Gretchen heard the gunshots through the searing pain and looked up. She recognized David instantly. Beth and Sayako were behind him and he was charging up the platform towards her.
Impossible. How did he find her? This had to be a cruel vision forced on her by dark magic.
David leveled his AK-47 at Hannah and her father.
“Don’t move. Magic can’t stop a bullet,” David said. He looked down at her. “Release her.”
“You won’t make it out of here alive,” Hannah said.
“You can’t finish your ceremony if you’re dead.”
He put the muzzle of the gun right up to Hannah’s face. Hannah didn’t flinch and only continued to glare at him with her black eyes. Hannah always had a lack of fear that came from her own arrogance.
“Do it,” father said.
“But, father, if we let her go the ceremony’s…”
“Just do it.”
Hannah let out a snarl and took a gold key out of her robe. She unlocked the manacles around Gretchen’s wrists and ankles.
As soon as she was free Gretchen jumped and wrapped her arms around him. She made sure to embrace him from the side so she didn’t interfere with his ability to shoot.
He had come for her. Against all hope David came for her. He did love her. She didn’t know why anyone would love a freak like her, but he did. All her worries disappeared. She wasn’t scared because she knew he’d protect her.
“We’re leaving. Don’t follow us,” David said.
Sayako ran up onto the platform carrying one of those guns with the enormous drums.
“We good?” Sayako asked.
“Yeah, we’re good,” David said.
“Then we go now.”
“I have to agree,” Beth said.
Beth came up onto the platform still pointing her pistol at the crowd below.
“Follow me,” David said.
As a group they began moving back toward the entrance to the house.
There was so much she wanted to say to him but now wasn’t the time. When they reached safety then she’d tell him.
He led her by the hand through the tunnel and up into the house. The house that was never her home but now was terrifying. Despised and ignored was normal, but for them to try to kill her still seemed impossible. All this time they left her alone and let her go to school because they knew they’d kill her.
As they go to the front door of the house she stopped and held him back.
“What? We have to go,” he said.
“No, wait. I have to get something. Follow me.”
She ran up stairs to her father’s room. She was never allowed here but she had snuck in a few times.
In father’s closet was a chest, one of many. She went to the closet and threw the chest’s lid open. Inside was filled with the greenish gold, the gold given to them by Dagon in exchange for their servitude.
“That explains why you never ask for prices,” he said.
She didn’t have time to wonder what he meant.
“Grab that side.”
Together they lifted the trunk, barely managing to pick it up. They left the house and David pointed to one of the trucks nearby. The keys were still in it. After all, who would dare steal from the Marshes?
The threw the trunk in the bed and Sayako and Beth climbed in the back. David jumped in the front seat and she took the passenger side that Beth always called “shotgun” for some reason.
Then the sound of mad, piping music came from the house.
David heard it to because he turned his head as he started the truck.
“What was that?” He asked.
If it was what she thought it was then they had to flee as fast as the could.
“David, please hurry.”
He must have seen something of her fear.
“What’s wrong?” He asked.
“Get us out of here now.”
He shifted into drive and the truck lurched forward. She kept looking but no armed guard came out to stop them. That added to her worry.
As they reached the end of the driveway where the gravel turned onto the main road they heard a crashing sound of wood being splintered.
She turned to see the font of the house exploding in a shower of broken wood. Something giant, oily and black pored out of the house.
“Drive faster, David. Drive as fast as you can,” she said.
“What is it?”
She had seen a shoggoth once before and knew it was unstoppable.
The giant mass of living tissue raced down the hill toward them. It was a shapless mass of darkness with almost recognizable parts appearing and disappearing constantly along its surface. For a moment she could make out a mouth filled with teeth or an eye with red pupils. Sometimes tentacles or claws would appear to pull itself along and be absorbed back into it a few seconds later.
It was fast.
“Go!” Beth shouted from the rear.
David accelerated, pushing her back into her seat with a jolt. The tires squealed and kicked up gravel before hitting the cracked pavement of the road.
The shoggoth burst onto the road behind them. Thick tentacles and protuberances came out of its body to help it change direction. It knew its prey and wasn’t going to give up. The thing took off after them, moving faster than anything that size had a right to. It was the size of a semi truck and was barreling down the road toward them.
“What the hell is that thing?” David asked as he pushed the old truck to its maximum speed.
She began going through her list of spells but she knew she didn’t have anything that could stop a Shoggoth. The things were meant to be unstoppable. The Old Ones had designed them to be as near perfect as possible. Whatever job they needed to do they’d give themselves the tools to do it. Right now the Shoggoth needed speed and lethality.
Dozens of whip-like tentacles shot out to grip the road and pull itself while its own body undulated almost like a snake to push it along. It was grotesque, frightening and beautiful at the same time.
It was also powerful. It knocked trees over without pausing and smashed into a broken down car that had been there for years. It tore the car to shreds as if it were made of cardboard.
But it was also gaining on them. Sayako fired her big gun at the thing to no effect. She’d need a much bigger gun to even get the shoggoth’s attention.
