The Power Of Azalareon
by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.
Mamie Saunders walked along the beach, scanning the sand with her metal detector. So far, the morning had been good to her. She’d found about six dollars in loose change, as well as a nice gold bracelet. She wasn’t sure if the chain was made of actual gold, but it looked nice on her wrist, and that’s what really counted. She wasn’t hurting for money. She just liked scanning the beach because it gave her something interesting to do.
She lived in a stone tower that had once been a lighthouse, generations ago, back when the nearby village of Gilman’s Cove had been a larger community with a robust business district. But, the accursed town of Innsmouth was just a few miles away, and the profound troubles of this larger neighbor had cast their shadow on nearby villages. Over the years, Gilman’s Cove had dwindled to just a few random homes and shops, and the services of the lighthouse were no longer required.
Every now and then, couples from Innsmouth would visit the beach and hold picnics near her tower. It was a lovely stretch of beach, so it was no surprise that people wanted to spend time there. And even though the Innsmouth visitors never caused any problems, she still hated them. She hated their thin hair, sloping foreheads and receding chins – and she was thoroughly repulsed by their thick, wet lips and their equally wet, protruding eyes.
Of course, she had to admit that she herself wasn’t exactly a beauty queen. She wrote romance novels as her profession, and sitting for hours, typing and nibbling on constant snacks, wasn’t the sort of routine that led to the trim figure that so many of her heroines enjoyed. Often, she would look in the mirror and wonder what she would look like, if only she weighed a good forty pounds less. She had long, beautiful blonde tresses, but no one was asking her to let down her hair, Rapunzel-style.
Her tower, like most lighthouses, was located on a high point of the terrain – a cliff overlooking the ocean. From where she stood on the beach, she could see the mouth of the cave far below her tower’s cliff. She’d never entered the cave, even though it was on her land. It was partially submerged in water and surrounded by sharp rocks, so trying to reach the cave would have been quite an ordeal. But still, she liked to imagine what might be found in the cave. Pirate treasure, perhaps … wooden chests filled with magnificent gems and ancient gold coins.
She noticed a thin young man heading her way, walking from the direction of the village. He wore a long black coat and a heavy dark-red scarf. He had brown, curly hair and a wide, slightly lopsided smile.
“Hello there!” she shouted. “Can I help you with something?”
“I’m looking for a lighthouse!” he said, trotting up to her. He pointed toward her home. “And hey, there it is. Is it yours?”
“Sure is!” she said. “My name’s Mamie. What can I do for you?” She noticed that he was carrying a pen and notebook. Was he a writer, too?
“My name’s Simon Booth. I’m doing research on some local history. I’m majoring in Comparative Religion at Miskatonic University.”
Mamie smiled. “What kind of job will that major get you?”
He returned the smile. “Teaching Comparative Religion, naturally! I’m writing a paper on the worship of Dagon in Innsmouth, and–”
“Is that wise? The cult of Dagon is still active. That might not be the best topic to investigate.”
“I know what you’re getting at,” Simon said, “but actually, that portion of my research is finished. I had to interview a lot of sketchy folks. A few of them … I’m not even sure if they could be called human. I had some close calls. Now I need to do some exploring in this area to finish my project.”
“Do all students these days have to work so hard just to write a paper?”
Simon shook his head. “No, I just love the topic. I tend to throw myself into my projects.”
Mamie nodded. She liked this guy: he had guts. Pity he was way too young for her. “Let’s go inside. I’ll brew up some coffee and you can tell me about this exploring you need to do.”
Inside, Mamie led Simon to the kitchen and asked him to take a seat at the kitchen table while she made the coffee. She enjoying doing it the old-fashioned way, grinding the beans herself and using a stovetop percolator. “So what do you need to explore? If it’s this lighthouse, don’t bother. It’s not that interesting…. But, I love it. It’s home.”
“Actually, I’m interested in the cave beneath your tower,” Simon said. “At one time, it served as a place of worship for the god, Azalareon. I recently interviewed a man from Innsmouth, a worshiper of Dagon, who’s a little over eighty years old. He said he had attended a ritual in the cave, about fifty-five years ago.”
“He was over eighty – and still lived on land?” Mamie asked.
