A Cold Front
The wind came out of the northwest across Lake Michigan and created lake-effect snow that covered the town in two feet of the white stuff. This was the North, and so the snow management was swift and orderly and more indicative of the German heritage that many of the town's several thousand denizens might have been comfortable with, especially given the upcoming unit on WWII in Mr Gregory Ubermench's class. Mr Ubermench plowed through The Treaty of Versailles for the second time this year, focusing on the issues that lead into WWII. Context, Ubermench thought, was what brought history alive for kids.
The town's small population meant that the entire graduating class was discussing the first salvos of WWII on the German western front. Ubermench thought that, perhaps, they should touch a bit on the Russian/German front in a few days, a lecture on Stalingrad. But, for now, the German tanks taking one country after another, culminating in France, was the primary heading.
It was easy to dismiss French martial ability based on their quick capitulation. But Ubermench was careful to call back to earlier conquests, in particular Napoleon, and also to their current status as the second (or third, depending on the year) country in rank by amount money spent on the military. There was a context, after all.
This was mostly lost on Franklin. Franklin was in the middle row of the class, on the side with the windows. His distance from the board and teacher caused him to subconsciously determine himself to be in the middle of this particular history course. He didn't hate the past, but he saw limited application, especially since he'd be living in the future. He was going to be a doctor when he grew up. At least that was his plan. His biology scores were not promising, but he hoped for a lab coat and stethoscope anyway. He watched outside for a few minutes, noting the janitor, Mr Adams, shoveling the walk way to the teacher's parking lot.
Adams was visible from the mid thigh. So, when Adams appeared to fall into the snow and disappeared, Franklin chortled and immediately covered his mouth.
"What's so funny, Franklin?"
"Sorry, Mr Ubermench. Mr Adams fell down."
"That's not funny," Ubermench said and went to the window. "He could be hurt." He looked out and saw red marks just visible, his sight line higher than Adams, who had not seen the blood. He hadn't done any first aid since Cub Scouts, so Ubermench went to the desk phone and called the office. "Nancy? Something's wrong. John just fell in the snow outside by the teacher's parking lot. There's blood. Can you get Hamer out there? Maybe an ambulance?"
The nurse was on duty that day, this was fortunate as budget cutbacks meant she was there three days a week at the High School. Hamer grabbed her coat and headed to the Pig Lot (christened due to ongoing cop patrols due to vandalism of the teacher's vehicles). Once she got to the door, she saw the blood. A half-frozen puddle of red-brown was on the ground, but she didn't see the janitor. John's shovel was still there, standing off to the left like a bare flagpole. On the right there was what appeared to be a gap in the snow. She walked out the door and made it about three steps before she felt something grab her by the her right foot, making her do the splits for the first time since Jr. High. She might have yelled in pain but she might not have. She felt something soft but tight on her foot and when she looked over, her right leg was plunged into the snow and then she heard gnawing.
Principal Pulaski had heard about the janitor falling and went to the location to see if he could help the nurse. As he turned around the corridor and looked out the glass door, he only saw the left leg of Nurse Hamer disappear into the snow, snake-like and slow.
This was obviously disturbing.
As he approached the door, he leaned closer to it to see if he could see what happened to the nurse. The nurse had worked under Pulaski for only a short time, but he was hurt when he had to cut her hours. He was hurt enough to be concerned, but not quite enough to actually go outside and look for her.
Which was probably wise.
As he leaned forward to look out the heavy, vandal-resistant glass, he heard a thunk. Startled, he jumped back and looked down. A tentacle the size of his forearm was pawing the glass. It didn't taper so much as round off at the end. There were a handful of scars on the thing. Pulaski stepped back and the tentacle retreated into the snow.
"What the fuck is that?" he heard from behind him. The small voice belonged to one of the Freshman, a young man named Aron. Pulaski was sure Aron was a faggot, but Pulaski couldn't do anything about it, anyway. Would like to throw him on the pyre, that's for sure. Didn't even deserve a stake, should just be treated like kindling.
"Is that blood out there?"
"I think so," he said. Then he had an evil thought. "Aron, can you go out there and check on this for me?"
"Fuck that, man," Aron said, then ran off to whatever class he should have been in anyway.
Pulaski bit his lip. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone, found a contact entry, dialed.
