The last light of the sun was being chased by ominous shadow when Dennis Ward felt the hairs on his neck stand on end and had the acute sensation that there was someone standing directly behind him. Dennis pivoted himself slowly, turning as if underwater. He scarcely had the strength to lift the little weapon he still desperately clutched, but somehow he managed to cock his elbow bracing it against his hip, and pointing the weapon straight ahead of him at waist level he faced what he knew stood only feet from his back.
Up close the man was even more hideous to behold. The setting sun and the looming shadow did his ruined countenance no favors. His posture was impossible, he stood bent over and an obvious cripple, but his bearing was at once pathetic and somehow frighteningly arrogant. The skin was a thick and leathery brown the color of old wood, and either he was from some strange islander stock or he had suffered terrible burns over the entirety of his body. The melanomas were the worst, they were literally painful to look at, and massive gaping holes crusted over with malignant cells dominated the right side of the face. One such tumor grew from the inside of the nose to the bottom of the jaw and had to measure six inches across, it had eaten away the man’s cheek, in some places down to the bone, so that when the thing spoke Dennis could see the glint of the creature’s molars.
Despite the external maladies he had obvious been born with some natural deformity; aside from the aforementioned twisting of the spin and crooking of the back, his head was oddly pointed, sloping up in a flat funny way on either side. His ears and hands were large and swollen, and his arms were much longer then they should have been. One eye, murky and the same color as the sea, bulged from the left socket while the other was hidden under black, weeping, disease. His nose was all but gone, either having fell victim to the encroaching sickness or again attributed to a horrid burning.
His garb was rot and filth, bits of rags and garbage obviously scavenged from the floating heap, belts and bandoliers crisscrossed his conclave chest and bony waist, a tattered vest hung over gaunt uneven shoulders and all were lined with sloppily sewn pockets and straps holding various bits of things best left un-speculated upon. He now leaned upon the collapsed umbrella and leered menacingly at Dennis. Eternal moments passed in uncomfortable silence and as Dr. Ward opened his mouth to speak the crippled man beat him to it.
“Ia, ia!” he cawed at Dennis, his voice a high pitched and raspy whisper, the strange word bursting from the near non-existent lips was spoke in such a way that Ward visibly stiffened and took a shuttering half step back-wards away from the other man. Before the now terrified Doctor could retort the creature continued, rapidly expelling nonsense. ”You have…tak… not yet witnesses the…tik…Yellow Sign…you…tak… are unclean!” seeing the obvious confusion on the Doctors face the countenance of the strange scavenger darkened, his one good eye narrowing, his face taking on a decidedly malevolent cast.
The Doctor scared speechless could not even begin to respond to the creature, the words it had spoken made no sense to the educated Ward who could recall no reference, either in philosophy or history, to the afore mentioned Yellow Sign. The exclamation sounded like a combination of the speech of an infant and the ravings of a psychotic. “So then…tak… you are upon R’lyeh for the…tik… first time?” “You are…tik tik… as yet unclean?””Uninitiated…tak…?”
Dennis ignored the strange question and the even stranger manner of speech “Y…you speak English?” he managed to stutter. Fragments of things spilled from the creature’s mouth started to make sense to the Doctor. The cancerous man used odd inflections, his shrill, grating whisper carried unusually well in the strange plane, and he spoke with a heavy speech impediment. A tick or stutter permeated his language and seemed to manifest primarily as an unsettling chattering of the things front teeth as he spoke, almost as if he was chewing on the air as he conversed.
“No…tak…you speak English…I speak the language of the old ones…tak…the language of those who…tik…dwell below!” The statement turned to exclamation only toward the end of the man’s sentence and he sounded to Dennis like a sermonizing evangelist. The man leaned closer to the Doctor forcing the disorientated Dr. Ward to again retreat a step.
Dr. Dennis Ward was now on the precipice of lunacy. The utter surrealness of the entire situation, the unnaturalness of the setting, this mad and threatening denizen that presently menaced him, it was all rapidly becoming too much. Steeling himself he raised the revolver putting it between himself and the leprous thing before him. “We are lost, crashed into the damn ocean, me my wife and two others…” their story began to pour out of him now. He articulated wildly with the heavy pistol, and summed their sad tale rather well, the Doctor felt himself in a situation in which time was of the utmost importance, and chose to omit the parts of the story where he may (by a lesser minded or uncomprehending individual) be painted the villain. The other man listened to the Doctor and, although Denis knew the man understood him, the listener would nod or sneer at inappropriate times during the telling. So it was that when Dennis came to the part where he had made the painful discovery of his wife’s woeful fate he swore the other was grinning, and in shocking fact gurgling a disgusting chuckle low in the throat.
