Sarcophagus

by Steven Cuffari

Thursday

The crate was about six feet long and two feet high. Big enough to fit a human body. Kris and Julie had just finished closing the office of Gallery Sevilla, an exhibition space and warehouse owned by Julie’s aunt Marie. So they were a little annoyed at its late arrival. They placed it next to the reception desk near the front of the gallery.

Kris and Julie were more than slightly curious about the crate and its contents. Late night arrivals were unheard of.

“What do you think it is?” said Julie, excited.

“Well, let’s open it and find out” Kris said.

“We probably shouldn’t,” Julie said. “She’d kill us if we broke anything.”

“Oh come on, you know we can open it and close it back up. She would never know,” he said.

Julie thought about it for a second and her curiosity compelled her. “Ok, just be careful. I don’t have a good feeling about this,” Julie said, grimacing. “It’s so dusty.”

“It’s filthy,” Kris agreed. He brought a crowbar over and in a swift series of motions, he popped open the crate.

A cloud of ancient dust poofed out from the box.

Kris and Julie backed away from the crate waving their hands in front of their faces. The dust clogged their throats and partially blinded their vision.

“Ah, fucking shit,” Kris said, “That’s nasty.” In spite of the dust, Kris slowly approached the crate, while Julie stayed back.

“Honey, wait for me! Wait for the dust to clear,” she coughed behind him.

When he got close enough, he peered into it, covering his mouth. Through the dust, he saw what appeared to be a well-preserved stone sarcophagus with a medallion embedded on the lid. It glinted a little through the haze, reflecting the florescent light of the office. He was compelled to reach for it.

“What are you doing?” Julie asked through the pulver. “I can’t see anything!”

“It’s a sarcophagus honey, it’s amazing!” he said, coughing. “Hold on.” He reached for the medallion again, and finally grasped it. Accidentally, he pulled it out of its nest, surprised that it came off so easily. It was engraved with shapes and images that his eyes, his brain couldn’t recognize. Subconsciously, he was frightened by its alien quality. He tried to refasten it to the sarcophagus, but it wouldn’t fit. The more he looked at it, the more he became captivated by it, frightened by it’s xenomorphic aspect. He imagined that it was vibrating and getting warm in his hand. I must be overtired, he thought to himself.

“Oh my god,” whispered Julie. “This is amazing!” she said, peering into the crate.

Kris unconsciously placed the medallion in his pocket, not allowing Julie a chance to see it. “Yeah,” he said. “It’s definitely ancient. Looks European.”

“Really?” Julie asked. Her interest was piqued. “How do you know?”

“You can tell by the relief on the side,” he replied. “It looks Greek, but nothing like I’ve ever seen before.” A big smile crossed his face. “It looks expensive…”

Julie began to smile widely as well. “Do you think that she already has a buyer? This would be a great commission for you.”

“You’re right, honey. Let’s see what she says tomorrow.” Kris yawned and stretched. “I’m tired.”

They put the lid back on the crate and got their things to leave. As they stepped outside to lock up, Kris searched for his keys.

“Hey baby, wait for me here, I forgot the keys,” Kris said.

He kissed her and went back inside. He picked up the keys and was about to leave when he thought to pull out the medallion and look at it. Something about it scared him, but he didn’t know what. It compelled him in spite of the fear instilled. He rubbed it and felt like he was in another world. He no longer felt tired. He felt awake, energized. As he stared at it, time seemed to slow down to where only he and it existed. Suddenly, he shrieked in horror.

Julie had snuck up behind him and grabbed him around the waist. She shrieked too, mocking him, and laughed. “Don’t be such a pussy!” she shouted.

“Shit, don’t do that, you scared me,” he said holding his chest.

“Are you coming?” she complained.

“Yeah, let’s go.” They shut the lights and locked up. The door chime, a little metal bell, sounded as they left.

*****

At home, the two talked over dinner.

“It’s so weird, why didn’t she tell us that it was coming?” posed Kris, talking about Marie. “And why do weird things always happen on Thursdays?”

