In regard to the Yakutia Incident, much doubt has been placed on my official statements and testimony. The cynical among you have cited the slightest of contradictions in my accounts and even noted supposed tics in my body language as evidence of deceit. And so, it follows that accusations have been made of criminal activity and cover-up. I have done my best to ignore these accusations since they are baseless and thus could not ever manifest into official charges. Yet, it has become clear to me in recent days that these conspiracy theories have generated undue curiosity in the incident, curiosity which could prove quite dangerous. As this was my chief concern when fabricating my statements, let me address the Yakutia Incident with utmost transparency. The truth, I hope, will deter further inquisition.
Before I recount the sequence of events as I truly experienced them, let me preface with a short statement: this is the truth, though it is your choice to believe it. By all means, I would encourage you to consider the incident an unfortunate accident, as I have previously said, and to forget it entirely. You should have a hard time proving otherwise. But to those of you that hear the sincerity in my words, do not chase the truth any further than I have. I fear we will all regret such a reckless decision.
On August 24, 2036, a representative of the alternative energy giant Greenways International contacted me in regard to my prolific research in thermodynamic degradation of the world’s permafrost layers. Although not a climatologist like myself, the representative was quite familiar with my work. For some time, we discussed our concerns about the warming of the planet and how thawing of permafrost layers could lead to the breakdown of organic material and the release of greenhouse gases, which could further accelerate climate change. In particular, the representative mentioned Yedoma, areas of organic-rich Pleistocene-age permafrost, which I have expressed in my recent research as nothing short of a ticking time bomb. Greenways, apparently, was interested specifically in the Yedoma of northern Yakutia, where thawing is occurring at troubling rates. The company offered me a hefty sum of money to research the subject deeper.
Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I accepted the offer, asking only which other researchers would join me. The representative did not say. Instead, he babbled on about travel plans, necessary equipment, and other logistical concerns. From the moment I accepted, everything moved at a startling pace, but I assumed the company was as excited as I was.
Within a month, I found myself trekking through the Russian Far East in the back of an old Jeep. Inside the Jeep with me was Ulrich Klein, Madeleine Walsh, and Igor Shimkov. All four of us were climatologists. I had met Ulrich before at a conference. The others I had only heard of through my readings. Regardless, there was a certain comradery among us, due to which we found the journey quite enjoyable. Conversation flowed as did the wine Madeleine brought to help pass the time.
This comradery developed, first of all, from our shared subject of study, but not least of all because from the onset we were cordoned off from the rest of the expedition team. The navigators, both locals, rode ahead. This did not seem illogical since someone needed to guide us to the proper location. Behind them, rode another Jeep with the team leader Eric Nosworthy. Eric was an executive from Greenways. He was a calm and agreeable man, but he communicated with us almost exclusively through a two-way radio. In the car with him were two others. I was never formally introduced to them.
Whenever we stopped for a break or to clear debris from the road, Eric was careful to keep us from the mysterious members of our team. He would task us with reviewing equipment, charting areas for measurement, and drawing up timetables. Busy work and distractions. That’s all it was.
Igor was the first to question Eric’s intentions, going so far as to ask the man himself. But Eric dismissed him swiftly. Once we reached the site of our study, he said, he would introduce everyone formally. It was a lie, but by then it wouldn’t matter. As for the rest of us, our suspicions appeared not long after Igor’s. Despite Eric tasking us with finding promising areas for research, all our suggestions were ignored. It became clear that the expedition already had a destination in mind. We were just along for the ride.
After an arduous journey through the unblemished tundra, we stopped. Eric announced over the radio that we had reached our port of call. Still clinging to the hope of actual academic pursuit, we exited our vehicle in a buzz. We collected our equipment from the trunk and set out with every intention of completing the research we were hired to do. Ulrich and Madeleine began collecting samples of the earth to analyze its concentration of organic matter. Igor took temperature measurements and probed the ground to see how deep the thaw had penetrated the permafrost. I, however, was determined to meet the others. After all, it would be rude not to say hello.
Eric and his two associates were engaged in a serious discussion when I came to introduce myself. So engaged were they in this discussion that they did not even notice me. Brows knit, voices hushed, they poured over a black, leather-bound book.
“It must be close,” a muscular, bald man said.
A stocky man with glasses nodded in agreement. “He told me it would not be so…” The man froze mid-sentence as I announced myself with a curt clear of the throat. As soon as he saw me, he slammed the book shut.
