I did not know what to expect from the place where the man in the suit had brought me, but I was prepared for anything. So the classy office on top of a high-rise that greeted me was no shock. It took only a quick glance at the leather chairs, the minimalist and tasteful design all in glossy white and black, and the impressive view of the city below to understand this office reeked of money.
“Nice place,” I muttered, looking at the view through the enormous glass window that covered the entire wall. “Is there a bank account set up for eldritch abominations to get these fancy toys and nice digs?”
“Ho ho, you and your deflective sarcasm! But I’m sure you’ll agree this is a much better place for us to have this conversation!” The man walked to a bar cabinet in the corner and opened it. “Care for a drink? Whisky, or some wine perhaps?”
“If you’re planning on getting me drunk...” I started, before he shushed me with a chuckle.
“What do I look like? A frat boy on a date? The booze won’t get you drunk unless I wish it so. One of the many powers of this specific place.” He gestured around him. “We are safe here from anything and everything. Even time.”
Looking outside again, I realized no lights were blinking or moving. The cars could be seen far down below, but none were moving. We were still frozen in time.
“Alright, I came to your man-cave like you asked,” I said, walking to one of the chairs and sitting on it. “Now spill the beans.”
“Straight to the point, huh?” He frowned, but closed the cabinet and walked towards one of the chairs without further complaint. After making himself comfortable he pulled out a remote and pointed it to what I assumed was one of the office walls. It was completely glossy and black, but I only realized when he pointed the remote at it and turned it on, that it was actually a gigantic screen that was large as the entire wall. The screen winked on and showed only a fireplace flickering silently. The man, satisfied, put the remote down and smiled at me.
“Why do you think Hastur, the one you call Suzy, stays with you and even follows your requests?” He asked at last, leaning back against the chair.
I sat on the chair opposite him, recollecting my memories. “We made a… Not sure what to call it. A deal. A pact. She said she would help me find a way to save people from the incoming apocalypse.”
He punctuated my explanation with stifled laughter, barely covered with his left hand. “And you believed it?”
“I did, at first.” I hesitated, cursing myself for showing weakness to this asshole. “And what choice did I have? But it’s easy to see we don’t have the same priorities.”
“She’s toying with you,” he said, point blank, without any disapproval or judgement. Calm and in full control, as he always was.
“I know that,” I said quietly, insisting when he made a skeptical expression. “She’s said it herself. I know.”
“Her intention has never been to follow your commands or save anyone.” He scoffed. “You’re just a toy she plays with, like a pet insect. She puts a rock here or there and watches you struggle along the paths she makes, while pulling out a leg or two when she gets bored.”
I sighed, getting impatient. “So?”
“Then is it any surprise to discover she is toying with multiple versions of you?” He leaned forward and smiled, watching my reaction. “Yes, I can see that is news to YOU, at least.”
“Can she… Do that?” I ask him.
“The body is a shell, made to instructions contained within its cells. If a human being can clone another creature’s body, then Hastur certain can!” He scoffed. “The mind, the soul? Electrical impulses and chemical reactions forming specific patterns on the brain. Those can be copied as well. Hastur’s specialty is minds, memories and bodies. If she has access to you, she can copy you, a perfect duplicate. But don’t take my word for it! Here, look.”
He held his remote control again and pointed it at the screen. It changed from a fake fireplace to a multitude of screens each showing a different scene. My eyes wandered from screen to screen, each showing a different image. I stared and grew increasingly confused and uncertain.
In one screen I saw myself, but with a trench coat and more rugged than I had ever been, standing on a boat and shooting into a mass of black tentacles coming out of a lake. He- or rather I - was frozen in place, screaming something while shooting with a military rifle at the creature. Fighting beside that other me was a blonde man with a suit and a yellow tie. Even in a different body, I recognized his smile.
In another scene I saw myself thin, starved and wide-eyed. My hair and beard were long and my clothes were only scraps, except for glittering green chains that bound my hands and feet. I was in the middle of some kind of alien royal court, surrounded by insect creatures with too many eyes, all adorned in jewels and spidersilk. I was the only human in the room, chained as a slave, while they surrounded me. One of the bug-creatures, I noticed, was adorned only in jewels of a sickly yellow hue.
Yet another was even more nightmarish. It showed, beneath an alien sky, trees of flesh that sprouted and grew as they covered the ground. And from the flesh trees my head emerged, multiple times, visible here and there as boils on the bark. From the tree also grew my fingers, arms, legs, penises and torsos, parts of my body without any rhyme or reason. They sprouted and spread in a fractal nightmare, like branches from a tree. Someone else was tending to that tree, carefully cutting off an errant leg in the same way a gardner would carefully snip at the branches of a tree. The gardener wore a long, yellow cloak and a blank white mask which covered nothing but darkness, below a golden crown befitting of a king.