Julie rolled her eyes and smiled. She thought his perception of the ‘Thursday’ thing was bizarre. He seemed to really believe it. “Weird things happen to you all the time. I don’t know, she’s usually really anal about those things. And where is she? I thought she would be back from Paris today. She never stays this long. And if she does, she calls.” She tried to conceal her worry, but she couldn’t hide it from him.

“Well, she’ll probably come back tomorrow.” He sensed that Julie was worried, but he knew that unless Marie were dead, she would be back sooner or later. There was nothing that would keep her away from her prized gallery for long. “I’m sure she has her reasons for not calling.”

They finished dinner, both with a feeling that they would have an explanation by the next day. They got ready for bed and slipped underneath the covers. When they came back up, Kris got two cigarettes and lit them both, handing one to Julie.

“That was great.” The orange light at the end of his cigarette glowed .

“It was.” Julie exhaled a cloud. “I’ll be right back.” She got up and went to the bathroom.

Kris leaned back against his pillow against the wall and stared dreamily out the window. The bright moonlight shined in through a lurking fog. He sat up and reached over to his bag, taking out the medallion. He held it up in the light. Every time he held it, he could feel its power more. The engravings, still unrecognizable, no longer frightened him. In fact, they now entranced him. He peered at it as his brain tried to decipher what they were. He imagined that they were slowly morphing into a familiar shape, and felt that if he just stared a little harder and a little longer, he might see what it was. Like one of those pixilated posters he used to be fascinated with as a kid. He struggled, and finally, a twisted and hideous face jumped out at him.

Before he was able to react to it, Julie jumped violently back into bed. “Critter!” she shouted.

“What the fuck!” he said in a high-pitched voice, “Goddamn it!” He placed the medallion underneath his pillow without her noticing.

“I love you,” she said pursing her lips, leaning in for a kiss.

“You scared the crap out of me,” he said. “Again.” He crossed his arms and looked askance at her.

“I’m sorry, critter,” she said in a baby voice. “I can’t help it if you’re like a little baby.”

“Whatever,” he said. “Let’s just go to sleep.”

They lay back down, and Julie closed her eyes and went to sleep.

Kris stayed awake, unable to sleep. The medallion was keeping him up. He got up and went to the window, taking it with him. He looked out into the foggy, moonlit night. The fog moved as if it were alive, and he imagined that there was something out there, moving in the shadows. He tried to see the face in the medallion again, but it was gone. He closed the drapes and went back to bed. He stared into the darkness for a while, then closed his eyes. He grasped the medallion and rubbed it underneath his pillow and sooner or later, finally went to sleep.

Friday

The next morning, Kris woke up with a start from a recurring nightmare. He was in the middle of a vast and dark lake, up to his neck in water, trying to swim, but couldn’t. Usually, the dream frightened him, because he always sank to the bottom of the lake. But this time, he had the medallion. He held it up, and he was able to swim to the safety of the lakeside. He was so happy to be on land, but when he looked at his reflection on the surface of the water, he was disturbed by his own image. He had become mutated, as if he were some kind of sea creature that walked on two legs. He wanted to scream, but found that he couldn’t. His voice was no longer his own, and the only sound that came out was an Ichthyic gurgle.

He woke up startled, but not frightened. Instead, he felt elated and strong. He looked at his alarm clock. It was time for work. Julie was still sleeping, and without waking her, he got up and got ready for work. When he was done, he decided to leave early and let Julie sleep. He needed time to think on his own.

It was a beautiful, sunny day. Kris walked to work, sipping coffee from behind his reflective sunglasses. Julie made him wear them to protect his eyes. She told him that she didn’t want to take care of an old blind man one day. Now he wore them out of habit, and thought he kind of liked the way they looked, and that maybe they even made him look cool.

He let himself into the gallery and got to work. The door chime rang as he came through, and he gently closed the door behind him.

After about a half hour, Julie arrived, also sipping a coffee and wearing sunglasses. The door chime sounded again, and she swung the door shut.

She took off the sunglasses, put down her coffee at the reception desk and lit a cigarette.

“Hi honey,” Kris said, staring at the computer screen in front of him.

“Good morning,” she sang. Her voice was artificially chipper. “You’re here early. That’s a first.” She sucked in a lungful of smoke and exhaled. “Happy Friday.” She frowned and took another drag. She wasn’t so energetic most mornings and would be half asleep for a couple of hours.