“I see you know more than most folks about Innsmouth ways,” Simon replied, surprised. “Yes, most of Dagon’s worshipers go to live in the sea in what would be considered their senior years. This particular man put off his transition because he had to care for his grandchildren. He never left the house – the kids took care of all the errands. He looked more like an enormous frog than a human being.”
“Good of him to help his grandchildren that way. I would’ve thought he’d abandon them and head out to sea.” Mamie handed him a mug of coffee and joined him at the table. She took two cubes from the sugar bowl and popped them in her own mug. “Help yourself to sugar. So this man had once attended a ritual in the cave?”
“Yes. He was taken to the ritual by his parents, who were members of the Esoteric Order of Dagon. Apparently, they were curious about the cult of Azalareon.” Simon sampled his drink and grinned. “Delicious – thank you! Doesn’t even need sugar. It already has a unique sweetness to it. You should open a coffee shop.”
“You’re very kind. I soaked the beans in cherry brandy with a touch of honey. I’m afraid I have an awful sweet tooth. So what happened at this ritual?”
“The cult members presented a robed victim to the creature they worshiped. He said their god looked like a huge, worm-like thing with a hide covered with, as he put it, ‘little boneless fingers.’ It crawled up on the green stone altar and swallowed the sacrifice whole.” He took another swig from his mug. “He told me the thing was about the size of a limousine. Nice comparison, but not exactly a luxury ride for the victim.”
“I don’t know about the god, but it would be fantastic to see that altar,” Mamie said. “The problem is, it’s impossible to get into the cave. The entrance is mostly underwater and it’s surrounded by sharp rocks. Do you really want to risk getting past all that, just for a paper?”
“I don’t have to!” Simon said. “The old man said there’s a door to the cave hidden in your basement. That’s why I came to see you. I’d like to know if I can enter the basement and look for that door.”
“Oh yes, certainly! But I’ve been in that basement hundreds of times. I can’t believe there could be a door down there that I haven’t seen.” She finished her coffee and stood up. “Let’s look right now! I hope we find that door because I’m dying to see that green altar!” She crossed to the kitchen sink and started looking in the oak cabinet above it. “Here we go! My best flashlight. Is there anything else you think we’d need?”
“Boots?” Simon said. “If we manage to find the door and enter the cave, it would be wet down there.”
“I have galoshes in the basement.” She looked at his feet. “Mine would fit you. I’ve got big feet! Come on, let’s go.” She walked to the door at the head of the basement stairs and turned on the lights.
“This is exciting!” Simon said as they descended the stairs. “We’ve just met and already we’ve got an adventure cooking!”
“An adventure? Oooh, I can’t remember the last time I had an adventure. It’s seems like I’ve been puttering around this old lighthouse since the day I was born.” At the base of the stairs, she looked through a large box of odds and ends. “Ah, here are the galoshes. Might as well put them on now. If we find the door, we’ll want to pass through it right away. Besides, it’s mucky down here and I don’t want you to ruin your shoes.”
Mamie and Simon slipped on the galoshes and searched the basement, looking behind the dozens of boxes stacked against the walls. The warped floorboards creaked under their weight. At one point, while shuffling across the floor, Simon stumbled, kicking up a corner of a matted brown rug.
“Are you okay?” Mamie asked.
“Yeah. I almost fell down, but I’m fine,” Simon said. “These boots are too big for me.”
“Oh, dear. I knew I had big feet, but I didn’t think they’d be that much bigger than yours.”
“Don’t feel bad. I just have small feet – my dad did, too.” He straightened out the rug. “Hey, have you ever looked under this thing before?”
“No. It was there when I moved in. It’s so filthy I don’t want to touch it.”
Simon pulled up the rug. It was stuck to the boards at different points, but he finally managed to remove it, piling the dirt-encrusted mess against the wall. He pointed at the exposed area. “Look, there’s our door!”
A wooden hatch had been built into the floor. Instead of a knob, a hinged brass ring was set into the hatch. Simon pulled up on the ring, revealing a stone stairway.
Mamie turned on the flashlight. “Do you want to lead, or shall I?”
Simon waved toward the opening. “It’s your property. Go ahead.”
