The Further Adventures of Squamous and Eldritch: Cephalopods On The Town

 

Route 80, 40 miles west of Sacramento

 

Something was awakening, slowly, from long hibernation.

 

Despite the season, and the lateness of the hour, the bleak, battered asphalt was still manifesting ectoplasmic waves of heat, slowly pulsing skyward like questing jellyfish. At the side of the road stood a large brown truck, its steady westward progress brought to a standstill by the sudden rupture of its left front tire.

 

The driver, a sickly, pale individual, already beaten to near-exhaustion by the day’s heat, now shaking from his nervous start sustained at the explosion of the tire, rested his head on the steering wheel for a few moments, marshalling his strength for the trial ahead.

 

He had eaten a contaminated hamburger just an hour earlier, obtained from a fine fast-food establishment (not to be named here for legal reasons); it could have sickened and killed him before his next breakfast – but now there would not be time even for that.

 

As he pushed up the rolling door in the rear of the truck, his flashlight picking up the stacked boxes, questing for the tire iron, he had just time to register the jagged, blood-red claw reaching for him, just time to hear a single word hissed:

 

Now.”

 

The UPS driver’s body, throat torn away, would be discovered some time later, but the single open box in the truck would by then be resealed, and the door closed; all the parcels would eventually reach their destinations, and the desperate plea in the letter accompanying the Starbuck’s Coffee box would be taken for a strange joke.

 

The two beings known to some sages as the Younger Elder Ones were free.

 

-#-

 

“See, see, I told you I was good at needling.”

 

“Sewing. Yes, yes, of course you are. We need to keep moving, though, my brother.”

 

“Yep. Good thing that guy had those, those blankets. In the con… convoy… vehuc… the truck. Those, those thingies we made, those thingies I needled, those will fool that person.”

 

If a human had been near enough to see the two of them – most wild animals were giving them a wide berth – that human would still have had difficulty giving a clear description of the two figures. They were not large, yet they distorted everything around them in a way that seemed more appropriate to, say, the gravitational associated with an average neutron star. An eye sweeping past them would tend to continue on until the creatures were comfortably located within its blind spot. Failing that, if perhaps they were too close to the observer to be obscured in this manner, the eyeball itself might simply yank loose the optic nerve, leap from the skull, and lose itself in a gopher hole just to spare its old brain-colleague the sight, or rather, the understanding of what it was seeing.

 

Simply put, these things were unnatural.

 

Still, there are ways and ways. A camera could pick them up, with resolution enough for a description, viewable in safety as long as the observation was conducted at some safe distance from the phenomenon itself. There was of course no camera tracking the Younger Ones’ progress, but we could imagine that there were, perhaps, and describe them. The first impression would be that of two scraps of greyish cloth, drifting at the walking pace of a man, fading out of view at a measurable distance from the ground. Shapes within the cloaks, somewhat humanoid but Just Not Right, would be suggested by the movements of the fabric. Atop the shoulders of each, where one might expect a head, was what a casual observer might mistake for an octopus; one a bright, steamed-broccoli green, the other a color which would inevitably bring to mind the exact moment at which “assault with a deadly weapon” becomes “murder in the first degree”. From each creature’s shoulder blades emerged a pair of wings, like those of a bat – an enormous, unhappy bat, driven into depression by the tendency of rural youth to mistake its wings for road signs to be shot with small-caliber firearms; that is to say, wings which were ragged and holed.

 

The red one moved deliberately, in a straight line, its writhing tentacled countenance fixed on a point on the horizon before it. It carried its wings high and its head low, conveying the impression of a menacing swoop. From time to time it would stop, twisting, looking back along its path, glaring patiently. The green one had a tendency to drift, head high and wings low, wobbling like a moon-smitten moth, looking at every flower, rock, and beetle (for unlike the birds and mammals, insects barely noticed the passing of the Younger Ones) as if it were some intricate, crystalline wonder. Eventually it would notice the glare and return to its brother’s side, excuses rarely offered or acknowledged; after a few millennia and light-years, one learns to deal with the quirks of family.