"Officer Lakoff. Can you meet me at the entrance to the pi--I mean teacher parking lot? Thanks."
A pile of kids were at the window, staring. The architecture of the school, an early 21st century building that resembled more a prison than a school, allowed the students in Mr Ubermench's class, when standing at the windows, to have a clear view of the disappearance of Nurse Hamer, complete with required fountains of blood and chunks of unidentifiable viscera expelled into the air. The arcs of the bloody bits' travel would have made excellent demonstrations of the Newton's Laws to Mrs Nicholson's freshman physics class, had they been watching their nurse being devoured in even better perspective from their 2nd floor classroom. Instead, they were watching an old copy of Sagan's Cosmos, blinds closed, the VHS tape warbling Sagan's voice-over.
A single student in Mr Ubermench's class saw the face of the principal as he approached the glass. "Walk out there, you bastard," the boy said.
Lakoff was an off-duty uniformed police officer who picked up a few hours after his normal beat to work at the school. One of his kids was a freshman. They didn't need him here as often as they did--the school was too small. However, they had money in the budget for security thanks to the Department of Homeland Security, and Lakoff was an old friend of Pulaski, so it all worked out. Pulaski still thought it unfortunate about the nurse's hours. He couldn't be helped where his budget was allocated by the suits at the district.
A few minutes later, Lakoff came around the corner and saw the mess outside.
"Jesus Christ on a spit covered in barbecue sauce, what the hell happened out there?"
"No idea, Vernon. There's some kind of tentacled monster out there in the snow. Killed John and Hamer, too."
"How do you know that, Chris?"
"Walked around the corner and saw Hamer's foot inch into the snow to the left here. Leaned closer to the glass to get a closer look, some fucking tentacle comes and tries to grab me." Principal Pulaski tapped the window with his foot. "Damn thing came out and tried to grab me." And, right then, the tentacle came out, hunting.
"Well, shit, man. I ain't going out there. Alone at least." Lakoff brought his hand up to the radio, cocked his head, spoke into it. "Dispatch, this is Lakoff. We have an unidentified vicious animal here at North Barbie High. Near the teacher parking lot. At least two victims. Send backup. And animal control."
"10-4," the radio said.
Three city cops, two state troopers and two animal control officers paid the ultimate sacrifice in trying to figure out what they should not be doing. In this case, it was coming anywhere near the area where the animal was suspected of existing. Several officers made a perimeter around where the thing was found, watching for movement on the parameter of the flattened and truncated cone that made the lawn between the building and the teacher parking lot, which Mrs Cutter's geometry class would normally measure and calculate area and estimate grass blade counts as part of a class teamwork project in the summer time.
On the other side of the school, the children were evacuated and the teachers, too. They were all moved around the school to their cars and told to evacuate the area.
The several feet of snow that coated the grass was now where the animal was hidden. It burrowed under the snow. They could see a large bulge near the building, which stayed mostly still but, on occasion, appeared to breathe. Though the cops all produced a steady stream of frosty breath, whatever it was did not.
The snow wasn't particularly deep for this area for this time of the year. Two feet of snow on the ground was a lot, but not unheard of. One of the officers, a relation of the teacher Ubermench, went to the commanding officer with a suggestions.
"What is it, Officer Ubermench?"
"Well, sir, I was thinking, maybe would melt the snow?"
"With what? You got a shitload of salt somewhere? You'll kill the grass."
Ubermench was taken aback, but only little. The commanding officer's love for greenery was well known. "Well, in fact, we might kill the grass, but in case you hadn't noticed, nine people are dead because of that thing and this lawn wasn't exactly on the Alabaster Corporation's Beautiful Lawn registry."
The commanding officer knew; his own lawn was on the registry three years running.
"Okay. Point taken."
"We could also use some salamanders. Like they use to thaw the construction worker's equipment."
"Yeah yeah. I know what they are. Good suggestion. Then we could see this damned thing. Do you have one?"
"Yes, sir. I actually do."
"Can you get it here?"
"I'll get my son to bring it. I'll need a requisition to replace the kerosene, not to mention any more we might need."
"Whatever, Ubermench. Get it done. And ask around, see if some others have another one or two."
