By Buck Weiss
“The weather outside is frightful and delightful,” said Jeffery as he stepped out of the bathroom. He laughed at himself and felt a long-needed smile cross his face. He was in love with an amazing woman, they had actual friends over for a Christmas party, and he had an engagement ring in his pocket. As he walked down the hall, he hummed along with the holiday stylings of the Squirrel Nut Zippers Christmas album. It was amazing that just a year ago he had been about to end it all.
“They’re cut into hendecagons.”
Jeffrey stepped into the kitchen just in time to hear Glenda, the love of his life, drop an impossible proclamation.
“What did you say?” he said. He had only stepped into the bathroom for a few minutes. Their “friends,” he couldn’t believe that he was calling them that, Trey and Andrea, had asked their plans for the holidays and he, in a very un-Jeffery like move, had invited them over for a holiday meal.
The whole thing had prompted Glenda to ask, “Are we becoming normal?”
Jeffrey had replied, “We might have to set the departure date back another year.”
“At least until after Halloween,” Glenda said, laughing.
The two couples had been drinking for hours and the dining room table was still filled with the turkey and fixings that Jeffery had bought from a restaurant specializing in holiday dinners. Trey and Andrea had both come dressed in sweatpants and hoodies over shorts and t-shirts. They were prepared for how hot Jeffery kept the heat in the house. Way hotter than most people, even during the harsh Illinois winters.
“I don’t care if you did grow up in Alaska,” Trey was fond of saying. “You’re in Illinois now, man. It’s too darn hot.”
Jeffrey had not grown up in Alaska, though he had told them that. He also did not keep the heat on just because he was always cold, though his life had chilled him in ways that his friends would never know.
His fourth beer had swollen his bladder to almost bursting, he stepped out for a moment. The guest had started to talk about desert as he stood over the toilet. How could that lead to what he could have sworn he heard Glenda say?
“What was that again, hon?” He crossed the threshold into the kitchen.
Glenda had her back to him. She was hunched over the counter, chewing on what he could only assume was a Christmas cookie. Their best friends, Trey and Andrea, owned the local Bakery down the street. It had the generic moniker of The Bake Shop, but their deserts were the best he had ever had, even better than the places he grew up with in Oregon, or the places he frequented when he hid out in New York City for a few years. He never thought he would find the world’s best snickerdoodle and the love of his life in the middle of nowhere, Illinois. But here he was.
Jeffrey’s body halted its forward motion. It understood the warning before his mind could catch up.
“Where have I heard that term before?” Glenda raised a hand up to her head as if she was straining to remember something just beyond her reach. As she pulled her hand away, a thick liquid stuck between her hand and her hair. Some of her dark brown strands slid off to rest on her shoulder. “It’s not one that I should know. Never had a mind for math…”
“Oh lord,” Jeffrey said as he started to step back.
He could see her changing now, the light tan of her skin was sliding to a sickly grey, and her hair was losing any tone as if she had been a picture and the filter had shifted to revenant.
Jeffrey turned to face the open double doors that opened to the TV room. He could hear the woman in the Christmas movie saying that she had to find her man and tell him how she felt. Andrea’s tan skin and hair had also shifted to wan grey. She sat there eating her cookie, her eyes staring past the screen. Beside her on the couch sat Trey. His cookies and plate had dropped to the floor. One eleven-sided cookie with mistletoe green icing sat on his jeans, where it fell. Trey’s head was bent back, and one of the kitchen knives from the block on the bar stuck out from his neck just below his Adam’s apple. Blood poured down the front of his shirt and Jeffrey could hear a low “Huck, Huck, Huck” as his new “best friend” tried to get his breath.
“You’re a hard man to find,” Glenda’s voice was even more garbled now as if she was impossibly speaking from the bowels of an underwater cave. There was a whale song quality in the depth of its abyss. Not beautiful, but terrifying as if Jeffrey was hearing the voice of a leviathan funneling through the mouth of a thirty-year-old woman.
