This story almost didn't happen, so a huge thank you to the mods, especially the sweetheart Sekrit, for making sure it did! Also, I could not have been more fortunate with an inspiring artwork, so hats off to the amazing and ever-talented Nowhere for the picture that launched a thousand words (a few thousand, actually). Whatever initially inspired you, I hope this story does it justice. Finally, a big thanks to my beta Jizena, who is always there with support, grammar assistance, and who basically did all my alchemy research for me!
It had been a month since Kenny died.
He'd gotten stuck with a pike through the chest in an accident. Kyle and I were there; it hadn't been pretty. We attended his funeral with the rest of our friends, and his oddly sedate parents.
Anyway, that's about the time the world was ending.
It had happened in our lifetimes before, but this was intense. Things just kept coming, like, Old Testament type of shit: fire raining from the sky, seas boiling, L.A. imploding on itself (though to be fair, that might have been unrelated - everyone was too busy with all the other crap going on to look into that event much), monsters appearing from another dimension, all that hardcore stuff.
Of course, South Park was getting its fair share. Main Street was all but obliterated by this point from various calamities. The volcano just outside of town had been spewing molten rock and ash for two weeks. I heard my mother say one night that we would have left town, except there was no safe place to go.
Oh, and the sky had been on fire for a couple of days now.
"So, what do you want to do?" Kyle asked. In spite of impending though indeterminate doom, things were mostly carrying on as normal in town. I mean, crazy shit was happening (seriously, when was it not around here?), but people were doing their best to keep their average lives going. Kyle said he figured people needed something familiar to cling to in the midst of complete uncertainty and devastation. I just thought the majority of people were dumb as fuck and didn't know what else to do. In that vein, the two of us were out taking a walk by Stark's Pond, which was writhing with what appeared to be some kind of Kraken-like monster these days.
"No idea, really," I said, extremely helpful in our quest to find normality for ourselves. We had been wandering aimlessly for the better part of two hours. It had started with a suggestion from me that we try and find something to do besides cower in the makeshift safe house my dad had built in the backyard (nothing more than a toolshed with mesh fencing laid over the roof). I had gotten pretty sick of my dad alternatively freaking out and waving our old video camera in front of my face, claiming he had to document our struggles for when the aliens came to an already dead planet and were poking around in the charred remains of civilization. Randy Marsh was nothing if not an outside-the-box thinker.
Kyle rolled his eyes. "Come on, Stan, there's got to be something-"
"Uh, hey, guys."
We both turned around and screamed. Our dead friend, Kenny, was apparently standing in the middle of the sidewalk, smiling at us.
"Oh my God, Kenny?!" I said.
"You bastard, you're supposed to be dead!" said Kyle.
Kenny, if it was actually him, and it certainly seemed to be, kind of shrugged and ran his right hand along the back of his neck. "Heh, yeah, funny story, or not-so-funny, I guess..." I stared at my friend. He had his jacket open. His chest had a huge hole in it from the pike, though it seemed to have stopped bleeding out, and the blood on his white shirt was old and dried. Then, things got weirder. There were black tentacles peeking out from behind his jacket, at his sides, drooping down, intertwined with his hair and extending past his head. What really got me though, more than the wound that killed him, more than new writhing black appendages, were his eyes. They were black as well, empty with streaks of the same blackness dripping down his cheeks like tears. It wasn't like his eyeballs were gone, more like they'd been replaced by this void. It was pretty fucked up, not going to lie.
"Kenny," I said, "what's wrong with you?"
He pointed at one of the longer tentacles coming from the lower part of his jacket. "You mean the black things? Thaaat's kind of why I'm still here."
"But why aren't you-" started Kyle.
"Dead?" Kenny finished. "I'll explain. Best I can anyways. But, hey, we should really get off the road. These days you have no idea what kind of things might be listening from the shadows." Normally, I would have thought Kenny's comment might be weird, but considering the current world circumstance, I didn't argue. "Follow me," he said. And Kyle and I did.
For a while, Kenny didn't say anything else. I guessed he really thought there was some kind of danger close by. Kyle and I exchanged a couple glances, but we didn't say anything either. Things were too serious lately, and we could both be patient and wait for Kenny to talk to us when he deemed it appropriate. I spent the time mostly looking at the tentacles I could see from around his jacket. They moved kind of on their own. I didn't know if Kenny was actually in control of them or what, but they seemed independent, since they didn't really move with Kenny's normal bodily movements; they just kind of rippled.
