We received the message to attend a crime scene at the British Museum some time after seven in the evening.
I sat reading the paper and enjoying a cup of tea when the constable arrived. He stood at the entrance speaking in such a rush that my friend, as short-tempered as he is wont to be, took him by the shoulder, and in a surprisingly calm manner, asked the man to repeat the message, slowly.
The strangeness of the details was so intriguing we spared little time in preparation. Upon reaching the museum’s grand entrance we were immediately escorted by the constable past a gathering of curious onlookers and through doors guarded by two stern officers. Once inside, we passed through a series of rooms resplendent with statues and artefacts garnered from all points of the known world.
While I dallied at the Rosetta Stone, my friend and his escort continued down a long hall to an area reserved for items collected from ancient Briton. His sharp call reminded me of my purpose and I grudgingly followed.
Here I found Inspector Lestrade and two constables standing near three bodies. A third constable was off to the side, conversing with a visibly distraught night watchman. Lestrade acknowledged my entrance with a quick flick of his dark eyes. I touched the rim of my hat before concentrating on the bodies.
Though closed for the evening, the warm, deep shadows cast by the subdued lighting failed to disguise each victim’s grisly demise. Two had received severe chest wounds, their cotton shirts blood-soaked and torn by multiple swings of some bladed instrument. The third had suffered a more ghastly wound: a crushed cranium, the blow slicing bone and opening the forehead down to the mouth. His glazed eyes stared obscenely in opposite directions.
“Ever see anything like it, Holmes?” Lestrade asked. “A deranged madman with an axe, I say.”
My friend merely grunted; he was intent on examining the crime scene. He paused, his brow wrinkling, then strode to a spot a dozen feet from the victims. Bending, he drew his finger across the floor, and then inspected his fingertip, placing it against his nose before gingerly tasting the tip with his tongue. Rubbing index finger and thumb together, he said, “Inspector, did the night watchman say anything about a missing artefact?”
Lestrade turned. “You, Berkshire, bring that watchman here.”
The night watchman, a thin fellow, lean as the Inspector, gave the bodies a wide berth as Constable Berkshire prodded him before Lestrade and Holmes.
“There was something here,” Lestrade snapped. “What was it?”
The watchman swallowed, the sunken eyes of his narrow, pasty face flitting from man to man. “Those fellows came at closing, sirs, at the delivery entrance out back. Had a wooden crate with them and official-looking paperwork with orders to place a statue here.”
Holmes cupped his chin. “A statue, was it?”
The watchman nodded eagerly. “Oh yes, sir. I left them to make my rounds when they took to opening the crate.”
“And did you see this statue?” Holmes asked. “Can you describe it?”
“Just a little, sir. It was black. Like coal. Looked like a man, it did. Imposing it was, like an ancient king or god. Gave me chills.”
Lestrade said, a touch impatiently, “And then what?”
The watchman shivered and swallowed. “I heard something.”
“Out with it.”
“I was in the basement doing my rounds, as I said, when I heard shouting, and then screaming. Blood-curdling screaming, it was. When I came to investigate, I saw this.” He gestured weakly at the bodies.
“And their assailants?”
The night watchman hesitated. “I did see them, sir, but I tell you now: you won’t believe me.”
Lestrade frowned. “Try.”
“They were small. Like dwarves. African dwarves. I can’t think of the name—”
“Pygmies,” I offered.
“Yes, sir. That’s it. Like pygmies. ‘Cept they weren’t. Not exactly. They were maybe a dozen in all. Hacked these men to death, they did. Then they took the statue. Carried it off like it weighed nothing.”
Lestrade snorted. “Nonsense.” He leaned close to the cowering man and sniffed. “You have been drinking, sir.”
The watchman whimpered, wiping his nose with a dirty sleeve. “Tis true I had a nip or two, sir, but I’m telling you the truth. I’m no hero, I’m not. I hid. I didn’t want to end up like them.”
Holmes gave a dismissive wave of his hand. “That will be all for now.” Kneeling down, he said, “What do you make of these, Inspector?”
