It was the werewolf, of course. It would have to be the goddamn werewolf.
At the Directors Global AGM that year, Scandinavia had been absolutely convinced that they would break their miserable record (one complete in the last decade which, fine was a good one, but jesus christ what’s the point of being the life satisfaction kings of western Europe if you can’t take care of business?). Over reception drinks in the lobby of the hotel the tall blonde woman grasps her arm and whispers, “This year, we will do it this year, for sure”. She nods and smiles and gives no indication of the opinions now filling her head, which all run along the lines of ‘we all get lucky once, honey, but now you’re just gonna have to get some damn work done’.
Vampires. Anyone can run a vampire show.
Everyone speaks English and drinks Starbucks coffee, all the catering is care of McDonald’s and Wendy’s, except the platters of sushi, miso soup and tempura vegetables arranged in an elegant semicircle in front of Japan which he eats with delicate grace, thin fingers grasping chopsticks and a quick tongue flicking away noodles. She has trouble working out whether he respects his aloofness, or despises his superciliousness, but composes her face. Of course. That’s what she’s here to do. Sitting at the head of the table, opposite Japan, who has conceded chairing duties to her this year as part of their alternating rota arrangement, she says:
“Ladies and gentlemen, please, if I could have your attention.”
They turn to her: Spain looks tired and too tanned; Britain tart and chippy, wearing a suit jacket over a Cthulhu t-shirt and jeans, half a fry sticking out of his mouth; Canada, trying to look serious but just coming off weird; South Korea eager; Mexico grinning; Scandi looking depressed; Russia grim (or possibly drunk); Germany skeletal; India serene and handsome, perfectly manicured hands folded neatly on top of the table.
“Welcome to this, the 2012 Annual General Meeting of Facility Directors.”
It goes off without a hitch. Even the sacrifice of the goat, which most of them know look on as rather dated and vulgar, is clean and neat. Well, she had been practicing.
For a while they had to keep her quiet -- drugs and IV fluids and nil by mouth and always leaving the lights on, always the sound of the sea in the background, some fucking relaxation tape that they played over and over until she took it out of the cassette player, unspooled the tape and split it with her teeth. She threw the hifi against the window and flinched as the thing bounced off the glass and exploded at the same time. Then she had realised that her arms were bleeding because the effort of getting up out of the bed had pulled both her IV lines out. A thin rivulet of blood had coursed down her wrist and begun to drip on the floor. She had stood, staring it at, unable to connect its presence with anything in her life, in her memory, that she understood.
The cat, the little ginger kitten that had appeared at the end of her bed one day when she was lucid enough to feel like she was awake but groggy enough to suspect that she was still dreaming, looked at her warily, and mewed. She had turned her head towards it slowly, weary, one more damn thing and, suddenly, quite like a punch in the stomach, she felt like crying. The cat mewed again, still sounding like it would duck under the nearest sheltering object if she gave it another reason to do so. Its green eyes seem to say: look, lady, you’ve had a hard time, I know, but I’m not up for all this pyrotechnical bullshit. And that had made her laugh, and then think of Parker, and then start to cry in earnest.
We thought it’d be company for you, the men in the white coats had said, once they had finished bursting open her door, cleaning up her blood, and tutting, like old ladies at a clam bake, over her distress. They tucked her in and cuddled the cat (who had protested a little, but not convincingly, over being bedded up with this mad chick) up to her legs. She had been shaking, unable to speak, having to consciously think about each breath, aware of a heaviness in her chest that would not go away. But the cat had started to cry, just a little, and rubs the side of its head against her thigh. She had begun to stroke between its ears before she had even noticed her hand moving, the niggling pull of the new IV line in her vein. The cat quieted, started to purr. She slept. And, for the first time, since, her sleep had been dreamless.
It had been so long since she had sex she’d briefly wondered, in the back of the old hulk that is taking them to the cabin, whether her virginity had grown back.
