The place we were now brought me a strong sense of deja vu, reminding me of when we first appeared in Innsmouth. It was another alley, complete with a dusty van parked at the end and cozy, simple and ordinary-looking houses peeking from the entrance of the alley, on the other side of the street. The only difference was that now it was night, and all was quiet around us, too quiet for a large city, even at night, which meant we were probably on another small town.
“Welcome to Denby, population 7, 271!” Declared Suzy with a grandiose gesture, raising both her arms and spreading them wide, which looked completely out of place in the grubby alley we were in.
“Why did you bring us to this place then?” I asked, eying my surroundings suspiciously.
“Well, right around the corner is a great diner that has the best burgers you could ask for at this time of - ” Suzy said excitedly, before I cut her off.
“Alright. I’m not stupid, I see the pattern. So can we skip the part where you fuck around partying or eating or whatever... and I wonder out loud ‘geez, why did you bring us here’ and then you act all smug and reveal it’s actually part of your plan and important to saving the world? It’s alright. I get it. You brought us here for a reason. Great. So can we cut to the chase?”
“No need to be a spoilsport,” grumbled Suzy, crossing her arms and looking unamused, a rare expression for her.
“Why you keep doing this stuff anyways?” I scoffed. “I mean, you’re this super powerful god, or goddess, thingy… Can’t you just get whatever you want at any time?”
“Well, this god-or-goddess-thingy that could get anything she wants at any time, right now, wishes to walk into a diner and order a cheeseburger. What’s so hard to understand about that?” She said, still peeved.
“You don’t even need to eat!” I protested.
“Well, you don’t need to save the world, do you? Yet, here we are.” She shrugged, her usual grin slowly spreading across her face once again. “Isn’t it funny how people often don’t need what they so desperately want… And don’t want what they so desperately need?”
“Does that go for you too?” I asked
“You could say that,” she replied quietly, still smiling.
“Then what is it that you need? That you desperately need, even if you don’t want it?” I asked, challenging her. Honestly there was no expectation of getting a straight answer from her. The question was just a way to try and get back at this crazy thing that toyed with my life for her own amusement. Pointless. I might as well have cursed at a tornado, or argued against an earthquake.
“I need to understand those I mourn,” she spoke. No trace of humor or mockery in her voice.
“Now it’s my turn!” She snapped, her grin coming back in full force as she thrust her face aggressively close to mine, forcing me to take a step back. “I know what you need, but desperately refuse to accept. What your soul is crying out for, deep within the depths of your shell! I can see deep within your mind, what you try your most to silence, despite the need clawing at your very soul. Your deepest, most hidden need, your darkest desire!”
“I don’t have...” I started to weakly protest, but it died in my throat before I could even articulate it. She smiled wider.
“What you truly need, above all, to complete your very existence is… A cheeseburger!”
She followed this declaration with an absurd pose, arms raised high as she grinned maniacally at me, as if she had made a ground-breaking, mind-bursting grandiose statement.
“What is it with you and cheese-” but I was interrupted, and not even by her. My traitorous stomach chose that very moment to growl loudly, rumbling enough to silence us both as we stared at each other in the empty alley, silent except for the grumblings of my stomach
She smiled her biggest shit-eating grin at me and said nothing, in a triumphant pose, hands on her hips.
“Fine… I’ll eat the goddamn cheeseburger.” I muttered, admitting defeat
- X - X -
The diner was small and unimpressive, squatting where the city met with what looked like a highway. It sat next to a gas station and one could see two trucks stopped there, along with a couple of cars. The diner was still open and somewhat busy, despite the late hour, and I confess the smell alone made my stomach rumble again.
“So, what can I get ya two?” Asked the waitress, a blonde with a notepad on her hands and brimming with energy, smiling politely while her eyes darted back and forth between me and Suzy. “If you folks need to stay up I recommend the coffee. Dark and sweet, best kind there is!”
“Two cheeseburgers, please!” Asked Suzy, smiling back while holding her menu. I fidgeted awkwardly with mine, always waiting for something bad to happen. I knew well appearances could be deceiving.
“Sure thing!” Said the waitress. “Can get ya anything to drink?”
“Water’s fine,” I mumbled.
“I’ll have a cup of your coffee,” said Suzy. “I’ve heard it’s the best around here.”
The waitress beamed at the compliment. “Thanks, I know some truckers drive for miles and wait until our little spot before getting their cup o’ joe. We’re quite proud of it!”
