The Father of Terror
by Aeryn Rudel
It always starts with the cats.
They show up a few days before a new hole appears, big, muscular black tomcats, slinking through the dark and yowling at the moon. I think they sing to him, maybe to give him the strength to make a new hole. If I let them, they might even make him strong enough to come out of that hole. Then we’d really be fucked.
Of course, convincing the world that a bunch of alley cats are trying to bring back an Egyptian god-demon is a one-way ticket to a padded cell, so my vigil is a lonely one. Each year around the same time, I dream about where the next pit will be. I don’t know who sends these visions or whatever; maybe another Egyptian god, a nicer one that doesn’t want the world and all us humans on it to be destroyed. The first dream named the thing that could end all things. It’s called Abu al-Hol. I found out later that, to the Egyptians, that name meant the “Father of Terror.” They even built a monument to it, maybe to keep it from eating them. It’s still there, thousands of years later, but everyone calls it the Sphinx now.
The dream came again three nights ago, nearly a week later than last year, and it showed me a place green and wet and cold. I used to get precise locations, like a Google Map in my head, but the last couple of times it’s just images. I got lucky; I recognized the place I was being shown, a park in a boring little town outside of Seattle, Washington called Bellevue. So that’s where I went, and that’s where I’m at now.
Bellevue has one thing going for it—it’s wealthy and white. That means no cops, which is good, because the silenced .22 pistol I’m carrying under my rain poncho and the bag of dead cats over my shoulder would be very difficult to explain.
I’ve shot eight cats already. I hate doing it—I like cats—but these are different. These are his. I have to kill enough for the ritual that will keep him quiet for another year. The dream told me how to do that, too: what words to say, to use an iron knife instead of a steel one, that kind of thing. It’s some kind of magic, and my Christian upbringing says I’m dealing with the devil, but better the devil you know than the one who might come out of a hole and eat the whole fucking world.
There’s a lot of parks in Bellevue, and in one of them Abu al-Hol will open his pit. I’m headed there now, working my way through dark streets in the rain, eyes on the lookout for more of his cats. I shoot two more on the way. The Ruger, loaded with subsonic ammo, makes no more than a soft clicking noise when I pull the trigger. That gives me ten. It’s enough.
The park is small and secluded, sheltered from the street by lots of trees. There’s an empty baseball diamond, sand box, and basketball courts. I know the pit is in the outfield grass. I can smell it—rotten meat and sulfur.
I can see the hole now. It’s about six feet across, and wisps of mist or steam rise up from it. It’s so black it looks like it was painted on the grass. It’s bigger this time.
There are four of his cats around the hole, small dark silhouettes loosing high, wavering cries into the night. I pull the Ruger and snap off two shots. One hits. Three cats race off into the night, and a dead one drops into the hole. That pisses him off. The ground shakes, and I can feel Abu al-Hol’s anger in my head like a swarm of bees. Near-paralyzing fear courses through me like bolts of ice. No matter how many times I do this, shut him down, keep him from coming out of the ground, it scares the shit out of me. He isn’t called the “Father of Terror” for nothing.
I don’t look into the hole as I set my sack on the ground. I did that once, and I’ll never do it again. The pit he opens connects to wherever he lives under the ground, and you can see straight down into it. The one time I looked, I saw his eye—slitted, catlike, and the size of the moon—staring up at me. I didn’t sleep for a month, and it was the one and only time I’ve truly considered suicide.
I say the words to the ritual. They don’t sound like any language I’ve ever heard. I’ve tried sounding them out and writing them down, but even the internet couldn’t tell me what they meant.
When I’m done with the words, the ground shakes again, harder. I pick up the bag, open it, and dump the cats on the ground. This is the worst part. I gut each furry body with the iron knife, then toss them into the pit. These are his sacred animals, and throwing their defiled bodies back to him seals the deal. At least that’s what I believe. The hole begins to close, and the presence of Abu al-Hol fades from my mind, but he leaves something awful behind, something that cuts the heart from the relief I feel at stopping him one more time. Just before the hole closes completely, Abu al-Hol’s rage subsides, and there is something far more terrible behind it: a demon’s hope wrapped like serpents around two words.