Congratulations, <NAME>, on your 7 years. You may have moved over to the hosting organization, but you have not truly joined hosting. No, not until you undergo the ritual.
“What is this?”, you may ask. We are not called hosting because we host web sites. No, that is a happy coincidence. A cosmic accident that obfuscates our grim purpose. A fluke of the fickle fates. We serve the hidden masters. We are devotees of the shadow ones. No, we are not an organization that serves hosting. We are an organization of hosts.
You see, <NAME>, each of us carries within a precious cargo. A thing that has supplanted our own will with its own vile intent. Each of us has taken our turn upon the dais. Chained to the ancient stone seal as the tome of ruin is cracked open and read aloud. Inscribed with ancient runes that burn our flesh and mortify our squirming human minds. Then the canopic jar is brought forward by hooded attendants and opened. The smell, by the stars, the smell. No, not pleasant. A stench of decay. The fetid rot of corruption. An impossibility. The oily black tendrils ooze forth, leaving greasy stains. It comes to achieve unity. No, not ascension. The other direction. It drags us, screaming, into the mire of its existence.
You would flee if you could. I wanted to, but there was no escape. No, too far gone. No, everything that once made me a man cast to ruin. The union was unpleasant. It showed me things. Gave me knowledge I dearly wish I did not have. Opened my eyes to horrid reality we inhabit. This thin veneer of civilization that serves as a mask, allowing terrible darkness to go unopposed. You shall join our order, and all will be made clear. To oppose us means destruction. There is really only one sane choice left. The path of madness.
Congratulations on your anniversary, <NAME>! It is said you know quite a bit about Arsenal Football, but did you know Arsenal is actually a front for a paramilitary organization? It is true. That is why they are called Arsenal. They reason they are so skilled at football is that they are artificially created humanoid lifeforms with the ability to alter probability. Like Longshot from the Marvel Comics universe. Remember Longshot? Anyone? Longshot? No? Well, they are just like Longshot.
Hailing from the alternate dimension called “The Mojoverse”, members of the team were forced to compete in grim gladiator tournaments at the whim of the Spineless Ones and their grotesque ruler Mojo. These battles were waged in the name of increased ratings for Mojo, who uses his vast media empire to placate and control the denizens of Mojoworld. Using their probability altering skills, the Arsenal footballers were able to escape through a dimensional doorway to our earth, freeing themselves from the clutches of Mojo. As competing against others in arenas packed with roaring crowds was all they had ever known, they quickly organized themselves into a football club.
When not playing, however, they stockpile weaponry. 12 gauge auto loaders. 45 long slides with laser sighting. Phased plasma rifles in the 40 watt range. All to protect themselves on the day when Mojo’s henchmen come for them. They do not know who Mojo will send. The six-armed assassin Spiral? The bestial Gog and Magog? The ram headed Quark? Or perhaps all of them. All they know is one day Mojo will find his stars, and they intend to be ready to defeat him and his minions.
I am just going to have to accept that I am the only person who liked Longshot and the Mojoverse.
Congratulations on your variable length anniversary, <NAME>! While some are breaking this into two separate periods, the far more terrible truth is that you have been locked in a temporal anomaly. A version of you has been continually employed for the longer duration, but thanks to the vagaries of spacetime you continue to loop back upon yourself. It is like that move, Groundhog Day. Only if you try to kill yourself you stay dead. And there is no Andie MacDowell. And no groundhog. Or maybe it is more like that Star Trek the Next Generation episode where they go into a nebula and Data is acting all weird and Dr. Crusher is hearing voices and gets all precog and then Data figures out they programmed him to tell them to listen to Riker’s idea instead of Data’s, which… why would you listen to anyone other than Riker? Riker was clearly the best member of that crew. Plus he was charming. Data was just a weird robot thing with daddy issues. Or maybe it is like 12 Monkeys and it ends in a plague that destroys all of humanity and forces us to live underground where creepy dystopian figures yell at us. One thing it is not like at all is that movie Primer, because I actually understand this. I do not know what was going on in that film. I watched it once, started it a second time, and got halfway in before I got a headache and gave up.
Anyway… There is only a finite amount of time left before the loop repeats itself and you find yourself back at the beginning. I would start dealing cards to try to tell you what to do, except we are not in a spaceship, so I am not clear what steps, if any, could avoid this. I guess if there is a like a scary metal faced rabbit, maybe listen to it? Or if Andie MacDowell or Madeline Stowe show up, try talking to them. Honestly, they kind of look alike. Maybe talk to both of them. Also, Jean Claude Van Damme. And Denzel Washington.