I introduced myself and asked for their names. The man in glasses was Eli, and the other was Joseph. No family names were given, and I did not press them further. I did, however, inquire about their specialties. You can imagine my surprise when Joseph said archaeology. As taken aback as I was, Eric was even more so. At once, he ushered Eli and Joseph away. I heard him direct the pair north to search further. For what? At the time, I could not even manage a guess.
Eric returned shortly after to explain what I had heard. To his credit, he told the truth, or at least, parts of it anyway. Joseph and Eli were tasked with a secondary mission, one he promised was no greater or lesser than our own. They received word of a historically significant artifact in the area, and given its proximity to the Yedoma in Yakutia, decided to link our two projects for efficiency’s sake. This did not seem entirely insensible, and I was glad to hear the truth for once, so I did not think to ask why this information was initially kept from us or what this artifact was.
In any case, I returned to the team of climatologists to inform them of what I had learned. Igor was glad to hear his intuition was correct, Madeleine was satisfied so long as their work continued, and Ulrich could not care less. Overall, the revelation was not one that sparked much discussion. We still believed we had a task to complete. Even if our mission was the lesser of the two, climatology has always been treated with such dismissive attitudes. To the uninformed, our work appears dull and inconsequential. Naturally, as students of the subject, we did not share in that opinion and considered our work more compelling.
Having said that, I will not deny the sudden wave of curiosity that came over me when I heard Eric, Joseph, and Eli shout with delight. Indeed, I rushed over to see what it was that caused them to cheer. The other climatologists and even our guides ran over to see as well. Approximately a hundred yards from where we had parked the cars was a strange depression in the earth. Yedoma is often marked by depressions known as alas, which form due to repeated melting and freezing. However, such depressions are never so pronounced as the one Eric and his secondary team stumbled upon. In my eyes, which I must admit are not trained to classify such geographical formations, the thing appeared to be a crater. Judging by the levels of erosion at the crater’s edge and the amount of dirt and snow that filled its trough, the crater had formed many thousands of years ago.
Now then, if I were to ask you what we found at the center of the crater, presumably, you would say a meteorite. Though Greenways would not have hired an archaeologist to investigate such a find, would they? No. And as I, standing on the rim of the crater, watched Eli stroke the spine of that great, black tome, I failed to see how any book could aid them in finding a meteorite. Nor could I reason why, having found the crash site, he still clung religiously to it as if it were the Lord’s holy testaments.
No. At the center of the crater was not a meteorite. It was the artifact Eric had mentioned. For some time, I did not see it for myself. Joseph, either purposefully or otherwise, blocked our view as he dug away the dirt and snow piled on by centuries. This was not such a hard task given the poor state of Yakutia’s precious permafrost. Nonetheless, we waited impatiently for the artifact to reveal itself to us. And when Joseph finally threw down his shovel, I descended into the crater to take a closer look.
Artifact was not the word I would have chosen, for the thing seemed more like a monument. It was a perfect cylinder unaffected by erosion. Its surface was smooth except for a pair of helixes that encircled the artifact and crossed each other at increasing intervals as you neared its base. Centered at the top of the artifact was an orifice of sorts surrounded by three curved blades.
The purpose and location of this relic were perplexing even to Eli and Joseph. However, the composition of the find had all of us scratching our heads. The artifact was rigid and unyielding, and its color was pale and gray. The thing was horrible to look at and immediately called to mind images of cadavers stiffened by rigor mortis. Moreover, clinging to the relic’s base was a web of some sort, blackened at the tips as if charred. At first glance, it appeared to be some sort of vegetative growth with vine-like tendrils expanding outward. However, at second glance, the vines more closely resembled veins. As it turned out, this growth was not firmly attached to the relic. Joseph cut off a piece and sealed it in a vial.
While I marveled at the inexplicable find, a concerning thought materialized in my head. The most effective way for me to explain this notion is to compare it to the sensation one feels while standing near the edge of a cliff. As you stare down that spine-chilling height, a voice in your head tells you to jump. No doubt, the fall would kill you. That thought has no reason to enter your head at such an inopportune time. Yet, it appears anyway. Naturally. And so, when I thought of plunging my hand into the relic’s blade-lined orifice, I dismissed the thought as a natural one.