Kris pulled out a cigarette of his own from the soft pack in his shirt pocket. “I hate smoking inside… they should make it illegal…” He gave her a mean but playful look. He took his coffee, went outside and lit up.

Julie dragged on her cigarette and stared at the crate, wondering what could be inside the sarcophagus. She immediately thought of every horror movie she ever saw with a mysterious, unexplained arrival. What could it be? It’s either empty or there’s some kind of evil creature inside… she thought. She began to creep herself out thinking about it. It sent chills through her body.

“Kris!” she shouted and paused. “Kris come here quick!” she screeched again.

He came rushing in, cigarette falling out of his mouth. “What is it punkin!” he said as he scrambled to pick up his cigarette.

She was shivering and instinctively buried herself in his arms. “Critter, I have a bad feeling about this. Something bad is going to happen.”

Kris held her, not saying a word, and stared at the crate himself, wondering where it came from. The sound of the door chime rang behind them.

“We’re not open yet,” Kris said before turning around to face the woman.

“Well, I would think that I’d be able to come to my own gallery whether it were open or closed!” said the woman.

Kris turned around in surprise. “Oh sorry, Marie, I didn’t realize it was you.” He thought to ask her where she’d been, but both he and Julie didn’t like to question her.

“Well, I hope you two are hard at work.” She spoke in French, her native tongue.

“Yes, of course, Aunt Marie.” Julie also spoke French, her father was Marie’s younger brother and had spoken French to her as a child. “We have plenty to do around here.”

Kris understood enough of the language to put his two cents in. “Yeah, I thought I’d get an early start today.”

Marie looked at them both skeptically but smiled. She looked at the crate through the corner of her eye, but didn’t say anything. Julie and Kris noticed that she was acting slightly strange. “Let me have one of those cigarettes, child. And please get me my calendar and any mail I received while I was out,” Marie said to Julie. “And Kris, you, please get to work here…” she said to him half in French and half in English.

Julie and Marie worked together in the office until lunch going over various schedules, bills and invoices. Marie still didn’t mention the crate.

Kris kept himself busy in the gallery, trying to ignore it, but sooner or later, he succumbed to his curiosity and decided to ask her about the crate. He entered the office. “Excuse Marie, I have to ask–”

“So when did it get here?” She interrupted him. It was as if she read his mind.

Taken aback, Kris answered. “Last night, just as we were closing up, I…”

“Fine, leave it to me,” she said interrupting him again. “Whatever you do, both of you, do NOT open it,” she said sternly. “I will take care of it personally over the weekend.”

“Of course,” Kris and Julie said almost in unison.

Kris thought about the medallion and wondered if she knew about it.

“Ok then, do you think that you can handle what’s left of these invoices, mon cher?” she asked Julie. “I must be off.”

“Yes, of course,” Julie said, dutifully.

Marie left without as much as another word.

Kris and Julie looked at each other.

“What is going on?” Kris scratched his head.

“I have no idea,” Julie replied.

They went back to work, and as usual, did not speak much throughout the day. When they did speak, they didn’t speak of the crate.

By lunch, the bright summer sun had been replaced by dark clouds and rain. The gallery itself was usually very slow unless they were holding an opening. And with the rain, it was guaranteed to be even slower. Not a single person came in all day. That is, until they were just about to close.

The door chime rang, and a man came in wearing a long black trench coat and a matching wide brimmed hat which put his face under shadow. He was dripping wet from the rain. He approached the reception desk, and Kris noticed that he had a strange gait.

“How can I help you?” he said. “We’re just about to close.”

The man looked at Kris blankly through circle frame glasses and removed his gloves. He looked up, the light revealing his face, and he extended a hand to Kris. “Lovecraft’s the name, a pleasure I’m sure.”

Kris shook his hand, “Well, I’m Kris. Have a look around, we have a new installation in the back, by Jansen. You have about twenty minutes. Let me know if you have any questions.”

Lovecraft tipped his hat to Kris. As he passed the crate, he eyed it fervently.

Kris noticed and was immediately suspicious. “Enjoy,” he said with a smile. He kept an eye on him as he looked cursorily around the gallery.