Kenny led us to the cemetery. At first, I thought he was leading us to his recent grave, but then he walked five headstones past it without so much as a glance. So, cross out that possibility. He kept walking until we were in the back of the cemetery, a really old area where no one had been buried in the last century. The grass was overgrown and the headstones were stained with age.
Then, I saw what I now guessed was our destination: a small but impressive mausoleum in the back corner of the place, wedged right up to the iron fence creating the border between the world of the living and the home of the dead.
Kenny glanced to both sides, then stopped about three gravestone rows away from the structure, and turned around to face Kyle and me. He said, "All right, we should be good now."
I had sensed Kyle was nervous during the whole walk here, and now he seemed eager for answers. "So, Kenny," he said, "how come you're still alive?"
"I'm not sure I am," Kenny said.
"Wait, what?" I said. "Dude, you're here, you're up walking and talking and everything."
"Do I look normal, Stan?" Kenny said. I had to admit, no, there were a few things about him that definitely pointed to the less normal side of the spectrum. "Yeah, so I figure I'm just, you know, re-animated or whatever."
"Like Frankenstein?" I asked.
"Frankenstein's monster," Kyle mumbled.
Kenny waved off our comments before we could start arguing about literature. "Not like that. More like, there's a force inhabiting me, keeping me going. I'm still me though," he said, holding out his hands palms up, as if that proved Kenny was still the same person we knew on the inside. "Don't worry about that, guys. I'm not some doppelganger trying to trick you or anything."
"How would we know?" Kyle demanded.
"Kyle," I said, trying to soothe his obvious nerves.
"No. I'm sorry, Kenny, but no. How do we know, you're you and not some... I don't know, evil creature trying to trick us? There's all kinds of weird shit happening lately, and I don't know what to trust anymore."
"That is totally valid and I respect that," Kenny said, pointing at Kyle. "But right now, dude, we've got bigger shit to fry than playing twenty questions."
With a look of vexation evident on Kyle's face from Kenny's last comment, he let out his breath and rolled his eyes, indicating, however reluctantly, that right now he'd go along with whatever Kenny told us.
"Right, so, here's the deal. This is Armageddon. Like, real-as-fuck, no-holds-barred, honest-to-Christ Armageddon. All the shit that's been happening in the world is basically it falling apart and getting set for the End Day."
Kyle and I took a moment to process Kenny's words. Of course the idea had come up in global and personal speculation as an explanation for the recent destructive phenomena, but it was something else to have the idea validated so directly. I had to ask, "Is this seriously the end? Isn't there any way to stop it?"
"Knew you'd ask that," Kenny smiled at me. "I think so, but it's kind of tricky. I'm pretty sure we're only gonna get one shot at this thing."
Kyle cut in, "Does the apparent end of the world have anything to do with you dying? Like, seriously, how connected are you, Kenny?"
"As far as I can tell, no, my death didn't trigger anything," he said. Then he muttered, "It would have happened a hell of a lot sooner in that case."
I squinted my eyes in his direction, signaling my confusion, but he shrugged off the comment and continued his tale. "Look, point is we need you guys."
"We?" I asked. Kenny jabbed his thumb over his shoulder, indicating the mausoleum behind him. Then I saw Craig, who looked pissed beyond all belief that he apparently had a major part to play in saving the world.
He was standing in the entrance of the mausoleum, his back pressed against the door frame and his head turned toward us. Like Kenny, Craig had an aura of the supernatural about him. He, too, had tendrils mostly coming from the lower part of his body, but these were made of translucent light, kind of with a bluish tint to them. They looked lighter in weight, too, like they were floating on the air. Craig's eyes were also taken over by a dominant shade of the same bluish light, and, whereas Kenny's sunk in, Craig's shone out. Considering him as a whole, it looked like the light was radiating out of him.
"Is he dead, too?" Kyle asked with trepidation.
"No, Craig's not dead. But he's been dealing with this stuff," Kenny swept a hand through the air over a couple of his black tentacle appendages (phrases I never thought I'd say), "for the same amount of time I've been."
"But, why are you both like this?" Kyle stammered.
"Like I said, it's all connected. Do you remember when we were investigating the Cult of Cthulhu? When that bastard showed up in the Gulf?"
"Yeahhh," I said for Kyle and myself.
"Well, I'm connected to the Old Ones. And I figure that's the power that's keeping me animated now. I've got something I've got to do and I need to use the power coming through that connection to do it. Do you also remember that Incan prophecy we found in Peru that one time with the guinea pigs?" After Kyle and I nodded our heads, Kenny pointed back at Craig. "Same deal, different prophecy."