She was the responsible one now, apparently. Studying for Finals right up until the last second, and then aceing every goddamn one of them. She’d been the one who hadn’t been sure about this trip, about them taking a shitload of pot and the kind of booze that might as well be moonshine along with them, and with the implication that Johnny Kane might be just the person to open up her heart (underused but slightly battered, like this fucking car when it was still new enough to deserve the name) and possibly even her legs.
John’s sweet, pre-Law. He’s a little older than her, and British, a distinction which he underlines by smoking disgusting roll-up cigarettes that have already stained his middle finger joint yellow. But he laughs easily and self-deprecatingly, always poking into things he should leave alone, like a bear at a beehive. She likes him. Maybe she even likes him enough.
He’s up front, laughing with Tommy and Veronica, trying to play the normal kid. That is isn’t normal and never will be (and not just because of the British thing -- he is actually genuinely pretty weird) but he’s a good actor and a good sport. Tommy seems to like him and Ronnie’s doing that thing that she swears isn’t actually flirting but which they are all pretty sure seems to qualify. She and Parker are sitting here: she is trying to look out of the window; he is trying to resist the urge to roll a joint. He is tapping something against the table that sounds like the drum line from a ZZ Top song. This is, predictably, driving her completely crazy.
“Oh for god’s sake, just smoke the damn thing, will you?” she says, after less time that she would have liked.
It is right at the back of the cellar, discarded on a credenza on top of which is also piled a couple of dusty looking books, an old-fashioned looking lamp, and little music box that, later on, she wonders why she didn’t touch. But she knows why she didn’t: the amulet was glowing, slightly, in the gloom. It gives off a light like swamp gas, greenish and sickly; it makes her think of the moon. The stone in the centre of it is opal and as she holds it up to the petty light still bleeding through from the open trapdoor, it too glows. It is heavy in her hands, rounded under fingers, and around it, in the tarnished silver of the setting, she can trace what she thinks must be some kind of script. Latin, probably. She can’t read it; she was always better at sciences.
“Parker, can you read this?”
Parker looks up from the thing he was examining which, to her, seems to be a small figurine of a tree, shaken by the wind. Tommy looks up. Veronica does too, at the same moment. Johnny turns away, slowly, from the unicorn tapestry against the far wall, by the stairs.
“It’s Latin, I think. Can you read it? You did Latin, right?”
“In 10th grade.”
“It wasn’t that long ago.”
He grins. “Lot of reefer under the bridge since then, honey.” He raises his hands and she throws it over.
“So if I said ‘what’s a nice girl like you doing in a shithole like this?’, would you slap my face?”
She laughs, or at any rate smiles. It’s a little like she’s forgotten how to do this, though she’s pretty sure she remembers a time when she knew this game and knew it well, but tonight it’s all awkwardness and blushing. He’s holding her hand for crying out loud.
But when she kisses him it seems to get simpler, easier.
The howl breaks through the sound of ‘Run Like Hell’ and before they’ve really had a chance to look at each other and pose the question that starts ‘what the fuck was --’, the wolf has leapt through the cabin window nearest the door and landed, in a puddle of glass and hair, on the sheepskin rug.
Scattered, with the beast between them all, they had run.
She’s been looking at the vapor coming off the thing for five minutes before she realises that it’s Veronica. Her guts, the gnawed remnant of her left leg and her head.
She’s a mile, she thinks, from the Cabin, running towards the road, or where she thinks the road is, where it meets the tunnel. But at its mouth there was only this offering, steaming in the cold air, and the sound of claws deep inside the mouth of the cavern.
Tommy is hanging from the rafters of the cabin, dripping blood onto the fucking rug. It looks like he’s been thrown up there, almost, scattered like ashes against the wood beams. His wrist is lying at a right angle to his arm and half his hair has been pulled out.
She is sobbing as she tries, with whatever she can, to barricade the door.