“Sounds great,” said Suzy, resting her chin on her hand and smiling. She was completely relaxed, the opposite of my fidgeting. Once more, the waitress’ eyes darted back and forth between us.
“So, pardon me for asking, but you’re not from around here, are ya? And I don’t see any new car parked outside neither,” she craned her neck while looking at the parking lot through the glass window to confirm it, before turning back towards us. “So, are you guys passing through or…?”
“We’re visiting -” said Suzy at the same time I said:
“- Just passing through.” We both spoke at the same time, then stared quietly at each other as our contradicting story buried us deeper.
“What we mean is, we’re passing through your diner but will be staying in town for a bit, with a friend. We’re just visiting.” Suzy spoke smoothly, her tone friendly and relaxed, so different from how she usually spoke to me.
“Oh, alright! If ya need any help with directions just ask me. Who are you guys staying with, if you don’t mind me asking?” She smiled helpfully, looking back and forth at us, but I couldn’t help but feeling interrogated.
“Well, umm...” I looked back at Suzy, hopelessly lost. She smiled back at me and said nothing.
“Oh! I’m sorry!” The waitress let out a small giggle, which she covered with her hand. “Hope you folks don’t think I’m being too nosy. I’m just figuring out how to help you. Only I was born and raised here, so I know the town well. Wouldn’t like you two getting lost at this time of night, especially on foot! I can’t offer you two a ride, unfortunately, since my father’s pickup truck holy holds two, but… Oh, sorry! They’re calling me! Be back in a sec with your food and coffee!”
And she was gone before in a bustle, notebook in tow, before any of us could get a word edgewise. I looked back at Suzy, stunned.
“What was that?” I muttered.
“Small town curiosity,” replied Suzy, smiling at me from the other side of the table.
I could hear the blonde waitress chattering to another client while we sat at our booth, me awkwardly fiddling with the napkin holder.
“Why are we here anyways? Feel like telling me any time soon?” I asked, dropping my voice a bit, just in case anyone was listening.
“To witness a suicide cult bring forth a new, fledgeling god,” she replied, in equally quiet tones. Her relaxed smile did not even waver.
I shook my head. “I… I know at this point not to doubt what you say,” I said, looking warily at her. “But. Really? I mean, really?!”
She shrugged, unperturbed. “You refused my two previous suggestions, remember? Living in the Mi-Go reserve, or living with the inhabitants of Innsmouth. I guarantee you, the remaining options are only getting less pleasant from here.”
“Alright, I’ve gone along with you and your plans for a while now, mostly because, I have no friggn’ clue what to do, but… Why don’t we try to stop the end of the world thing from happening in the first place? You know, the weird comet thing… And the people going crazy and...” My sentence faltered as I remembered what her vision had showed me. It would happen here too, wouldn’t it? The people in this small town diner, they too would tear each other apart and kill and hurt themselves and starve, completely insane. Driven mad by that… Thing.
“That’s impossible,” replied Suzy, her smile dropping completely.
“Why?” I insisted, looking at her. She returned my gaze dispassionately, considering her answer.
“There are things that even I am afraid of,” she said at last. And, for the first time, I heard fear in her voice, quiet and subdued, but it was no simple fear. It was terror.
The silence that followed was quite long, broken by the noise of the diner in the background as I fidgeted, looking at the night outside. It was so dark you could barely see anything beyond the lamp posts. We were only a tiny island of light in a sea of darkness. I shivered, despite the cozy warmth of our booth .
“But… Isn’t there a way?” I insisted, not wanting to give up like that. “I mean… What even is that comet thing? Why does it have that effect on people here?”
She gave me a sidealon glance before replying. “That comet thing, as you call it, is named by your people as Yog-Sothoth. He has a bunch of other names, as usual, but it’s pointless to name them all. He does not respond to any of them. Indeed, any human that witnesses Yog-Sothoth… Well. Their psyche breaks. It is too much for a human mind to grasp.” She paused and sighed. “I know what you’re going to ask next, so let me preempt you. There is no way I can stop Yog-Sothoth. Don’t even bother asking me. Its will is absolute, even among beings such as myself.”
I found myself looking at Suzy with new eyes, after she told me this. She still had her usual appearance. Messy blonde hair, a face far too pale and with too much make-up and her trademark yellow hoodie, but her usual mocking grin was nowhere in sight. She looked remarkably more normal that way, looking at me while relaxing on her side of the booth. Almost… Vulnerable.
