams of black slime slithered around him and held him fast. The burning acid began to eat away at his clothing. Bernie tried to scream. He opened his mouth only to have a slime tentacle slam down his throat, choking his scream. He watched, wide-eyed, writhing in what little movement he could make, as his clothes dissolved and then his skin began to peel away. The acid ate his eyes and seeped into his skull. In a matter of just a few minutes, Bernie dissolved into the shoggoth’s mass and was gone.

And then it was over. A winter wind whistled down from the shrouded pinnacles of the Mountains of Madness and across the small narrow valley. The Old Ones were gone, just a few patches of blue stain in the snow. The hybrid was also gone. And Bernie as well. All that remained was Jenni’s severed head impaled on the stake. And the four shoggoths who remained motionless, gently swaying back and forth, pulsing and digesting their prey.

The shoggoths knew their time was growing short at the Mountains of Madness. Only a few Old Ones were left in the city, and another hybrid. Soon they’d have to take the course that some of their brethren already had taken – pass through the gates to other places in this world. There they’d find new prey, human prey. This world was teaming with them.

** *** **

Rick Forney clutched the video camera tight under his arm as he ran past the little Chandler cemetery and down the hillside. Something freaky had happened back there in that cave, and Rick wasn’t about to stick around to find out what. Flashlights had been left on the floor in the crypt, the batteries dead. A panel was open, nothing but blackness beyond, a tunnel that went to who knew where. The camp of the ghost hunters was abandoned, their equipment left on the table near the tents and in the crypt. And the ghost hunters, they were gone. Somethin’ got ‘em; somethin’ happened in that cave. And Rick hoped that the camera would show what had happened.

A sudden gust of cold wind whipped through the trees, chilling Rick as he ran. Crazy, he thought as he glanced up at the leaden sky. Snow was beginning to fall.


2 Responses to “Return to the Mountains of Madness”

  1. Bfwnov Wrote:

    hmmm, wonder if it be better if Karl were the one to explore the subterranean city, cause it is hard to imagine someone whos constantly “over his head” to stay so cool and sane at the horrors revealed to him. also whats with the “daydreaming” in part 1 and the total lack of development therefrom, feels broken. But overall, interesting story, makes me want to re-read “at the mount of madness” for the 100 time!

  2. rsc Wrote:

    Bfwnov, yes, Karl is in “over his head,” he just doesn’t know how much. The “daydreaming” in part one – call it a vision, a sense, or a feeling of things to come.

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