The pop machine on Capitol Hill in Seattle was a mystery. It stood, covered in layers of graffiti, on the corner of John Street and 10th Avenue East. The locksmith company behind it provided electricity for the machine, though they had no clue who was restocking it or why.
For twenty years it provided refreshing cold soda to anyone willing to pay the insignificant price of 75 cents.
Numerous locals tried to find out who was behind the landmark’s peculiar existence. They’d convinced nearby shops and apartment buildings to let them look through their grainy security footage in hopes of catching a glimpse of the person or people restocking the machine. It was good fun. There was even a popular blog on it and a Facebook fan page. They simply wanted to solve the mystery, but at the same time, they didn’t.
What no one knew was that the soda machine wasn’t the quaint feature story they thought it was. It was no machine. It was a Gateway.
On a nipping, foggy November night, a cloaked figure pushed a dolly cart stacked with boxes of soda pop. Despite the cracks and debris on the ground, the dolly moved with impossible silence and grace. The figure walked with confidence knowing the Master would stop the security cameras from recording his image. For fifteen years now, the Master had protected him from all manner of exposure.
The Gateway glowed, its yellow light setting the fog around it ablaze. Beads of slimy condensation seeped from its rusted edges. For a moment it flickered, the yellow light pulsating a caustic green.
He grinned. The Master was almost ready. The Gateway would soon be primed for his arrival.
The figure placed his hand against the lock on the Gateway door and squeezed his eyes shut. A buzzing sensation crawled across his skin. The door clicked and swung open.
A wave of misty, subzero air enveloped him. The taste of death and chaos came with it, metallic and pungent on his tongue. When the mist faded, he began his work. Instead of metal ramps or guides to keep the pop in place, the innards of the machine were quite organic and stretched farther back than the machine could physically allow. Ropes of narrow gray tentacles wiggled, their sharp tips gravitating towards the open door.
Slowly, carefully, the figure handed the tentacles cans of soda. They wrapped tightly around the aluminum vessels and pulled them back into their squirming depths where they’d keep them chilled and ready. Multiple soft tisssc noises cut through the silence as the tentacles pierced the cans with their single, needle-like tooth, and injected a seed.
Soon the figure completed his work. The dolly contained nothing more than empty cardboard boxes. November was a hard time for the Gateway to gain tributes. In the summer, it had to be restocked multiple times a week. In the cold months a fraction of the number of people were interested in it. What made things trickier was that not everyone who drank was proper tribute. Thus the process of gaining enough had taken many years.
A low rumble came from deep within the Gateway.
The tentacle mass stilled. Then, in unison, parted to reveal the eye of a behemoth, so large the figure knew it had to be the Master’s. Not reptilian nor mammal, but something entirely different. It was set deep in a scaly socket. Acidic green light emanated from it. It blinked.
He had never seen the Master before, lurking in the other plane. Primal fear took hold of his body. His heart hammered in his chest.
Suddenly he remembered. It was as though he’d woken up from a dream. A very long dream. His name was Bryan Warren. He lived in Seattle his whole life. He had a wife, Diane, and child, Abbie. They were dead. Abbie loved going to the mystery pop machine. Diane took her there one day. They became casualties in a gang related shooting.
Bryan, fueled by rage, grief, and alcohol, came to loop a chain around the machine and tear it down forever.
But the Master stopped him.
It cooed sweet things to him. Showed every carnal pleasure and power he could imagine. Promised him he could have his family back if only he served. He couldn’t resist the temptation. As his resolve caved, a retro frosty can of Dr. Pepper popped out of the machine. Bryan drank and became a slave.
That was fifteen years ago.
Bryan then realized why the Master showed himself. It had come to collect.
“No,” he choked. “No, I don’t want this! Please, don’t!”
He gathered enough will to stumble back. With lightning speed, the tentacles shot from the Gateway and wrapped around his ankles. Their grasp was as hard and cold as ice. Bryan’s fingernails peeled back and bled as he grabbed at the sidewalk to try and pull himself free.
Somehow, he’d always known, but the Master stopped him from thinking of it. He was the last tribute. He was the waypoint for the plane of madness to enter a new, untainted realm. He’d helped it put its seed in the world for two decades, and now it was ready to reap what it had sowed.
The air quivered with an electric charge. Bryan tilted his head and saw the sky split open.
The Master had arrived.
Ok, time for some context! I was in the ER waiting room (don’t worry, everyone is okay) when I picked up the Seattle Times and read this news article about a pop machine on Cap hill that has been putting out mysterious pop for 20 years. I was talking to a friend about how crazy it was, and he suggested I write a story. So, instead of messing around on my phone, I started this story and finished it later. Of course, I couldn’t pass up photoshopping the actual mystery machine into a creepy, Cthulhu-y masterpiece to go with. Hope you enjoyed!