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Cthulhu's Crypt » John Dies at the End (Teaser)
Cthulhu's Crypt

John Dies at the End (Teaser)

May 26, 2009 by Cthulhu
Solving the following riddle will reveal the awful secret behind the universe, assuming you do not
go utterly mad in the attempt. If you already happen to know the awful secret behind the universe, feel
free to skip ahead.

Let’s say you have an ax. Just a cheap one, from Home Depot. On one bitter winter day, you use said
ax to behead a man. Don’t worry, the man was already dead. Or maybe you should worry, because you’re
the one who shot him.

He had been a big, twitchy guy with veiny skin stretched over swollen biceps, a tattoo of a swastika on
his tongue. Teeth filed into razor-sharp fangs, you know the type. And you’re chopping off his head
because, even with eight bullet holes in him, you’re pretty sure he’s about to spring back to his feet and
eat the look of terror right off your face.

On the follow-through of the last swing, though, the handle of the ax snaps in a spray of splinters. You
now have a broken ax. So, after a long night of looking for a place to dump the man and his head, you
take a trip into town with your ax. You go to the hardware store, explaining away the dark reddish stains
on the broken handle as barbecue sauce. You walk out with a brand new handle for your ax.

The repaired ax sits undisturbed in your garage until the next spring when, on one rainy morning, you
find in your kitchen a creature that appears to be a foot-long slug with a bulging egg sac on its tail. Its
jaws bite one of your forks in half with what seems like very little effort. You grab your trusty ax and
chop the thing into several pieces. On the last blow, however, the ax strikes a metal leg of the overturned
kitchen table and chips out a notch right in the middle of the blade.

Of course, a chipped head means yet another trip to the hardware store. They sell you a brand new head
for your ax. As soon as you get home with your newly-headed ax, though, you meet the reanimated body
of the guy you beheaded last year. He’s also got a new head, stitched on with what looks like plastic weed
trimmer line, and it’s wearing that unique expression of “you’re the man who killed me last winter”
resentment that one so rarely encounters in everyday life.

You brandish your ax. The guy takes a long look at the weapon with his squishy, rotting eyes and in a
gargly voice he screams, “That’s the same ax that beheaded me!”


Is he right?

I was pondering that riddle as I reclined on my porch at 3:00 AM, a chilled breeze numbing my cheeks
and earlobes and flicking tickly hairs across my forehead. I had my feet up on the railing, leaning back
in one of those cheap plastic lawn chairs, the kind that blow out onto the lawn during every thunderstorm.
It would have been a good occasion to smoke a pipe had I owned one and been 40 years older. It was one
of those rare moments of mental peace I get these days, the kind you don’t appreciate until they’re ov-
My cell phone screeched, the sound like a sonic bee sting. I dug the slim little phone from my jacket
pocket, glanced at the number and felt a sickening little twinge of fear. I disconnected the call without answering.

The world was silent again, save for the faint applause of trees rustling in the wind and crumbly dead
leaves scraping lightly down the pavement. That, and the scuffle of a mentally challenged dog trying to
climb onto the chair next to me. After two attempts to mount the thing, Molly managed to send the
chair clattering onto its side. She stared at the toppled chair for several seconds and then started barking
at it.

The phone again. Molly growled at the chair. I closed my eyes, said an angry five-word prayer and
answered the call.

“Hello?”

“Dave? This is John. Your pimp says bring the crack shipment tonight, or he’ll be forced to stick you.
Meet him where we buried the Korean whore. The one without the goatee.”

That was code. It meant “Come to my place as soon as you can, it’s important.” Code, you know, in
case the phone was bugged.

“John, it’s three in the-“

“-Oh, and don’t forget, tomorrow is the day we kill the President.” *Click*

He was gone. That last part was code for, “Stop and pick me up some cigarettes on the way.”

Actually, the phone probably was bugged but I was confident the people doing it could just as easily do
some kind of remote intercept of our brain waves if they wanted, so it was moot. Two minutes and
one very long sigh later, I was humming through the night in my truck, waiting for the heater to blow
warm air and trying not to think of Frank Campo.

The country music marathon that had been running on every single FM station here since 1978 was still
in full swing, so I alternated between an AM station that was filtering some staticky Spanish-language
thing and a local right-wing talk radio program.

“-I’m here to tell ya, immigration, it’s like rats on a ship. America is the ship and allllll these rats are
comin’ on board, y’all. And you know what happens when a ship gets too many rats on board? It sinks.
That’s what.”