 

From time to time, the red one would pause, whisper “wait here,” and scuttle back towards the road to look for the rune-plaques that seemed to anchor the spells that held the paths in place. The red one, whose aura crackled with more lightning-like energy than its counterpart, the one that the author is finally going to break down and label “Eldritch”, had been here once before, long ago, before the continents had begun their bitter divorce, before any mortal creature had structure enough to leave a fossil. The paths were not so very different then. These present-day metal sheets were perhaps more durable than the old fungal markers, so that every traveller need not feel obligated to excrete a fresh resinous coating over the sigil showing the way; the hills, valleys, mountains, rivers were not in the same places, but the physical paths were reflections of something much other, and could not wander far from their ancient astral roots.

 

They were slowly approaching a place where, if Eldritch read the signs right, they and their activities might go unnoticed.

 

After one such scouting trip, Eldritch had to search for several minutes to collect his brother, whose fluid, protean aura contrasted with his own. The Younger of the Younger Ones, who the author shall label “Squamous”, had climbed halfway up a drainpipe guiding water down a hill to combat erosion; he eventually emerged to Eldritch’s coaxing and failed completely to interest the Elder Younger Elder One in the slug he’d discovered, now crawling obliviously along his green claw.

 

“This is taking too long,” muttered Eldritch. “We will need a conveyance. We should have kept the truck.”

 

Squamous waved his other, un-slug-encumbered, claw in the direction of the highway. “I think I saw more conveyances over there.”

 

Eldritch’s eyes narrowed. A distinct impression of subvocal enumeration filled the ether. After a moment, he hissed “Yes, brother. I believe you are correct. Follow.” The two turned back towards the road.

 

About one hour and one horrible disembowlment later, the Younger Elder Ones were tooling along towards San Francisco at approximately 95 miles per hour in a Ford Escort that had seen better decades. The car had a certain amount of panache. The car had a number of goth-band bumper stickers across its entire rear end, covering half the rear window. The car had a hasty black spray-paint job, now beginning to peel. The car had a layer of silt covering it, the kind of thick dust widely recognizable as the major export product of the temporary autonomous zone known as Black Rock City. The car contained approximately equal amounts of fast-food wrapper trash, slightly warped audiocassettes in cracked cases and vice-versa, and clothes in various states of soiledness and disrepair. The car had an in-dash cassette player.

 

As Eldritch experimented with some of the finer points of manual transmission technology, Squamous rummaged through the detritus at his feet in search of something that would fit the rectangular aperture in the dash. After some fumbling, the deck accepted the cassette, and the strains of distorted guitar flowed forth. The volume knob was broken at its maximum setting, one of the speaker cones torn in consequence, and the tape worn and stretched, and frankly the original studio recording was pretty lo-fi to begin with, but despite these handicaps, the tunes touched some black warped thing deep in each of the Younger Ones’ thoraces, and time passed more or less pleasantly.

 

-#-

 

In their box in the basement of the frat-house where they had been bound years ago, the two had once consumed several pounds of coffee beans in a matter of minutes. The caffeination thus induced was insufficient for them to break free of the sorcerous power of the priestess-rune, and after a few days they began to hunger in a serious way. In the way of their kind, they suppressed their hunger, and eventually, their consciousness, slowing their metabolisms, turning years of confinement into little more than a flicker of a wingtip. When the seal was disrupted by a student in search of coffee, they began to slowly come back to life from their suspended animation. It was a matter of days before Eldritch could move and think, and the facility of base cunning – the ambush of the driver, the exchange of a pair of plush duplicates to take the place of the real Younger Ones – had returned before actual foresight and planmaking. Hence leaving the truck behind and progressing on foot. Hence overlooking the potential of the driver’s corpse as a food source.

 

Eldritch was getting hungry. Eldritch was after meat.