As I shook off this thought, I looked around at the others in our ragtag team. They were transfixed by the artifact. Whatever the thoughts that passed through their head, they looked on with undue interest as if the fleshy monument were a gruesome car crash with no survivors. Madeleine passed around her bottle of wine and offered a toast to their great discovery.
It wasn’t long before all pretenses of our mission were dropped. Eric became consumed by his interest in the relic. When I shared some of our preliminary data about the permafrost, he completely brushed me off. When I asked the navigators where we would be heading next, they simply shook their heads and shrugged. No directions were given. No plans were shared.
So, I broached the subject with Eric as delicately as I could. My team had collected all the data we needed from the location and were ready to move. The very notion of leaving the relic behind infuriated Eric. He flew into a manic state, the likes of which I have never seen anyone enter before. He cursed me out, called me selfish, ignorant, and inferior, and balled his fists so tight I thought they’d pop. We would not leave, none of us, not until they had studied the artifact to the fullest extent. If my thoughts were not related to the artifact, he did not want to hear it.
The encounter was disturbing to say the least. However, I found that everyone had entered a queer sort of state. Ulrich and Madeleine grew melancholy, and Igor anxious. The guides huddled close to one another, rarely leaving their tents as if lost in a world that terrified them. Meanwhile, Eli circled the artifact every evening and read passages from his book, which he was never seen without.
Worst affected, though, was Joseph. He spent almost all his time digging holes by the relic. The temperature had dropped considerably since we had reached the site, so this proved troublesome. Nonetheless, he dug all day until his hands were raw and his head dripped with sweat. At night, he slept in a tent just feet from the relic. I am uncertain what ideas had infected his head, but he seemed desperate to find something more than just that brutal monument. All the while, he talked aloud to himself. By the sound of it, he was having entire conversations, even pausing for a response, not that I ever heard one. These conversations were mostly civil. With Eric, however, it was a different story.
At times, I could hear them argue over the relic. Their voices reached such incredible volumes I was certain their disagreements would erupt in violence. How could anyone get so worked up over such a hideous creation? And what about? I had no idea, but it was only a matter of time before their frequent bickering escalated.
One evening, a fight broke out. I was eating a pathetic dinner of chicken and buckwheat when I heard a pair of enraged screams. Upon arrival at the scene, I saw Eric and Joseph exchanging punches until both of their faces were streaming with blood. Eli, still gripping his holy black book, attempted to pull Joseph back but with little success. Both guides jumped in to pull Joseph back, but the massive specimen of a man still thrashed his arms around in defiance. As he did so, I saw him swinging a jug of gasoline in his left hand.
Slowly I pieced together that Joseph had a change of heart, and quite a significant one. The relic did not need to be studied. Rather, in his eyes, it needed to be burned. I, of course, had no investment in the artifact, but it seemed a waste to let Joseph destroy it after everyone’s hemming and hawing over the revolting thing. So, I joined the effort to restrain Joseph. Together we wrestled the gasoline from his hand and tied him to the post inside his tent.
Poor Joseph looked dreadful. His face was shockingly pale and gaunt as if the skin was melting off his body. Since I did not often socialize with the man, I had no frame of reference. But I remember thinking his body was too long. The proportions just appeared off. In any case, I was more concerned with Joseph’s sanity. He babbled endlessly about flesh and blood and some nameless man he referred to simply as “him.” When it became clear to Joseph none of us understood what he was saying, he began to mutter about losing control. Naturally, we thought he was referring to the brawl, but that wasn’t exactly the case.
Once Joseph had settled down a bit, I returned to my tent to rest. The whole incident had drained me, and I did not even have the strength to finish my dinner. Unfortunately, my hopes for a restorative sleep were entirely misplaced. That night I found myself soaring through distorted dreamscapes cloaked in red shadow. I tumbled down mountains of maddening heights, their great, stone bodies lined with pumping, black veins. And the world of our age was shattered so violently that no semblance of its former self could ever be reclaimed. In that hellish landscape, a voice spoke to me. So deep and booming was that voice that I took it to be of the world itself.
“Answer my call and obey,” the voice said. “Make this world as all were meant to be.”
I awoke in a hot sweat, disturbed in part from the dream itself but also by a growing commotion outside. No doubt Joseph was to blame. I could only assume he had escaped his bonds during the night and was continuing his plans to destroy the artifact. As I have already said, I had no investment in the artifact, so I considered leaving the others to resolve the issue on their own. But my curiosity overcame me, and I could not have fallen asleep again if I had tried. What’s more, I heard someone shout something no one hopes to hear: “Get the gun!”