It took only a few minutes for him to circle the gallery. When he came back, he peered at the crate again.

“Young man, thank you very much for letting me view your beautiful space.” His accent was odd and antiquated.

“Thank you.”

“You have many beautiful pieces. But there is only one that I am interested in.”

“Oh really? Which one is that?” Kris asked curiously, excited about a sale.

“The crate, young man. I would like to purchase the crate.”

Kris contorted his face at the strange request. “But sir–”

“You see, I am a collector of… oddities,” he interrupted. “And I am prepared to pay a large sum of money for it. Much, much more than it’s worth. Monetarily.”

“But you don’t even know what’s in it,” Kris said.

Lovecraft smiled smugly. “That appears to be so, doesn’t it, young man?”

Kris didn’t reply. He thought about the medallion again and wondered if Lovecraft were actually looking for it. He dreaded the idea of having to give it up.

Lovecraft shrugged his shoulders. “Well then,” he said. He pulled out a check and a pen from his trench coat and filled out a blank check for a million dollars. He smiled smugly at his hefty offer. “Just fill in your name and give me what I want.”

“But, I–” started Kris. Lovecraft interrupted him again.

“Let me know your decision as soon as possible. I am leaving next week.” He handed Kris his business card. “I don’t have much time.”

Kris became wide-eyed at the ridiculous number. “But I–”

“No buts, young man.”

“I have to speak to the owner, I…”

“Speak to your… owner…” He emphasized the word, insinuating a slave-master relationship. “If you must. I shall return.”

“I can’t make that…”

Lovecraft didn’t wait for him finish the sentence. The door chime rang as he left the gallery.

“…decision.”

Kris now had a another dilemma. He looked at the business card and rubbed the medallion at the same time. Should he call Lovecraft and arrange the sale of something that wasn’t his or not? Either way, he had a feeling that it all had something to do with the medallion.

He looked at the time and went to see if Julie was ready to leave.

“Julie, I–”

She was on the phone and with a finger to her lips, commanded silence. She didn’t seem worried, or concerned, but was listening intently to the party on the line. “Okay,” she said into the phone. “Okay. Okay, two weeks longer. Thank you so much! Thank you. Okay, bye.” She hung up the phone and finally smiled. “Sorry punkin,” she said happily. “But we have the Jansen piece for two more weeks!”

“That’s great! I hope we can sell it this time.” He said, kissing her on the lips. They had been talking to several exclusive clients about it. “Well, I’m done. How about you?”

“Yeah, finally…” Julie said, marking notes in the books.

“Then let’s go home baby,” Kris said.

“Okay. Are you hungry?”

“Yes.” A familiar groan escaped his mouth.

She knew what he wanted. “Chinese?”

“You read my mind.”

They gathered their things from the office and left.

On the way out, Kris looked sideways at the crate. In the pocket of his coat, he rubbed the medallion between his fingers.

Outside they walked together in the rain under an umbrella.

“So, who were you talking to in the gallery?” Julie asked.

Kris paused briefly and lied. “Oh, no one. Just a guy.”

“Oh,” Julie said, accepting his curt reply. “What did he want?”

“He was interested in the new piece,” he lied again.

“Oh, great, the Kosmer? Let’s hope he comes back.”

Kris smiled and mused, “Yeah. Let’s hope.”

Saturday

The next day, they stirred in bed as the late morning sun shot through the window. They had gone out and partied hard on the night before since they didn’t have to be at work in the morning.

Kris yawned and stretched. He rubbed his eyes and looked at Julie lying naked next to him.

She yawned, stretched and moaned.

“It feels like someone shit in my mouth,” Kris said. He yawned and stretched again.

“Yeah, me too,” she said. She continued to stretch as well.

“Oh! And my head,” he moaned. “I need water, like a gallon of water.” Kris put on his underwear and went to the kitchen.

Julie joined him after putting on a long top that went to her thighs.

He handed her the glass of water he was drinking. “Uh, that’s good,” he said.

“Thanks baby,” Julie said to him.

She passed the water back to him.

He passed it back to her.

She gave him the empty glass.

He filled it up.

They passed it around again.