 

The scarlet tentacles comprising his face twitched, once, twice. He executed a maneuver involving three lane changes, four changes of gear, and a startled minivan driver, and left the freeway. Some uncanny instinct led him over a mile or two of back roads to a one-street town between more substantial settlements, led him straight to the town’s most unlikely feature: Driscoll’s Market, a mom-and-pop grocery featuring a small but well-stocked meat counter. Eldritch parked the car in front of Driscoll’s; he and Squamous leapt from the car, stormed into the store, and their ownership thereof was uncontested after about thirty seconds. Hank and Maria Driscoll were not physically harmed; they were running for their lives and sanity across a field of Brussels sprouts. Again, this was a certain kind of cunning on the part of the Younger Ones; the Driscolls would be labeled crackpots or the victims of a prank, rather than be part of a growing string of murders in the area.

 

Eldritch fell upon the meat counter first, taking flank steaks in two bites like so many pieces of maguro nigiri. Squamous wandered around the store looking at the other foods available, eventually eating two cans of nacho cheese dip (without opening them) and a couple of dozen packets of ramen noodles (these he opened, eating the noodle-blocks dry and unseasoned). The Elder Younger One’s feeding frenzy slowed and eventually he sprawled on his back on the floor, eyes closed, trying to hasten, by sheer force of will, the supernatural digestion process by which his stomach sent its contents to an interdimensional rift for storage against later need. Squamous stepped over him, producing an enormous silver needle from beneath his cloak, and busied himself with organ meats.

 

After a while, Eldritch groaned and stirred. “Eh. Uhm,” he hissed. “Brother. We must go.” He made no move to reorient to verticality.

 

“Yes… yes… in just… a minute, brother,” replied Squamous. His cadence indicated an unusual amount of concentration on his part. Eldritch turned his head and opened his eyes and watched as his greenish companion finished his project.

 

“What in the name of Whose-Name-Is-Unspoken are you doing?”

 

“Oh, you know. From that song,” explained Squamous. “I’m making boots, brother.” Two lumpy, glistening things hit the floor behind the counter; Squamous hovered over them in a somewhat wobbly attitude, slipping his ectoplasmic lower extremities into them one after the other.

 

“Song? Boots?” The scarlet monstrosity worked himself up to a sitting posture.

 

“The song on the little box in the car. You know. ‘Shiny shiny, shiny boots of liver—‘ that one.”

 

“SHINY BOOTS OF— oh. Yes. Of course.” Eldritch shook his head and rose up. “Yes, fine, boots of liver, right. Let us go before the humans regain courage.”

 

Their departure was slightly delayed by the discovery of the coffee machine; after drinking what had been brewed, they returned to the car with about ten pounds of beans and several more unhealthy snack items. On they drove.

 

-#-

 

It took a fair amount of concentration and energy to prevent other drivers from accurately perceiving them as slime-covered, tentacle-faced, winged, clawed horrors cloaked in an unsettling miasma of evil. By the time they reached the Bay Bridge, Eldritch was hungry again. Once in the city proper, they would be essentially unnoticed and unremarkable; just another couple of freaks out on the town. That would be an idea time to feed and recharge.

 

“What do you want to eat when we get there, brother?” asked Squamous, gazing out at the lights of the financial district as they drew ever closer.

 

“Hrrrsssssss… mammal. Baby mammal. Mmm— skewered. Bits of baby mammal skewered on a stick and roasted,” mused Eldritch.

 

“Oooh, baby mammal with some nice spices on it. Ooooh, I know! A baby one of… oh, what are they called. Those kind. You know,” said Squamous helpfully.

 

Eldritch busied himself with a lane change.

 

“The fluffy white ones,” added the Younger Younger Elder One.

 

“Bunnies?” offered Eldritch.

 

“No, the other. Bigger. Slower. Can’t tell which ones are the lesbians.” Squamous wasn’t actually sure what a lesbian was.

 

Neither was Eldritch, for that matter. However, he could still take a guess. “Sheep.”

 

“Sheeps! That’s them. The baby sheeps. Lambs!” recalled Squamous.

