STORIES IN THE KEY OF LOVECRAFT
Al Bruno III
“Honey, are you sure you we’re not lost?”
“No, everything’s all right. I know exactly where we are.”
Summer had brought lush foliage to the mountain and filled the air with the songs of birds. There was a park near the base and it was always busy with campers and hikers especially so on a weekend like this. At the heart of the park was a Ranger's station containing dozens of pamphlets about everything from the park rules, to trail maps, to information on the long extinct Native American tribes that had named the mountain Koehaha.
“Daddy, I’m tired.”
“And I’m thirsty.”
The Oglesby family had trekked up the slope of the mountain to have a picnic in a spot just as scenic as the brochures had promised.
The trip back however was taking far longer than expected, two hours longer than expected
“Honey, are you sure this is the way to the campsite?”
“Yes Amy,” Fred Oglesby spoke through gritted teeth; fourteen years of marriage had taught him that whenever his wife called him ‘Honey’ she was really calling him ‘Idiot’. “I know exactly where we are.”
That was a lie but he’d be damned if he was going to give her the satisfaction of admitting they were lost. Besides, how far from the park could they be?
“Daddy!” his daughter whined, “Bobby won’t keep up.”
His son shouted back, “Shut up snotface!”
Robert and Rachel were twins and they had been bickering since they were old enough to use words and there was no sign of that stopping now. Fred laughed at the old wives' tales about twins having a special bond and dreaded the thought of them becoming teenagers.
“Keep up Bobby,” Amy called, “we don’t need you wandering off.”
“Jeez Mom, I’m not wandering off, I’m just looking for arrowheads.”
“Ewwww I hate snakes!” Rachel said.
“I mean Indian arrowheads snotface.”
They came upon a sickly looking stream, no more than three feet at its widest it cut a deep groove into the soil as it snaked down the mountain. Fred made a show of sitting down on a log and shaking an imaginary stone from his shoe, “We’re almost there, refill your canteens and then we’ll get going again.”
Amy bent towards him, “If we’re almost there then why are they refilling their canteens?”
“So they’ll stop bitching about being thirsty,” he said.
“Moooooommmm!” Rachel shouted, “Bobby spit water at me.”
“I did not!” Bobby shouted back, “And she started it.”
Fred watched Amy head off to play referee then he put his shoe back on and stretched. Where the Hell were they? These trails were supposed to be marked. Had he led them all the way to the other side of the mountain?
Rachel said, “This water tastes funny, like a penny.”
Amy chuckled “And how would you know what a penny tastes like you silly?”
“He made me.”
“I did not!” Bobby yelled.
“Oh this water does taste funny,” Amy said, “do you think it’s safe honey?”
“I’m sure it is,” Fred pointed downhill and tried to sound confident, “Let’s go.”
The Oglesby family fell back in to marching formation, with Dad leading the way. They walked in silence for a time and Fred was grateful for that, he didn’t need any fighting or accusing questions. He was doing the best he could for God’s sake.
For a scary moment Fred thought they had wandered across a rattlesnake but then he realized it was just one of Bobby’s repertoire of annoying sounds.
Fred rolled his eyes, now both kids were at it. “All right,” he said, “enough of that or no ice cream when we get back.”
All three of them? Was this some kind of a prank? Fred turned around not sure if he should scold them or laugh along.
He found them transformed. The bodies of his wife and children had become bent and feral, the skin of their faces had begun to twist and curl back exposing bloodied bone and hungrily clicking teeth. Their breaths were labored. Their eyes were rolled back to the whites but they still saw. Fred was sure of that.
Bobby sprung first, his teeth snapping, his voice withered, guttural and speaking nonsense. Fred ran, too terrified for questions or reason. He could hear the three of them at his back, giving chase and chattering their teeth, endlessly chattering.
Panic made Fred clever, he scrambled through the trees and tickets and manged to double back around on his pursuers. He tried to find the trail again but only manged to make his way back to the sickly stream.
What had Rachel said about the water tasting funny? Fred slowed and stared down, It looked just like ordinary water to him.
He half-remembered something he had read in one of the handful of pamphlets he had picked up from the Ranger’s station. It was something about how the indigenous peoples had wiped each other out with uncharacteristic savagery.
There was some legend to go along with it wasn’t there? Something about their warriors drinking the star-cursed ‘Blood of Koehaha’? Something about cruel spirits that had come from Outside the sky?
The sound of chattering teeth startled him from his thoughts. Fred looked up from the stream to find himself surrounded but familiar bodies with ruined skull-like faces.
And in his last moments Fred finally realized how truly lost they had become.