The steps were coated with a thin, dark layer of slime or mold, so Mamie kept a hand on the wall to support herself as she walked down into the earth.
“So what is this Azalareon?” she said. “A monster? A demon?” The walls of the stairway were solid stone. Who had gone to all the trouble of chiseling a passageway out of solid stone? Whatever Azalareon was, its cult seemed to have some extremely dedicated members.
“Azalareon might just be an oceanic mutant that ignorant people have fed and pampered and adored as a god,” Simon said. ‘Perhaps it had been found by some members of the Esoteric Order of Dagon and they’d decided it needed worshipers.”
“But would it still be alive after all these years?” They had reached the base of the stairs, and now Mamie was shining her flashlight in a wide arc to check out their surroundings.
Before them stretched a huge cave. The ceiling and walls were covered with a thick layer of black slime, while the floor was submerged under swirling dark water. They stood on a rusted metal platform by the side of the water. An equally rusted, narrow bridge led to an island in the center of the cave. The enormous green stone altar that stood upon the island glittered in the light. It appeared to be covered with hundreds of small crystals.
As Mamie stared at the altar, an overpowering sense of déjà vu swept over her. Obviously she had never been in the cave before, and yet why did the altar seem so horribly familiar?
“So that altar … that’s where the sacrifice happened?” she whispered. “According to that old man?”
Simon nodded. “Yep. That’s where the Saunders woman died.”
“What? That’s my last name! What was her first name?”
“I don’t know. The old man didn’t say.”
Mamie began to breathe faster. “Oh, dear. Suddenly I feel sort of … dizzy. Maybe you’d better take the flashlight. I need to sit down.”
Simon took the flashlight from her. “There’s no place to sit here. It’s all rust and slime. Take my hand. I’ll clean a spot for us on that altar.”
Holding her hand, Simon guided Mamie across the bridge to the island. “Careful,” he said, “everything’s slippery.”
“So this … god,” she said. “This Azalareon. What can it do?”
“‘Do’? What do you mean?”
“Does it have any special powers? Does it fly? Open gateways to other planets? Things like that?”
“Good question. The old man said it was able to change reality to meet its needs, but that could mean anything. I mean, technically, a person changes reality when he does the dishes or switches the channel.” He passed the beam of the flashlight over her face for a moment. “You’re looking pretty pale. Hang on, we’re almost there.”
Once they reached the altar, Simon pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped off a section of green stone. “There we are….”
He turned around and shined the flashlight at Mamie again.
But she wasn’t there.
Instead, he found himself staring into the hungry open maw of what appeared to be a gigantic albino sea cucumber. Its fleshy white body was covered with thousands of writhing cilia. Azalareon lunged forward, forcing Simon down onto the altar. He tried to push the horror away and his hand slipped into its mouth. Its swollen lips immediately closed around his wrist. Soon his hand felt like it was being bathed in acid. When he was finally able to pull it out, the flesh had been dissolved away and steaming bones were all that remained.
Azalareon slipped its gaping maw over Simon’s head. It continued to work more and more of the young man’s body into its ravenous mouth, until at last it had encased its victim, just as a hungry python eases a young goat through its expandable jaws to consume it.
Azalareon heaved its bloated body onto the altar to sleep. The god did not feed often, but when it did, it fed well and needed to rest afterward.
Hours later, the sleeper awoke.
The thing now resembled Simon in every way. The flashlight had died, but he did not need the light to find its way back out of the cave and into the building’s living quarters.
Naked and dripping with slime, Simon walked to the bathroom and took a long, refreshing shower. When he was finished, he slipped on his bathrobe. He wondered, for just a brief moment, why his plaid bathrobe was hanging from a hook on the back of the door in this strange bathroom…. But the thought passed almost immediately.
Everything in the lighthouse now belonged to Simon, including the lighthouse itself. Reality had changed to meet his needs.
Later, as he ground the sweetened beans to make his coffee, he thought for a moment about changing the theme of his paper to a comparison of Catholics to Protestants. But then he thought … what paper? It’s not like he was taking any classes. He never went to the city.
He lived alone in the tower outside of Gilman’s Cove. It wasn’t all that interesting, but he loved it.
It was home.
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