Lestrade, motioning Berkshire to take the watchman away, snapped, “Make of what? I see nothing.”
“Shine your torch here, by my hand. Like so. See? Residue from the shallow imprint of a foot. A bare, damp foot. Rather small. Angle the light down a bit more. Yes. That’s it.” He stood. “Just as I thought.”
“What, Holmes? Pygmies running barefoot through the museum?”
“Possibly. I suspect we shall find others like this by the bodies, the broken crate, and leading to an exit. The rear exit, I presume. These men had identification?”
“No.” Lestrade reached into his coat and produced a journal, nodding toward the man with the split head. “That one had this.”
Holmes held out a hand. “May I?” Taking the journal, he inspected the front and back covers before opening it and reading from the first page. “To a Peter Stiles, a gift from his sister, Anne. There is an address here.”
Lestrade waved an impatient hand. “I know all that. In the morning a constable will bring her to the morgue to identify her brother. Perhaps she can shed additional light on this mystery.”
Holmes nodded as he flipped through the book. “Doctor, can you add anything?” Absently, he tucked the journal inside his peacoat. Lestrade made to protest, but thought better of it.
A cursory inspection on my part had provided little beyond the obvious cause of death, save for an object embedded in the head of the man with the split skull. Opening my kit, I produced a pair of tweezers and extracted a chip of black stone. Holding it against the available light, I turned the fragment about, unsure of its origin.
My friend, his brow raised with curiosity, approached, motioning Lestrade to follow. Taking the tweezers from my hand, he inspected the black stone carefully under Lestrade’s torch. “Note the scalloped pattern,” he said, running his finger along an edge and drawing it away sharply, placing the digit to his mouth. “Cut myself,” he mumbled. “It is flint. I would say from an axe.
Lestrade snorted. “A flint axe for a murder weapon? Preposterous.”
Holmes returned the item to me. “Many tribes continue to use flint to this day, Inspector. New Guinea, the Amazon, certain cultures along the—”
“All right, all right. So, you propose these men were murdered by Amazons?”
“Nothing that exotic, Inspector. From its shape and texture I suspect this flint originated in the vicinity of Galloway.”
Lestrade cocked an eyebrow. “Galloway? Galloway, Scotland?”
Holmes nodded. “Galloway is known to have evidence of Neolithic settlements, as well as extensive findings of flint tools.”
Lestrade regarded the bodies with obvious distaste. His eyes darted to mine, gauging my reaction. I remained silent. Speaking carefully, he summarized, “So, to be clear, these men delivered a statue; then were subsequently murdered by pygmies armed with flint weapons who then ran off with the statue.”
Holmes nodded. “Yes.”
“Where to? Another museum?”
I allowed a thin smile, though the humor appeared beyond my friend. “Perhaps we should look out back,” I offered. “We may find additional clues.” My suggestion was met with grunts of approval.
The night watchman led us to the rear loading dock, though he refused to go further. Under electric torchlight we searched the immediate area until a constable called out. We gathered around a grate. A close inspection revealed scoring about the edges, indicating recent displacement.
Lestrade said, “This must be where your pygmies went.” He glanced at the thickly clouded night sky. “These tunnels go for miles. They could be anywhere by now. It is best we wait until morning before conducting a proper search.”
I could see my friend disapproved, and was prepared to climb into the dank, filthy sewer system honeycombing London. Hastily, I said, “The Inspector is right, Holmes. You can study the journal tonight and tomorrow we shall meet this Miss Stiles at the morgue. Between her and the journal we may better understand this mystery.”
Holmes muttered, “Tomorrow then,” and stormed off.
Smiling grimly at Lestrade, I followed.
Anne Stiles arrived at the morgue shortly after mid-morning, escorted by Constable Berkshire. She was a handsome woman in her early twenties, with dark, nervous eyes and thin, pinched lips.
I hurriedly approached and held out my hand. “Miss Stiles, I am Doctor Watson.”
