“Did you hear the news, Carolyn? Rex just told me Mayor Kane is going to be late.”
I turned to face my friend, Ms. Zoey Samaras. She looked very clean, polished even. Unusual for her. Whenever I chanced upon her around town, she was always wearing that bloody apron and her hair was constantly drenched in sweat from working away in a hot, stuffy kitchen. Instead, here she was, dressed in all black, just like the rest of us who received invitations.
“I didn’t think of you to be one to care much about punctuality, Zoey,” I said.
Zoey shrugged, her long curly brown hair neatly hugging the sides of her face. “The invitation said 6 PM, June 1st.” She immediately began looking around elsewhere, as though that was all that could ever be needed to be said about the matter.
Moments later, Father Mateo came to the podium. We never knew Mandy to be particularly religious, but then again, perhaps we never knew Mandy. “Dearly beloved,” Mateo said, extending his arms outwards to us. “We are gathered here today to remember the life our friend, taken from us too soon, Mandy Thompson.”
“This is bullshit.”
The obscenity was met with stunned, total silence. Father Mateo seemed perplexed as he stood before the small crowd of us. I turned my head to see who could have said something so distasteful.
“Mandy isn’t dead and you know it,” Skids said, pointing accusingly at Father Mateo. “So why don’t we move this along.”
That’s when Mark stood up and punched Skids in the face.
And then, all hell broke loose.
Roland and Joe worked together to pull Mark off of Skids, which on observation, seemed to actually be a two-man job. Finn jumped in to see if Skids was all right. I didn’t know they even knew each other. Maybe Finn was just that kind of person? I certainly had kept my distance from him in my day to day life. Meanwhile, Daisy was on her feet, screaming.
“What do you mean, Mandy’s not dead? What’s going on? Somebody give me answers!” Daisy yelled. Daisy was usually mild-mannered and timid, but she was never one to shy away from jumping headlong into the chaos around this town. This much I did know about her.
“I mean, he’s got a point, doesn’t he?” Everybody stopped. It was Rex. If he was agreeing with Skids, then something must be up. “We were all invited here, were we not? Specifically us. We didn’t even all know Mandy.” Rex pointed at Mark. “Mark, did you know Mandy? What the hell are you even doing here?”
Mark brushed Roland and Joe off of him. “I knew her. A little bit. Not well. But Sophie knew her. They were friends.”
“How do you know Sophie knew her?”
“That’s what my invitation said.”
Rex smiled. “Did anyone else find their invitation say something… oddly specific?”
A few voices popped up. Apparently, Calvin’s boyfriend João knew Mandy too. Preston’s invitation came with an enclosed note from the Silver Twilight Lodge, which Daisy pointed out in two seconds was a forgery. Zoey’s invitation, apparently, was personally signed by God.
“Zoey, why did you even believe this was real?” I asked.
“Don’t question me like that,” Zoey said, turning her face away from me.
“The point is,” Rex said, “Skids is right. There’s something going on here. Something weird…. isn’t there, Mateo?”
All eyes turned to Mateo.
“I- I- I don’t know any more than any of you,” Mateo stammered.
“Open the box if she’s so dead, then!” Skids yelled, still prone on the ground.
Mateo shook his head. “I would never profane the dead like that!”
And that’s when Ms. Daisy Walker, librarian at Miskatonic University, with the fiery determination of a byakhee stalking its prey, walked up the steps of the stage and flipped the lid off of Mandy’s casket.
“Daisy!” I yelled, trying to get her to calm herself and think rationally.
She ignored me, and soon we all watched in stunned silence as she reached into Mandy’s casket and pulled out a note. “This is the only thing in there!” Daisy said, holding the note up in the air like a trophy.
“What the HELL is going on?” Preston exclaimed, standing to his feet.
“I told you!” Skids said, finally standing up with Finn’s assistance. “I can tell when something’s fishy. And THIS, this whole thing was fishy from the start. This weirdly specific set of people, the weird invitations, the complete lack of information of what actually happened to Mandy-”
“Wait, stop, stop, stop,” Joe said. “What do you mean, this specific set of people?”
“For someone who’s supposed to be so damn smart, you sure know how to play dumb,” Skids said, wiping blood off his face.
“I’d be careful if I were you,” Roland said. “We could have you under arrest any time.” Roland narrowed his eyes at Finn. “Same for you.”
“Look, I don’t want any trouble,” Skids said. “I just came because, well, I figured it out. I figured it out before any of you. I knew I was needed. And there was no way I wasn’t going to be part of this.”
“What are you talking about, Skids?” I asked. “You must be more clear in your answers!”
“You’ve seen them too, Skids,” Daisy said. The two seemed to lock eyes. Skids nodded.
“Seen what, Daisy?”
Daisy turned the note around to face all of us. “The byakhees.” Nobody said a word, but we all knew. At once, we all knew in this small little room that this was why Mandy brought us together. She was out there, somewhere, and she made a plan to bring us together to, I can only surmise, to stop the byakhees. “There’s a map under the drawing.”
