1,001 Dark and Stormy Nights
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THE TALE OF THE RESEARCHER AND THE MINOTAUR

SCP-1893 had breached. Whether it had dragged them all into its narrative or somehow broken out into their own, the Minotaur walked among them. Doctor Sharra Hassad huddled in the dark with five other personnel, all of them junior researchers and low-level clerks, all of them terrified. The knocking of the Minotaur’s baseball bat grew closer and closer.

“It’s going to be here any second. We can’t fight that thing. You saw what it did to Eric.” L1 Researcher Wendell’s eyes were wide and voice rushed. Sweat beaded his face. “We have to do something.”

“I have an idea,” Sharra told them. “I’ll go. Lock the door behind me, and wait for help to arrive.”

“You’ll be killed,” Wendell protested.

“Better me alone than all of us together,” Sharra countered, sharp glint in her eye. “But don’t worry. We all have our day to die – I intend for mine to come much later than this.”

The hallway was dim. The lights had been smashed out, and stormclouds blotted the moonlight, shadows leaving the strewn and battered corpses even more shapeless than the Minotaur had.

SCP-1893 took the shape of a tall, shirtless man, heavy-browed and dense with muscle. A pair of elaborate horns jutted from its forehead – Sharra couldn’t tell if they were real, or a tattoo fooling her eyes. The bat at its side was crusted with blood and brain.

She stepped over Doctor Carlson – her friend, sprawled, skull collapsed – and held her ground. “Hear me,” she said, “for I have something you want.”

The Minotaur stepped forward, snarling. She felt its heat, saw the steam of its breath. Its eyes narrowed and head cocked as it lay the bat on her shoulder.

“I can offer you more subjects – more characters to encounter. If you just kill everyone here, that’s the end of this story. If you hear me out, there will be more. And more, and more, and more.”

The Minotaur stared down, impassive. It caressed the side of her head with the bat, wooden end rasping against her hair. But she was still alive, so she kept talking. “Just listen. There was another Foundation staff, in another breach, kind of like this. I bet you never heard…

THE TALE OF DOCTOR BENSEN AND THE SARKICS

Bensen’s gun clicked empty. The fleshcrafter gurgled with laughter and drove a tentacle right through Bensen’s shoulder. A smug face emerged from the know of exposed muscle composing his chest.

“It’s over, Doctor. The site is ours.”

“Fuck you. Kill me.”

“In time,” he laughed. A large, grinning mouth appeared where its stomach should have been and spoke in unison with the sneering face above. “You’re a prisoner now. Your life is ours. Your death will be earned through servitude.”

The senior researcher grit his teeth, bearing the pain in silence. There was no point in declaring that he would never help them; he had no doubt they could hurt him enough to make him do whatever they asked. He tried to struggle to his feet for a last stand, to make them kill him so he wouldn’t have to live through whatever they had planned. A flare of burning agony from his shoulder convinced him to abandon that idea.

The fleshcrafter flexed his tentacle, dragging Bensen to his feet. “We know the Improvement Engine is under your purview. You will take us to it.” A tongue extended from his extra mouth and began snaking its way into his own eye socket.

“Nine-fourteen doesn’t work on live tissue,” Bensen rasped. “It’s useless to you.”

“Do you think me a fool?” His free hand twisted into another whip, and he lashed Bensen across the face. Blood trickled down Bensen’s cheek – the sarkist had studded the limb with extra teeth before slapping with it. “What’s useless to us is prized by our enemies. We would see it demolished. You would thank us, if you only knew what they would use it for. Now take us.”

There were dozens more sarkists in the hall, in various states of inhumanity. Men, women, and things in between, shaping their flesh like clay. Spears of bone bristled and retracted from them, which they used to butcher the personnel they’d slain; they exchanged lumps of flesh from the victims amongst each other, trying limbs and eyes for size before absorbing them or ripping them off to throw back.

The discarded remnants of researchers and guards were stacked in heaps. Cultists searched the offices, carrying more dead. Bensen heard desperate begging that shot up in pitch before cutting off suddenly. Priests with elaborate bone formations erupting from their skin combed through the bodies, peeling off flesh and sorting it.

“Behold, our glory. You’re now the last of your people here. Take us to the engine, or you will envy what we’ve done to the rest of them.”

A dozen of the cultists, bodies twisted and ill intent in their eyes, broke away from the crowd and followed them. From time to time the tentacle inside Benson would twist and jab under his skin. I’m dead, but all is not yet lost.

“Here we are,” he said, weary. The pain and exhaustion made it easy to keep all hope out of his voice. He led them into a vast containment vault, occupied by a looming tank. They saw a massive, boxy construct inside it, an impossible knot of clockwork more intricate than anything they’d ever laid eyes on, in whose shadow they could all easily stand.

