The Call of Phthulhu
A tiny dust cloud shot up behind the ATV as it picked up speed. The driver’s eyes were unblinking, forever unblinking, as he scanned the crowd for a target. He stopped, picked up the gun, and locked eyes with a child 80 feet away. The child screamed in anticipation, hoping he was the chosen one. The driver held the gun up, and all around him the expectant screams intensified.
The hot dog sailed up and into the stands, 18 rows back. The kid, it turns out, was not the chosen one. Or maybe he was, but it’s hard to aim those things, even if you’re just a googly-eyed mascot trying to get a hot dog to the danged chosen one.
More hot dogs sailed into the stands. Foooomp, fooooomp, foooooomp. There was more cheering, more happiness, more genuine excitement about the little meat torpedoes sailing into the outstretched arms of the crowd. Everyone loved the hot dog gun. The eyes were googly. The hot dogs were airborne. What wasn’t there to love?
Janice used her slender fingers to unwrap the hot dog, which had bounced off the stubby fingers of an older, now-pouting man in front of her. She hadn’t eaten a hot dog since — let’s see — it had probably been about 20 or 30 years, but she couldn’t resist. There’s something encoded in our hunter-gatherer DNA to appreciate an edible gift. She scanned both sides of the wrapper to see if there had been ketchup or mustard packets tucked in somewhere, but no such luck. She’d have to eat it dry. Which was fine. Not ideal, but fine.
She cocked her head sideways in the universal motion of “I’m about to eat a hot dog” when she noticed the fingernail, glossy and cracked, peeking out of the bun.
The game didn’t stop as poor Janice screamed. It wouldn’t stop until the last out of the ninth inning. It would keep going on and on, with strikes and balls and foul balls and cheers, as people figured out what was going on and the police came on the scene.
Detective Stoops knew the fingerprint check would be back in about two hours because of the visibility of the case, but unless the finger belonged to somebody with a government job or a convicted criminal, it probably wouldn’t match with any in the system. There would be about five or six billion people to sort through. Maybe start with the people missing a finger, he mused. A reverse-Fugitive situation.
The investigation was going to have tendrils branching out all over the place, a real sprawling mess. There was the distributor, the factory, the people at the ballpark opening the boxes, the people at the ballpark responsible for loading the hot dog gun … it would have helped if Stoops knew where the finger came from. At least narrow it down to a state, dammit. Instead there was nothing but a severed finger that was placed gently in a hot dog bun and shot into a crowd. As of now, they couldn’t even call it a homicide. Might just be a prank.
Detective Timser was ostensibly there to help Stoops, but he was mostly thinking of creative new ways to be an asshole — the only thing he was good at.
“There’s probably at least one finger in every hot dog, though, right? Hot dogs are all fingers and possums and shit, you know? Gotta be one finger per dog. Don’t see what the big deal is about this one.”
Shut the fuck up, Timser, Stoops thought, but didn’t say. They were on their way to talk to the guy who pulled the trigger, the guy who played the mascot. The Phillie Phanatic was a furry green … alien? … with wild bug eyes, and he — it? — was a beloved institution. This was probably the first time he had been asked about severed fingers. Probably.
The Phanatic was slumped against a wall in an area below the bleachers, past the left-field wall, while fans continued cheering on the game. He was seemingly aware of the seriousness of what happened, all out of capers and hi-jinx. He just stared with those dead eyes.
“You think he’s ever done it in the costume? Like, maybe he has a fuzzy girlfriend, and maybe they get sweaty and they rub fuzzy proboscises against each other all night.”
“Shut the fuck up, Timser,” Stoops thought, and actually said it this time. They approached the Phanatic. They had severed fingers to discuss.
“Hi, I’m Detective Stoops, and this is Detective Timser, and, uh, we just wanted to talk to you about the hot dog gun and ask a few questions about what happened this afternoon, if you don’t mind.”
The Phanatic stared and didn’t say anything. He smelled like a goddamned mushroom, and his fur was mustier and more matted than Stoops would have guessed. He also gave Stoops an intense case of the heebie-jeebies. He always thought it was weird when people claimed to be scared of clowns, but he kind of understood it now. This thing was making his skin dance.
“So, I guess first, I know the game is still going on, but if you could do us a favor and take off the mask or, uh, head, or whatever, this won’t take very long.”
The Phanatic stood up and stretched his arms out before putting his hands on his head, still silent, when Stoops’ phone started buzzing. He looked at his phone, at Timser, at the Phanatic, then back at the phone.
“Gimme one second.”
Stoops debriefed the last hour of the investigation to a chief, who was just starting to realize that the ol’ finger-in-the-hot-dog gag was going to be a big news story. For his part, Timser started screwing with his phone and wandering around, which was almost helpful in that it was actively not harmful. When Stoops got off the phone, the Phanatic was gone.