Julie looked at Kris carefully as he drank. “What happened last night?”

“What do you mean? You were there just like me,” Kris said.

“No, no, no, there was something else,” she said poking him in the stomach. “You knocked that guy out!”

Kris curled his lips and lowered his eyebrows. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he lied.

“Kris.” She gave him a look that few people in the world understood besides him.

“Okay, okay. I’ll tell you, but you’re not going to believe it.”

“Try me.” Julie crossed her arms and waited for him.

“One sec.” He ran to the bedroom, came back and handed her the medallion.

“What?” she asked, her arms still half crossed.

“That’s it,” he said, getting frustrated that she was being thick.

“It’s what?” she said trying to hand it back to him.

Kris paused, annoyed. “It’s the something else…”

Julie looked at it contemptuously and tossed it back to him.

“Hey! Be careful!” Kris shouted. He caught it and rubbed its graven shapes joyfully. “Did you feel it?”

“Feel what? Kris, are you still high?” she asked. “I want to know what happened last night. What were you on? Don’t tell me you’re taking PCP.”

Kris just rubbed the medallion and half-listened as she interrogated him.

“Kris?”

“Oh, sorry,” he said. He got excited and lead her by the arm to the living room couch. “Listen…”

“Kris, what? You’re acting weird.”

“Listen. My brother, you know, Matthew. You know how he was kind of a D&D nerd back in the day?”

Julie stared at him, confused.

“Role playing games? RPGs?”

“Yeah, Kris, I know. I’m waiting for you to make some sense. What does this have to do with your brother?”

“No,” Kris said, getting frustrated. “No, it’s not about my brother. Well it is, but it isn’t. Just listen for a second.”

Julie sat back and crossed her arms.

“When my brother was younger, he was into magic, not magician magic, but real magic.” He made the quote sign with this fingers. “He used to read sci-fi fantasy books, played D&D and RPG video games. Actually, he still does all that.” Kris smiled as he thought of his brother. “Anyway, there was always some kind of artifact or something that gives people the ability to do amazing things. Like super powers.” Kris raised his eyebrows at Julie. “So…” Kris nodded at the medallion in his hand.

“What are you babbling about?”

“The medallion!” He smiled and pointed at it. “It’s giving me special powers!”

“You must still be high,” she said and stormed off to the kitchen.

He followed her back to the kitchen where she folded her arms behind the kitchen counter. “Baby, come on…” he said.

“Whatever. You’re…” She pointed a finger in his face to accent the words. “Crazy! And where did you get that thing!”

Kris was silent for a moment before answering. He knew he had to choose his words carefully. She could have a temper sometimes. “I got it from the sarcophagus.”

“What!”

“It was an accident! I swear!”

“Marie’s going to kill you!” She pushed him in anger. “She’s going to kill me!”

Maybe,” Kris said. “Or maybe she won’t even notice it’s gone.”

“There’s no way–”

“There’s something else too.”

“Oh my god. What now?” she asked.

“Do you remember that guy that came in last night?”

“Yeah, but I didn’t see him. You know, you never told me about that really.” She was getting angrier. He was keeping too many things secret from her.

“I’m sorry, baby. It all happened so fast.” His face had a sad expression, and he was truly remorseful.

“You can’t lie to me.” Her anger turned to sadness. “This better be all.”

“I promise you, it is.” His sadness quickly turned to joy. “He offered to buy the crate!” Kris handed her the check the man gave him.

She looked at it and her eyes widened. It was an insane amount of money. “Baby, is this serious?”

“I think so,” Kris said. “I mean, I don’t know, he could be. Or maybe he’s full of shit. He’s definitely a little weird.”

“I don’t know… I don’t have a good feeling about this, since the beginning.” She looked at the check again and simultaneously shrugged her shoulders, raised her eyebrows and squinted her eyes. She did it any time she was unsure about something.

Kris knew the look and tried to persuade her. “We wouldn’t have to work at your aunt’s gallery anymore,” he said.

“That’s obvious.” She rolled her eyes. “We wouldn’t have to work anywhere.”

“Exactly.” Kris nodded, looking into her eyes, waiting to see if he could see that she was changing her mind.

