Heather did not like this plan.
Deep down a small gnawing fear was upsetting her stomach.
Doctor Livinia does not know what she is doing, she thought. She glanced sideways at her mentor. Doctor Livinia was a tall, attractive brunette, who normally radiated the warmth of an outgoing personality. But now her expression was intense and her lips drawn into a firm line, as if the Doctor was concentrating on something and shutting the rest of the world out.
" Keep your eyes on the road, Heather.", said Doctor Livinia. " It gets very narrow at this point."
"Yes, Doctor.", Heather replied, negotiating the SUV over a deep rut. The " road" was little more than a dirt track, slippery with mud. A few hundred yards ahead was their destination, the place where the Doctor's hypothesis would make history or prove to be an embarrassing failure.
Although she fought against it, Heather began to hope in growing desperation it was the latter. Because in this experiment, success was potentially horrifying.
Doctor Livinia studied her laptop intensely, only making occaisional glances at the road ahead. In her computer was what she hoped was the correct formula to recite an ancient ritual using a language, according to legend, that was old when human beings uttered their first words.
For years she had studied this weird language, coming across only tantalizing fragments gleaned from rotting notebooks written nearly a century ago by some of Miskatonic's more eccentric staff. The lines scribbled across the pages made the authors sound unhinged, and possibly even insane. Conspiracies of impossibly old beings, not human, who conspired at the edges of reality to enter the world humanity knew. An immense undersea city ruled by a vast inhuman creature, of the darkest malevolence. A disasterous expedition to the Antarctic, with nearly every man lost, was rumored to have discovered strange beings unlike any other organism known to science.
She had rooted out several of the occultist books, the ones that were only mentioned in whispers. She even gained entry to the vault at Miskatonic that held a book so dreaded that even its name was not uttered.
Livinia did not believe in these wild superstitions but through her research she suspected that these arcane myths could harbor some small amount of truth. Not the existence of gods and monsters of course, but perhaps an order of intelligence that did not exist in the human world. The implications staggered her.
Through the years, as she studied these weird myths, she came to suspect that these beings, if they existed, communicated through gaps in time and space. What was Stonehenge? Why were there similar circles of stones throughout the world, built by ancient people from the steppes of Asia to the forests of North America? These circles were also mentioned in the forbidden books she had read, scrawled by unsteady hands in the journals of the Miskatonic eccentrics she had poured over. There was even an old photo of odd, barrel shaped objects, covered in snow and arranged in a circle on an ice plain in Antarctica- taken the same year the Miskatonic Antarctic expedition met with disaster.
She began to experiment, first by trying to learn the strange ancient tongue. That turned out to be impossible. Linguists were of no help- they thought it was a joke ( or worse- one of them accused her of losing her mind ). The old books and notes could only provide translations of phrases. But gradually she gleaned enough to put together several rituals.
The first attempts left her feeling like a fool. About 30 miles from the university was one of those ancient circles- built centuries before Europeans landed in North America. It was not the source of much local legend, though a rumor persisted of the stones glowing faintly with green light at certain times of the year. Livinia had traveled to the circle at least partly because it was isolated in a forest clearing a few miles from any paved road. The last thing she wanted was for someone to happen upon her why she chanted bizarre words from a dead language in the middle of a patch of rocks.
As she expected, her first experiments yielded no results. The early stages were a process of elimination. Yet even then she felt there was a power behind the words- some sort of force crackle in the air when she spoke them. Faint at first, barely noticeable in fact, by the time she and Heather were driving to the circle for the final trial the Doctor could feel a surge of energy run through her entire being when she chanted the archaic verses. She had felt exultant after each near success but not sated.
This night, however, she was sure that she was about to open a door unto another world.
Heather stopped the SUV at the end of the track. In the headlights was a copse of trees, dense with undergrowth.
Heather took off her shoes and began to pull on a well worn pair of riding boots over her jeans. But the Doctor was already out of the truck and searching along the edge of the wood.
" There's a trail leading to the site somewhere at the end of the road.", she said. " Strange how hard it is to find each time I come here. It almost seems to shift on it's own."
" Would you wait a minute, Doc!", Heather said, exasperated despite her unease. She finished tugging her other boot on and then left the truck to join the Doctor.
"I apologize, Heather. But you know I get a little obsessed when I am on to something."
" A little? ", Heather replied, raising an eyebrow. Livinia smiled slightly. For a moment, the warm and caring mentor that Heather had known for the last few years shone through.