Jeffrey turned back to find Glenda had moved toward him. She held the kitchen scissors in her right hand, the finger guards cupped in her palm, the blades sliding between her middle and index fingers like makeshift claws.
“We are incomplete. We have searched the Seen and Unseen for the eleventh vessel. The severed appendage, so that we may be whole and alive.”
“We did not think we would find you here.” Andrea was suddenly at his side. Her clothes were wet with a viscous grey mucus that was leaking from her eyes, nose, and mouth. She smelled of the ocean, the brine of the depths, and blood.
His mind went back through the years and found itself in a sea cave on the coast of Coos Bay, Oregon. A Christmas exploration that led to discovery. An ancient text promising power and vengeance against all who had done them wrong. Parents, teachers, bullies, and exes. The blasphemous geometry promised them all something in exchange for their servitude, for their help releasing the ancient god trapped in the hendecagon.
“Do you love this suicidal whore more than you loved me?” said Glenda as she raised the scissors to her own throat.
The voice had the same resonation of the dark liquid, yet he knew the petulance of that statement.
“No, Van.” He raised his hands to add force to the words. “Please, don’t hurt her.” Glenda was suicidal, like him, she wanted all the pain she felt in the world to stop. Jeffrey saw the scars on her wrist as she held the scissors to her throat. But they had found love in the midst of the misery. As long as they had each other, there was one more holiday to celebrate, one more possible friendship to cherish, and always there was each other. That was something real to fight off the outer darkness.
Jeffrey tried to see Vanessa Fergusson, his first love, in the thing that Glenda was becoming. Van had been there when they had found the eldritch tome. He had been Dominique Dryer then. Highschool loser and wannabe warlock. They had ravaged each other through the ancient rites and rituals that were bound in the work. It had been glorious. Sex and blood and sights that he could never put into words. They thought it was the greatest Christmas gift that they had ever been given. It was never enough.
She had been the one to suggest that they gather others to the cause of releasing the immortal creatures. No, he could not blame her alone. He was only too willing to agree.
The thing inside Glenda smiled a profane open-mouthed grin, and the grey liquid poured out as she did. “Ah, you do recognize your lost love.” She stepped forward. “Come, give us a kiss.”
He stepped back, and Andrea’s hand came up to grip his shoulder.
“Do not hurt her,” he repeated as a mantra.
The thing controlling Glenda stopped. “No real harm will come to her,” Van said through Glenda’s wet lips. “As long as you agree to finish your task and join us in the Unseen, to fully abate the walls of the hendecagon.”
“We only killed the other,” said the voice from Andrea. “Because the ritual of visiting the Seen demanded it. You remember the profane elements, Dom. The symbology, the recitation, and the drawing of blood. Always the drawing of blood.”
Andrea leaned into Jeffrey’s neck and pulled in a long, gurgling sniff. “Though,” she said with a smile. “I am not averse to the slaying of these vessels or any others. A soul sacrificed to our god through the mingling of blood and water finds favor in his innumerable eyes. He is known as the fiend of slit wrists and stillborn water births for a reason. It would seem that your woman knows about one of those if not both.”
“Potts,” said Jeffrey as he removed Andrea’s hand from his shoulder.
The creature inhabiting Andrea’s body only half smiled, but Jeffrey would recognize that smugness and lust for blood anywhere. Potts was one of their first converts. An older man originally drawn in by the promise of eternal life and sexual rites with young girls. The two only knew that they needed eleven. They did not care much about the character of those who joined them. It was not a youth group or a temperance organization. They were trying to free an ancient death god after all.
“Vanessa and I have become closer during our time in the depths,” said Potts through Andrea’s voice. “The pleasures of the new flesh and the pneuma are divers.”
If Potts thought he would get a rise out of him, he was wrong. It was Van’s lust for pleasures of all kinds that had laid the seeds of disgust in his heart in the beginning days of the project. He was all for the gifts that the unnamed god would bestow, but he had not wanted to share them with anyone but Van, neither did he want to share her with anyone. Van had told him and shown him that she and their new god did not feel the same.