My first instinct was to say a bear had entered camp. After all, that was why firearms were brought on the expedition in the first place. “Poor Joseph,” I thought to myself, seeing a crowd gathered at the mouth of his tent. We had served him to a bear on a platter by tying him up like that. I rushed over to join them. But I did not see a bear. I saw something far worse.
Joseph remained tied to his post. He was screaming something dreadful as though overcome with agony, rage, or a mix of the two. Desperate to get to the artifact, he begged for freedom. He promised not to harm it. He just wanted to touch it. However, innocuous words aside, no sane individual would have released Joseph. What I found in that tent was beyond description, though I will do my best for your sake.
Simply put, Joseph had mutated into something inhuman. His limbs had stretched beyond the length of his body as if to slip out of his bonds. They narrowed and split into an array of fleshy tentacles, whose razor-keen edges glistened in the starlight. Likewise, his skull had grown thin and oblong. A fissure ran from the base of his head to the tip of his hairline. Even now I can hear the sickening crack of his skull as it split open and gushed blood.
Ulrich, who I had not known as a holy man, crossed himself and prayed. Madeleine retched on her shoes and ran away in disgust. The rest of us simply stood in a state of fearful wonder. The brain cannot comprehend that for which it has no reference. Whatever Joseph had become was not of our world, and so it paralyzed us to look on him.
Our guides arrived on scene in short order. One carried a rifle while the other carried the jug of gasoline. If the bullets didn’t kill him, perhaps fire would. However, contrary to our beliefs, Joseph had not entirely lost his sanity. He was still lucid enough to fear death. Screaming, Joseph lashed out with his mutated appendages. As the guide with the rifle approached, one of the fleshy tendrils caught him by the leg. Blood spurted everywhere as the honed tentacle burrowed into his flesh. A second tentacle slashed him across the chest, cutting clean to the bone. Dead or nearly so, the guide dropped the rifle.
While Joseph flung the guide’s limp body overhead, the second guide opened the jug of gasoline and poured it all over. Narrowly dodging a tendril, the guide pulled out a lighter and threw it into the tent. At once, the whole thing went up in flames and Joseph shrieked in agony. Eric, who had grabbed the rifle, fired three shots. The first two hit Joseph in the chest. He wailed and thrashed outward with his flaming limbs. I heard his restraints snap and feared for my life. But the third shot hit Joseph in the head, and he stumbled back, muttering about the artifact with his dying breath.
For some time, we watched the tent burn and Joseph along with it. I cannot recall what thoughts passed through my head if any passed at all. How can one process such horrors with a complete grip on their rational faculties? Rationality had left us all behind. The only thing left to do was gawk like idiots.
Eric was the first to turn away from Joseph’s smoldering corpse. Notably, the rifle remained in his grasp. He paced around the campsite, glancing all the while at the fleshy monument. Frightened by his agitated behavior, I backed away slowly from the scene. But Igor caught me under the arm and pulled me towards our armed director. I was his moral support.
“What in the hell is going on here?” he asked. Madeleine, who had finished emptying the contents of her stomach, joined Igor in his anger.
“This was never about the Yedoma, was it?” she said.
Even Ulrich spoke up. “You owe us an explanation,” he said.
Understandably, our remaining guide was the least forgiving of Eric’s secrecy. His friend had died for a mission none of us fully understood. If not for the gun in Eric’s hands, I believe the guide would have paid blood with blood. Instead, he could only curse and stomp around in anger.
Silent as the night, Eli appeared beside us with his book in hand. He adjusted his glasses and sighed from deep within his chest. “If you won’t tell them,” he said to Eric, “Then I suppose I will.”
“Eli, we swore to-”
“Someone is dead, Eric. Let them hear the truth.”
“Very well. But the mission does not change,” he said.
In a calm, calculated manner, Eli proceeded to tell us how the entire climate mission was a cover for PR purposes. We had expected as much and agreed that Greenways’ shareholders would not be thrilled to hear about their energy company partaking in meaningless archaeological expeditions. However, as Eli explained in excessively reasonable and measured terms, there was a meaning behind their venture. To emphasize his point, he held up the black, leather-bound book.
