The Thing in the Crib
Or, The Task of Carter Randolph
Or, Cthulhu Cthild Cthare
© 2001 by Tom Smith
Many and uncanny are the things I have seen in this world. In the foreboding tundra far beyond my lands, where the sky comes to awful life with the shimmering of ions charged by far-off stars, I have watched an old woman, shriveled with terrible wisdom, strike the bare trunk of a tree with an axe until something like unto blood flowed from it, and then boil that viscous ooze into a sinister delicacy for the tables of kings. I have traveled many miles west to the Hills of Blackness, and looked upon the towering, alabaster faces of the ancients who ruled this land, their stoic and silent visages hewn unnaturally from the living rock. I have seen patchwork kingdoms ruled by vermin, and living heads in boxes inciting brother against brother. But naught of this has prepared me for the wonders and trials of my new existence, to which I took vows of dedication, devotion, and adoration, but which has resulted in geases, both passive and active, I did not anticipate. Before all others, one particular obligation tasks my very soul.
You must understand, first and foremost, that this was a duty for which I felt neither desire nor qualification. But it was pressed upon me, by that matron of the house wherein I resided, with a stern reminder that, on a basic level, I was at least partly responsible for the situation. I could not argue with this fact; it had necessarily been ascertained, with my very blood and genetic matter, by a local laboratory often beset by protesters of the most vehement sort. What was I to do?
I edged open the door of the darkened chamber with trepidation. The stench of human effluvia was overpowering. The light from the portal fell upon a raised cage of ancient wood, not quite square, and decorated with icons of some lost tribe that worshipped beasts. The sigils celebrated the gluttony of the bear, the wild and uncontrollable fury of the tiger, the fatalism and endurance of the donkey, the inscrutable yet impractical wisdom of the owl, the smug quickness of the rabbit. The metallic rim of the construct glinted as if angered that illumination had touched it.
Suddenly a cry erupted from the miniature prison, and I perceived a thrashing and a shuddering within. Swallowing terror as best I could, I peered over the rim of the cage.
There it lay! Approximately two feet long from end to end it was, with a disproportionately large skull and flaccid, powerless limbs. Its pallid flesh was utterly without hair. Its eyes were huge and unfocused, and it appeared plump, as if recently fed to satiation. God in Heaven! Could I truly have caused this creature to emerge from nothingness into full being?
No matter. My task lay before me. As I had been instructed, I laid a square of clean cotton cloth, nearly as long as the creature itself, just so upon the nearby table. The cloth I anointed with a whitish powder, intended to subdue the reek of the creature and soothe its raw and uncalloused flesh. Easy enough so far; but the true challenge lay in the next step. I took a breath, made my peace with the uncaring universe, reached into the very cage itself, and lifted the nearly inert creature in my sweating, unsteady hands. It immediately began to writhe, as if sensing my doubt, and abruptly it emitted a wail I shall take to my grave.
Ah, God, it mewled so! The walls rang with its incessant shrieks, both piteously high and yet somehow guttural, and my ear drums nearly burst, and my nerve nearly failed me; but it was clutching at me now, trying to find purchase in my flesh with its newly-forming talons, and I had no choice but to persevere. Fortunately, I had been given some rudimentary instructions on how to deal with the creatures outbursts. Several strokes of my hand along its spine, as if I were hypnotizing a crocodile in the manner of the Buhaia tribe in the jungles of Ahndjur, and numerous repetitions of the words of power I had been taught, toora loora loora, toora loora lay, and the creature grew somewhat calmer, though still its eyes were puffed with what alien emotion I could not guess.
But now my nostrils were assailed anew by the reek of the thing. I had remembered too late the cotton cloth it yet wore, once immaculate and wholesome but now tainted and befouled beyond retribution, the cloth I was to replace!
For a moment I lost all hope, but then I espied a receptacle nearby, strongly constructed and cunningly sealed, which could be for no other substance than this blighted fabric. I lay the creature on the table next to not on the prepared linen, and carefully opened the clasp which fastened the old cloth in place. I was not prepared for the corrupt vapours which wafted oer me as I unfolded it, but the end was in sight. I grasped the creature by its legs, lifting just enough to draw the grim fabric from beneath it. Into the appointed scuttle I dismissed that besmirched linen at once, taking care not to touch (and thus taint) anything else with its foulness.
At length I was able to crudely wrap the freshly prepared cloth around its nether regions. This I affixed in place with the clasp, which I now noticed was a cunningly constructed locking needle of the purest steel. It did not seem to have any discernible ill effect upon the creature, but I felt safer for having the cold iron between it and me.
Gingerly, so as not to rouse its keening once more, I returned the creature to its holding pen. It did not seem to mind its imprisonment, however, but gurgled happily, and then arranged itself for sleep with a countenance so trusting that my heart suddenly went out to it, and my hand started forward of its own accord to stroke the creatures brow.
At that very moment, I remembered myself, and what I had done, and I stared at my traitorous hand for a long moment before fleeing the chamber altogether, dreading the inevitable time that, once more, the task should fall upon my troubled soul.
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