Absently she took it, her touch cold and clammy. Before I could offer words of comfort she asked, “Where is Peter?”
I led her to the body. “I must caution you, Miss, the wound is most grievous.”
I raised the sheet, exposing the ruined head.
She gasped, her hands covering her mouth. “Dear God, who could do such a thing?”
Replacing the cloth, I said, “I am truly sorry, Miss Stiles, I—”
“That is not Peter.”
“That is not Peter. Peter has red hair and a beard.”
I fell into confused silence. Anne glanced at the remaining bodies. I shook my head. “Neither have red hair nor beards, Miss.”
She regarded me with renewed hope. “Then he lives.”
I managed a smile. “Perhaps so.” Nodding at the ruined body, I said, “We found a journal belonging to your brother on this one.”
“The constable mentioned the journal.”
“I see. Excepting this man’s condition, is there any chance you recognize him?”
Anne frowned. “No. Would you like me to examine the others?”
I hurriedly shook my head. “No, their wounds are less repulsive.”
After a brief inspection she said, “I have never seen them before, but then my brother often hires local folk during his trips.”
Taking Miss Stiles by the elbow, I gently led her into an adjoining room with table and chairs. We sat.
“What exactly does your brother do?” I asked.
Anne folded her hands in her lap. “He is a writer, Doctor Watson. Myths and legends, mainly. His research takes him everywhere as he tracks obscure references or witnesses to interview. I help when possible, but this time I had important business, and he went on his own.”
She raised her eyebrows. “How did you know?”
A familiar voice answered, “A logical assumption, given the evidence, ma’am.”
We turned. My friend stood in the entrance, Peter’s journal clutched in his hand. “A very interesting read, Miss Stiles. Your brother is most inquisitive. He discovered the location of a prehistoric cave complex on the Galloway coast and hired three locals to aid in its exploration. The final entry mentions the discovery of a statue. It was these hired hands who brought it to London before meeting their unfortunate end.”
Anne stood, her fine features grim and unwavering. “Then I must be off to Galloway. Peter may yet live.” She thrust out her hand. “I require the journal.”
My friend hesitated. “It is evidence, ma’am.”
I snorted. “It is Lestrade’s evidence. I say we travel at once. Lestrade can look for us.”
A thin smile played about Holmes’ lips. Much later he would suggest I was infatuated with Miss Stiles, shown by my being so hasty to jump to her assistance. To my mind this explained the reason he excused himself from accompanying us. He sighed and said, “I cannot go. I have a fresh lead on the Mulholland investigation, a lead I must act quickly upon. To be frank, Miss Stiles, your case now involves a missing person, and no longer requires my attention. As for the bodies at the museum, I am sure Lestrade can handle those.” He held the journal out to me. “Though I am sure Miss Stiles would appreciate your aid.”
I took the book and handed it over. “Would you object, Miss Stiles?”
Anne shook her head. “Having a doctor along is prudent, if it is not inconvenient.”
“Then we are settled,” Holmes said. “One more thing, Miss Stiles. Near the final passage of the journal your brother mentions a book titled Unaussprechlichen Kulten. Are you familiar with it?”
Color drained from Anne’s face. She swallowed. “Yes, I am. Dear God. Don’t tell me he found a copy.”
We traveled to a village near Luce Bay two days after our introduction in the morgue only to find the local inn swamped with members of the press. These abominable journalists, from nearby Wigtown to as far as Edinburgh, had arrived in response to a series of mysterious events occurring over the past few days.
With rumors rife and tongues wagging incessantly, it was not long before our inquiries revealed tales of mutilated sheep, strange creature sightings and missing villagers. Among those villagers were three men who, based on descriptions, now resided in the London morgue. Yet another was an old gentleman known to possess a vast collection of books.
The locals confirmed that Peter Stiles had not only stayed in the village, but had hired the missing men and visited the old book collector. This, we discovered, made Peter the prime suspect, though no one could tie him to the mutilated animals or unexplained creatures.