The great, gothic tome was, he claimed, the Daemon’s Grimoire. Not a translation. Not a copy. But the very book of legend. Doubtlessly, you need no reminder of the stories. All who glimpse its pages are destined for a terrible and gruesome end. So, you can imagine the murmur that ran through the lot of us. Whether or not we believed Eli was beside the point. The truth had already taken a rotten turn.
However, determined to explain himself, Eli continued. The stories we had heard about the book were simply that. If he was to be believed, the Daemon’s Grimoire contained a great wealth of knowledge about what the world was and could be, knowledge supposedly passed down by godly beings from beyond.
As it pertained to their expedition, the grimoire spoke of an ancient city built by the gods themselves. The book did not say where exactly this city was located, however. That revelation came in a dream. According to Eli, he, Eric, and Joseph shared this very same dream on the very same night after reading the Daemon’s Grimoire together one evening. It was then a voice shared with them the coordinates of the city, adding that “he” was sleeping there. This mysterious voice could only belong to one of the gods. After all, how else could they each have been contacted in the same way at the same time? I looked at Eric, who was still sulking with rifle in hand. He nodded to confirm it was true.
Having suspended my disbelief, I still found one glaring issue in Eli’s story. We had traveled to the divinely given coordinates and found no city or sleeping god. Instead, we had found a monument. Nothing beside remained. When I said as much, Eli seemed troubled and Eric even more so.
“It must be here,” our director said. “We will not leave until we find it.”
“And Joseph?” Igor asked.
“Yes. What of Joseph?” I thought. Joseph himself had heard his god’s call and come running to the desolate tundra to receive his blessings. Instead, he was treated to madness and mutation, neither of which I could accurately explain. Unfortunately, neither Eli nor Eric could explain it either. Their blank and distant stares offered little comfort to those of us that wanted to leave.
Still, the mission was not finished. On the contrary, Eric decided to accelerate excavation with controlled explosions of ammonium nitrate. Offering our gun-toting leader all due respect, I objected to this idea. Naturally, I was overruled. Eric detonated one explosive before realizing his mistake. The ammonium nitrate ignited a pocket of methane, of which there are many in Yakutia’s thawing permafrost, and burst into a massive ball of flame. In addition to nearly killing Eric, the explosion also came dangerously close to the relic. Fractures ran through the ground, which shifted under the revolting artifact. One more explosive and he was likely to return it underground, where it rightfully belonged. Eric had no choice but to continue Joseph’s work with the shovel. And a load of good it did. After days of work, he had not found a single sign of the ancient city or his god.
It was obvious to me, as I am sure it is to you, there was no city to be found. Even so, people were growing restless. Madeleine and Ulrich joined Eric and Eli in their search if only to get home sooner. But the work seemed to sap the very life force out of them. In a matter of hours, I noticed a severe decline in their health and mood. More and more they resembled Joseph before his eminent demise. Their faces had grown long and pale. Sweat dripped from their willowy bodies. And madness slipped into their speech. Infighting and outbursts became all too common.
Igor too grew quick to anger, but I suppose it was out of fear. He had noticed the group’s decline and feared their transformation into monsters like Joseph had become. Although the notion disturbed me as well, the thought of leaving, for whatever reason, absolutely roiled the acid in my gut. I found myself searching for excuses to continue the search, though I had no logical reason to do so.
It was then I developed a theory, baseless though not impossible, about what had happened to Joseph and what was happening to all of us. Imprisoned in the permafrost was more than just methane. It has been said by some academics that bacteria and viruses of forgotten ages may also lie dormant in the frozen earth. Perhaps by breaking up the ground we had released a plague upon ourselves. If this were the case, it would be reckless to return to society. Our only choice was to stay.
Even as I shared the theory, I felt my intuition scream in protest. A sickness lay on us. That much was certain. Whether or not it was natural, however, I could not say. No pathogen I knew of could do what it did to Joseph. But the others accepted my theory without complaint. I suppose the alternative (the truth) was even more frightening. So, like it or not, everyone agreed to stay and doom ourselves to the very same fate that took Joseph.
Next to deteriorate was Eli. According to Madeleine’s account, he was shuffling in a spiral around the fleshy monument like water around a drain. Though she called out to him, he could not hear or see anything beyond the relic. So blind was he to the world around him that he fell face first into a hole. Upon pulling him out, Madeleine found him burning a fever and muttering senselessly.