Jeffrey turned back to Glenda. She was covered in the mucoid grey of the ancient god and Jeffrey noticed that it was starting to harden to a thick clay in places on her arms and shoulders. “You are not saying that you won’t kill her. You mean that she will be with me in the Unseen?”
“This world will change with the apogee,” Van said. “She will be safer with us in the god’s unholy favor than among the cattle. The oceans are already rising. The time of krakens and leviathans is at hand.”
“What am I expected to do?” he asked, though he already knew the answer.
The snow had turned to a soft rain as the group walked the two blocks to The Bake Shop. The sky was as grey as the creatures that had Jeffery by both arms. No one drove by. The windows of houses they passed had dim lights, but no one moved behind the shades. Everyone in the small town was huddled in soft light behind their locked doors, fat from their Christmas feasts, tired from the day with their families. All were safe from the knowledge that something malevolent walked the streets.
He had never thought to ask why Trey and Andrea had not given the bakery a catchier name. As people, they were a little bland. Maybe they just never wanted the kitsch of Bake it till you Make It or Kookies!. Those were the names that he and Glenda had come up with after visiting the bakery for the first time. He and Glenda were all about the kitsch.
The Bake Shop was in the rejuvenated husk of an ancient gas station where Glenda had gone to eat lunch and buy cigarettes during her last year of high school.
He took a moment to look over at his love. He knew she was still there under the domineering presence of Van. Glenda was his everything. He had dated other women since leaving Oregon, but he always knew that he could never get close. Always felt the million hendecagonal eyes of the unknown god searching the Seen for the one who had ruined the ritual. Glenda was everything he needed in a woman, and she came along just as he was ready to give it all up. He was drunk in a park last Christmas Eve screaming, “Here I am! Come get me!”
She’d walked up and said, “I’ve come for you.”
Holding a gun and pointed it at him. “I was debating over whether I should shoot everyone I see or just myself. What do you think?”
He had held up a half bottle of Tennessee whiskey. “I think we should sit here and drink this. Sooner or later a death god will be by to collect me and the world will die anyway.”
They woke next to each other on Christmas morning. He asked her over for pancakes and she never left. The sun rose the following day and they’d never been apart since.
To create The Bake Shop, Trey and Andrea had renovated a rundown old gas station on the edge of Main Street. They had done an amazing job. The place had a classic 1950’s feel that first sparked up the conversation between the two couples. The facade of the bakery was covered in Christmas lights and garland. The owners had known how to embrace the joy of the season. Seeing the place made Jeffery a little more heartbroken for his friends. The Open sign, much like the owners, was dead.
The two possessed bodies shambled along beside Jeffrey as he stepped up to the building. The bell chimed as he held the door for them as if he were taking his lady friends out for dessert.
Potts laughed through Andrea as they all surveyed the scene that greeted them inside the bakery. On a normal night, two rows of small square tables would be to the left, filling the floor space. Now, the tables were shoved into a back corner. Trey and Andrea had lined every wall with Christmas trees decorated in different colors. Those trees were lit, and their flashing bulbs provided enough light to see the surrounding carnage.
Dead and dismembered bodies littered the floor. Jeffrey had known some of the people. The Parkers who owned the local grocery were piled in a bloody heap, first dad, then mom, with their youngest girl on top. He saw their teenage son, Robert among the gathered possessed. The Drowned of the Hendecagon had been busy moving through local houses this Christmas night. According to the lore, they only needed to kill one person to release their god from the Unseen. They had killed most of the block. Not just murdered, he could tell from the cuts, the blood splatter, the crimson covering the gathered, that they had enjoyed taking the ritual to the extreme.
Many of the people that he and Van had assembled to call up the dark god were repugnant human beings, but this was beyond anything he thought them capable of. Their time as appendages to the trapped fiend had turned them into macabre demons who gained pleasure through the pain of others.
The room was freezing as well. In their preparation for the ritual, the creatures had turned on the air conditioning in an effort to capture the ice of the depths where they had dwelled the past decade.