Having discovered all we could, Anne and I departed the village the following morning, before the sun had reached the horizon.
Following directions outlined in Peter’s journal, we located an old road that cut through a field of meadow grass and yellow gorse, before giving way to ice-gouged glens and low, rounded hills. In time we reached a crumbling stone bridge that crossed a clear, shallow brook. Beyond the bridge the road ceased, becoming a narrow dirt path flanked by giant, broad-leafed trees. Past the trees the path meandered through a heathland bog until, with the close sound of surf breaking against weathered rocks, we came upon an ancient oak, naked and gnarled with age. This milestone was clearly marked in the journal.
Anne and I paused to rest near the brooding tree, taking water from our canteens. Few words were exchanged. Since departing London, Anne’s quest to locate her brother had kept her quiet and focused, a state I reluctantly grew accustomed to.
When we continued, the journal led us at right angles from the path, beside a low wall of jagged rock, until we came upon a depression. In the center of the shallow basin stood a menhir, a solitary sentry pitted by the ravages of time.
“This is it,” Anne confirmed simply, identifying the landmark as the final key to the hidden cave.
Securing our coats against the growing cold, we entered the depression, stepping carefully on the slippery moss. I produced a compass and, starting from the menhir, counted the exact number of steps set out in the book until we reached a ledge between two spires of rock overlooking the tumultuous bay. A fierce wind gusted off the cold waters, chilling me to the bone.
Anne shouted over the surf’s thunderous noise, “Do you see anything?”
Wiping fine mist from my face, I shook my head. “What does the journal say?”
“Nothing else about the location.” Leaning dangerously forward, she peered over the ledge. A moment later she pointed. “There. A path.”
I looked for myself. Anne had indeed found the path, but it was narrow and coated with slick, olive-green moss. A hazardous descent was unavoidable.
Taking the rope looped over my shoulder, I tied it about Anne’s waist and secured the loose end around my own. I shouted, “I will lead.”
Anne nodded, understanding.
Carefully, I stepped onto the path, my body hugging the rock face, my arms splayed wide. I took two tentative steps and paused, waiting as Anne followed.
Fortunately, our descent proved mercifully brief as the path widened into a ledge. From the ledge we discovered a cave entrance hidden behind a stone outcropping, its angle effectively concealing it from view, making it undetectable by sea.
Stepping inside, we trod cautiously for several feet before entering a shallow cave. By now exterior light was faint, and while I untied the line, Anne produced an electric torch. Turning it on illuminated the interior. Insects of all shapes, sizes and colors scurried into the safety of black crevices and dark holes.
With the rope once again looped over my left shoulder, I unbuttoned my coat and produced a pistol, inspecting it for dryness and load.
Anne frowned. “Is that necessary, Doctor Watson?”
I shrugged. “Your brother is missing, Miss Stiles, perhaps in this very cave. There is no telling what we may encounter. A wolf? Or bear?”
Anne allowed a diminutive smile. “Bears and wolves no longer inhabit Scotland, Doctor, unless you happen to visit a circus.” Turning, she directed her torch to the opposite end of the cave, revealing an exit, a foreboding maw of Stygian darkness. “As you have the gun, sir, you may go first.”
I grinned. “Remain close and keep that torch raised. I do not wish to tumble into a pit.”
Annie grinned back, a noticeable improvement in her mood now that we had discovered the cave. “Of course.”
The passage was a twisting corridor that sloped in a downward direction for several hundred feet, the air growing increasingly oppressive with each cautious step.
At some point, I cannot say exactly when, I sensed a presence. More than one, actually. We were being watched, though careful scrutiny of the numerous deep passages branching off the corridor, or the passage behind us, revealed nothing. I suspect Anne sensed it too, for she moved so close I could feel her nervous breath on my neck.
Eventually a gust of warm air presaged a sharp turn, and we entered a massive cavern, its sheer size swallowing the torchlight, losing the walls and ceiling to darkness.