“But it’d be like stealing.” She frowned. She didn’t want to steal from anyone, let alone her aunt.

“I know.” He frowned as well, knowing full well that it was stealing. But he reasoned himself into believing that it was okay. He believed that most rich people became rich by either inheriting undeserved wealth or by some kind of stealing. “It’s not like we’re stealing food from anyone’s mouth.”

She was still on the fence. “I need to think about this,” she said. “Either way, we have to give back the medallion,” she said.

“What! Are you kidding me?” He held it close to his chest. “You saw its power. We can’t just give that away. I know, we could tell her that the crate was there when we left. We won’t even have to mention the medallion.”

They stood in the kitchen stymied by their problem, Kris with his arms half crossed, holding the medallion and Julie tracing her fingers along the surface of the massive blank check. They imagined what their life would be like with all that money.

Sunday

The next morning, Julie woke up screaming from a nightmare. In it, she had gone to work and found Kris standing in front of the crate with his back to her and his head down. She called to him, but he didn’t answer. He didn’t budge. So, she went over and touched his shoulder. He turned around, hissing through demonic, ichthyic teeth and held up the medallion, which was glowing furiously. He began to laugh maniacally, and at that moment, she looked down at her own hands and feet to see that they had transformed into hideous, scaly fins.

“Kris!” she screamed, and jostled him awake.

He stirred like a corpse and moaned in complaint. Another night of heavy drinking was taking its due.

“Kris! Get up!”

“Ah! What!” he shouted, sitting up. “Oh, god…” He held his head in pain.

“I just had the most horrible nightmare!”

“Oh, baby, are you okay? What was it about?” He spoke laconically, his face a drowsy mess.

She rubbed her head, remembering the dream. It faded away fast, and in a few moments the bits she remembered seemed hardly worth telling. “Oh, it was nothing. Never mind.”

“Is that what you woke me for? Jeez…”

“I’m sorry. God, I’ve got to stop getting so drunk… my head is spinning.”

Kris rubbed his head as well. “Me too,” he agreed. “Let’s sleep more.”

*****

They got up at noon for breakfast. At the kitchen table, Kris held the medallion while he ate, rubbing it. “So what do you think?”

“I don’t know honey. I would love to have all that money, but I can’t sell something that isn’t mine. We have to give the check to my aunt.”

Kris’ face saddened, and he nodded in agreement. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I hope she hasn’t sold it already.”

“And the medallion…” Julie simultaneously shrugged her shoulders, raised her eyebrows and squinted. “I guess we can pretend that we don’t know anything about it.”

Her words made Kris’ face switch back on. He smiled.

“She might not even miss it.”

“Exactly!”

Julie’s face got serious all of a sudden. “But if anyone says anything, we give it back. Okay?”

Kris thought about it for a split second. “Deal!” He put out his hand and she shook it. “And if Lovecraft actually comes back, we’ll just tell him to talk to Marie.”

“Okay.” Julie may have agreed, but the expression on her face didn’t. “But still…”

“What is it?” Kris rubbed the medallion.

“Nothing,” she said. “Just a feeling.” 

Monday

In the morning, they walked to work together. It was cloudy and cold. Strange weather for the summer. Their faces were both solemn in anticipation of the day. When they got to the gallery, they immediately saw that the crate was still there.

“That answers that question,” Kris said. “But where’s Marie?”

“I’ll try calling her,” Julie said. It went automatically to voicemail. They decided to start work without her. By lunch time, they had called her several times with no answer.

They were sitting down for lunch when the door chime rang and the gallery door swung open. A man entered.

Kris’ eyes widened. “That’s him,” he whispered to Julie.

Both she and Kris went over to the reception desk. Lovecraft sauntered over to them and took off his gloves. He peered at them through his circle framed glasses.

“Lovecraft’s the name, a pleasure I’m sure.” He extended a hand to Julie and she shook it. “And you, young sir, I have already met.” They shook hands as well. “Have you spoken to your owner?” The same insinuation from their last meeting

Kris got frustrated quickly. “I’m sorry, sir, like I said on Friday, I can’t make that decision, and the owner isn’t here yet.”

The man in black looked at his watch, then looked up incredulously at Kris.