Heather looked down and shook her head. From the look of the lab coat, short skirt, and fashionable black leather knee high boots she wore- with high heels, no less- Livinia had come straight from her office thinking only of the weird ( and frightening ) words she would chant tonight. Practical matters, like wearing sensible clothing for a midnight jaunt through the New England woods, had never crossed her mind.
Heather looked Livinia in the eyes. " Maybe we shouldn't go tonight, Doc. I don't think this is the right time. Actually I don't think anytime is the right time. This whole thing just feels... I don't know... wrong. Fucked up, weird. You know? "
Livinia put her hand on Heather's shoulder and squeezed it. " Don't worry, dear, everything will be fine. Trust me."
Livinia peered over to her left. " There it is!", she said, pointing out the head of a foot path. Heather shook her head as if to clear it. The path had seemed to appear in a spot covered with shrub a few minutes earlier. " Come on, Heather! Very soon we will be the discoverers of new worlds!"
And with that, Dr. Livinia bounded down the path. Regardless of the heels, her booted feet landed unerringly between rocks and over deadfalls that littered the path. Reluctantly, Heather followed.
Heather could barely make out the trail and she kept stumbling over the stones and roots that covered the ground. She waved the flashlight in front of her, trying to catch Livinia in its beam.
" Doctor! Doctor Livinia, where are you?", she cried.
" I'm in the clearing. Just follow my voice."
" Goddammit." Heather muttered.
" Here, Heather. Just a little further."
After pushing a final tree branch out of the way Heather stepped into the clearing. Dr. Livinia took her by the hand and swept her hand in front of them.
" There it is! The oldest known archeological site in New England!
Heather looked about. And was not impressed. The site was a rough circle of seven oblong boulders, each about two or three feet high, worn, and covered in moss. The space within was no more than thirty to forty feet across.
With her expectations deflated somewhat, Heather found a small sense of relief. Maybe this will all be a fizzle, she thought. Doc Livinia will be bitterly disappointed but that's all right. Because I don't think that I want to see that other world she talks about.
But the Doctor radiated only excitement as she rushed about, setting up the equipment. Heather readied the camera and other recording instruments. As she was checking the lens setting Heather noticed the Doctor pulling a small object out of her pocket.
" What is that? " Heather asked.
" This?", replied Livinia. " This is the final piece of the puzzle, dear Heather!"
Livinia held up a palm sized greenish stone. Carved into was a strange symbol, an ovoid with a crooked line running from its center to a point outside of it. It seemed utterly alien yet Heather had seen it before. Then she remembered.
" That's part of the Antarctica Expedition's collection! God, you took it from storage! You stole it!"
" Oh, don't be so dramatic. I merely borrowed it without bothering to go through months of red tape. I will bring it back." Livinia flicked her dark hair back from her forehead in disdain. " It wasn't like the librarian was going to use it."
Livinia turned on her heel and walked to the northernmost stone. There she placed the greenish rock.
" Dr. Livinia, what is the purpose of that thing?", asked Heather. Her unease was beginning to return.
" Well, think of the ritual as doorway. The chanting is the path to the door. And this artifact, this little piece of stone, is our key."
" How do you know that this is going to work?"
" I have a hypothesis I constructed from the old texts. But there is only one way to truly find out."
Livinia smiled and stepped back a few steps from the stone.
And began to chant those terrible words.
A few yards behind the Doctor, Heather tried to concentrate on her camera. But the words seemed to get into her skull and pound at her consciousness with dread.
Heather was startled to see the small green stone began to glow. It cast off a sickly green light that seemed to flow from it to the rock it was set upon. From there it spread slowly to the six other stones, until the entire circle was lit by a dull, unearthly illumination.
Heather had stopped worrying about her camera. What she wanted to do was to shout at Livinia, tell her to stop this insanity before something terrible happened. Anything that was related to that rotting light would be an absolute horror.
But she couldn't say anything. Rooted to the ground, her legs refused to respond. The Doctor chanted the words louder and louder. Another decayed green glow answered that of the stones' and formed a few yards in front of the north stone. It grew rapidly into an uneven mass that loomed over the circle.
Livinia had stopped chanting. Heather finally found the strength to move toward her and touched her shoulder.
The Doctor turned. Her eyes were weeping tears of blood.
Shocked, Heather touched Livinia's face.
" My God, Doc, what have you done? What have you done?"
Livinia's answer was perfectly calm and unwavering.
" Isn't it beautiful, Heather? A whole new world, waiting for us to discover."