 

“Skewered lamb!”

 

“With spices!” insisted Squamous.

 

“What did they used to call that in the old lands? Yes! Shish kebab!” shouted Eldritch.

 

“Ooooooh, shish kebab. Yummy. With a nice refreshing yogurt sauce and, oh, the bread and dipping stuff!”

 

Eldritch reflected for the thousandth time how remarkable it was that he and Squamous could be related. Still, the lamb sounded good. Once again he began navigating by instinct. Instinct led him to cut off a Muni bus and two taxis along the way. Soon they had found a likely source for shish kebab, leaving their vehicle parked on the sidewalk of an alleyway a few blocks from city hall.

 

“Remember, brother— no killing them. Provided they feed us. This, this city, is one of the few safe areas for us, now. They are tolerant of our kind here. Tolerant of all kinds,” added Eldritch. Squamous blinked at him. He wasn’t really all that big on killing in the first place, and slowly came to the realization that Eldritch was trying to restrain himself as much as, if not more than, him.

 

“Baby sheeps now?” he said. Eldritch nodded, slowly. The two continued on to the restaurant, Squamous marching proudly in his Shiny Boots of Liver, and Eldritch drifting eerily as always.

 

They ate well.

 

-#-

 

Some time later, they left the restaurant, well-fed indeed.

 

“Graaauuuurrrrrssssssss,” declared Eldritch. “Now what?”

 

Squamous craned his head around looking at the surrounding buildings for a few moments. “Do you hear that?” he asked.

 

“Hear what, the cars? The horns?” asked the Elder Younger Elder One.

 

“No, no. It’s… clicky. Clicky-thumpy-ticky-ticky,” described the Younger Younger Elder One.

 

“Clicky.”

 

“Clicky-thumpy-ticky-ticky, clicky-clicky thumpa. Clicky-thumpy-ticky-ticky, clicky-clicka-thump,” elaborated Squamous.

 

“Oh, that. Yeah, what is that?”

 

“I don’t know, but I think it’s coming from that direction.” In a rare display of decisiveness, Squamous marched squishily towards Market Street. Eldritch followed, a bit puzzled, but operating well within that comfortably agreeable haze generated by a large meal and a couple of martinis. They found the source of the sounds, and after a brief but spirited negotiation with the box office, gained admission. And they found that it was good.

 

-#-

 

Epilogue

 

A man walked down the street, armored in a black leather jacket, shoulders hunched, brow furrowed in concentration. As he turned the corner, he almost collided with two indistinct, cloaked forms coming the other way, absorbed in their own conversation. All  three jumped, startled.

 

“Excuse me,” the man said, stepping back politely, gesturing for the Younger Elder Ones to pass. They slid smoothly by. He continued around the corner, up the street a few yards, until he heard a shout from the corner. He turned to see Squamous’ sinister molluscoid form.

 

“Um, uh, sorry to, like, bother you, um, you know, um, but, uh, see, youlooklikeyouhavesomethingonyourmindandIwaswonderingwhatitwas.”

 

The man blinked, then walked back towards the corner. “Uh, actually, I was trying to decide what to get my wife for Christmas,” he replied. “See, I’m out of work right now, so I don’t want to get a big expensive useless gift—“ he began to explain.

 

“Oh, that’s easy,” replied Squamous. “She’d probably really appreciate a night out or something like that. You know, like, dinner and a show. Something where she doesn’t have to make the plans, you just take her out and show her a good time. In fact, I know just the place, when we first came into town a while back, we had this great meal and then went to this great show…” The thoughtful Younger Elder One elaborated the details as the man slowly began to smile.

 

“That’s a fine idea,” he said, and continued on his way.

 

The End

 

-#-

 

This is an official Request For Date. Please reserve the evening of Saturday, January the 4th, 2003. If you are unable to attend, please inform Squamous T. Cephalopod at the earliest opportunity after making appropriate arrangements for the impending consumption of your soul. Thank you.