By Michael Reyes
The ancestral symphony echoes, summoning me from the ocean’s depths. My form is thinner than air, memory longer than history. My kin’s ancient music calls me to land and I’m no longer just a thought dreaming life—but a presence from a purer age; gone, but not completely forgotten. I must reconnect with tradition, earth and hunger.
I soar beneath the breakers then coil onto the sand, willing to suffer the noonday sun for the haven of my lost tribe’s mound. We prefer the dark open spaces; the moon’s gleam is the only fire we need.
Long ago we shared land with men, as they built their walls with wattle and daub. My kith watched them emerge from the bowels of deep jungle: crawling, staggering, then striding along the day’s surface.
We were here long before them, walking on two legs while most creatures stumbled on four; then flying on sleek wings before humankind even contemplated the heavens.
Their love of light drove us away. Man stole the sun’s glare and took it into hours it did not belong. We punished them for this—hunted them for this, but to no avail.
We shed flesh when their King Scorpion settled near our ancient homeland; we retreated to the ocean’s darkness. We continued to stalk man, however; ravenous, preying upon his kind for centuries thereafter. Hunger was eventually transcended, yet we still hunted. Those of my kind who grew weary of slaughter floundered lethargically in archaic memory; others simply willed themselves out of existence.
After centuries, Man’s Empire of Light (and Excrement) extended beneath the waves. My small tribe was made even smaller, scattered along the dark crevices of the oceans’ most secluded regions.
Yet we remain creatures of the earth and its seasons. We savor the land and obey our call to shore… Drifting past the sun-bleached eyes of humanity and reuniting with our secret Tell is imperative.
It lay in Man’s plain sight by a shoal on a cold flat northern beach, a small circular mound of abalone, whalebone and sea glass. The music of my kith is etched across that sea glass, memories of each visitor inscribed along the abalone. We nestle and sleep inside of the whale’s bones; we’re comfortable there.
We remember it fondly when it was four-legged, and land bound. It’s a creature we often possess while in the ocean—we use their bodies to crest above the surface and taste the sky. Their bones anchor us to the special energy underneath the strand, the energy that sustains my lost tribe’s tell—my home now.
The music in this mound is deep but distant; it hasn’t been occupied for years. The memories of the others are still alive, however. I explore the impression of the most recent occupant and grow disturbed. Fear and dread saturate the abalone. I try to understand its nature, but I can’t. What should we fear? There is nothing on this planet older or more capable.
We’ve retained our power and freedom; the others have been captured and imprisoned in the temples of Man: stratified in their heavens, buried in their hells, hunted to extinction in those Lost Forests and spoken out of existence with that weapon Man calls Language; that virus of words, his unique plague upon enchantment. Humankind has exterminated or imprisoned most of this world’s magic. But not us.
We despise them and their Empire of Waste, which has haunted us even in our remote fastness. We truly abhor this pollution, which at times seems to take on a life of its own within our black estates.
But we do not fear Man and the things he creates; they’re fleeting and reprehensible. Nor the spirits he worships; they are merely our lost and imprisoned siblings, weak and piteous. Humankind’s dreams and nightmares do not move us, for they are simply the poorest memories of our illustrious history.
Our numbers are few, yet we remain the most potent of all beings. Still, as I curl inside of the whalebone and make myself at home, I feel a strange doubt—coupled with a tremendous sense of loneliness. What if I am the last of my kind? What if something stranger and more terrible than mere extinction has risen to supremacy in this new world? Has it finally destroyed my kith?
The thought is banished when the ecstasy of deep hunger washes over me. I stretch, then wait for my first meal.
I see the man’s aura flashing off his dull, fat body. He walks alone on the beach under the night sky. I unwind myself, glide away from my home—then enter him.
I see the world through his eyes. He has the low, unwavering vision of a swine at the trough. And yet he breathes, and yearns, and bleeds, and dies. The meat puppet’s mind is small; soul even smaller, yet he realizes something’s wrong. I compel him to be still—then feed on the life force he’s wasted for decades.
Exhilarated, I move his body to dance for hours on end along that dark shore. I swing him between death and life, madness and sanity, ecstasy and torture.
I spot the solitary woman walking along the beach and divide myself. I enter both man and woman and make them couple upon the freezing silt. The feeling is invigorating; I reform and jump between both bodies, riding the heat. I drain them until I’ve had my fill. The wretched sun rises as I leave both their breathless husks by the rolling waves.
I nestle inside the mound, exhausted and satisfied.
I take only a dozen more over the next two seasons. They will say the land is cursed and no longer traverse it if I go into frenzy.
I spend nights crawling the wind skyward then diving through the earth, riding those ancient currents so that I may observe and mourn the lost ones of my kingdom, prisoners in both Man’s paradise and hell. Most cannot even recognize me, so engrossed are they in the incessant devotions and mundane affairs of their parasitic captors.
They depress me. I look up to the stars and dream of traveling beyond them, but my kith cannot leave this world. The parasite known as Mankind will one day live among that firmament, and they will take their faith with them. My lost family, their slaves, will accompany that pilgrimage to the stars and beyond.
And I consider them prisoners. I doubt myself. This call to shore has been different. I’m well fed and strong, yet remain uncertain.
The summer’s first full moon rises, and I’m sure something is leering out at me from the deep. A truly alien presence; intelligent and scrutinizing. I believe it hungers for me yet cannot act at this juncture. There is some sort of barrier, it is forbidden from approaching my tell. The powers of this entity appear nascent but growing.