“She’s late today,” Kris said, “We don’t know where she is.”

“Oh that is very… unfortunate, young sir,” he said. He seemed to be contemplating something else.

“Yeah, sorry, why don’t you come back later, see if she’s here then?”

“I intend to, young man, I intend to.” He looked over at the crate. “Just one more thing, young man, I want you to know that I know what’s in that crate. And I think that you know as well. So there’s no sense in playing at ignorance any longer.”

Kris became visibly uncomfortable. He put his hand on his pocket where the medallion was. “That’s all fine, sir…” He summoned up a false smile, the same one he used on all annoying customers.

“No matter, I shall return soon with my final proposition.” Lovecraft smiled diabolically. “One you shall not be able to refuse.”

Kris and Julie watched as he ambled out.

“You were right. He is weird,” Julie remarked.

“Whatever, he’s crazy,” Kris said. “Let’s finish lunch and get back to work.”

As the hours ticked by, they waited for and worried about Marie. Every time they called her, it went straight to voicemail. They tried to busy themselves with work, but the preoccupation never ceased.

When it was almost closing time, they were both smoking a cigarette outside hoping to catch a glimpse of Marie coming down the street.

Kris closed his cell phone. “Still no answer.”

Julie sighed and took the last puff of her cigarette. “Let’s go back inside. It’s so cold out here.”

Moments later, Lovecraft returned with his same odd swagger, but now accompanied by a posse of huge goons dressed as he was.

Kris huffed as he entered. He looked past them and saw another bunch of goons standing watch outside.

“I trust you have spoken to your employ…”

“Listen, for the last time, she’s not here!” Kris was frustrated and tried to get the upper hand before Lovecraft could.

He looked disappointed. He motioned for a man to bring over a briefcase. While the man held it before them, Lovecraft opened it, revealing stacks of money.

Julie’s eyes widened.

Kris swallowed nervously.

Lovecraft smiled. “It’s all yours. Just let me have what we came for.”

Julie clung to Kris nervously.

Kris slid his hand into his pocket and rubbed the medallion. He felt its power more strongly now than ever. He stepped out from behind the reception desk. “Sure,” he said. “It’s all yours.”

Julie gave him a look as if to say, “What the hell are you doing!”

Kris silenced her with a look of his own that said, “Trust me.” He reached out for the briefcase.

“Not so fast,” said Lovecraft. The goon with the money pulled it away. “We need to see it first.”

One of the men went over to the crate and removed the lid single handedly without a crowbar. He looked inside and shook his head at Lovecraft, who smiled.

“Now tell me, young man, where is it?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Kris lied.

“I know it’s here, I can feel it’s power,” Lovecraft said. “The medallion!”

“I said I don’t know. I don’t know anything about a medallion,” Kris lied again.

“Young man, I’m no fool.” He motioned to one of his men.

The goon attacked with a right hook and Kris ducked, stepped behind him and punched him hard in the ribs.

The man screamed and fell to his knees.

Kris wrapped his arms around his neck and began to squeeze.

The man’s face began to turn red.

Lovecraft, realizing Kris’ superhuman strength, exclaimed, “He has the medallion!” He pulled out a gun and pointed it at Kris. “Get him!”

Julie screamed at the sight of the gun.

The men attacked Kris en masse.

He was able to fend them off for the most part, but took damage doing so.

Lovecraft, sensing the futility of a messy fight, grabbed Julie who screamed again. He fired one shot into the air and the fighting stopped.

Kris released the man whose neck he had just broken, and his body thumped on the floor.

“Let her go, or I’ll–”

“You’ll what?” Lovecraft said placing the barrel at Julie’s temple.

“Ok, ok, I give up,” said Kris, putting his hands in the air.

Two goons roughed him up searching his body for the medallion. When they found it, they piously brought it to Lovecraft.

He passed Julie off and grabbed the medallion, holding it up to the light and smiling as it glinted.

His men removed what was left of the crate, revealing the ancient sarcophagus and formed a circle around it.

Two of them kept hold of Kris and Julie. Without the medallion, Kris was no match for them.