"What's with the tentacles?" I asked.
"They're manifestations of our connections. The world's in such chaos right now that they're leaking out of us. Apparently, this is the form they take."
I nodded and provided the worthwhile comment, "Interesting fashion statement."
"Okay, this is all too fucking weird," said Kyle. "Why do you both have connections to ancient, potentially evil, prophecies, and what in the hell does it have to do with the end of the world?"
"Everything. Now can we go inside?" This was Craig, calling over from his spot by the door. Kyle and I raised our vision to him; he still looked pissed at having to be there at all. I glanced at Kyle; he looked as utterly confused about all of this as I felt. I looked at Kenny; he looked almost giddy at the prospect of everything, gesturing with both hands to do as Craig said and enter the building. I sighed. Things couldn't get any weirder, so I figured, what the hell, let's try to save the world.
Kenny led the way into the mausoleum. Getting closer, I could see the stones around the entrance and on either side were painted with some crazy red symbols. It didn't look like paint. I glanced at Kenny's back, where the blood from the entrance of his wound was staining his orange jacket, and wondered if that's what he'd used to make them.
Craig didn't really move from his spot while the rest of us filed past. Once I was even with him, I turned and tried to make conversation. "So, that ancient Incan prophecy had more to it, huh?"
"Don't talk to me," he said. Then, he gave the cemetery a once over (for what, I had no fucking clue) and shut the door behind us.
There wasn't much inside, but, then again, it wasn't a very large building anyway. There were four tombs along the walls, two on each side with one on top of the other, and one along the back wall. Even in here, with no window other than the small stained glass one above the door, time had eaten away at the writing on the walls so that it was nearly impossible to decipher the names of the people buried here. It looked like someone had done some recent interior decorating, though. There were more of those weird symbols all over the inside of the walls, especially, I noticed upon glancing back, around the entrance. The clear area in the middle of the room was completely dominated by an intricate array of more symbols, which all seemed to coalesce into a large circular pattern. There were a few long lines connecting key bits of the design as well.
"What is all this?" I asked.
"Some form of alchemy," said Craig. "The Goths helped us look up the right symbols."
"The Goths? Are they here, too?" I looked pointlessly around the tiny, mostly empty room.
"Nah, they did their thing, said something about wanting to catch the last moments of mankind's eternal suffering in person, and peaced out," Kenny said.
"I guess they're about the only ones who aren't terrified or depressed about the state of things right now," said Kyle.
"And with that bombshell of a comment, we move on to the tactical portion of our plan. So, check this out." Kenny squatted down next to the large, intricate circle of signs in the center of the room. "This is the thing that's going to do it. This alchemic circle is the key that'll reverse all the volcanoes, the typhoons, the raging zombie-celebrities, everything, back to an ordered state. We've just got to stand in the right places and say the right words to kick it into gear."
Kyle asked, "Is it dangerous?"
"Yes," said Craig. His eyes flashed like miniature lightning storms. I looked back at Kenny and saw his eyes pulse like an erratic heartbeat. Seriously, looking at their eyes was too unnerving. I decided I'd just kind of look anywhere and keep my ears open.
"Not if we do it exactly as they said," Kenny countered. "There's no reason we won't all walk away from this in a perfectly acceptable condition. Well, most of us..."
Pause to let that sink in.
"What's the power source?" asked Kyle, moving along.
"We are. Basically, we've got ancient light and ancient dark going for us," Kenny said, pointing to Craig and himself, respectively. "That should be enough to get this thing started."
"Then why are we here?" Kyle asked, gesturing between him and me.
"You two are the human element. We need four vertices to make this thing go, and the counterbalances to light and dark are two beings who possess both."
I was still confused. "But why us, specifically?"
"Honestly," said Kenny, standing up, "any two people would do, but the Goths said the incantation would work best if each point was as balanced as possible, so I took that to mean people of about the same age and gender. Plus, you've both been involved in the trips that helped discover Craig's and my connections to these sources, which means you were in the same physical places as us then, and witnessed all of that as it was happening. Besides," and here Kenny walked up to us and placed a hand on either of our shoulders. I tried to look him in the eye and not be freaked out. "I knew I could count on you guys."
He said it with such honesty and faith that I couldn't help but be touched. I looked over at Kyle. He seemed to share my feelings, and nodded resolutely. He said, "We'll help you."
"All right!!" Kenny yelled and clapped his hands, then rubbed them together in quick successive motions. "Let's save the world, bitches!"