Four of the salamander heaters were blowing hot air all over the iced snow, eating it away, really, leaving water for blood. Salt was thrown into the snow a great distance, though none quite reached the mound of snow that occluded the direct view of the occasionally undulating unknown entity. When the salamanders great breath was found to be ineffective, the machines were moved forward, melting more and more of the snow. The salt continued to be thrown.
After a while, they were within distance so that the salt could be thrown by hand onto the mound. A couple pieces of the salt burrowed down into the snow that covered the thing and soon enough a whimper came, but it was a whimper of a large and terrible creature. The snow was bucked off as the entity rose up and stood, or more properly, sat up or, more properly, assumed a position undefinable. The entity had few biological structures that were within the vocabulary of those present that day. Surely, a biologist who studied the depths of the oceans might have been able to identify the pale yellow ridge along the back of the creature as like some crustacean or another. And the half-dozen tentacles that poked out of the tri-symmetric body surely resembled some kind of cephalopod, but those present did not have such words. The creature more properly resembled an cache of random biological parts. A kid looking from one of the windows thought it looked like a two meter tall sack of flour set upon end with a color to match. The whiteness was such that it barely was differentiated from the surrounding environs, save the brick, prison-like school that served as backdrop. The tentacles, again, were as before, but additional scores of smaller ones resembling maggots, each with their own sucker-fish like mouth, anointed the top of the creature if it were a crown. There was no additional gaping maw to speak of, but a quick conjecture and the blood stains still on a handful of the suckers suggested to those present that the larger creature ate through the little mouths.
Of course every officer with one available pulled their guns.
The creature didn't so much as bellow as emit a low sound that was not so much heard as felt. Officer Ubermench considered it and thought it rather like when one's bowels turn to water just before a colo-rectal emergency. Of course, this could have simply been the fear of this thing. He no longer even considered it a creature as creatures were alive and living things, even the most disgusting and low of them, were afforded a basic amount of right to exist, even if they were killed. This thing was not even that. It should be annihilated in ways that violated laws of thermodynamics (which Ubermench learned about in from Mrs Nicholson's Physics class in the old high school up the road).
But he couldn't destroy the thing that utterly. All he had was a gun. And so he shot, without really thinking. And at the first crack of the gun, his colleagues all opened fire and started to dot the thing with small holes which slowly began to ooze out a delicious red like strawberry jam. Additional rounds were sent into the thing. Without warning, the thing shuddered and a giant plume of snow was thrown into the air, masking it in a vague pseudomorphic shape of itself.
They continued to fire. The sound of the bullets striking the bricks behind where the thing had once stood was overwhelmed by the sound of the gunfire itself, and so few realized that the thing had moved before the snow had settled and more officers started screaming and dying.
Ubermench saw the thing reach (as best as he could describe it) with its tentacle and grab Officer O'Malley and fold him in half, backwards. Thusly, like O'Mally's "da", he was killed in action only a couple years from retirement. His son, O'Mally the third, would remember this and take an early retirement when offered.
Then Ubermench remembered the sound it had made when the salt hit it. "Salt!" He grabbed a handful of the rock-salt that was otherwise destined to thaw the roads out for safe transport of goods and humans and threw it as hard as he could at the creature. Most of the salt was more properly dust and a cloud of the briny, snowy air flew back at him and he choked and spat and raspberried the stuff out of his mouth as best as possible, but then he heard the sound again and, boy, did the thing act pissed.
What Ubermench was too busy de-salting his respiratory tract to note was that where the salt struck the thing, the salt appeared to thaw the blood and let it run freely. While the bullet wounds, by this point, had covered much of the creature, it didn't appear to bleed very much, the salt obviously caused some reaction which let it bleed freely.
And so it bled.
Another officer, who covered their mouth and nose with their other hand like a sensible person, threw even more salt. And again. And again. And the thing stopped fighting. It's tentacles came into itself and wrapped around itself and tried to protect itself from the onslaught as more and more officers took up the hint and threw salt at the thing. The whimpring softened and the thing fell down, as much as a thing like that could. An officer jumped into the smallish dump-truck that held the salt and drove it to the thing and proceeded to back it to where the thing lay. He then dumped the entire load on it, covering it in a mound like a salt-crusted dish in some gourmet restaurant.
The cops crowded around the pile of salt that wasn't ambitious enough to even be a pillar, though it contained something that seemed to exist in spite of the will of God. They stood around in silence for a moment. They saw the mound rise once more and they all stepped back, drawing their weapons.