“Ia! ia!” The man screamed, furious at one point, for no discernible reason.
Dennis in his current, truly diminished, state qualified the reactions and entire interaction as his inability to relate rationally to the other, thinking that it was he who was at fault for any miscommunication. Perhaps the other man’s deformities made him express himself in a non-typical way. Maybe what Dennis was saying in his head and saying with his lips were two different things. The Doctor just hoped that by explaining the situation as best he could this other being would, because of their common link of humanity, help him.
Abhorred darkness had come towards the conclusion of the Doctors explanation. He finished as swiftly as possible because, adding to the anxiety of the situation; the crooked man had begun to bite at the air again, making that sharp tik tak sound. Tik tik tik, tak tak tak, faster and faster until it was no longer a tick but a constant motion. It reminded Dennis of a child exaggerating the cold, making an obvious pretense of chattering teeth by opening up their mouths far too wide. “Wh-what the fuck are you doing?” Dennis stammered himself, as the creature edged closer still.
The other stopped, he cocked his head, and spoke “Your mate…tik…and the fat women…tak… will now be ours…tik… yes?””They will become …tik…thralls of the…tak… Yellow Sign!“Tak…your own…tik… life be…tak tak…be your recompense!” he growled this last loudly at Dennis, his voice dropping dramatically in timbre and gaining in volume as if issuing un-questionable command. Dr. Ward could say nothing; he had been paralyzed, seized completely by what he could barely comprehend.
A fierce duality warred within the Doctor now. Half of him knew desperately that the sane and right thing was to squeeze the trigger of the pilot’s Smith and Wesson, and if the weapon mis-fired or failed to work at all then he would have to bludgeon the man to death with the butt of the revolver. To split this foul things skull open and leave his brains to rot upon this un-holy ground seemed the only logical way to proceed. But he also wanted to live and the other half of him held stubbornly to the idea of life.
“I don’t think I understand you…” But he did, the Doctor trembled, his lips shook uncontrollably. This thing, for Ward would call it man no longer, implied an arrangement truly diabolical. Could it really want the women? The Doctor would not even allow his mind to explore the dark possibilities and sinister designs that the monster before him suggested. But Dennis was a man who was grounded in reality. He knew the score. So it was that when the tumor ravaged devil drew forth a glistening bottle of sparkling, clear water Dennis whimpered like a starved animal. “…Please…” he begged. He would give anything, he would give everything, and somehow this creature knew.
The hideous man extended one brown, cracked claw, clutched within, the bottle of life giving water. Almost instinctually, as if a reflex, Dennis snatched the offering from the foul thing. His mind recoiled against all rational thought, and screamed in opposition to the action, but his body, grounded in baser needs, betrayed him. In the end there was no choice at all.
“Ia! You are…tik uninitiated…not fit…tak…unclean for they who dwell below!” The thing turned as if their meeting was concluded and, with that strange gait that was part lope and part scuttle, began to swiftly depart, he left the thoroughly bewildered Doctor with the parting “Homage to…tik…the…witnesses of …tak…The Yellow Sign…tak… and the ones who dwell …tik…below!” It took Dennis a moment to shake the strange stupor that had possessed him and he cried out squeezing the trigger of the 44 caliber as quickly as he could. The first three chambers clicked with no effect, but the fourth fifth and sixth rounds rang out loudly across the black landscape. In the dark Dennis was blinded by the muzzle flash and by the time he cleared the spots from his vision the mad man was gone.
Dennis wept as he drank the contents of the bottle. At no point did he even question whether the liquid was what he had hoped it was. He knew that, although he had not entirely understood the interaction he had just experienced, he had made a deal. He drank too fast and vomited painfully. On hands and knees in the black slime on the strange island the doctor purged his wrecked body. Something primal within him forced him to crawl, driving him to move instinctively away from the unusual rock formations and the gelatinous sludge he now knelt within. For hours he scurried as quickly as the dark, hazardous landscape allowed. Eventually he found himself crashing into a large mound of refuse. There amidst the chemical sludge and the foul quahogs he finally collapsed.
When he awoke he felt as if he had aged twenty years in one terribly unforgettable night. Caked in rot and filth he extracted himself from his gruesome nest. In his grip the pistol had been replaced by the now three quarter empty plastic bottle, the gun having been lost during his frantic flight. The beleaguered Doctor meandered aimlessly for a time before deciding on a direction or course of action. Somehow, eventually, he found himself back at the now deserted raft.
He saw no sign of the two women or of Herb, and the craft remained stuck fast within the plastic sea. Numb, the aged Doctor climbed into the rubber boat, unconsciousness seeking to claim him once again. The last thing the Doctor saw before the world drifted away was the amassing of dark clouds on the horizon, and then it began to rain.