Heather began to cry.
" No, it's not, Doc. We have to get out of here. Come on. You're hurt."
" A few burst capillaries, that's all. Everything will be fine."
At that moment a low guttural sound rumbled from the gate- a deep, bass note of something very large.
" Oh God, what was that? Please Doctor, lets go, lets get the hell out of here!"
The Doctor held Heather's face. " Heather, listen to me... listen. We have to stay in the circle, no matter what. Do you hear me? We have to stay inside the circle. The circle will protect us!"
" Okay, okay... but I don't want to see whatever's coming out of there."
" Then close your eyes, dear. Here it comes."
An immense shadow filled the gate. Something huge bellowed and fell out, making the ground tremble as it fell.
Despite herself, Heather could not shut her eyes. She clung to Livinia and stared at the monstrous shape uncoiling in front of her.
It was serpent like, but not a snake. Its body, easily one hundred feet in length, was a thick grey slimy cylinder tapering into a triangular head. Loose folds of flesh hung from its neck and quivered as it took long rasping breaths of unfamiliar air. Its eyeless head terminated into gaping, toothless jaws from which thick drool dripped and pooled on the ground.
" Stay still. Stay in the circle.", whispered Livinia.
The thing slowly moved its head about, as if taking stock of its strange surroundings. It rumbled again, and opened its mouth, hissing as it did so.
Livinia raised her left hand and began to speak some more of those awful words.
" Doc, what are you doing?"
" I might be able to send it back."
Livinia stepped forward, speaking the archaic speech. The beast rumbled again and began coiling around the circle, its eyeless head always pointed towards Livinia.
It had almost completed a full orbit when its massive body collided with one of the stones. The stone broke and fell over.
Heather and Livinia stared at each other in horror as they realized that the circle offered no protection.
Suddenly the creature opened its jaws again. A viscous tube shot forth and coiled around the still outstretched arm of Dr. Livinia. As she watched in horror, the thick tendril slowly crawled up her arm and wrapped itself around her neck. Her eyes were wide with terror.
" Heather... run..."
The tendril contracted. Heather seized Livinia's free hand but the strength of the beast's tongue was enormous. She fell back as Livinia's hand was pulled from her grasp.
Livinia screamed as she was pulled into the monster's slavering jaws. First her arm disappeared into the maw, followed quickly by her head and shoulders. Her screams were quickly muffled as her head was engulfed by the beast's fleshy throat.
On the ground, Heather watched in horror as her lovely mentor was swallowed alive by the creature. Having engulfed its prey to the waist, the creature then lifted its head and gulped again. Livinia's frantically kicking legs were pressed together by the monster's throat muscles, until just her boots were still visible. The beast paused. Livinia's booted legs, shiny with slime from the predator's jaws, continued to make feeble kicks. Then the beast's throat convulsed again. Livinia slid completely into the thing's gullet and Heather pressed her hands over her ears to shut out the Doctor's muffled screams.
Heather saw the folds in the creature's throat expand out to form a vaguely woman- shaped bulge that quivered as its prey still struggled vainly to free herself. The squirming bulge was held for a few moments, as if the monster was savoring its meal. Then with another spasm, the still moving bulge moved down the neck towards the thick body. It soon vanished, presumably into the stomach.
Livinia was still fully conscious as she was swallowed. As darkness engulfed her, she felt the breath nearly squeezed out of her by the creature's powerful throat muscles. She was helpless as she was pulled down the monster's throat, completely immobilized, surrounded in a tomb of flesh.
She continued to slide down the cold slimy shaft, until she was stopped abruptly. Something pressing on her head gave way and she slid into a larger area. It was looser but she still could not move except to thrash weakly with her arms and legs.
She knew she was in the monster's stomach. The walls of her fleshy prison began to undulate, expanding briefly and then closing around her, nearly crushing her. More slime began to ooze around her, until she was coated in it and could no longer move.
She began to lose consciousness. As she faded she began to feel her skin begin to warm. She knew she would soon be digested, and hoped death from asphyxiation would soon overtake her.
Heather stood up. As the creature concluded devouring Dr. Livinia it turned its eyeless head towards her.
In her hands Heather held the only things she could find to use as weapons- the camera's tripod and the strange rock, Livinia's " key", that had been flung nearby when the creature smashed the rock it lay upon.
The beast opened its mouth and roared. Heather screamed, charged at its flank, and plunged one of the steel tipped tripod legs into the creature's flesh...
To Be Continued