“Timser, where’d he go?”
“Nrmmmn,” Timser replied, looking up from his phone.
Stoops walked down a hallway in the bowels of Citizens Bank Park, looking at the doors he passed, as if one of them might have a sign reading “MASCOT’S OFFICE.” He did not see a sign. Timser followed, still disinterested.
“The hell?” Stoops groaned, but as he passed by a TV, he noticed the Phanatic was on the field, prancing and capering. The show must go on.
He grabbed someone with a collared shirt and flashed his badge.
“Hi, Detective Stoops, Philly PD. We’re looking for where the Phillie Phanatic … uh … changes. Wait, that doesn’t sound …” He furrowed his brow and thought hard about the best way to avoid sounding like a pervert or weirdo. “Look, we need to ask him some questions, so is there like a … clubhouse … of his we can wait at? The locker room for mascots, or whatever.”
The collared shirt used a walkie-talkie to call another collared shirt, who came and escorted the detectives to a nice enough room with bright fluorescent lights. The Phanatic had a dressing room, after all. It was the eighth inning, which meant it wasn’t going to be a long wait, but Timser wandered off again anyway.
In the corner, there was a Phanatic suit — a spare, apparently? — and Stoops couldn’t resist the urge to pick up the head and look inside. He tried holding his breath as he poked his face in there, not wanting to smell what had to be a summer’s worth of sweat, but he lost himself and inhaled and, god, it wasn’t great. He jerked the head away in disgust, and when he looked up, the Phanatic was there, five feet away and staring. Always staring.
“Jesus. You scared me. Don’t sneak up with a person who has a gun on his hip, friend.” He chuckled a little to himself, but it trailed off too quickly.
The Phanatic was still staring.
“So, uh, let’s see, this won’t take long because I know you aren’t the person who actually loads the hot dog gun — we confirmed that — but we still had a few questions for y—” Stoops started to say until he was interrupted by the buzz of his phone again.
“Ah, crap. Look, give me one more second. Please don’t go anywhere, though. This’ll be quick.”
There was urgency in the voice on the other side.
The lights started flickering, and Stoops plugged his left ear to hear better over the whirring of the HVAC system.
“Stoops, there was a match on the fingerprint, a guy named Adrian Driessen. He’s worked for the Phillies for about five years.”
“He was the guy playing the mascot. The, uh, Phanatic.”
Stoops turned and faced the Phanatic, hand on his holster, while the Phanatic just stared, head cocked, with those dead, glassy eyes.
Stoops couldn’t move. He kept staring into those eyes. He wanted to shout, wanted to draw his gun. But he didn’t make a sound as he saw the Phanatic’s mouth widen and stretch and grow, expanding several times past its original size. He couldn’t move as the Phanatic’s … lips? … started to roll over Stoops’ forehead, sticky and viscous, slowly enveloping him from the top down. His first thought was to take off the head of the mascot, but when the mouth started to pull him in and his eyes went dark, he knew there was nothing to remove. There was no mask, no costume.
He was neck-deep when he had a strange, almost calming thought that came out of nowhere.
At least I’ll be in the belly of one of The Ancients. At least I’ll be a part of it forever.
It wasn’t Stoops thinking this, though, it wasn’t him putting these thoughts in his head. They were put in there, jammed in there, and, fuck, the mouth was over his shoulders, and that’s when his real thoughts came back, and they went something like this:
Oh, God, there are teeth in this thing. There are teeth all the way down.
And there were teeth. Thousands of them, triangular and tiny, shredding the flesh away from Stoops’ skeleton with each movement, each snail-like thrust that enveloped him more.
His first attempt to scream was muffled by the blood in the back of his throat, and the gurgling was barely audible, with the mouth down to his knees and slowly advancing, slowly consuming him.
Then the Phanatic stood back up, flickering its tongue out twice. Stoops was entirely gone. Entirely, save for a severed finger that the Phanatic had thoughtfully left on the floor, with the blood sucked out of it.
The Phanatic picked the finger up, serenely waddled over to a cabinet, and opened the door. It was filled with hot dog buns, all wrapped up in silver foil, stretching from floor to ceiling. He unwrapped a bun, placed the finger in, and then turned to place it against the wall, which was stacked with hundreds and hundreds of bun-wrapped fingers.
Stoops was dead, of course, how could he not be? And yet he was conscious of something, at least conscious enough to be aware of a single thought, looping and looping and looping.
At least I’m in the belly of one of The Ancients. At least I’ll be a part of it forever.
At least I’ll be a part of it forever.