In the center of the room, drawn in the blood of the detrital dead, was a hendecagon. This would be the place where they would release the god and sacrifice the world to its hunger. It had none of the splendor or the poetry of the first ritual so long ago. Jeffrey knew he’d changed since then and still he saw this place as too unclean and too mundane for such an unholy act.
“Yooou have de-decided to finaaally join usss, Dom,” said a grey woman with a chef’s apron over her floral dress. The apron had the saying, “This mamma kissed Santa Claus!” written on the front. It was stained with blood.
In life, this woman had been Beth Smith, owner of the flower shop next door, but Jeffrey knew that she was now Margo, one of the more outspoken of the members. Her lightning fast hand struck his face. He shook his head and reached up to brush a trickle of blood from his nose.
“He has love for this woman,” said Van.
Margo smiled. “I always knew you were the weakest of us. I wish I could kill her now as punishment for what you have put us through. But we need no more delays. We must raise the nameless god once and for all.”
All the faces in the room turned toward Jeffrey. “Once and for all!” they chanted as one.
For a moment, Jeffrey was back at the original ritual. They had gathered in the sea cave where he and Van had found the ancient book. The tide was coming in. The ritual was sound and strong. They stood on the sides of the hendecagon and chanted the ancient rites as the water rose. They reached the penultimate moment of the ritual, used sacrificial knives to draw blood, and the sea water rushed in to drown them, providing the sacrifice that would link them to the god and release it from its prison. Yet, he had underestimated his will to live. His body and lungs had been shaped by cliff diving and swimming in the harsh ocean near Coos Bay. As the rest went to their watery grave, he kicked out and pushed himself through the mouth of the sea cave. As he rose, he felt the tentacled arms reaching for him from the depths, but they couldn’t stop him. He hit the surface, got in his car and didn’t stop driving until he had hit New York City.
The ritual setup in The Bake Shop was a mockery of that night. The eleven started to gather around the symbol. Margo handed each a large kitchen knife.
“How is this supposed to work?” Jeffery said.
“At the crescendo of the ritual, we will stab our bodies in the throat,” Van said. “The blood will drain into our lungs and drown us, completing the steps needed to release our god from his prison.”
Jeffrey was a little impressed. It wasn’t the worst plan for raising an ancient god of the ocean depths in the middle of Illinois.
His mind raced for a way out. Just as Margo handed him a knife and turned to step to her section of the hendecagon, he jumped left and hooked his arm around Glenda’s throat, grabbing her knife hand in the process. Then, he quickly pulled her backward past the counter of the bakery and into the kitchen.
He heard the creature inhabited bodies shriek as one when he slammed the door. The Bake Shop was not like other restaurants in many ways, but one large one was the fact that they did not have swinging metal doors into the kitchen.
The old gas station had a large steel-reinforced door with a sliding lock to keep burglars who broke into the garage from getting to the register. As the door shut, Jeffrey pushed the lock. It slid into place, just as the first fists started to hammer on the outside.
“What are you doing, Dom?” Van screamed as he pulled her back further into the small room.
He had to move fast. They would be through the door eventually. The back wall of the room was taken up by a large convection oven. He pulled the grey body of the only two women he had ever loved over to it and pulled down the door.
A blast of heat wafted out, and he smiled. He had hoped that they had turned up the air in the restaurant and not worried about the turning off the oven. He knew that Trey had lit it early that day because he was coming in early in the morning to start baking bread for the early risers.
“No! No!” Van started to gurgle as Jeffrey grabbed the knob and turned up the heat as high as it would go.
The digital gauge read “500 F.”
Jeffrey lifted Glenda’s head and forced it closer to the open oven. The slick grey gloss that covered her skin began to crisp up and flake.
“Let her out, Van!” Jeffrey said. “I need to talk to Glenda.”
“Okay!” Van was in agony. “Okay, Dom?” The ripple and warble of the Unseen slid away, and he could hear Glenda’s voice. “Jeffrey? What is happening? Where are we?”