But even that was not as horrifying as a scene which showed me dining at a restaurant with a woman. I recognized that woman as my girlfriend, even as her face slipped away from my memories I still recognized her. She smiled and held my hand as I explained something, frozen in time mid-gesture. Her eyes were tinted in a brown-yellow that looked almost natural, as if it was reflecting the light of the room. I looked happy, oblivious to the true nature of the thing in front of me. Oblivious that she had been responsible for so much suffering to other versions of myself. That smile, it was what hurt and revolted me most of all. Worse than the flesh trees.
“Alright, I get your point!” I shouted, closing my eyes. I did not want to see more versions, more possibilities. It was all too much for me.
“I’m trying to make a point here,” replied Nyarlathotep mildly.
“What point?” I said, my eyes still firmly closed. “That Suzy has been fucking with me on a way grander scale than I even realized? That even considering all the fucked up stuff she made me see and do, I still got off lucky compared to some other versions of myself? Well, point fucking made, now turn that shit off! Enough!”
I hear a click, and opened my eyes to see him put away the remote again. The screen showed nothing but grey static, which made no sense for something so modern. Nyarlathotep said nothing at first, but leaned in and looked at me meaningfully.
“Do you want to be free from Hastur?” He asked.
Another moment of silence. Hesitation, this time on my part. I glanced at the flickering grey screen, then back at him.
“Can… Can you do that? Can you set me free?” I asked.
“I could even set ALL of you free, every version of you,” he replied. “Tricky, but it might be possible.”
I leaned in, with a hopeful expression, then stopped myself. “That sounds too good to be true. Is there a catch?” I asked.
He did a little shrug and smiled, almost apologetically. “More or less. I can’t just wave my hands and make it happen, Cody.” He then straightened up and looked me straight in the eye. “You have to understand… What I do best - no, what I MUST always do - is give people their deepest desires. That is what I do. It’s who I am.”
“Like a genie from a bottle?” I asked, frowning.
He flashed a smile. “A good analogy.”
I hesitated, considering his words more seriously, and the power within them. When I spoke next, my voice trembled slightly as I gripped the arm of the chair. I was afraid to ask, yet even more afraid of not asking.
“Can you save humanity from the incoming disaster?” I asked.
His smile disappeared at those words, and he studied me for a moment, staring with cold and dispassionate eyes. I felt my heart sink and looked away, already preparing myself for disappointment.
“Is that what you truly want, Cody?”
I looked back at him when hearing those words. “Yes,” I replied. “Absolutely. Can you do it?”
“I could do something, yes.” He replied. “But are you sure that is your deepest desire? To save the world?” He was smiling now, as if enjoying a private joke.
“Of course it is!” I replied, anger flaring in my voice. “I made a deal with an alien god for the sake of saving the world! I said goodbye to my family and friends! I survived an alien zoo, a town of hybrids and the rampage of a newborn monster like one of you! So yeah, I’m pretty fucking sure! I would do anything to save the world.”
“Anything?” He repeated the words, the doubt in them was now clear and sharp as a steel knife.
I bristled, then stopped. No point in raging at him. From my experience with Suzy, that would be as effective as flipping off a tornado. “Get to the point,” I said instead.
Instead of replying straight away he grabbed the remote control and pointed it at the screen again. It blinked to life, showing an enormous cavern full of insect-like alien creatures with heads full of tentacles. On one side of the cave was a number of human rooms and facilities, with one wall missing, like a doll house or a terrarium. The Mi-Go cave.
Then the screen zoomed in on a spot and I was looking at myself and Suzy on the big screen, impossibly clear. I looked haunted, scared. She was smiling.
“I have my misgivings with this place.” I said on the screen, frowning. “It’s better than humanity going extinct, but… Can living in this place even be called living? Always under the whims of other powerful creatures. Never truly knowing freedom. It’s a prisoner’s life.”
“Why are you showing me this?” I asked Nyarlathotep, pointing at the screen.
“You had an opportunity to save people there. To accomplish the goal you crave so much, or at least advance it,” he replied, smiling. “And yet…?”
“Iit is your decision, Cody.” Said Suzy firmly from the screen. “You’re the one who’s here, not someone else.”
“I think… We should check our other options. This doesn’t feel like a great choice to me.” The other me replied, looking uncertain and unhappy.
“I turned it down because it was a shit deal!” I told the man in the suit as he smiled back at me. “I -”
“You said you would do anything,” he replied mildly. “Anything for the sake of saving the world. And yet, what DID you accomplish there?”
The screen cut to a shot of two versions of me fighting each other, one on top and strangling the other while laughing madly. Me fighting against my clone. The image cut to another scene, my clone now kneeling on the ground, looking hopeless. I sliced my knife around his neck and blood spurted from the wound as he toppled forward.
Nyarlathotep turned the screen off. “A bit counter-productive, yes? But that’s not all! Let’s look at exhibit number 2, here! You were offered a chance to gain more power. You witnessed, in person, how that power could save the world. And your answer was…?”
The screen flickered on again, this time showing the standoff at the diner. Me against the Grandmaster, with Suzy watching.