"Dear god, what is that thing?"
The mound fell and did not rise again.
"I know," someone said. The cops all turned and looked at Principal Pulaski. For almost dramatic effect, he had donned a black trench coat and it fluttered in the breeze like this was some kind of movie. "I know what it is."
They dug the corpse from the salt, and though the men at first were scared to touch it, Pulaski encouraged them. Several overcame their fear and lifted it into the dump-truck that had previously contained the salt. They closed the tailgate and several police cruisers escorted the dump truck which, in turn, followed Pulaski's car.
The startling thing was that they did not drive into the country, but rather to the downtown of their small village. The downtown was now littered with hopeful tourist draws: antique shops, hair salons, and other shops that replaced the old grocery, gun, and other stores that were not nearly as useful when a Wal-Mart was in the next town over. Some of them, like Pulaski's father's liquor store, were still there and did a fair bit of business as the next town (which sat in another county) had restrictive liquor license requirements. In fact, they stopped at the liquor store and the father, a Walter Pulaski, walked out with the help of a walker (replete with tennis balls instead of the rubber stoppers) and got into Pulaski's car, leaving the walker in the parking lot.
They then drove two blocks and stopped in front of an alley. The alley itself was too narrow for the dump-truck. Pulaski got out.
"We'll need to get it down the alley. Anyone have a dolly or a big cart of some sort?"
While the logistics of moving the thing were left to Pulaski the Younger, his father got out of the car and walked slowly, as he had left his walker, down the alleyway. When he was out of sight, he broke into a run. From under his own wool suit-jacket, he produced a comically large set of keys, from which he plucked one, while running and, full speed, as if he were going to run into the door, unlocked it, opened it, and entered without slowing down. In the darkness itself was a rather steep set of stairs which he took down down down. The door shut and locked by itself behind him, leaving only the outline of the door. The creature would have to follow him, no doubt, but that was what the Elder Pulaski wouldn't have to worry about. His concern was ahead, around and down a slope that slowly spiraled out, illuminated by a string of blue Christmas tree lights that reached down, ever further until he reached another door. At this one, he stopped and, again, pulled out the keyring, choosing one among the dozens, and slid it slowly into the dead bolt. He did not want to make panic-inducing noises, here. He felt it slide in as the tumblers actuated up to their specified locations, which allowed the barrel of the lock to turn freely.
That was when he realized that the door was already unlocked. He mouthed a curse, but not in English, nor even in Polish (which one would gather, given his name), but rather in an New England accented language that was ancient and long dead by the time of Jesus. Not that Pulaski's language and Jesus had to do with one another, but the Elder Pulaski wasn't exactly well versed in other aspects of that time that would be generally well known, either. The machinations in Rome, properly, were not within his knowledge scope, nor were the occurrences of the Western Han dynasty. His interests were more esoteric.
He leaned on the door and felt it, cold. If it were not so dry in the stairwell, the door would have been white with frost.
He finally gathered the courage to open the door and, as he pushed it open, he felt a gust of cold air that reminded him that he was not, not really, simply in a town near Lake Michigan.
She was waiting for him, of course. The compressors belched out the freezing air. He smelled a slight tinge of ammonia in the air, indicating there was a leak in the cooling system. It would need to be handled, but not now. Not now.
"You childish fool," she said, though she looked to be half his age, at least from what could be seen under the fur lined hood. "You let it out. Goddess will be angry."
The gender of the birthing entity of course was only assumed to be female. Of the Elder Pulaski's knowledge, there were only the two genders, unless you counted someone on the streets of San Francisco, which he did not. His unawareness was immaterial to reality.
The woman, however, was more versed and simply translated to the most applicable word in Pulaski's vocabulary. No disrespect was meant by it, but the man was incapable of even understanding. It didn't matter. His power here as a young adept, while not negligible, was not overwhelming to her centuries of practice.
She was nearing a thousand years old and was growing younger. She aged as does the universe, oscillating; they did not grow old or grow young, as both imply some terminal end point, but she instead grows older and younger. There was some time, before. There will be some time, after. But not yet. Her cycles were approximately 50 years and she was on the Ascension. She would grow until she appeared to be about 63 and then return back to the age of her first puberty, where she would choose a new name. There were some like her that chose older names; she instead chose Cynthia for its relative common-ness. Her last name was forgotten even to her. She had chosen one for simple appearance reasons, but it was meaningless and randomly chosen from a literal phone book, as they still existed when she chose the name.