He pulled her into an embrace, and they slid to the concrete floor of the kitchen.
“I’m so sorry,” he said as he kissed her face and brushed her tears. He looked around the room and found the exit door just as the beating started from the other side. They had moved around back of the building as well. There were no windows. There was no escape.
“Jeffrey,” Glenda had stopped crying and took his head in her hands to steady him. “Everything you said was real.”
He had told her the story of his life, the ancient book, and the dark god on nights where their shared darkness and resentment of the world had felt like a weight that would crush them. He had always known she had seen it as fantasy, metaphor for all the horrible shit that had driven Dom east and shaped him into the Jeffery that she loved.
She believed everything now as the evidence was beating down the walls. The door between the kitchen and the main room had started to buckle. They would be in soon.
“So,” she said. “What do we do?”
Jeffrey picked up the kitchen knife and handed it to his love. “The ritual can’t be performed without me. You’re going to have to kill me.”
“What?” Glenda started to cry.
“Once I’m dead the appendages will be pulled back into the Unseen. They will release their vessels, and you will be safe. They will not harm you.”
“Not harm me!” She placed her hand on his chest. “They will have taken the one thing that matters in this world from me. They will have separated me from you. No, I can’t!” She moved her hand up to his face. “No! I won’t do it! I can’t.”
They sat there for another moment just staring at each other in the heat of the kitchen. The door bent in at the top, and grey hands started pushing their way in.
“No one ever loved me but you,” she told him.
He thought of how her father had abused her, how her mother had turned a blind eye. How the coach of her high school volleyball team had said that he loved her, and how other teachers and students had treated her like she was to blame when he was finally fired. How everyone that was supposed to help her, to love her, to show her that she was amazing had shit on her.
His life had not been much better, drugged out and abusive parents, bullies who humiliated him for laughs. Then, the death cult and the running. They had both been in that park that night to end it all. It was only each other that had kept them from doing it every day since.
All they had, the only thing that made sense in the world, was each other. He pulled his eyes up to hers, and she pulled him in for a long passionate kiss.
“It’s the only way to save the world.” He tried one more time, but there was no will in it.
“Fuck the world. What have they ever done for us?” she said.
Jeffery pulled the ring from his pocket and held it up to Glenda. “Will you be my wife?”
Glenda held out her hand and Jefferey slid the small band on her finger. “Forever and always!”
They kissed again. “I love you,” he said.
“I love you too!” She held him close.
Holding hands, they stood and moved to the kitchen door. Jeffrey reached up and slid the latch. “Wait!” he said as the ghouls moved forward.
Down the block, the old Methodist Church marked the hour with a handbell rendition of “O Holy Night.” Jeffery noticed through the windows that the rain was really coming down now. It would never end.
Within moments they were all gathered around the symbol once more. Each held a knife for the sacrifice. Glenda and Jeffrey intertwined the fingers of their free hands as the chanting started.
“Let’s live happily ever after in the thrall of a god of death,” He said.
“And watch the world drown,” she replied.
The knives were driven home, and as the eleven drowned, the doors of the hendecagon broke asunder. The great leviathan rose from its prison, and the world was bathed in blood and water.
In the millennia after the submerging, when the arms of the ancient god rose up from the lower depths to survey its conquered world, two would forever be intertwined. Supplicants would hang baubles from their hendecagon wreaths and tell their newts the legend of the lovers who chose each other and plunged the human race into watery doom.
Buck Weiss (he/him) is a writer and American Literature professor who lives in Chattanooga, TN. His work appears in Violent Vixens: An Homage to Grindhouse Horror (Dark Peninsula Press), Wretched Creations Magazine, Scary Snippets: Easter Edition, Carnacki: The New Adventures, Machina Mortis: Steampunk’d Tales of Terror, and in Encounters Magazine. He is also the author of the graphic novel, Son Chasers: Hitler’s America (Pilot Studios). Follow him on Twitter @WhyBuckWhy.