By the time I saw Eli, he was already in another world entirely. We wrapped him in a blanket and lay a moist cloth over his head. It did nothing to sober his deepening state of insanity. He muttered ceaselessly about “the body and blood” and “the cleansing of earth.” I found the chatter quite ominous, but Eli’s physical transformations repulsed me to an even greater extent. His limbs drooped while his arteries bulged against his taut skin. Bloody tears ran down his cheek, and his pupils dilated until they consumed the entirety of his eye.
As I backed out of the tent, I heard the stuttering growl of an engine revving. Without hesitation, Eric bolted after the car, shouting hysterically. I heard the crack of his rifle and the sound of the car skidding to a stop. After a moment of brief silence, the rifle fired again. I looked around the camp and determined the guide had stolen the car. Now he was dead.
Feeling a rising sickness in my gut, I returned to my tent. Igor was there waiting for me with a look of desperation on his face. “It is the artifact,” he said. “We need to destroy it.”
“Eric will not like that,” I said.
“It has poisoned us. We will not be free until it is gone,” Igor continued. “You must help me. Tonight, we will use the ammonium nitrate.”
Igor’s plan struck me as the most sensible thing I had heard throughout the entire expedition. If there was one common thread running through our troubles, it was that terrible monument of madness. Still, I resisted.
“I am afraid I don’t feel comfortable with explosives,” I said. Igor protested vehemently. Destroying the artifact was a necessity for all of us. If we did not do it now, then we would not get the opportunity again. Madness would take us before long. I assumed he was right, but I could not bring myself to join him. “I cannot,” I told him, “But I will not stop you either. Do what you must. I won’t tell anyone.” Disappointed, though unsurprised, Igor returned to his tent. Exhausted by the troubling sequence of events, I went to sleep. With luck, the nightmare would be over by the time I woke up.
But sleep had its own nightmares to offer. Again, I found myself amid a shattered world of bleeding shadow. And again, a voice called to me. “Hear me and obey,” it said. It’s dark, tortured timbre shook the very fabric of my dream. “Be my city of body and blood.”
I awoke in a sweat. For several moments, the voice’s echo lingered between my ears. Gasping for air, I sat up and stared ahead. Just then a silhouette passed by the entrance to my tent. It was still nighttime, so I could only assume it was Igor about to enact his plan. Rather than lie in wait for an explosion to startle me, I got up to follow him.
But it was not Igor sulking through the darkness. It was Eli. If not for his glasses, I would not have recognized him. The man’s rotund belly had caved in as his back had hunched over. His sinking arms had taken on a vegetative texture like dusky roots reaching ever downward with bristly hairs feeling for sustenance. The skin below his eyes drooped down an inch, showing a long stretch of moist, pink flesh that glistened in the starlight. Notably, Eli’s black book was missing.
Only a madman would approach him, and that I had not yet become. Instead, I sated my curiosity by following from a distance. I watched Eli slink down the crater towards the relic. Apparently, he was conscious enough to avoid the holes his team had dug, for this time he wove around them without so much as a glance. His focus was singular. Slowly, deliberately, he made his way to the relic.
Although I hadn’t the slightest notion what might happen when Eli reached the relic, the darker recesses of my mind waited with much excitement. I even felt a small flutter in my chest as if my subconscious were cheering for that very moment. Yet, in my heart of hearts, I knew the result could not be good. After what I had seen in Yakutia, the only reasonable expectation was one of horror.
There was a brief pause after Eli reached the relic. Eyes twitching, he stared at the bladed orifice in the monument. Whatever humanity remained in him resisted with all its waning strength. But in the end, it gave out. Without warning, Eli slammed his head into the artifact again and again. The three curved blades dug into his skin and his eyes. Skin ripped and blood poured as his flesh caught on the artifact. This was his sacrifice to the god of his dreams.
And the sacrifice was accepted. The monument latched onto his face, absorbing it into its grisly architecture. Eli’s body expanded, losing all form and definition. He became a sheet of writhing flesh that smothered the cold, dense earth. Black veins forked through his stretched tissue as it reached for yards in every direction.
Terror and revulsion swallowed whatever curiosity lingered inside me. I stood, dumbstruck, grasping for words to make sense of what I had seen. Not far off, Igor jogged towards me. He carried a bag of ammonium nitrate in one hand and a small detonator in the other. His stupefied expression reflected mine perfectly.
“Do you see?” he said. “We have to destroy it.”