I wondered if a ship had ever really sank that way. I wondered what was giving my truck that rotten egg
smell. I wondered if the gun was still under the driver’s seat. I wandered. Was there something moving
back there, in the darkness? I glanced in my rear view mirror. No, a trick of the shadows. I thought of
Frank Campo.

Frank was an attorney who was heading home from the office one night in his black Lexus, the car’s wax
job gleaming like a shell of black ice. So Frank’s driving, feeling weightless and invincible behind the
greenish glow of his dashboard lights, when he senses a tingling on his legs. He sees a strange hint of
movement down there by his feet, little ripples in the darkness.

So he flips on the dome light and finds thousands of shiny, black palm-sized spiders marching into his lap,
spilling over his knees, pushing up inside his pant legs. The things looked like they were bred for war,
jagged black bodies with yellow stripes, long spiny legs like needlepoints. His ankles were buried in them,
submerged in a boiling pile of arachnids. He freaked, he cranked the wheel, he flipped down an
embankment. After they pried him out of the wreckage and after he stopped ranting, the cops assured
him there wasn’t a sign of even one spider inside the car.

If it had ended there, you could write it off as a bad night, a trick of the eyes, one of Scrooge’s bad
potatoes. But it didn’t end there. Frank kept seeing things, awful things, and over the months all the
king’s doctors and all the king’s pills couldn’t make Frank’s waking nightmares go away.

And yet, other than that, the guy was fine. Lucid. As sane as a sunset. He’d write a brilliant legal brief
on Wednesday, on Thursday he’d swear he saw tentacles writhing under the judge’s robes.

So? Who do you go to in a situation like that?

I pulled up to John’s building, felt the old dread coming back, churning like a sour stomach. The brisk
wind chased me to the door, carrying a faint sulfur smell blown from a plant outside town that brewed
drain cleaner. That and the pair of hills in the distance gave the impression of living downwind from a
sleeping, farty giant.

John opened the door to his third-floor apartment and immediately gestured toward a very cute and
very frightened-looking woman on his sofa.

“Dave, this is Shelly. She needs our help.”

I felt like an ass for noticing that she was pretty before noticing she was terrified. Then, the dread. It
hit me like a punch in the stomach. You see, people like Frank Campo, and this girl, they never came
for “our help” when they needed a carburetor rebuilt. We had a specialty.

Oh, the look on her face. The blank eyes, replaying some image over and over and over until she can’t
see what’s in front of her any more. Acid-etched pictures her mind will never be rid of.

Man, I knew that look well.

She was probably nineteen, powder-blue eyes and the kind of crystal-clear pale skin that gave her a china
doll look, chestnut curls bundled behind her head in a ponytail. She wore a long, flowing skirt that her
nervous fingers kept messing with, an outfit that only emphasized how small she was. She had a soft look,
the kind of self-conscious, pleading helplessness some guys go crazy for. Girl in distress. Makes you want
to rescue her, take her home, curl up with her, tell her everything is gonna be okay. She had a white
bandage on her temple.

John stepped into the corner of his tiny apartment that served as the kitchen and smoothly returned to
place a cup of coffee in her hands. I struggled to keep my eyes from rolling, John’s almost therapist-like
professionalism ridiculous in a room dominated by a huge plasma screen TV with four video game systems
wired to it. John had his hair pulled back into a neat job-interview ponytail and was wearing a fairly normal
button-up shirt. He could look like a grownup from time to time. John normally had a mane of bushy,
frizzy hair, what he called “metal hair” because it made him look like one of those 80’s heavy metal bands.

Anyway.

I was wondering if I should warn the girl about John’s coffee, which tasted like a cup of battery acid
someone had pissed in and then cursed at for several hours, when John turned to her and said in a
lawyerly voice, “Shelly, tell us your story.”

She raised timid eyes to me. “It’s my boyfriend. He... he won’t leave me alone. He’s been harassing me
for about a week. My parents are gone, on vacation and I’m... I’m terrified to go home.”

She shook her head, apparently out of words. She sipped the coffee, grimaced with distaste, then looked
at it as if it had bit her.

“Miss-”

“-Morris,” she said, barely audible.

“Ms. Morris, I strongly recommend a women’s shelter. They can help you get a restraining order, keep
you safe, whatever. There are three in this city, and I’ll be happy to make the call-“

“-He, my boyfriend, I mean, he’s been dead for two months.”

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