The following is the third of four parts to a short story I wrote based on HP Lovecraft's famous C'thulu Mythos. The story's conclusion will appear next Saturday, October 22.
Esther and her brother and cousin are painting over the mysterious writing that covers the walls of their grandfather's cabin. No one knows where grampa is, but Esther remembers the strange monolith in the forest that had captivated the old man before his stroke. It was special, and Esther longed to understand why. Perhaps she'd learn the answer soon.
"Have you tried reading any of this stuff, Esther?"
She turned to watch her brother run the brush down a heavily scribbled section of wall. "No. Why?"
"The more I look at it, the more it seems to make sense."
Esther shrugged and stared outside again. "You're imagining things." The hummingbirds chased one another, competing for the flowers. Six red-throated males fanned their tales in an aggressive move to defend their territory.
"Like this sentence here," Harry said. "Ph'ngliu mglw'nafh Cthulhu n'gha-ghaa naf'l thagn! lä! Cthulhu! Humbenthalos, humbenthalos, humbenthalos!"
The hummingbirds suddenly started attacking each other. They shot their little bodies high into the air, then dived to strike their pointy beaks into the birds below.
"Did you hear what I just said?"
"Yeah." Esther was too fascinated by the battle outside to listen to her brother's gibberish. Was it normal for hummingbirds to act so violent?
"Just listen, okay? Humbenthalos, Ygnaiih! Humbenthalos, Y'bthnk! Humbenthalos, humbenthalos, humbenthalos... lä! lä! lä! Cthulhu!"
Hummingbirds streamed out of the dense forest beside the cabin. There were hundreds of them now, males and females, their green bodies shimmering with the reflected sunlight that had nearly vanished over the horizon. Swathes of crimson bathed the swarming birds as their beaks impaled each other. Little bodies fell from the sky, thumping onto the porch in small splashes of blood.
Something was terribly wrong. "My God," Esther said through the hand that covered her mouth. Sharp tingles skittered across the back of her neck. "Harry, look outside. They're killing each other!"
Harry continued to recite the writing on the wall. "Ph'ngliu mglw'nafh Cthulhu n'gha-ghaa naf'l thagn! lä! Cthulhu! Humbenthalos, humbenthalos, humbenthalos!"
It became a slaughtering frenzy. Dead birds fell onto the porch and into the patch of wildflowers, their numbers replaced by more from the forest. The buzzing of wings became audible inside the cabin, and high-pitched squawks and cheeps blended in a cacophonous roar.
Esther realized Chris was still outside amidst the flock of rabid hummingbirds that filled the air like swarming locusts. Her breath came in quick pants that matched her tripping heartbeats. "Harry!" she yelled.
He ignored her, the strange words still spewing from his mouth.
She tore her gaze from the window and grabbed Harry's arm, yanking him around to face her. His eyes looked glazed, as though hypnotized, while his lips continued to move. "Ph'ngliu mglw'nafh Cthulhu n'gha-ghaa --"
Esther delivered a hard slap to his cheek. Harry's mouth clamped shut and he blinked.
She pointed at the window and yelled, "It's a bloodbath out there!"
Brows knitted, he glanced where she pointed, his eyes widening to show their whites. "Where's Chris?" He bolted for the door, but Esther stopped him.
"Don't go," she said, forcing calm into her voice. "They're killing each other, Harry. The hummingbirds are stabbing each other to death and if you go out there, they'll stab you, too."
Her brother gasped, then inhaled deeply before saying, "Chris is in the outhouse. He'll be okay as long as he stays where he is."
Esther nodded, and kept nodding because she couldn't stop. She leaned against the window, her hands splayed across the glass, mesmerized by the winged creatures skewering each other. Tiny corpses fell everywhere, and those not yet dead flapped wildly, their bloody bodies flopping on the red-stained porch.
"I can't just stand here and do nothing. I have to help Chris." Harry lunged for the door, but Esther stood in his way.
"The birds can't keep this up forever," she said. The sun was completely down now, but a faint light glowed over the horizon. A full moon, looking small and insignificant, shone benignly in the faded night sky. "Wait a few more minutes and--"
Something darted through the flowers beyond the porch. It ran wildly, arms flailing, its legs dancing in place before giving way.
"What was that?" Harry asked.
Esther hadn't realized she'd been holding her breath until the need for air shocked her lungs to life. "It's Chris. Chris!"
The thing that had fallen in the flowers abruptly shot to its feet, a grotesque creature covered with little green birds, many of them still flapping their wings. Dozens of beaks were embedded in Chris's body. He faced the window now, his eyes streaming with blood but opened wide to reveal his horror. His freckled cheeks were pierced by hummingbirds, his neck coated with the blood that streamed from his ears and the holes beneath his chin.
Esther and Harry were glued to the window. They watched in paralyzed terror as Chris swatted at the birds stuck in his flesh. He might as well have tried dislodging hooks from a caught fish. His mouth moved, but whatever sound came out was drowned by the humming wings of the birds. The humbenthalos.
Chris tottered backward toward the Jeep. Then he grew still, his arms dropping to his sides as his strength seemed to leave him all at once. His bloody eyes stared sightlessly at Esther and Harry before he collapsed.
Esther could no longer see Chris because his body was hidden by the Jeep. Evening had settled into a rich blackness that enveloped almost everything.
His voice cracking, Harry asked, "Where'd the hummingbirds go?"
Esther leaned against him and he wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "I don't know," she said, watching the few flying shapes that had survived the massacre. "They must have gone back into the forest."
"Maybe Chris..." Harry let his voice trail off. He and Esther had both seen death in Chris's vacant eyes. He grasped Esther by the shoulders. "We have to leave. Now!"
"But what if some are still out there?" Esther bit her bottom lip to stop its trembling. She was thinking of Grampa, and about his hummingbirds, his humbenthalos. Had he shared the same fate as Chris? Grampa's last words to their grandmother had been: "I have to go back and feed it." Esther wondered if "it" was the hummingbirds, and if Grampa had been their food.
Read the conclusion to Humbenthalos next Saturday, October 22.
©2011 Karen Duvall