I was in complete agreement. Yet, it pained me to say so. How could I cling to that horrid abomination after what I had seen? How could any part of me resist what I knew was necessary?
“Answer my call,” I heard as a whisper in my head. I stumbled as my vision dizzied. “Join me,” it spoke in waking reality.
“Are you alright?” Igor asked.
“Yes,” I lied, “Do it. We must do it.”
Igor started towards the fleshy artifact when a shot rang behind me. Instinctively, I ducked to avoid harm. When I looked back, I saw Eric standing over me with his rifle smoking. Thankfully, I was unharmed. Igor, however, fell to his knee. Blood steamed as it ran in hot streams down his leg.
“It is what he wants,” Eric said. “You can’t interfere. I won’t let you.” He ran into the crater as Igor stumbled to his feet. With the butt of his gun, Eric beat Igor over the head once, twice, three times. After the third blow, the detonator fell from his hand. Against my best judgments and the voice clawing at the edge of my hearing, I rushed to grab it. I succeeded in this endeavor, and in drawing Eric’s attention.
Seizing the opportunity, Igor limped towards the monument with the ammonium nitrate in hand. Eric did not so much as look. Somehow, he knew Igor’s fate was already sealed. As soon as Igor approached the expanse of undulating flesh, a tentacle sprung out. It wrapped around his neck and pulled him forward. At once, Igor dropped the explosives and dug his hands into the dirt. But the veiny tendril dragged him without burden, and already blood spilled from his throat. I could smell the iron in the air. In a matter of seconds, the blanket of flesh consumed him. Igor screamed in a gut-wrenching tone, but only for a moment. Once his body melded into the collective, the throbbing mass expanded, forming strange, geometric pillars that appeared designed by some cruel and twisted architect.
With eyes glossy and forked with veins, Eric looked at me and grimaced. His nostrils flared, and his lip twitched. All the while a crack carved a path through his brow. Bulbous, red tumors pushed through the fissure, forming into eyes and mouths and bones.
I heard the voice again, this time from Eric’s own lips. “Why do you resist me?” it said. Eric threw away the gun in a threatening display of confidence. Behind him I could see the mutated figure of Ulrich haul a screaming Madeleine to the monument. Together they fell into the mass of sculpted meat and blood. Madeleine’s shouts darkened and stuttered as her face was absorbed into the whole. Ulrich melted without a sound. Their sacrifices fed the monstrous city of flesh, which spread to unexpected heights. Once all there was, the horrid monument now seemed a simple stroke on a canvas of ever-expanding horrors.
“Do you not understand?” the voice said. “Already my signal rolls across the land, infecting the minds of every living thing. They will join to me, and we will grow until the world is alive with flesh and blood. Who are you to stop me? The earth is thawed. I cannot be buried now.”
I was no one. The more its words seeped into my head, the more it seemed so. I was a servant, a slave, a sacrificial lamb. My body was forfeit and my mind incommensurate with the grandeur of my god. Eric grabbed me by the ankle and dragged me forward to join the rest. I was inclined to let him.
Yet, as I approached my imminent death, I saw the explosives lying where Igor had left them, just inches from the corporeal city. In my fleeting identity, I roused the last of my will and remembered the simple plan Igor had formed. As I triggered the detonator, I hoped the god was wrong. Perhaps he could still be buried.
Igniting upon an underlying pocket of methane, the ammonium nitrate exploded in a glorious blast of fire. Fragments of flesh and bone erupted outward, and blood rained from the sky. Tremors shook the earth, and the ground fell inward. I scrambled manically to get out in time. Eric was not so lucky. Where he once stood, I now saw a cloud of dust and a splatter of red.
As for the artifact, I could not say whether it was buried or destroyed. It was nowhere to be seen, and frankly, that was the only comfort I needed. The god’s voice fell silent, and my sanity flooded back to me. I took one of the Jeeps and fled that cursed place with reckless abandon.
And so it was that I returned to you, the lone survivor of a living nightmare. For some time, I endured that truth in silence, suffering your twisted conspiracy theories and pointed accusations. I did it for you, so the truth could never lead you to such cruel terrors as I had experienced. Yet, you have beaten me beyond my patience. If you could not keep quiet, I reasoned, then no longer could I. Now take my honest account and put your curiosity to rest because it can only do you harm. Bury it, so you should never think to look for it again. Please. For all our sakes.