I promised myself I wouldn’t let that oddness of the job affect my temper but quickly realized I wouldn’t be able to keep that promise. It’s amazing what a man will endure for the promise of a fat paycheck, isn’t it?
Deliverance is mine: I have arrived. The cabin in the Pennsylvania Appalachians was remote and the only approach was an overgrown and weeded dirt track, but I finally threw the van into “Park” with a feeling of blissful relief.
I unloaded the crates from the van and had a look around. Chestnut oaks and Virginia pines surrounded us and a mountain loomed over the site to our north, but I couldn’t begin to guess its name.
Scurrying across the telephone wire toward the cabin roof was… Something, whatever it was.
It resembled a tree squirrel, but with a shorter tail, like a chipmunk. In place of a head, it sprouted a broad neck-trunk that bifurcated and bifurcated again, repeatedly splitting until it terminated in a mass of thousands of hair-thin tentacles. Some tentacles were clearly sense organs; they oriented my direction as it passed over my head. Others served as extra grippers.
The second squirrel-thing I saw was astride the neck of a white-tailed deer, riding it like a bus driver. Its tentacles wrapped completely around the animal’s neck. The deer stumbled and tripped, weaving from side to side as if driven poorly by an amateur driver.
I followed the deer, fascinated, as it stumbled into the trees. I became aware of other animals moving in the same direction, each with a squirrel-like jockey riding its neck at the back of its head: a black bear, more deer, and several coyotes.
Eventually we came to a rocky outcropping with a cave in one side, and the animals circled around. The entire scene froze, for one still moment with a dreamlike quality. Wild animals ridden by their bizarre masters surrounded me, and my only possible exit a hole into the rock.
More tentasquirrels climbed out of the trees and scampered over the ground, a circle closing in on me slowly with a wordless but obvious threat. No choice, I stepped into the cave.
Inside was the tapestry, the artwork Dr. Metz hired me to find. “Soulcatcher,” he called it, and he claimed it was older than humanity and woven from carnivorous plants. It depicted a scene of the elder gods, so realistic and horrific that the tentacles writhed and moved, eagerly reaching for me.
I turned in panic, only to find my exit blocked by dozens of tentasquirrels, and the larger animals outside the cave. Trapped in the cave, the madness was already clawing its way into my mind and reaching hungrily for my soul.
Damn it, this will be the last time I accept any job offer from Miskatonic University. I drew my hatchet and hacked at the tapestry, and a hundred tentasquirrels and their mounts screamed in anger for their elder gods.
494 words, for this week’s Finish That Thought (3-4).