“Surprised to hear me admit I’m not the top dog?” She asked, with a little smile that resembled her usual self. “It’s pointless to lie about things like these. And I’m still plenty powerful to impress you with a few tricks.” She punctuated her statement with a playful wink and grinned wider, back to her normal self.
“So why does this Yog-whatever hates us so much then?” I asked, frowning. It was foolish to expect this creature to show any vulnerability.
“It doesn’t,” she replied. “It’s just passing through.”
“Yog-Sothoth is not intentionally going after you guys in any way. He’s just passing through. And his path happens to go close to your planet. And he happens to drives you guys crazy. So your planet was on the wrong place, on the wrong time, that’s all. It’s random bad luck” She shrugged, still grinning.
“Random bad luck? The world is going to end because of random bad luck?” I muttered weakly, not quite believing what I had heard.
“Yep,” she replied. In the silence that followed, she shrugged again.
The silence that followed was broken by two plates clinking as they were placed on our table. On them were two homemade cheeseburgers with glistening brown hamburger and light brown bread toasted to perfection. The blonde waitress that brought them flashed us another large smile.
“Here’s the cheeseburgers you ordered!” She announced cheerfully, brandishing a cup full of dark coffee so hot you could see the steam coming from the spout. “And here’s the coffee! You know, if you want, you two could always ask for a ride from one of the truckers if your friends’ place is on the other side of town. If it’s close by you can walk though, our town is pretty safe! Everyone knows everyone kinda deal. Although sometimes you get some weird people from outside… Oh, not that there’s anything wrong with outside people! You two look alright, not talking about you!” She laughed nervously at the end of her rambling, the first pause since she started speaking.
“Eh, we’re pretty weird,” replied Suzy, smiling back at the waitress while relaxing on her side of the booth.
“Oh no, I didn’t mean to say anything bad about you two! You make a great… Couple? Or is it brother and sister? Friends?” She glanced at me, then back at Suzy, but neither of us replied. “Oh my gosh! I’m being nosy again, aren;t I? So sorry, I just meant to… I mean. Um… Enjoy your meal! It was nice to meet you two!”
And with that she was gone. I hadn’t said a single thing since she brought our food. Suzy took a sniff at her coffee, her mug was chipped on the side, and let out a grunt of approval. “Now THIS is good coffee!” She said.
I took a bite out of my cheeseburger. It was amazing. The meat almost melted in my mouth as I savored it, all ingredients perfectly arranged to send my taste buds into happy oblivion. I chewed with my eyes closed, to better savor the taste, then hungrily took another bite.
Me and Suzy remained quiet for our meal, not saying anything as we focused on our food. It was all homemade, and a but on the greasy side, but the flavor was top-notch. No cheeseburger I had ever eaten tasted better than the one in that tiny diner on the edge of a town I didn’t even know existed a few hours ago.
“See? I knew you needed that cheeseburger,” said Suzy, smiling at me. Her plate was empty, save for a few crumbs.
“Well, I guess I was hungry - ” I started speaking, before she interrupted me.
“No, it’s more than just sustenance,” she shook her head. “You were distraught, and needed to anchor yourself in something simple and pleasant. Such as enjoying good food. Without it, you might have broken.”
My brows knitted in a frown and I looked away, at the darkness outside our window, and the almost empty parking lot.
“So is it true that we’re all dying for no special reason?” I asked quietly. “Just because? That’s how the world ends?”
“Yes,” she replied.
I sighed, collecting my thoughts. “And that Yog-thing… We can’t stop it? We can’t prevent the end of the world? Somehow?” I tried to prevent the hope from creeping into my voice, but I couldn’t help it. The alternative was too bleak for words.
“We cannot stop it,” she replied. “Your world will soon be lost.”
I looked back at her, glaring and clenching my fists. “But we can still save people, can’t we? We can still save lives.”
“Of course.” Suzy nodded politely. “Provided you are ready to make sacrifices.”
“Sacrifices?” I made a face when I said that word, as if it had left an unpleasant taste in my mouth. “Define sacrifices.”
“You can’t save everyone, Cody,” answered Suzy. Her tone wasn’t smug, rather it was quiet, almost sad. That made me only angrier for some reason.