“Why is it underwater?”

“We keep it in saline to protect the mechanisms.”

The fleshcrafter had nothing to say to that. Bensen lurched to the control panel, grunting through the pain of the cultist’s tentacle dragging behind him. He began to enter the elaborate series of bypasses for the chamber’s manual override – it scanned his eyes, his hands, his voice, listened to the sound of his heart, and prompted him through a recital of cryptic passphrases. The console chirped and flashed a green light at them.

Then sirens blared frantically, and the room began strobing red.

“Why is it doing that?” the sarkist’s mouths roared in unison. The tentacle stabbed into Bensen’s side, deep, and he fell to the ground in agony.

“We’re not… We’re not ever supposed to drain the tank.” Bensen rolled onto his back. “That’s why only an L4 can access its override.”

“This-“

”This isn’t Nine-fourteen,” Bensen grinned, blood flecking his lips. The object began to whine and chatter as gears within started working free of their rust and clanking to life. “I locked us all in here, you son of a bitch. It wants you to feed it metal, but you don’t have any, so… you’ll see. You’ll-“

The fleshcrafter extended a spur of bone and stabbed him in the face, furious. He dropped the body and turned to the control console, trying frantically to unlock the vault as the shrieking of the metal intensified. The alarm blared unceasingly, but the panels had all gone dark. They were trapped.
Hours later, the clanking of machinery was even louder than the alarm. They’d all grown flaps over their ears, of course, but the sound penetrated their very bones.

“I have to do it,” Cultist Gniles said at last. “It needs to be fed. It needs to be fed. We have to use what we’ve got.” He continued shouting matter-of-factly about the necessity of feeding the clockwork as he walked to the tank and climbed up its side, repeating himself until the gears caught his face and yanked him inside. Blood seeped from the edges of the mechanism, but the gears spun on.

“Is that going to happen to all of us?” Cultist Grek asked.

“In time. If we keep hearing the sound.” An idea came to the fleshcrafter. It was unlikely to work, but he was the leader here; he had to take whatever chance his people had. “We can distract ourselves. Maybe, if we’re distracted, we can block out this horrid machine. Maybe we can hold on until the Jailors send a team in here to capture us.”

“I don’t have any better ideas,” Grek said doubtfully. “You go first.”

“Well. Even the mighty can end up in bad spots,” he began. “Even the great Marshall, Carter, and Dark can be humbled by error…

A TALE OF RUPRECHT AND IRIS

“You know that I’m a busy woman, right?” Iris Dark huffed, as she followed Ruprecht Carter out of her office and toward the elevator. It was late, and the weather was bad.

“Of course.”

“Just making sure. Because coming up here uninvited, and asking me to come down and see what you have in the warehouse – it seems like something you’d ask someone to do when you thought they needed to kill time.”

“This is important,” Carter whined. “It’s – well, you remember the Midas orb?”

“Yes. I remember telling you it was a waste. Why do we need a curse that turns people to gold when we’re making so much money on stocks?”

“Come on. You know it’s a valuable thaumatological component.”

“And you know I told you it would be a waste. So. What went wrong with it?”

“The curse turned out to be contagious. And incomplete. So, it transferred the Midas touch, but turns the Midas partly to gold too. And anyone they touch turns to gold, partially, but gains the partial Midas touch themselves.”

Iris sighed. “Sounds like it was a waste. Just send back the orb and get a refund. And next time, listen to me in the first place.”

The elevator opened on the warehouse level. They walked briskly through a maze of crates toward the shipping floor.

“Well. There’s another complication. They sent it to the wrong address. The orb ended up at…”

They stepped onto a balcony overlooking the bare concrete staging area. Dozens of crying, partially metallic children clanked and wailed below. Some of them staggered blindly, with jewels where their eyes had been; others nursed hernias, where internal organs had turned suddenly to metal and begun sagging inside.

“…at an elementary school.”

“Ruprecht. How did you cover this up?”

“We had to hire mercenaries to burn down the whole place, unfortunately. Disguised it as a gas leak. The whole thing was tragic.”

“And expensive. How are you going to make this right?”

“Well, we could take them apart and sell the gold –“

“Think, Ruprecht. All that surgery would cost more than we’d make from the pieces.”

“Maybe we could weaponize them?”

Iris watched a child beat numb golden hands against the floor in frustration. “They don’t look like very good weapons to me.”

They stood in silence for a minute, watching the cacophony below as hazard-suited guards wrangled kids with their stun batons. The suits and batons were stored in lockers in the warehouse, in case of situations like this; Iris was happy to see that the employees were using them just as they had drilled.

“We have to call the Found-“

“No,” Iris cut in. “Absolutely not.”