“FUCK it! I’ve made my choice now!” I shouted at the Grandmaster, tears in my eyes. “If becoming a monster like you is what it takes to save the world, then let it die! I prefer seeing the world be destroyed then having it be inherited by assholes like you, building yourself as a god on top of the corpses of those sacrificed for your sake! And I’d rather die than become like you!”
“Oops,” the other man clicked his tongue in mock disappointment. “Already found a contradiction. If this was a courtroom things would not be going well for you, hmm?”
“He was a monster - ” I started speaking, but he jumped up and interrupted me.
“Ah, yes! So what did you decide to do, in the end? Let me see!”
The screen flickered and changed, showing me throw the lit lighter into the gas-filled kitchen, exploding the diner and everyone inside, including myself.
“Hey! Did you know this thing comes with a slow-mo feature?” Added Nyarlathotep excitedly. “Check this out!”
The explosion on the screen was rewound, like a cassette tape, then he played it again in slow motion. I got to see the metal shrapnel and debris from the force of the explosion expand slowly. Some it hit me, going through my body as if it was made of plasticine. A chunk of rock tore through half of my head and my expression did not even have time to change. There was no time for blood to pour out from the wounds or for them to register in any meaningful way, but when the fire from the explosion engulfed me, my body was already beyond destroyed. It was a gruesome way to go, when seen so slowly. I had not even felt it, when the explosion killed me. Without the help of Suzy, there would have barely been a body left behind.
I died then. It was surprisingly easy to brush off experiencing it, but looking at it from the screen gave a different impression. It was unsettling.
“Ooh! Ooh! Or how about this moment here, when you’re discussing how to save the world with a fellow human who wanted the same thing?”
Again the diner, in a more peaceful moment. Everyone was alive and I was talking with Lisa, the waitress with long, black hair.
“If you want, it’s not too late,” she said, her voice low, barely a whisper coming from the screen. Still overflowing with kindness though, with empathy. “You can join us in giving your life for a higher cause. Nobody will shun you for joining late, and you won’t have to feel worthless anymore. It’s your choice.”
Silence. She looked at me, her expression almost breaking into a smile. And I did the same. Two kindred souls. In the office, I stared at the screen in increasing despair, knowing what would come next.
“If… I knew, for certain, it would help make a better world… Then I would give my life. Without hesitation...” were my words that day.
“Interesting priorities,” commented Nyarlathotep looking at the enormous screen with amusement. “But wouldn’t sharing similarities with the member of a suicide cult ring a few alarm bells for you? It would for me!”
“Then what should I have done? What should I have done to prevent the end of the world?!” I shouted at him. He smiled in response.
“Before discovering the end of the world,” he said, this time in a gleeful whisper, enjoying every moment of it. “You were offered the chance of a happy life. Maybe a little strange, but hardly dangerous. Not even painful. And your choice?”
He clicked his remote and the screen changed, but I did not turn around. But I could still hear my own voice perfectly, coming from the screen.
“Umm… Wow,” I heard my voice coming from the screen. “I think I’ll go to the balcony to get some fresh air. I need to digest this.”
What followed what the sound of a kiss. What was her name again? Tanya. Tayla? She was not real, I found out later. One of the King in Yellow’s puppets. But I didn’t know at the time, when she kissed me. “To help you decide,” she said. Yes, I remember her mischievous smile. And I remembered what happened next.
I heard the sound of me climbing up the balcony and jumping. To wake up from that impossible dream. The sudden rush of air. I heard the sound of my body impacting the concrete with a sickening splash. Had it been that painful? I didn’t remember dying then.
“So.” Said Nyarlathotep, suddenly growing serious. “What do these videos tell me of what you really want?”
I looked back at him, silent, sullen. He only leaned back, waiting for my reply. I fidgeted, looked away, ignoring the answer bubbling in my mind.
“Yes,” he insisted. “You know it’s true.”
“No, you’re lying… You’re manipulating me, somehow...” I clutched at my head, as if that could prevent this pain I felt, welling inside me. Prevent me from hearing his words, or reach the only conclusion available. He was lying. He was lying, he was lying, he was -
“Cody,” there was a gentle tone to his voice now, but he continued. He would not be stopped. “I was not there with you when those things happened. I didn’t force you to act as you did. That was you. There was some influence by Hastur, but they were still your choices.”
“YES,” He corrected. “This is who you are.”
I couldn’t look him in the eye, couldn’t look at him as I buried my face in my hands. Could it be? Was I so simple? So weak?
“Your deepest desire isn’t to save humanity, is it Cody?” He asked. “Sure, it’s something you do if you can… If it’s convenient. But it’s not what really drives you.”
Silence stretched again, before I finally broken it. My voice quiet. “I guess not,” I confessed.
“So what is it you want, Cody? What is it you truly want?”
I took a deep breath and finally looked him in the eye.
“I want to die,” I admitted. “Deep down, that is what I want. What I’ve always wanted. Since the start.” I looked down after finally admitting it. I was guilty. Ashamed. It hurt. But I knew it was true.
I really wanted to die.
Nyarlathotep smiled at me. “Yes. And I can grant your wish.”