I put the thought out of mind.
I must soon return to the ocean, my time on land is nearly over. My voice joins my tribe’s ancient symphony, and I revel in our days of glory in the flesh, lived out under a night sky purer than Man’s.
The tide rides in close to the shoal, caressing my tell as the moon hugs the earth, perigean.
I sense the child before seeing it. His aura is fresh and invigorating. The same can’t be said of those who escort him to my land.
They carry him unconscious onto the shore, and the sorcery their souls conspire to is blacker than the night sky my clan once ruled under. I’ve not encountered men of this type in centuries.
An unfamiliar presence—dangerous and powerful, accompanies them. I sense no elemental powers, no trace of any agent of heaven or hell overseeing this ritual. Yet the strength of their sorcery is undeniable, and confounding. They create a terrible hunger in me and I restrain myself with great effort from going berserk.
Some of the humans detect my presence. They shoot furtive glances at the shoal. I watch as they place the child in the center of a crude circle. They chant in unison and attempt to command eldritch forces in a twisted tongue.
I don’t understand it. Their words of magic are not the centuries old corruption of my kith’s lost dialect. No, this is something else. It is an essence of anti-nature, of corrupted progress and soulless annihilation. The magic they conjure is alive.
The waves rise, as does their chanting, and I feel myself becoming—unfastened. I’m the focus of this ritual. They’re trying to rip me away from the tell.
A challenge, then. Good. I haven’t had one since the pyramids of my true homeland last experienced a deluge.
I snap and unwind myself toward them. I try to project into the nearest man but can’t. I try another, then another, to no avail. Their energy is protected, my gateways are blocked. I can’t find a way inside of these meat puppets. That’s impossible.
They are neither adorned with sigils nor wards from my halcyon era. No. They are covered in humanity’s detritus, those products of excess that mark their blighted existence upon this planet.
The oils that contaminate the ocean, the vapors that suffocate the sky, those synthetics that choke the earth. These are the things they are clothed in, physically and spiritually.
The waves crash and their hymns become guttural screams. They are trying to pull me inside of that circle, inside of the child. I fight, wail aloud, and some begin to stammer in fear.
I nearly force my way inside of one but I feel those eyes watching me from beneath the waves. Its vision is becoming clearer, more focused. I lose control and whirl inside of the child with a thud.
They stop chanting. I look through his eyes and know fear once again—powerlessness. The assembled gaze at me silently, and with some word of authority their leader demands that I stand.
I rise on stubby, unsure legs. He commands me to bow, then pirouette, in a slow arc.
The toxic waves of power that crash over me are revolting. Generations of filth and pollution, funneled through some newly ascending master. Humanity’s only true sorcery, perfected across centuries of abuse against the world that spawned and nurtured them.
In a flash I realize that I too have been imprisoned in a hell of their own making. My freedom has been an illusion. They demand my name. My anger grows.
We have never revealed our true name across eons of existence. This is one potent source of our power. We have of course taken many forms to hunt and feed upon mortals: animating the bodies of their dead, transforming nature’s simple creatures into instruments of our wrath… These constructs have been named, but not our true essence. Our true nature is unassailable.
They demand my name again—and with great effort, I answer with silence.
They scream and wail in anguish as the sea beats against the shore. It is rising fast. One foolishly steps inside the circle. And he is mine.
I open the child’s mouth and spit a stream of fire, quickly dressing my enemy in flame. The others break their coven and scurry. I run out of the circle on small weak legs, away from the vicious tide.
I force my way out of the child’s body and leave it crumpled on the sand. The group screams in terror and I revel. I take the form of one of my kith’s earliest and favorite creatures; the winged serpent. I then ram inside these heathens of the sun. I feed gluttonously. What real power could they hope to have against me? Their strength is potent, yet remains nascent and unfocused.
Their leader screams wildly as the tide rises. I stop myself from having him when I see it emerge from the waves and slowly drag itself to shore.
This conjuration truly is a creature of their own making: formed of debris, pollutants and synthetics. A thing fashioned after man and in his form, yet larger by several dozen feet, and covered in pitch black petrol and a crown of burning trash. Its eyeless face considers us. Its huge, cavernous mouth drops open, spilling out heaps of excrement and detritus.
The stench of it is unfathomable. The moon and stars refuse to cast their light upon this abomination. How long will the shadows tolerate its presence?
The leader falls to his knees. The ravaged somehow find the strength to crawl to this New God and kneel.
Mankind has finally succeeded in creating a god in his own image. I can hear his slaves in both heaven and hell wail. Their sobs rock the earth and tear the heavens. They have been forsaken.
The true Son of Man looks upon his followers, then me. It hungers for us all.
“You are the Firstborn, my lord! The New Father of a race that will take us beyond this world! I offer this impure spirit of the earth for sustenance! It trembles before you!”
With one smooth motion of its giant hand the abomination sends the acolyte’s head skyward. The godling vomits its manna upon the other followers, bile burning them to ash.
I quake with fear. The Son of Man knows this, and lurches toward me.
I must find and warn the scattered members of my tribe.
The godling reaches for me. I barely avoid its clutches.
The Son of Man detects my Tell.
It crushes my heritage underfoot, then vomits excrement upon it.
I scream in anger as the symphony ends. An essence of myself fades. I flee while the abomination’s back is turned, and spring beneath the waves.
I must find the others in my kith…If any remain. I must tell them. There is something else here, from a darkness blacker than ours. The very soul of humanity itself has taken flesh…And it hungers.