Anne stifled a gasp at the daunting vista, a sharp intake that produced a faint echo. She turned to me, the yellowish torchlight casting deep shadows across her face. Uncertainty clouded her features. “What now?” she asked, wincing at the unwelcome echo her voice produced. She lowered her tone to a whisper. “This is much larger than I expected.”
We reacted to a sound, like rocks tumbling down hollow steps. It had originated some distance from us, a few degrees to our left. I pointed with the pistol and whispered, “Follow the noise, yes?”
We set off, and before long the churned ground turned flat. A look down revealed a walkway, a stone path worn smooth by centuries of passage. The very thought that something manmade existed this far below the surface raised the hairs on my neck.
We pressed on, until a great stone bridge loomed before us, spanning a seemingly bottomless chasm. We regarded each other with a sense of wonder and no small amount of apprehension.
At that moment, the failing remnants of an echo reached us. Low, distant, it sounded eerily like a scream.
Anne jerked her head and shouted, “Peter?”
Before I could urge caution she was crossing the chasm with a hurried and determined step, her hiking boots loud on the stone blocks. I had no choice but to follow.
As we pushed deeper into the cavern, I strained to detect sounds beyond our footsteps and labored breathing, and was finally rewarded with a faint noise: a deep hum like an angry swarm of bees. I placed my hand on Anne’s shoulder, bringing her to an unwilling stop. She faced me with an irritated and questioning look. I put a finger to my lips while raising my pistol. Reluctantly, she nodded.
Two dozen careful steps brought us within range of a faint, greenish glow. Pausing to exchange looks, we continued until we reached a landscape strewn with emerald-colored crystals, rising from the cave floor like broken teeth.
Another hundred feet of guarded treading brought us to the edge of a shallow, bowl-shaped crater. Using a stand of crystals as cover, we examined the scene before us.
Near the crater’s center stood an ‘x’ shaped cross, crafted from some dark stone. Several feet beyond it was a pit, a gaping black hole perhaps twenty feet in diameter and surrounded by mounds of debris. To the right of the cross blazed a fire, its dancing flames caught by the crystals and responsible for the source of green illumination. Perhaps thirty feet above ground began a series of tiered alcoves, rising into the darkness. The angry hum emanated from these, and in several of the black recesses I detected hints of movement.
I motioned Anne to switch off her torch. She obliged, and then cursed silently as her boot disturbed something. Bending over, she gasped and straightened, a jacket clenched in her fist. “This belongs to Peter,” she whispered harshly.
The hum suddenly lowered to a monotonous rumble, and took on the aspect of some primordial chant: a low, monkish drone that sent shudders down my spine.
Moments later a scream tore from within the crater, echoing harshly along the cavernous walls.
A figure now stood before the cross, partially obscured by the stone. When it had appeared, or from where, I could not tell. It was stooped, like some arthritic elder, clad in a tattered, hooded robe that draped its features in shadow. One hand clutched a dagger in an oddly long and sinuous arm. The arm reached out and slashed crosswise, eliciting another scream.
Someone was lashed to the cross, someone we could not see.
The knife flashed again, and again came the scream.
“That could be Peter,” Anne blurted. Breaking from cover, she rushed down the shallow slope of the crater, clutching her torch like a club.
Cursing her impetuosity, I followed.
Though at first puzzled by the interruption, the figure quickly reacted, approaching Anne with the bloody dagger held high above its hooded head.
From years of fighting in Afghanistan I had become something of a crack shot. Dropping to one knee, I raised my pistol, aimed, and squeezed the trigger. The gun discharged with a sharp crack, its retort echoing loud and long.
The figure loosed an unearthly shriek and staggered back as a dark stain spread across its chest. The hood fell away, revealing a face so hideous and repulsive nightmares about it plague me to this day. Shocked by its sheer horror, my finger reflexively squeezed the trigger again. The second shot impacted near the first, and the — thing — as I can think of no other word to describe it, lurched again, the dagger slipping from its inhuman fingers.