“Johnny?” She watches her breath escape into the air, a small smoke signal. He won’t be able to see it, not from there. She calls again, “Johnny”. He raises his head, slowly, so very slowly. He makes a noise -- it might be a call, but then it might not. His head falls down between his shoulders again, as if he’s hurt, as if he’s too tired to get up and she makes to move out from underneath the damn threshold, do something instead of just standing here in her fucking socks. Once more, then. “Johnny? Johnny, please.”
He raises his head again. A little chuckle. A gurgle, really. She squints into the blackness. The fog’s rising again, around his knees, his fists as they rest on the ground, then around his heels as he gets up. The noise again. It rumbles under the rain. He’s standing up again now, straight again now. The darkness and the moonlight cutting through it, makes him look taller. His coat, his big black overcoat has hunched over his shoulders, like he’s got it half on and half off, making him look heavier as well.
“John, are you okay?”
The growl -- she knows it’s a growl, knows it really, just can’t bear the weight of believing it, of hearing it rattle around inside her -- comes again. And it sounds like laughter, it really does.
The beast’s eyes are glowing through Johnny’s, or at least that’s how it seems, when it pulls his head from his shoulders.
“Parker, what the fuck is going on?”
He grins. The bandana he always seems to be wearing is covered in blood. She wonders, briefly, whose, and then decides she doesn’t want to know.
“I suppose it’s possible that I’m just dreaming it. That we’re just dreaming it. This --” he takes a long pull on the fat joint between his fingers, “Is pretty nice stuff.”
“For fuck’s sake -- we don’t have time for this, we have to get out of here!”
“I thought you wanted to know what was going on?”
“I changed my mind. I think it can fucking wait.”
“Okay, just make up your mind, honey.”
“Will you get up off your ass and help me?”
“I really don’t think it’ll make any difference,” he says, smiling up at her.
The first thing to interrupt her as she begins to speak is the howl, the second is the sound of the kitchen door being battered down.
The cleaver is too heavy for her hands, keeps slipping out of her grasp, too much blood on them, too heavy, can’t keep her grip. When it leaps at her she swipes it in mad strokes, hoping, crying again, the tears like acid in her eyes. The blow reverberates in her wrists and she feels her gorge rise. The smell of it is filling her nose, choking. She keeps on slamming the cleaver down into its skull, into its neck. Its blood is in her mouth. Its stench is in her throat.
She’s still beating at the corpse of the beast when they pull it off her, twenty minutes later.
She is pretty sure that this guy -- she looks at the thin pile of papers in front of her -- Steven Hadley, is drunk. He keeps trying to focus his vision on her, one eye at a time like some kind of pot-head eagle. If she moves her head to the right, he tracks it, somewhat woozily, to her left and when she opens her mouth to ask a question he opens his own. So far what she’s most concerned about is that he might start hyperventilating. It’s far from the worst preparation she’s ever witnessed in candidates for this position.
At her left hand Gary Sitterson is coming about as close as he ever does to grinning. Melinda from Administration, who is sitting to her right, is just looking vaguely appalled and taking copious notes, whether it’s Hadley doing the talking or any of them. She suspects that the woman is going to try to unionise.
“Mister Hadley,” she says, trying not to arch her eyebrow too obviously, “I understand that you’ve been doing excellent work in Research and Development up until now, but I’m struggling to see why you are a suitable candidate for this particular promotion. Perhaps you could enlighten me?”
The dazzling qualities of the smile he lays on her at that moment are rather surprising, especially coming from a man halfway gone on what is probably pretty cheap beer. She doesn’t think he’s broken out the tequila for the occasion. The little dimples in his cheeks are actually quite fetching.
“Ma’am, I’ve worked for the Facility since I was fifteen years old — “
“You were an orphan, were you not?”
He smiles at her. Grim now, and absolutely sober. She taps her right index finger on the line of his file that reminds her (she hadn’t forgotten) exactly how he became an orphan, twelve years before they hired him as their intern.
“Yes, ma’am, I was. Still am, actually.”
“Look, ma’am, there actually isn’t anyone in the whole country better qualified for this position in the country, except for the guy sitting at your left there. I have worked in each and every one of the departments of this Facility --”
“You really only did the doughnut runs for Chem,” Sitterson says.
