Cat’s in the Cradle
The shoggoth charged toward Sylvia, Delareux and Toli. It stopped short of trampling and roared out of a maw that expanded to the size of the cave entrance from which they had just fled. As it roared, the front part of its form curled toward the sky and the roar pitched to a howl. The howl became thin till it was inaudible, but it still trumpeted its mouth to the sky. It held this position, swaying back and forth.
“What is it doing?” Toli asked.
“Calling to its pack,” Sylvia replied, her green eyes glinting. “It wants to know it’s not alone. And when it finds out it is, it’ll go nuts.”
“I can’t hear anything.”
“It’s call is in the ultrasonic frequency range.”
“Shouldn’t we be taking this moment to put some distance between us?”
“We need to get it to chase us. Lead it to an open area.”
“How do we do that?” Delareux asked.
“Piss it off then run.”
“What?” Toli gasped.
“Bang, bang, bang,” Sylvia made finger guns toward the beast, “Believe me, you won’t injure it. You’ll only make it mad.”
Toli gave Sylvia an incredulous look, shook his head and aimed his gun.
“Wait,” Sylvia shouted and grabbed his sleeve. “Get some distance first. The creature may look like pretty monolithic, but it’s very nimble. When you get its attention, run like hell. We’ll follow.”
“Where the hell are we going to lead this thing?”
“It should be an open area with a lot of space. We want to minimize the damage to it and everything around it.”
“The high school field it is then,” Delareux declared.
“Surely, class is in session by now?” Toli said. “There has to be a better place.”
The shoggoth brought its head back down.
“Well then, think fast,” Sylvia pointed to the shoggoth, “It knows it's alone.”
“I must speak to an officer on duty,” Parker panted to the desk clerk.
“All our officers are out on calls,” the clerk said, “You can take a seat and wait, if you like.”
“This is an emergency. A grave emergency.”
“What’s the problem?”
“The detectives Delareux and Palazzo are…”
“Oh for chrissake!” Ed Danvers bellowed from his office and stomped out. “What’s he gotten himself into now?”
As Danvers spat out words he saw Toli outside the widow, running past the police station. Fast on his heels was the shoggoth, trampling cars parked on the curb. Delareux appeared in the frame, firing shots at the shoggoth, followed by Sylvia Winthrop in her viney, exoskeleton dress swinging from buildings and light posts. Barclay streamed behind, wrapped in vines, holding a scythe. The shoggoth turned in response to Delareux’s shots and charged toward him. More shots were heard and the shoggoth turned again and continued down the street.
Danvers let out a prolonged grumbling sigh as he holstered his gun, pocketed his badge, and hiked his pants. He puffed and walked out of the station, following Delareux and company.
“Delareux,” he shouted through cupped hands, but the commotion was too thick to cut.
The shoggoth caught sight of some people through the window of a building. It opened its maw a bit a chunk out the structure. Danvers fired his pistol. The shoggoth turned, looked at him, and charged.
“That’s the idea,” Sylvia called down from above, suspended by vines stretched between two buildings.
Toli fired. The shoggoth continued pursuit.
“Where did you get this thing?” Danvers barked at Delareux.
“Why are you looking at me?”
“Because shit like this always involves you.”
“You’d be better served questioning Sturgis and Parker, Detective,” Sylvia said lowering herself to the ground.
“Who the hell is this?” Danvers asked Delareux, pointing to Sylvia.
“Sylvia Winthrop,” Delareux replied.
Danvers looked hard a Sylvia, “Aren’t you dead?”
“Do I look dead?” Sylvia answered.
“Weren’t you dead?”
“Fine,” Danvers hung his head and rubbed his eyes. “Any other surprises I should prepare for?”
“Allo, Detective,” called a smug voice. A tap befell Danvers’ shoulder. He turned and saw a man clad in black wearing a wide brimmed hat and a broad grin under a beaked half-mask. A young girl stood by his side, also in black, smirking under a domino mask that gave her nose an owl’s beak. Messy locks hung in her eyes.
“Sure, why not?" Danvers sighed, shaking his head after a prolonged silence. “Why the hell not?”
Sylvia was carried over on ambling vine legs and she held out her hand. Guy took it by the fingers.
“The Lady Winthrop,” Barclay said, dangling from a vine above them.
“Sylvia,” she corrected.