Annie hesitated for only a moment at the nightmarish sight before swinging her torch hard across its flattened head, opening a deep gash that streamed black blood across its mottled face. It shrieked again, blinded by the blood, and stumbled into the yawning pit, falling screeching from sight.
Sparing not a second glance, Anne raced to the cross, her mouth opening in a mixture of shock and relief. “Peter,” she cried.
I rushed to join her, keenly aware the throbbing chant had increased in volume. A sharp glance revealed agitated motion among the layers of alcoves.
“Help me free him, Doctor,” Anne pleaded.
I stopped before the cross. My heart skipped a beat. Peter Stiles hung naked, manacled to the stone, his chest a mass of deep wounds. Blood streamed down his lean torso and along his legs to pool on the ground at his feet. He was in mild shock, his eyes unfocused, his lips drawn into a rictus of pain.
Slowly, as Anne’s voice penetrated his tortured state, his eyes cleared and widened with recognition bordering on terror. “Annie,” he said in a cracked and strained voice. “Get out. It will come. Soon, it will come.”
I glanced toward the the scattered mounds surrounding the pit, and my stomach turned as realization dawned. They were bones. Piles upon piles of broken ribcages and split skulls, cracked femurs and crushed spines. Many were old and crumbling from age; others were fresh, with traces of flesh, cartilage and stringy sinew hanging in moist ribbons, tainted green by the hellish light.
“Help me,” Anne repeated.
I watched helplessly as she tugged at the cold iron of the manacles in a vain attempt to wrench them free of the black stone.
“Use your pistol,” she pleaded. “Shoot the links.”
I knew they were too thick, but suspected she would not believe me. For her sake, I tried. Placing the gun against a link behind Peter’s wrist, I squeezed the trigger. The gun cracked. The bullet ricocheted from the chain, sparked off the stone and buzzed past my ear. I shook my head.
A long, deep moan, like metal twisting under immense strain, rose from the pit.
Peter became apoplectic, spittle flying from his mouth as he screamed, “It comes! Go. Run!” Focusing on me for the first time, his eyes flared with dread. “Take her. For God’s sake, save her! Please.”
Anne ignored his pleas and tore frantically at the manacles. “I will not let you die.”
Peter swung his head to face her and said, “I am already dead, Annie.”
I rushed to the pit and peered in. As dark as its depths were, I sensed motion from deep within. Something massive approached, pushing a current of rancid air before it. I backed away, choking. Racing to Anne, I took her by the arm and tugged. “We must go.”
“No!” she screamed, pushing me off.
I looked to Peter; I read his silent plea as his last vestiges of sanity slipped away.
Cocking my fist, in a move I would forever regret, I struck Anne across the jaw, knocking her unconscious. I held her as she slumped to the ground. Then, with sickening resolve, I raised my pistol and, with Peter nodding in the affirmative, shot him in the heart. His lifeless head dropped onto his chest.
Mechanically, I replaced the weapon and scooped up the torch, then lifted Anne and tossed her over my shoulder. As the sound from the pit thundered closer, I raced from the crater, crossing the lip and setting Anne down at the spot where she had found Peter’s jacket. Working to catch my breath, I watched while Anne moaned, creeping back to consciousness.
A groan exploded like a thunderclap against the cavern walls, followed by an immense sound like water sucked rapidly down a narrow drain. Cursing my curiosity, I peered around the protecting crystal, and what I saw dried my mouth and nearly loosened my bowels.
An immense creature slithered from the pit, a great fleshy snake with a head that was eerily human in appearance save for dead, shark-like eyes and a round, puckered mouth with razor-sharp teeth. Small tentacles, ending in curved claws, waved sinuously on its upper body. To my professional mind they were reminiscent of atrophied arms, perhaps hinting at some bizarre perversion of evolution ages past. It swayed ponderously, groaning in a sonorous tone, and then the monstrous head swooped to within mere feet of the cross. A clawed arm reached out.
I turned away as it tore Peter’s body from the dark stone.