I smiled and asked, "So, what do we do?"
"Not much," said Craig. "Basically, we just stand on our marks and I say some shit and we're done."
"Why you?" asked Kyle.
"Cause I'm the fucking savior."
Kyle was speechless and my eyes got three times wider. I asked, "Seriously?"
"More or less," said Kenny. "Craig's light can negate dark intention or forces, so he's the channel through which the destructive forces can get redirected away from Earth."
"But you said you were the dark point."
"I am. Well, I'm the channel to send those forces somewhere else, somewhere they can't affect Earth anymore."
Kyle said, "Dare I ask?"
Craig responded, "You could, but it's a long ass story and there's a time limit on this bitch, so we should get moving."
Kyle and I nodded. Craig and Kenny went to the right corner between the entrance and the first tombs. I noticed then there were a couple of bags laying there. Craig reached in one and pulled out some thick candles. He handed them to Kenny and went back in the bag, searching for matches, which he produced a moment later. Kyle and I had moved forward to help them. Kenny gave Kyle two white candles while Craig struck one of the matches on the outside of its box to light them. Once they were, Craig handed the matchbox to me and led Kyle to place the candles at certain points along the circle's edge. Kenny held out the last two candles, both black, and I struck a new match to light them.
Referencing his earlier comment, I asked, "When you say, 'most of us,' does that mean not you?"
Kenny looked me in the eye. I supposed even though they were black nothing, they were still operating as normal eyes for Kenny. In spite of their state, I could even tell that there was some hurt and fear in them then, but also appreciation for my concern. "Yeah, I'm guessing," he confirmed. "But, trust me on this, Stan, you don't have to worry about me too much, all right?"
Finished lighting the candles, I dropped the matchbox on top of the bag. "Not worry about you? How could I not worry about you? You've been dead for a month, or so I thought, and now you're here, albeit a little odder or... enhanced... but you're alive, Kenny! Don't you want to stay that way?"
Kenny gasped and I noticed his tentacles give a ripple of disturbance. "I... of course I do, Stan, but..."
"Then, let's make sure all of us see the world on the other side, the way it's supposed to be."
Kenny smiled warmly. I thought he might even be tearing up, but it was hard to tell from the black already staining his face. "Thanks, Stan."
"Of course, dude." I slapped Kenny on the back of his shoulder and the tentacle closer to that area waved in agitation, so I drew my hand back quickly. Kenny laughed, though, so I was assured it wouldn't harm me.
He handed me one of the candles and led me to the opposite side of the circle. He instructed me to place the candle on top of a triangle just inside the circle's outer rim. I noticed that the other candles were similarly placed.
"All right. Ready, guys?" Kenny said.
Kyle and I nodded, then we all looked to Craig. He gave one curt nod, and that was it.
"Okay, Craig and I have our marks." Kenny pointed down at his feet, and to his left I saw a prominent symbol consisting of a smallish circle with a long line pointing down from it and a little nub on the end. I looked over at Craig's side of the circle, directly opposite Kenny in front of the door, and saw a similar symbol reversed in front of him, so that the line pointed up from the small circle. "Kyle, you stand on the little dude with the horns."
Kyle looked to the left side of the circle, where Kenny was indicating, to find a medium-sized circle with a plus below it (which kind of looked like a torso and arms) and two nubs coming out of either side on top. "Am I the Devil?" he asked incredulously.
"Nah, it means Mercury or something. I just think it looks like him." Kyle nodded, obviously still unsure about his role in this endeavor.
"Stan, you're on the circle with the four lines in it." I followed Kenny's pointing finger and saw such a symbol some steps behind me on the right edge. "Assume your positions, gentlemen."
Everyone conceded to Kenny's instruction. As soon as Craig stood on his mark, his light tendrils flickered to life and began to move erratically. Kyle took his spot, and I stepped onto my quartered circle. Kenny, meanwhile, went back to the bags in the corner and produced a final candle, this one red.
He took a deep breath and said, "Okay, last chance, guys. Are we all willing to go through with this?"
I still wasn't sure what the execution of this spell (or whatever) would mean for Kenny. I didn't want to lose him again, but he seemed fairly set. He must have trusted it really would work. I decided, if nothing else, I trusted his instinct. "I'm with you," I said.
"If it means saving the world, yeah," said Kyle.
"Let's get this over with already." Craig.
"We follow our savior out of the darkness," Kenny said cheekily. He placed the red candle in the exact center of the circle, and took his assigned spot.