“And I think that, if you ask them, they’ll agree that my work was sterling. Ma’am, I just got married, and my wife’s got her eye on this house upstate , it’s a really nice place, and she wants to expand and we both want to start trying for a baby. But unless I sell a kidney or get this promotion it’s just not going to happen. And then she will divorce me before we’ve even been married a month and that would be really sad for me and probably disrupt the excellent
“Mister Hadley, your marital problems,” she says, trying not to smile, “Are really none of my affair.”
“Ma’am, what I’m trying to say is that I am motivated. Both intrinsically and … well, by my knowledge -- which is encyclopaedic -- of this institution. I love this place. And, were I to be given this promotion I would do my best to ensure that its work was continued in the spirit which it demands. And which the Ancient Ones demand.”
When Hadley has left the room she turns to Sitterson and raises her eyebrows in a way which is meant to ask the only relevant question.
Sitterson raises his index finger towards the ceiling. “Ma’am, what you see as insubordination and catastrophic inability to take the work seriously, I see as an asset. It would provide a foil for my own personality, which, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, is somewhat dour.”
“I had noticed that, as a matter of fact.”
“Well, let me further elucidate my point. This job is a duet, really, and I think Steve would sing an excellent harmony.”
“You like him?”
“We’ve worked together a little.”
“You don’t want to know, but it all worked out just fine in the end.”
“Okay. It’s your call.”
Sitterson gives her one of the only genuine smiles she’s ever seen him manage.
“I’ll let him know. Thank you, ma’am.”
Date: Planning Committee Meeting -- 13th December 2011
Venue: Facility Conference Room
Present: GS, SH, HPL, SK, EAP, CB, JW, AH, RC, GAR, TH, JC, SR, WC, KW, VS, DG, JW
1. Minutes of Last Meeting and Matters Arising
The minutes of the last meeting were reviewed and matters arising were agreed to be in hand.
Note added post-meeting: Ronald the Intern would like to note that he did not leave the bologna sandwich in the cellar of the cabin which lead to the whole issue with the conch shell. That was just a big misunderstanding.
2. Recruitment Update
DG and JW updated that Phase II of the recruitment plan is progressing well. All five recruits have been identified and have been under active surveillance for the last three months. Actives have been placed at the University, local shops and amenity venues, dormitories, garages, and have supplanted favored local suppliers of illegal drugs and the proprietor of the 7-11 frequented by three of the recruits. Surveillance operatives are in place at the dormitories and the relevant University departments.
3. Maintenance Update
GS and SH reported on ongoing maintenance efforts across the facility and environs as follows:
The cabin has completed its annual re-fit. All artifacts have undergone a thorough testing process and have been returned to their places. The problems reported at the previous meeting have, mostly, been resolved. The conch shell has been given a thorough cleaning and inspected for any lingering traces of the contamination. SH noted that the contamination, though it might in the long run have proved an interesting ‘upgrade’ for the livestock in question or an interesting investment for the facility, was destroyed in error by the Chemistry department, who have offered their apologies.
All livestock have been given their annual physical by Zoology and taken, with all necessary precautions, for their reacquaintance trip up to the Cabin. There were only five fatalities this year. The Committee wishes to note their thanks to the brave personnel who gave their lives in the service of the Ancient Ones and this Facility. R.I.P.
Electrics have fixed the issue that was causing the flickering of the fence and the bug which was causing the fence to display images from the local television receiver. Any civilians who witnessed these momentary projections have been traced and neutralised.
The Harbinger has returned from his vacation in Hawaii and will give an update to this Committee at its next meeting.
HPL reported that ⟁ The Ancients are resting peacefully. ⟁
4. Dates and Timelines
Timelines for the Weekend are on course, for the most part, though there are a few small issues to resolve. Recruit #3 (Scholar) has been having a less successful semester than last year and consequently dropped a few crucial grade points which could endanger his scholarship. Actives in the University have set up contingency efforts in two areas: control of the University’s database and a course of drug therapy for Recruit #3. Actives have reported that these strategies appear to have been successful so far.