“Well, what are we waiting for?” Rex said. “We got to figure this out. We’ve all seen the byakhees. Mandy knows it. She knows there’s a way we can put an end to it, before something worse happens.”
“Hell no!” Preston said. “I’m not tossing myself into any unnecessary danger today, or any other day. No thank you, sirs and madams!”
Finn walked over and whispered something in Preston’s ear. Preston’s face turned pale. Absolutely, utterly pale. “Rex, lead the way.” Finn searched the room, making deep, searing eye contact with anyone who would look at him.
“You ‘eard ‘im,” Finn said. “Let’s get outta ‘ere.”
“Took you lot long enough to get here,” I said, checking my pocket watch, as the “funeral party” finally showed up outside the crypt.
Skids shrugged. “Hard to keep a schedule when you got a soldier punching you in the face, Jenny.” I shook my head. Mark was going to be trouble. But Mandy had identified him as someone to bring along, so that being what it was, there was no real choice but to hope he behaved himself.
“What is this place?” Daisy asked.
“A mausoleum in French Hill, of course. Do try to keep up, Daisy,” I said.
Ursula and Norman stood up at the sound of Daisy’s name. “Ms. Walker! A pleasure to meet you,” Ursula said, walking over to Daisy and shaking her hand. “You’ll be a great asset to this exciting expedition we’re about to undertake.”
“Expedition?” Daisy asked.
“Right, an expedition,” I said. “Yorick found this place a week ago. A mausoleum with scratch marks of the byakhee carved into the pillars. Word got back to Mandy. That’s when she started diving headlong into her plan to stop what she believed was an imminent byakhee invasion. She needed me to help her pull off her plan, of course.”
“And us, too” said Norman, motioning to himself and Ursula.
“Right, also those two,” I said, shaking my head. They didn’t really do much other than scour the location for more weird symbols, of which, none were even found.
“Norman and I found these weird symbols, which we believe to be some kind of incantation,” Ursula said.
Well, that part was new.
“Wouldn’t you know it, the only person who could actually read it was Agnes Baker,” Ursula said.
“The waitress at Velma’s Diner?” Lola asked. Agnes clasped her hands together, trying to avoid the attention being drawn to her.
“The point is we thought, now that all 29 people identified on Mandy’s list are here, we thought we would have Agnes read the incantation inside the mausoleum Mandy marked and just see what happened,” said Norman.
“Is that even safe?” Preston asked.
“Nothin’s safe, not anymore,” Finn said, quietly.
Nobody said anything after that.
“Well! I guess now that everyone here has finally been let in on the plan, Agnes, do the honours please?”
Agnes spoke the words, which sounded like an alien script, completely inhuman. At first, nothing happened. Then, a purple glow became to come from the pillars surrounding us. The sky slowly turned black. Panic covered the faces of some of those gathered, but everyone held their ground. Stars seemed to appear around us. Then, bursting out of one of the stars was what looked a distorted human face… no… an inhuman face… not human… a demonic beast with sharp teeth… ephemeral and rushing, spiraling through us all at unimaginable angles…
“Agnes!! Do something, Agnes!” Ursula shrieked.
But Agnes couldn’t do anything. Because Agnes was on the ground. As was Lola. As was Carolyn. And Jim. Pete huddled close to his dog, who was whimpering uncontrollably. One by one, people were falling to the ground. The Face of the Beast was claiming them. An otherworldly high pitched wail pierced us. I felt a hand reach onto my dress and clutch me tightly. It was Wendy, the small orphan girl we had found on Mandy’s list. She buried her face into my dress. “Make it stop, Jenny,” she cried softly.
Akachi slammed her staff into the ground and yelled something into the nothingness. Then, it all stopped. Everyone on the ground woke up, as if everyone who had fallen had simply taken a nap. No more purple glow. No more stars. No more Face of the Beast. We were back in the mausoleum on French Hill.
“What the… what is that?” Leo stammered.
We all looked at what Leo was pointing at. Replacing Arkham’s streets and houses was one structure. One stone cobbled path led into it. Everything else around us was a strange mist.
“I hate this already,” Preston whinged. “Now, we’re going to have to go into that strange temple and probably die!”
“Sounds about right,” Leo said.
“If there’s answers in there,” Daisy said softly. “Well, we have no other choice, do we?”
Leo stood up, dusted himself off and walked towards the temple. Without saying a word, one by one, we all followed him down the path.
I had wondered why Mandy had circled his name so heavily on her original list. As I watched him lead the way with such bravado, I suddenly understood why. She knew we needed him.
We needed each other.
Agnes, Akachi, Calvin, Carolyn, Daisy, Diana, Finn, Jenny, Jim, Joe, Leo, Lola, Marie, Mark, Mateo, Minh, Norman, Pete, Preston, Rex, Rita, Roland, Sefina, Skids, Silas, Ursula, Wendy, Yorick, Zoey
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