Lovecraft, eyes still transfixed on the medallion, pulled out a small notebook and began to read:

That which is dead can eternally lie
And in unfathomable eons, even death may die.
Rise O Watcher, O Ancient One outside of time
Give power to your children so that they may fly.

His men held hands, chanting in low tones:

R’leyh C’tulu rise, R’leyh C’tulu Rise

Kris and Julie were baffled and disturbed by what they were witnessing. The sky outside, merely cloudy before, was now unnaturally as black as night.

Lovecraft continued:

From final resting place, return to life
to feed the faithful with your might.
Turn these maggots into flies
to bring your enemies great demise.

With the final verse, Lovecraft stopped and approached the sarcophagus. He seemed to be whispering something and holding the medallion close to his mouth.

And then he was quiet.

The men continued their low chanting.

Suddenly, outside, rain and thunder began to crash loudly.

The earth seemed to shake and Kris and Julie almost lost their balance.

Both Julie and Kris noticed that the men holding them seemed to be entranced. Their eyes seemed to glaze over.

“What is going on?” Julie whispered. “I don’t feel so good.”

The men shook her, commanding that she be quiet.

Kris gave her a look of confidence that masked his utter confusion.

Then, Lovecraft threw his hands up and shouted:

Great C’tulu Rise!!

And with that, the gallery lights went out. A strange dim blue light began to emanate from the sarcophagus, but the room was still in darkness.

A watery scream came from one of the henchman’s throats as he was snatched away.

The lightning from outside lit up the room briefly, and Kris could see that most of the men had transformed into fish-like creatures with slimy, scaly skin and wide ichthyic eyes and mouths. They continued chanting, but their voices were now more guttural and froggy.

Some of the men seemed unchanged. Horror began to cover the faces of those that witnessed the mutated forms of their cohorts. They backed away in fear. Some tried to run, but to no avail.

One of the men who had been holding Julie and Kris began to attack the other, and suddenly they were free. Julie screamed and Kris called out to her. He couldn’t find her in the darkness.

A blood fest began as the creatures attacked the men who hadn’t changed. One of them grabbed a man and bit his head clean off. Another one whipped a lanky tentacle out around a man’s neck and dragged him to his doom.

Kris waded through the grotesque battle, screaming out for Julie. Every second she was gone, his fear heightened. He defended himself as best he could and wished that he had the familiar power of the medallion to protect him.

Lovecraft was still in front of the sarcophagus with the medallion raised above his head, chanting, ignoring the pandemonium.

Kris frowned in anger and was about to attack him when a bolt of lightning lit up the room and he noticed Julie standing off to his side. In that moment, she was all he could think about and he forgot completely about the medallion. He called for her to come with him, to escape and when she didn’t respond, he ran to her and pulled on her shoulder. She seemed to have gone limp but was still standing upright. Another bolt of lightning lit up the room briefly, revealing Julie’s new face, complete with fish eyes and wide mouth, lined with sharp piranha-like teeth. Somehow, she still had some semblance of herself. She looked sad.

“Julie…” Kris said as tears rolled down his face.

She frowned and pushed him away.

Kris could tell that she was struggling to keep herself from transforming completely. He backed away from her. “I love you punkin,” he said.

Julie croaked at him. It sounded like “Goodbye.”

As he turned and ran for the door, a great rumble came from all directions as if they were at the epicenter of an earthquake. The walls of the gallery began to break apart. Debris began to fall, and fires broke out everywhere, burning the mutilated flesh of the bodies strewn about.

Lovecraft threw his hands up and shouted. “Behold!”

A bubbling mass of fishy flesh began to emerge from the sarcophagus.

Lovecraft shouted again and looked directly at Kris who was standing in horror at the door. “Now it’s time for oblivion!”

Kris didn’t wait to see what happened next. He ran home as fast as he could. When he got there, he quickly packed what he needed for a long trip. There was nothing left for him there now that Julie was gone, and he wanted to get as far away from the madness as possible. When he finished filling up his bag with things from the bathroom, he stood in front of the mirror for a moment.

His weary and wounded face seemed to be turning green. Large dark bags were forming under his eyes. When he looked at his reflection more closely, he frowned at what looked like the beginnings of gills growing behind his ears.

THE END