I was just about to comment that Kenny forgot to light that one, when Craig said, "Whatever happens, don't fucking move." Then, he breathed in and opened his glowing eyes wider, and a bright beam of light shot out of them directly at the candle wick.
I flinched and yelped but caught myself from moving off my mark. I had forgotten that was a feature of Craig's Incan connection.
As soon as the center candle was lit, Craig started to intone a call to "ancient spirits of both light and dark to awaken and witness this circle."
I felt the air in the enclosed mausoleum begin to stir. I noticed the candles begin to flicker, but especially the center one. Its flame began to grow larger and larger, so that eventually it was as tall as its wax base.
Craig reached the end of a line and Kenny, who had been standing as at ease (or attempting to be) and still as the rest of us, suddenly threw his arms out to either side, jerked his head up and stood rigid. I yelped again, this time my friend's name, but I knew I had to remain where I was. So, I watched as Kenny's mouth opened wide. A stream of black shot inside through the small stained glass window above the entrance, shattering it. The stream went straight towards Kenny's open mouth, filling him. The blackness then seeped out of his arms and moved around the circle. Before it could reach us, Craig became ensconced in a mirror position to Kenny, but he did not absorb anything. Instead, his light shone out brighter and reached around the circle to form a barrier over Kyle and me, protecting us from the blackness.
The light from the center candle reached a peak and burst into a small funnel that began to grow. The light around the outside of the circle, the part with Craig as the source, sort of scooped up the darkness coming from Kenny and arched it into the funnel. The darkness then disappeared once it was directed there, so I assumed we were literally funneling the darkness into some other dimension.
"Holy shit," I said.
This spectacle continued for a solid four minutes, during which time Kyle and I hardly dared move a muscle. Neither Kenny nor Craig moved either, but they seemed to have less say in the matter.
Eventually, though, the darkness coming from outside reached an end and nothing more seeped into Kenny. At that point, Kenny's mouth closed, and, to my delighted surprise, the blackness within him appeared to be leaving as well. The tentacles around his face shrank under his jacket. The void dominating his eyes melted away, and I finally saw blue there again. The tentacles around his torso withered. Eventually, the blackness completely left Kenny's body. The last remnants of it were carried by the ever-constant light to the, by this time, huge funnel in the center.
When the tail end of the blackness let go of Kenny's body, he crumpled to the floor. I wanted to run to him, but Craig's command echoed in my head, so I stayed put.
The last vestiges of blackness seeped into the funnel and were gone. The funnel grew fainter and fainter until it was nothing but a flicker. The light around the rest of the circle flowed back into Craig. He was now also without tentacles, but his eyes remained misty and bright.
He took a couple deep breaths, apparently worn out, and managed an, "Okay."
I took that as the cue to abandon my post and check on Kenny. Upon reaching him, I dropped to my knees. I was so happy to see his real eyes again, but they looked devoid of life. The wound in his chest remained as open and dominating as when it had first been inflicted.
"Kenny?" I tried. "Kenny, come on, man, don't do this." I felt tears welling up in my own eyes.
I heard shuffling behind me. "Move," said Craig. Without waiting for me to comply, he pushed me out of the way so he could crouch over Kenny's body. Kyle had joined us as well.
"Can you help him?" I demanded.
"I have no idea, but I can try," Craig said. He rested both hands above the wound on Kenny's chest, breathed in and concentrated. The light from his eyes shone more brilliantly, then began to fade at the same time as a light grew from below his hands. When it grew so bright I had to turn away, I heard a desperate gasp. I turned back to see Kenny, eyes wide, sucking in air like his life depended on it, which it apparently did. All the light was gone, even from Craig's eyes, which now appeared normal.
"Kenny, you're alive!" I cried out.
In between coughs, Kenny said, "Yeah," then turned toward Craig. "A savior in more than one way, huh?"
I saw Craig crack a smile before getting up. I rose as well, offering Kenny my hand. He took it and pulled himself up. Though his shirt was still bloody, the wound was gone. Kenny was back for good.
"Hey, the sky's back to normal," said Kyle. I turned to look out the small high window, and saw through a few broken shards of multi-colored glass the blue sky of a typical Colorado afternoon.
"We did it," said Kenny, smiling as he did.
"Yeah," I said, "we did."
Kenny turned and smiled at me. I clapped him on the back again, this time unconcerned for any sort of supernatural retaliation. It was just my friend Kenny standing next to me, a normal guy.
If you enjoyed this story, remember to check out the original artwork that inspired it!