They had arrived in Jonas’ Packard early in the morning, and covered the car with brush to avoid it being spotted from the road. They looked down on the lake most of the day, spying out the area they believed the ritual would take place. At ten o’clock, they cautiously made their way down to the shore and struck a path to the ritual clearing.
Under the new moon, the darkness was complete. The investigators took their places and waited. After a while, they could hear movement around them. Into the clearing they came – a half-dozen robed figures with bushels of dead tree branches, firewood, and lumber in hand. Within minutes, a ten-foot high pile was erected in the middle of the clearing, and the wood was saturated in kerosene. Some time later, two more figures emerged into the clearing, both tall and robed – one, wearing a ritual headdress. The two figures plunged torches into the pile of wood, and the clearing exploded into light.
The chanting was slow at first – low, unintelligible, and rhythmic. The cultist circled the bonfire, moving as a single entity – limbs thrashing about luridly. As the chant grew in volume, the worshipers’ pace quickened.
The investigators knew what they had to do. For a week they read and re-read the translated manuscript which described an entity named Xnaaki; described rituals to summon and banish the creature to its plane of existence. They had a plan – Ivy would begin the ritual to summon the creature; Ray would chant a spell that would ward off the servants of Xnaaki; Jonas would shoot any cultists that tried to interfere. When the creature was summoned, all three would chant the spell to destroy the Stone of Xnalku and banish the entity forever.
It was now or never.
Jonas and Ray hear Ivy begin the summoning ritual, and jump into action. Ray fires his revolver into the group of cultists. The chants stop. Sherriff Colburne turns towards the clamor, pulling a gun from his robes. Springing from behind a tree, Jonas empties both barrels of his eight-gauge shotgun into the Sheriff’s face – Colburne’s head and shoulders disintegrate, spraying skull fragments and grey matter upon the cultists. Screaming in terror, they scatter. Deputy Grietski fires an errant shot at Jonas, and Ray unloads two rounds from his .45 into the deputy’s chest. Grietski crumbles, dead before he hits the ground.
Ivy continues chanting the summoning ritual. Jonas shoots an escaping cultist. Ray attempts to give chase, but quickly realizes that it’s too dark to follow and returns to Ivy’s side.
With the area clear of cultists, the investigators move forward to the shoreline. As Ivy’s chants reach a crescendo, the lake begins bubbling violently. Jonas pulls the Stone of Xnalku from his pocket and holds it tightly in his hand. Ray casts a protection spell as waves crash upon the shoreline. Suddenly, something darker than darkness explodes through the surface of the lake. With the light from the bonfire, the investigators are able to make out a disgusting centipede-like creature propel towards them. As it rears back, they behold thousands of slimy, black tentacles writhing in all directions. Shock and horror overcome the investigators for a moment, but sheer will and a desire to banish the creature masters their fear.
Ivy, Jonas, and Ray join together to chant the spell that will destroy the Stone of Xnalku. At that moment, the outer god strikes a fierce, tentacled blow at Ray that dislodges the barber’s head from his shoulders and sends it sailing up in the air, where it lands at Jonas’s feet. As Jonas finishes the chant with Ivy, he looks down into Ray Brannigan’s blank, dead stare, and feels the Stone of Xnalku crack in his hand.
An other-worldly groan…
An alien vista…
A sound of rushing water…
Jonas and Ivy open their eyes to daylight. They are twenty feet apart from each other, and nearly one hundred feet from the shoreline. Standing up, they walk towards one another, and make their way back to the shore.
It is pristine – no cult, no bonfire, and no sign of disturbance. They frantically search the area for any sign of Ray Brannigan, but cannot find his body. It is as if nothing happened. Dumbfounded, Ivy and Jonas start the long walk back to the car.
“I wonder how mother is going to get along without me.”
Jonas turns around and sees Ray Brannigan.
“You will tell her for me, right?” Ray asks.
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” Jonas answers. “We can’t find your body.”
“Who are you talking to?” Ivy asks.
“Ray,” says Jonas.
As they approach the car, Ivy looks at Jonas speaking to nothing and wonders if something might have broken in his brain.