“No! There’s gotta be a way! Can’t you do something?!” I spat back, looking intently at Suzy, who looked back at me, completely calm. She did even blink.
“I could absorb their existences, make them a part of me. Remember their lives, and sing their dirges,” she replied.
“Forget I asked,” I uttered, letting a disgusted sigh escape my lips as I turned away, clenching my fists again. I felt like I had to do something, anything, yet I felt…
“You’re powerless at the moment, Cody,” said the Queen in Yellow, regarding me from the other end of the table. “You depend on me for every possible solution to your survival.”
“You don’t have to rub it in,” I said.
“There is a way for you to get more powerful,” said Suzy. “Powerful enough to no longer depend on me. But that will also require some sacrifice.”
I hesitated, looking back at her. It sounded too good to be true, which meant it probably was. “What sacrifice?” I asked.
“Human lives,” she replied.
“No fucking way...” I rubbed my head with both hands, eyes squeezed shut. The things she told me kept getting worse and worse.
“Would you kill a hundred to save a thousand?” She calmly asked. I opened my eyes and stared back at her.
“I… Maybe? Not sure if I can make that call...”
“Would you kill a thousand to save a hundred then?” She pressed on, without pity. “If the alternative would be to do nothing and let everyone die, could you do that? Would you be capable of killing many to save the few that are left?”
My throat felt dry and I swallowed, thinking of my answer. “You’re talking about real people. With lives, with mothers, siblings, maybe children...”
“Yes. And if you do nothing, they will all die,” Suzy continued in her same, even tone. Her face was emotionless now, but she questioned me relentlessly.
“Just because they’re going to die doesn’t make killing people alright!” I whispered angrily, almost letting my voice slip higher than it should. We were lucky no one was sitting close to us.
“If you want to save lives, Cody, then you need to be ready to make sacrifices. And if you don’t, then you have to accept their deaths as inevitable. If you remain in denial about that fact, then you will only accomplish what you already have so far in your journey: NOTHING.”
I opened my mouth to reply, but couldn’t. After an agonizing pause, I closed my mouth awkwardly and glared at her. We both sat on each side of the booth, looking at each other without saying a word.
“Can I get you two anything else?” Asked a voice in front of our table, surprising me. The one who asked that question was another waitress, this one had long, black hair and bags under her eyes like she hadn’t slept for a week. She was carrying a pot of coffee like it weighed a million tons and her eyes were not even looking at us, instead fixed in a thousand-yard stare at nothing in particular.
“Another cheeseburger, please!” Suzy smiled enthusiastically. “They’re really great!”
“Ok,” said the new waitress, looking now intently at the floor. She made no notes on her tattered little notepad tucked inside her pocket. “And you?” She asked, turning her head vaguely in my direction while still avoiding eye contact.
“Umm… Nothing for me, thanks.” I replied. There was a moment of awkward silence, so I nervously added. “Umm, I’m guessing you had a long shift?”
“It just started right now,” she replied, addressing the corner of the table. “Tracy left five minutes ago. Left me a message for me to tell you two.”
“Oh,” I said. Tracy, I suppose, was the blonde waitress with the motor mouth. I looked around at the diner and, true enough, she was nowhere in sight. “What was the message.”
The tired-looking waitress looked at the ceiling for a moment, deep in thought. “I forgot,” she replied, eventually.
“You forgot?” I repeated, dumbfounded.
“Sorry,” said said, looking down at the floor again. The awkward silence continued for way too long, before she added. “I’ll go get your cheeseburger then.”
And she left, shuffling listlessly as if walking to her grave.
“Is she alright?” I whispered, more a rhetorical question than anything.
“Concerned? About someone you’ve just met?” Whispered back Suzy, smiling amusedly at me.
“Nothing wrong with caring about people.” I muttered back, frowning back at Suzy, who only smiled wider. I tapped my fingers on the table surface, deep in thought, before continuing, “but... I admit. You do have a point.”
“Oh?” Suzy kept her smile in place, lifting one eyebrow quizzically.
“It’s too naive of me to think I can solve everything cleanly, without any hardship,” I said, tapping insistently at the table, as if it was to blame for my situation. “I’m not about to go on a killing spree or anything, but… I’m willing to listen to you. And open my options.”
“That’s good news!” Suzy smiled, replacing her grin with an expression that seemed almost proud.
I let out a sigh of resignation. “Alright. Let’s go meet that suicide cult you mentioned.”