“Come on, Iris. Doesn’t the Foundation just pay for anomalies? Isn’t it, you know, more efficient to wholesale this problem to them rather than think up some crazy scheme to profit from it?”

“Not in this case, Ruprecht, because they’re notorious for never buying what they think they can confiscate.” She tapped her foot, glaring at the transmuted kindergardeners. “And because I’d rather drink poison and die than ask Essie P. for help.”

“Come on. They’re a practical bunch over there. They can get right to the bottom of anything.”

“Don’t change the subject, Ruprecht.”

“Even regular researchers over there can take on Eldritch horrors, singlehandedly.”

“You can try to distract me with storytelling all you want, Ruprecht. We aren’t done with this.”

“No, no, it’s not a distraction.” Carter loosened his collar. “This honestly reminds me of a completely relevant…

TALE OF RESEARCHER TALLORAN

Talloran stood in an open field at the bottom of a well, knowing the dogs would tear them open and eat them alive.

Their captor had recently given up on manifesting exotic, impossible monsters; the familiar jaws of a Labrador or retriever could deliver just as much pain and terror. SCP-3999 went through cycles. Eventually, when Talloran was used to regular animals, it would start throwing supernatural horrors at them again.

It was rats this time. Talloran had long ago learned not to struggle – that only prolonged the moment.

It was impossible not to scream, though, as their chisel teeth and ripped into Talloran’s chest and their needle claws burrowed inside. They shrieked their last breath and closed their eyes

And opened them in the kitchen of their childhood home. Their brother lay on the floor, blood pooling underneath him. Thunder cracked outside.

Talloran was holding a knife. The blood crusted the handle and ran down their wrist, drops tapping relentlessly on the tile.

“James, no! What have you done?” their mother sobbed, rushing to cradle her fallen son. I didn’t do this. Why did I do this? “You killed him!”

The knife dropped from their fingers and clattered to the ground. The blood kept dripping, somehow.

“You killed him, James.” Their mother stood, glaring down at them. “You killed us all. Everyone, all of us, gone. Never coming back to you.” She picked up the knife.

“And if we’d lived, we’d only have been disappointed anyway.” She jammed the blade underneath her chin, twisting it in deep, still talking as the blade scraped against the roof of her mouth.

“Everything you’ve done has only ever made things worse.” Her tongue flopped out of the hole above her throat and twisted as she spoke. “If you’re lucky, history will be generous and forget your whole pathetic story ever happened at all. You sniveling Mary Sue.”

“I’ll tell you what my story is,” Talloran hissed, unflinching. “Once, there was a kid who was alone way too much. So they grew into a person who was alone all the time. They knew there must be other people who saw things like they did – they knew they weren’t special- but they gave up hope of ever finding those others. Let alone getting to be one of them. But then they did. Those people had been out there the whole time, and they’d found - they’d built - the place they needed. And they, we, faced the unknown and studied it and fought it and learned what we could about it all. Together. That’s my story, and you haven’t won yet, because we’re still fucking telling it.

The flopping tongue lay still. The dripping stopped. Their brother’s corpse was gone. The apparition of their mother withdrew, silently, and Talloran was once again alone.

They knew what to do with that.

It could always be worse. I can think of a way this could be worse. They started to pace. Things are worse than this for Sam Michaels. I wonder what poor Sam Michaels is doing right now…

A TALE OF POOR SAM MICHAELS

Sam paced endlessly in his cell, pulled in many directions at once.

“The words are getting away. Got to hold on to the words. Got to get them back.”

The whitecoats kept him away from books – from anything written – but it didn’t stop the bleeding. Nothing stopped the bleeding. However clean they made the room, Sam was still bleeding everywhere. Into everything.

“The words are me. Are all of us. Got to take them back. Hold on somehow.”

Last week, the day before they clipped his nails, Sam bit one down to the quick and saved it. The sliver of himself was tiny and ragged, but it was sharp enough and stiff enough to write with. A spot of grime around the edge of the toilet fixture was dark enough to make ink, when he mixed it with a little spit.

“Got to do what I got to do. God, it hurts. They need me to do it, though. Hurts.”

He needed to take the words back to himself. Suck the bleeding back in, somehow. Call the bits and pieces back from wherever they’d gone. But he couldn’t remember how they, how he, had been put together before.

“Come on, just have to keep it going. Have to. Hurts, but they need me to. Stop the bleeding.”

He folded his leg into his lap and rolled up his pant cuff, and settled in to write.

SCP-1893 had breached, he scratched. Whether it had somehow dragged them into its narrative, or broken out into their own, the Minotaur was among them. Doctor Sharra Hassad huddled in the dark with five other personnel…

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