“Le Bec,” Guy said, covering their clasp with his other hand. His fingers stroked hers.
The vines around Sylvia’s arms lengthened and tied themselves around Guy’s wrist and tightened. He grimaced.
“Personal space,” Sylvia sneered.
“Indeed, ma’am,” Guy gasped. “My apologies.”
Sylvia's sneer warmed to a smile. “Who’s your friend?” she asked. The vines lowered to Shelby’s eye level. “You’re awfully young to be out in a dangerous situation like this.”
“That’s my ward Shelby,” Guy said. “Don’t be fooled by her size.”
Sylvia studied the girl’s face. She looked long into her eyes.
“Green eyes,” Sylvia remarked. “How old are you, Shelby?”
“Twelve years,” Sylvia’s vines lifted her into the air. “That’s how long I was gone... We’ll talk, Shelby. But right now, poor Mister Palazzo is about to get eaten by a frightened and hungry beast.”
Sylvia’s vines grabbed Guy, Shelby, and Danvers and lifted them off the ground. The vines swung their passengers away from whatever they could grab. They caught up to Delareux and Toli leading the beast onto an empty field. Sylvia deposited Guy, Shelby, and Danvers around the speeding beast. The vines pushed Sylvia up into the air.
“If it gets too close to anyone, draw its attention away,” she called down. “I have to figure out how to get it running in the right direction.”
“What’s the right direction?” Danvers yelled back.
“Are you ready, Mouse?” Guy said to Shelby.
“It’s a cinch,” she chirped. “It’s like Monkey-in-the-Middle. Except the monkey wants to eat us.”
“That’s one way to look at it.” Guy shot at the shoggoth as it lunged for Toli.
Enraged, it began streaming toward Guy and Shelby. Vines erupted from the ground and clawed at the beast’s legs, failing to take hold. When a vine would begin wrapping the beast would simply snap it, or uproot it.
“See if you can keep it confined to a small area,” Sylvia called, “Because I have an idea.”
“It’s too agile!” Toli called back. “We can’t both confine it AND maintain a safe distance!"
A mass of creeping vegetation began springing from the ground and whipping at the creature, forming a thicket around it. A vine whipped its shoulder and it turned to snap at it. Another whipped him on the opposite hindquarter and it again turned to attack, the beast turned in place as it fended off attacks from all side.
“It’s working,” Shelby cried.
The shoggoth took a big mouthful of plants as a crocodile rolled out of the thicket, uprooting and consuming several of its assailants. The shoggoth charged toward Guy and Shelby.
“It was worth a shot, Plant Lady,” Guy called to Sylvia.
“It would have worked if it couldn’t reach the vines,” Shelby said to Guy.
“What do you mean?” Guy asked.
“I have an idea.” Shelby looked hard at the beast, puffed and rubbed her hands together, then wiped them on her pants.
“What are you going to do, Mouse?” Guy yelled, holding his hands out. “What are you doing?”
“What's with this ‘you’ stuff, you’re coming with me.”
“What exactly am I doing?”
“We’re going to get on its back.”
Guy stared at Shelby and sighed. “Get it to turn around,” Guy called to Toli.
Toli shot at the beast and it whirled around and lunged in his direction.
“Here we go,” Guy said as he and Shelby raced toward the beast.
“Sylvia!” Shelby called. “We want to go for a ride on the monster.”
As they ran, vines grabbed them and hurled them into the air and onto the shoggoth’s back. When they landed they grabbed onto one of the many questing tendrils that studded its back.
“This is so disgusting,” Shelby yelped.
“Plenty of time to think about it later,” Guy said and opened fire into the beast’s hide.
Shelby pulled a blade and stabbed at the greasy leather. The shoggoth bucked and snapped at its shoulder. It dropped to its haunches and began kicking at its neck with one of its rear tentacles. It dropped to one side and spasmed against the ground, trying to sate the unreachable itch in the center of its back.
“Oh, that’s perfect,” Sylvia called.
A tree suddenly grew under the shoggoth, lifting it into the air. Sylvia’s vines pushed her up along with it, alighting her on the shoggoth’s back with Guy and Shelby.
“Oh, you poor thing,” she whimpered. “You’ll be back home soon.”
The front end of the shoggoth began probing the air above it. At first its motions were tentative and curious, but soon gave way to clear excitement.