Then she remembered that there was a bridge up ahead on this road. It wasn’t far but if they could take out the bridge they could slow the shoggoth down.
Gretchen opened up the back window and climbed out into the bed. David said something about staying in the cab but she didn’t have time to pay attention. If they were going to get away from this thing she had to do something fast.
She didn’t have any spell that could blow the bridge apart, but she did have one that could age and decay things. It was slow and weak, but if she could amplify the power then they had a chance.
“Do you have a knife?” She asked Beth.
She took out a small pocket knife and handed it to her. She didn’t ask but the questions were in Beth’s eyes.
Gretchen sat on the trunk and began reciting the spell. As she said the spell, the world grew silent around her until all she could hear was the sound of her own chanting. Even time seemed to slow as the trees crept by instead of flying and the shoggoth’s tentacles reached out in lazy archs instead of like snapping whips.
As she chanted she took the knife and sliced open her palm. Her mind was so filled with the magic that she didn’t feel a thing. She then took her bloody hand and began writing dark runes and glyphs on the bed of the truck.
Then they were on the bridge. She reached out her bloody hand towards the bridge and pronounced the last words.
Reality snapped back into place and suddenly everything was filled with noise. The noise of the rattling engine, the rhythmic thumping of the tires on the uneven bridge surface and the shattering trees and pavement of the pursuing shoggoth. The mad piping sounds coming from the gaining shoggoth had grown deafening, its own tuneless music torturing the air around the beast.
It was right behind them. One of its tentacles lashed out. It hit the rear gate of the truck. In an instant the rear gate was gone, leaving nothing but torn metal behind.
The blood runes began to glow and the bridge began to groan and creak beneath them. As she looked she saw the red metal of the suspension bridge turn to rust. It spread like ripples in a pond over the entire surface of the bridge. The concrete started to crack and crumble.
They were only halfway across the bridge when the shoggoth reached it. It didn’t hesitate and pored onto the surface of the bridge. But the bridge held.
She grabbed the knife and cut her other arm in a diagonal slash. Blood gushed out and she ignored the pain while she chanted a spell to blast the bridge. In the back of her mind she was aware that Beth was yelling something to her about what she was doing.
With the last syllable she threw the blast at the center of the bridge. A blue ball of energy shot out and exploded on the surface of the bridge creating a violent cloud of dust and debris. With the added power of her own blood the rusted, crumbling bridge exploded and large sections began to break away and fall into the river below.
Then the bridge fell apart under the shoggoth’s weight and as the bridge shattered it fell into the river, carrying the black shoggoth down with it. Like dominoes the bridge collapsed from the center and spread to the shores.
The cement was cracking beneath their tires when they reached the other side.
Then everything became blurry and Beth’s voice seemed muffled and far away.
Gretchen woke up in David’s bed with a terrible headache. She looked around but no one was there.
“Hello?” She called out.
Her voice sounded weak and dry.
“Right here chicky girl,” Sayako’s voice said.
Sayako faded into reality on the foot of her bed.
“Where is everyone?”
“Go get food. I on guard.”
Her hand and arm hurt and when she looked down saw that they were bandaged.
A few minutes later David and Beth came back with bags of fast food and drinks.
David came over and sat down next to her.
“How you feeling?” He asked.
“I have a headache.”
“You’re lucky that’s all you have. You lost a lot of blood.”
“It was all I could think of.”
“You did good, Gretch.”
She reached out and caressed his cheek. He kissed her hand.
“That was pretty cool. You took down a whole bridge,” Beth said.
“Like a boss,” David said.
“You came for me.” Gretchen said.
“Of course we did. About what I said earlier…”
“My sister witched you. I know.”
She knew he loved her. She didn’t know why, but she knew he did. She reached out and pulled him in. Her lips connected with his and no matter what else she knew he loved her by the way he kissed her.
Beth cleared her throat.
“What now?” Beth asked.
“We eat and celebrate that we’re still alive,” he said. “No offense, Sayako.”
“And after that? Is Grethen’s family going to return for another reunion?” Beth asked.
“It’s possible. The time for the ceremony is over and their chance is missed. But revenge has always been a Marsh family specialty,” Gretchen said.
“And if they come back?” Beth asked.
“Then we deal with them,” David said.
They ate and listened as Gretchen told them about shoggoths and Old Ones. After that Beth and Sayako left, leaving her alone with David.
“I’m sorry for being so much trouble,” Gretchen said.
“You are kind of high maintenance.”
“I’m dragging you into danger.”
“You tried to keep me out of it.”
“But I failed and I’m sorry.”
He reached over and took her hand.
“You’re worth it. More than worth it. I’d fight Old Ones, Elder Things and whatever else to keep you.”
‘You might have to.”
“And I can do it if you’re beside me.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
He stood up and helped her out of her seat. Then they kissed. They held each other for a long time, kissing and being thankful to still be alive.
She knew he’d keep her safe. Her family wouldn’t let this go and she’d see them again. There were other horrors out there as well and now that their eyes were open to them, they couldn’t be ignored or passed by.
Hard times were ahead but as long as she had David and her friends, she knew she could do it.
That night, she got to fourth base.