"Cynthia, I didn't mean to," he said. They were walking further. Just around a couple corners. It was getting colder each step.
"Of course you did not. It is forgiven by me, indicative of your youthful indiscretion. I trust your father explained what happened." She was speaking of the Principal.
"Yes. He did."
"Then you realize that this is not going to end well for you."
"But you said it was forgiven."
"By me. I cannot say the same for Her."
In a way, Cynthia was unimpressed by the Goddess. This wasn't the first Goddess she had served, and it wouldn't likely be the last. In a way, Goddess was an overemphasis on what the Goddess really was.
They rounded the final corner and saw Her. The Goddess Onn reclined in restful slumber upon a pile of fresh snow. That is, she could be said to be laid; the proper orientation of Goddess was beyond knowing in this dimension. Cynthia had explained it repeatedly and the closest Pulaski got to understanding it was when she described it as "think about if you were in a 2 dimensional world. You would still see the lines even though you lived on a plane; there would still be an ineffable thickness. Our world has that same ineffability but in the higher dimensions."
They called her the Goddess Onn because even the most enlightened among them saw the entity as god-like. That was where the words rounded off into reality. And, as Onn moved, it was easy to see why. Variously sized shapes appeared to pop in and out of existence in the air as she moved. That was an illusion, as the parts always existed, just not where they could be seen by people like Pulaski and Cynthia.
They took their positions as indicated by the sigils on the floor. Cynthia cleared her throat and said, "Goddess, we ask for an audience."
The air shook, and a wet voice that sounded like it came from between and within them said, "SPEAK."
Pulaski spoke, "The child, Qos, escaped from the chamber. This was my fault. It found its way to the surface of our world and killed many people. It was then killed by the authorities here."
"THIS IS A GREAT DISAPPOINTMENT."
And then Onn disappeared. And Pulaski did as well.
Before his body distributed itself, making a mess in 4-dimensional space, Pulaski did have time to note that he could not contain himself. He tried to laugh at his own pun, but his mouth was somewhere else.
The other (elder but younger looking) Pulaski knew what was happening before Cynthia could come up from the chamber below. First he saw a sphere appear in the middle of the air and grow and then shrink benignly. If someone else noticed what happened, then Pulaski didn't notice them notice. Then came a sound that could only be described as sharp behind him. He turned around and saw one of the police officers that had accompanied him, his name-tag said Ubermench. More properly, Pulaski saw the lower half of the torso and legs of the man. The upper half had disappeared into what Pulaski knew as a higher dimensional space. Ubermench might survive there until he bled out, but that depended on the geometry of where he was going. He might just fall apart, the parts of him dispersing all about some higher dimension of existence made tangible.
*Pop* *Pop* *Pop* went the heads of 3 men standing in front of the thing, getting their picture taken in front of the corpse. The flash catching the exact moment when the middle one's head disappeared and the other two just standing there, not yet reacting. Their demise was just an instant later, almost before the photons had time to be collected by the CCD of the digital camera.
Then came another sound. This one was just a crunching, and as Pulaski turned again, he saw a hairy object, a three-dimensional polygon of indeterminate nomenclature or even consistent shape, come into being and smash one police cruiser, complete with occupants. Then the object disappeared.
The path of the object was towards the white, tentacled thing. Inasmuch as the being could be said to be heading toward something in this level of dimensional space.
Pulaski then heard a sound like the unfurling of a plastic garbage bag. That came from behind him, again, so he whirled and saw a clear membrane appear around the creature's corpse. Slowly, delicately, the body was picked up in the membrane and Pulaski had the mental image of it being carried off by a tender giant as it floated up and into the sky a ways.
And all the presently living people around just looked confused and unable to process what they had just witnessed.
One cop did, however, and started raising his shotgun. The charge wasn't buckshot, but salt. Pulaski reached out and pushed the barrel away and said quietly, "No."
The Goddess was going to mourn her child, who had not grown up through to her final dimensionality. He had never seen this before, but Pulaski knew from the traditions of his sect that one did not fuck with extra-dimensional beings; their sadness was incomprehensible in this limited universe. Everyone was lucky to have gotten off so lightly.