5. Risk Register
The DNA archives wish the Committee to note that they appear to have found the DNA profile of Queen Victoria of England and would like to know whether to repatriate the information over to the British Isles Facility. The Committee discussed this and decided against it for the time being. GS noted that the profile might come in useful in the future.
Zoology have noted that the Dragonbat bite does in fact carry a venom but that, although an antidote was discovered in the Chem Lab’s files, the process of reconstructing hands and faces of personnel does take a long time and quite a lot of money so they would appreciate it if the currently popular game of ‘DragonBatBait’ were to be discontinued.
6. Any Other Business
The preparations for the Facility’s Christmas/Hannukah/Winter Solstice/Saturnalia/Festival for the Restful Slumber of the Great Lord Cyäegha are being finalised.
The kitchen staff have requested the cooperation of everyone in the Facility for the preparation of the party and the requirements of the catering. They have specifically asked that no foreign agents be introduced into any of the food or drink this year and have asked the Committee to note and pass on to the members of their departments that punishments for any infractions will be severe, as agreed at a prior meeting with the Director.
She spends longer with this girl’s file than she usually does. She likes to get to know the recruits, but there is a fine balance to be struck between acquaintance and morbidity. The others she filed away as soon as the door shut behind the guy from Administration who brought them to her, one look at the photographs, a quick check of the assignments and preparations, and then right in the trash with a satisfying plunk.
But she always reads the Virgin’s file. It’s only fair, after all.
Dana Polk. The sort of pretty girl they seem to make these days: not obvious or showy, you could take her for truly innocent. She’s beautiful, really. The Director, who long ago forgot her own name, rolls the name of this new girl around in her mouth, presses it up against her teeth and lets its last syllable slip out between her lips. Her finger strokes the round of Dana’s cheek. So young.
“Seven and seven of the comeliest youths of Athens. Huh.” She chuckles to herself. “And so it goes.”
Dana, daughter of Harry and Michelle. Father an accountant and mother a nurse. Quite the daddy’s girl, so a passing interest in older men was perhaps only to be expected. No brothers or sisters to dilute or divert the love of her parents. Majoring in economics, expecting the kind of career that comes with a move to New York or London, but is also an excellent amateur artist. Some of the girl’s sketches are included with the file and she shows a real command of line. She goes to a life drawing class on Monday and Thursday nights and her tutor reports that she’s really very promising, but also a talented capitalist.
Two boyfriends. One in high school who turned out gay, and this professor. He’s probably a garden variety scumbag, but they’re tailing him anyway. Probably a waste of time. He certainly showed no promise whatsoever in the break-up email he sent.
She hopes this one makes it. She’s really kinda rooting for her.
She remembers, in the dark room, in the candlelight, how the claws ripped at her skin, scryed through the air in front of her face and tore it open, two halves of the universe being drawn apart. Her shoulder aches, the way it always does at this time of year and she presses her left hand against the place, where the scars are.
They had spent a lot of time with her, stitching her back together, literally and figuratively. She drank more aconite preparations than water and every month, at full moon, the velvet pouch with its silver nails would be drawn out. The five point scars in each of her hands took the rest of the month to heal, then to be opened again. She gave up counting the time around then, tried to make the hours mean nothing to her and sleep through the daylight when she could. Eventually they were satisfied with her. Eventually they stopped.
And then it began, all over again.
As she walks through the corridors of the Facility nothing stops her. Her heels are tacky with blood but none of it touches her, not so much as a droplet to stain her suit. Down the stairs into the Chamber. She can smell ancient dust, the blood of the upper corridors, and the soft, cumin-y smell which is the scent of the Old Ones.
There is one other smell, right on the edge of her attention. It reminds her of something, of something she can’t bring to mind. Like a dog. Like a wet dog in a warm room.
She shakes her head and takes the final step.
She watches the girl, watches her figure it out, and then opens her mouth to speak ...