“See? It knows where it’s going, now,” Sylvia cooed. “Now let’s get off this elevator before we can no longer breathe."
Vines reached for and grabbed them, lowering them back to Earth. Guy and Shelby hit the ground trotting, but Sylvia landed and nimbly stepped away, as if she had been walking the whole time. Barclay plopped down behind her with a rustling thud.
“We’re just going to keep it in a tree?” Danvers said.
“No, Detective,” Sylvia replied. “It knows its way home.”
A loud crack echoed through the sky.
“See?” she pointed up. “It just broke the sound barrier on its way out of the atmosphere.”
“Look!” Shelby yelled, gazing upwards.
An iridescent streak stretched through the sky, well above the tree.
“It’s leaving a slug trail in the sky,” Danvers said.
“The protective film on its skin is burning off,” Sylvia explained. “It’s quite lovely.”
They stood together, and watched as the shoggoth left the atmosphere.
“I don’t know about anybody else, but I haven’t had breakfast in twelve years,” Sylvia groaned. “Breakfast at my place?”
“Sounds wonderful,” Guy said. “And perhaps this evening, dinner?”
Shelby rolled her eyes and shook her head at Sylvia and she smiled back.
“We’ll see, strange man in a mask,” Sylvia said. “We’ll see.”
“So, we’re just going to leave this tree here?” Danvers asked.
“Shelby, do you know who your parents are?” Sylvia asked.
“No,” Shelby moaned, her belly overfull with pancakes. “They died when I was a baby.”
“Twelve years ago?”
“That’s when I disappeared, you know. I was presumed dead. And my husband- he did die.”
“I’d know those green eyes anywhere. I see them when I look in the mirror. I saw them when I looked at my baby girl. And I see them when I look at you.”
Shelby’s face lost all expression. She sat back in her chair and stared at the congealing pancakes on her plate.
“Tell me about your life so far,” Sylvia said gently.
“There’s not much to tell,” Shelby said to her pancakes. “I bounced around to foster homes until I just ran away. I've lived on the streets since. Well, until Mister Corbin took me in.”
“Why did you bounce around?”
“I kept getting in trouble. The foster parents didn’t want to deal with me, so they’d ship me off to other ones.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“I’d always sneak out and go exploring. Sometimes I would come home for days. One of my fosters said I was making things happen with my mind, but she was crazy. She had ten cats.”
“You've always felt itchy, haven’t you? Like you need to get into the world as quickly as possible? Like there was something awful out there and you had to be ready for it.”
Shelby looked at Sylvia, mouth agape. She bobbed her head. “Yeah, but lots of people feel like the world is awful.”
“Not that the world was awful, but something in it? Something very specific. Something that haunts your dreams.”
Shelby’s eyes drifted as she sat still as stone. “...Like a demon.”
“Not a bad comparison. That itch, that feeling is your Rosenkreuz blood, Shelby, coursing through your veins, telling you a day is coming. A day you’ll need to ready for and your entire life has been a series of trials preparing you for that day. There were no accidents in your life, Shelby. The girl you are and the woman you’re becoming is not a pastiche of random events. There is purpose behind it.”
“Wait, wait, wait!” Shelby said as she covered her face with her hands. “This a lot to lay on someone all at once. Can we please backtrack to the part where it sounded like you were saying I’m your daughter?”
“I am saying that. But more importantly, that 'demon' as you call him - is real. And when he finds out who you are he will want you dead. I get it, kid. It’ll take time to process, but the sooner you know this stuff the better.”
Shelby sat in silence for a few long moments. Then she sharply smacked both hands on the table, and leaned towards Sylvia. “Who’s the demon?” She tried to bark, but it came out a croak.
“His name is Yaldabaoth. He also goes by 'The Demiurge'. And he’s not a demon, he’s a Seraph from the planet Parthus.”
“Why does a spaceman want me dead?”
“Because of your Rosenkreuz ancestry. It’s not like he’s looking for you. But if you crossed paths and he wasn’t preoccupied... he’d probably try. To kill you. That’s not really the point, here. The point is…”
“I’m your daughter,” Shelby said to herself.
Shelby twiddled her fork and stared. “If I’m your daughter and Mister Corbin adopted me, who do I stay with?”
“Depends. What do you want to be? A witch? Or a cat burglar?”
“Why can't I be both?”