A scream jarred me. Anne. Awake now, she had witnessed the grisly scene.
At once the thing reacted, its repulsive head swaying on a long scaly neck, the black eyes searching and searching until we were discovered. Its groan became a shrill tittering that was swiftly answered from the honeycomb of alcoves high above the cavern floor.
I took Anne by the arm. “We must go. Now.” She offered surprisingly little resistance, a state I put down to shock, and let me guide her toward the bridge.
It quickly became apparent we were not alone. The frenzied tapping of clawed feet on stone signaled pursuit as the air grew loud with foul gibbering. I had little doubt what they were, those shapes I had spied among the alcoves: they were worshippers of that nightmare creature.
Anne gradually roused from her shock, and finally broke free of my guiding hand, reclaiming the torch and pushing on with grim determination. Its light punched through the darkness, the beam bouncing and wavering with each frenetic step.
We reached the bridge, and as we crossed I chanced a look back at our pursuers. What I saw was a broiling mass of distorted shapes skirting the light’s edge.
By now my breath came in great gasps, and Anne stumbled from exhaustion. We had covered barely half the distance to the cave entrance, and I sensed we would never make it.
I produced my pistol and urged Anne forward. “Keep going,” I said. “They may be unfamiliar with this. With luck I will delay them, and then I shall join you.”
Anne regarded me dubiously.
It was then I spied a shape at the other end of the bridge, a black silhouette planted firmly before the entrance. I motioned Anne toward it, and as we approached I realized with a start it was a statue, an ebony slab of some unknown substance in the shape of a man, standing like a stoic guard. Was this what had been taken to London, sparking those grisly murders? And who had returned it? Those small men the night watchman had mentioned? And why to this spot? I cast about for signs of life, but saw nothing.
The horrors pursuing us reached the bridge, their gibbering loud in the voluminous cavern.
Pointing at the path leading to the cave entrance I said, “Go now, Miss Stiles. Please.”
Anne backed away slowly, conflicted at the thought of abandoning me.
I managed a weak grin and waved my pistol, urging her to run; then I faced the bridge, holding the weapon steady in both hands. I prayed one or two well-placed shots would sufficiently scare these creatures back to their hellish master.
But the sound of pursuit ceased, and the air grew still. I peered into the darkness, sensing shapes clustered on the far side of the bridge and along the chasm. They made no move to approach.
I started at a presence beside me. Anne. I opened my mouth to rebuke her, but she voiced my very question.
“Why have they stopped?”
I shook my head. “Fear of my pistol?”
Dismissing my weak attempt at humor, she gently touched the statue. “Perhaps it is this.”
I pursed my lips in contemplation. The idea was outlandish, of course, contrary to my professional training. I dealt in facts, not superstitions. There had to be a logical reason, even though those creatures and the thing they worshiped were most certainly not superstitions. Truthfully, I could offer no rational explanation. Reluctantly, I said, “Then let this guardian keep them at bay while we make our escape.”
Anne nodded sharply, but as I turned to leave she reached into her coat and retrieved her brother’s journal. Quickly, she approached the lip of the chasm and heaved the book so it dropped from sight into darkness. Rejoining me with a dour look on her face, she said, “No one should ever learn of this damnable place, Doctor Watson. No one.”
I grunted my approval. As illogical as it appeared, I suspected the mutilations and kidnappings of the past few days would cease now that the mysterious statue once again stood vigil before the bridge.
Taking the stone path for the passage leading to the exit, I chanced to notice a smallish man standing in silhouette atop a distant rock, a bow clutched in one hand. When I looked again, he was gone.
- While born in Toronto, Ontario, Bruce Durham has lived most of his life in neighboring Mississauga. He spent over 30 of those years in the CATV industry in a variety of capacities, most recently as a consultant. Though he has been described as ‘older than dirt’, the reality is that he’s 56 and has been happily married for 27 years. His award-winning short story, The Marsh God, has been adapted into a graphic novel — view the Youtube video trailer here.
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