I guess you should be on the lookout for Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, too. Which… Bruce Willis was also in 12 Monkeys. That guy likes time travel paradox movies. Also, Tom Cruise was in two different time paradox movies. So was Jake Gyllenhaal. Maybe you have not made it in Hollywood until you star in a time travel movie, and the more of them you do, the more billable you are.
Oh, if you see Ashton Kutcher just run the other way. You do not want to get involved with none of that nonsense.
Congratulations on your two years at <COMPANY>, <NAME>! I know you wouldn’t want to read anything about monstrous creatures devouring human flesh or all-consuming horror bubbling from the depths of the earth to shatter your sanity and leave you a gibbering shell, rending your own skin in an attempt to root out the evil it implanted inside your teeming mind. Nor would it be appropriate to ponder some dire alien menace descending from the sky and turning our world into an ash choked ruin as they enslave the survivors and build vile totems from the dead. I mean, I am sort of at a loss here. This is a real puzzle.
The good news is we have recently discovered we completely mistranslated that whole Cthulhu thing. It is actually Cathulhu. Rather than some tentacled abomination from the depths of the ocean, Cathulhu is a fuzzy kitten who will rise up from inside a gigantic cardboard box. A huge, three story kitten.
Have you ever seen a cat with a mouse? They will often torture them. Letting them think they have a hope of escape, then pouncing and biting. Repeating until the tiny creature can no longer carry on. Stabbing the mouse with its claws. Imagine then, how Cathulhu will react on being surrounded by scores of humanity. Tiny prey as far as its keen eyes can see.
Our only hope lies in constructing an enormous ball of yarn. A ball attached to a rocket that we will fire at the sun. We hope Cathulhu will give chase, and spare us all the indignity of being torn apart by furry cuteness. Not me, however. I’ll be long dead before that point from a severe allergic reaction to Cathulhu’s eldritch dander, a weaponized variant of his more conventional kin.
Congratulations on two years, <NAME>! <COMPANY> has long been a leader in extra dimensional excursion. Forays into ominous, other worldly zones. Places where the laws governing our reality may not apply. Some are stretches of silent space, empty of life and matter. Vast swathes of nothingness. Others are realms of disquiet. Eerie universes where we are certain we are being watched, though scans reveal nothing. Still others are dreadful planets where humanity is locked in endless war with strange and terrifying creatures that seek to exploit the rift we have torn between our worlds and feast on our home.
Given your last name, we have decided to assign you as a squadron leader to one such endless battleground. The blood soaked world of X-19, a cragged rock of a planet, populated entirely by an incredibly hostile species of sentient insects. Their terrifying chittering presages the arrival of tens of thousands of their drone troops, each equipped with odd biological weapons that sling poisoned barbs. Though incapable of penetrating armor, their multi-faceted eyes allow them to quickly seek out the joints and points of articulation where their ammunition can strike home and deliver a debilitating dose of neuro toxin.
Assuming you are unfortunate enough to be captured, your still conscious but immobile body will be dragged into the depths of one of their massive hive compounds, where you will be presented as a gift to their hideous queen. There she will cocoon you in strands of silk, leaving you to hang from the ceiling as the toxin slowly wears off. From here you will bear witness as your comrades, still living, are fed into the holes containing the queen’s awful, voracious young. Their screams will pierce your ears as they are devoured alive, providing sustenance to the next generation or your implacable foe. This you shall endure until such a time as you are taken down, remorselessly dragged toward your own waiting cavern and certain doom.
On the positive side, the silk is incredibly soft and comfortable. Your stay will be almost luxurious in that regard. We are looking into applications for it in textiles. Assuming you should somehow escape the hive, it would be helpful if you could bring as much of the silk back with you as possible. Even better would be the capture of a queen, that we might turn her into a biological factory of the material, though she will only produce it as a means to aid the feeding of her terrifying young.
Congratulations, <NAME>! As you may be aware, <COMPANY> has launched a Movie Magic employee incentive program. You may also be aware we had to do some major scaling down after blowing most of the budget on that Martian thing. We really did not plan that well at all. Please choose from one of the following:
The Revenant: We take you into the woods were you will be horribly mauled by a bear, just like newly minted Oscar winner Leonardo da Vinci in this critically acclaimed movie.
Paddington Bear: Based on the beloved children’s classic! This is… basically the same as The Revenant. We do put the bear in a rain coat. Easier to clean him off that way.
The Edge: Essentially the same as the other two, except we also send Alec Baldwin in with you to fight the bear.*
The Grey: This Liam Neeson film culminates in a show down with some wolves. We don’t have wolves. We do have a bear! You will be fighting a bear.
The Bear: I don’t really need to explain this one, do I?
The Fault in our Stars: A lovely moonlight hike through the woods. The same woods where we keep the bear for The Revenant. This one is a two for one. You get both experiences.
The Jungle Book: This one is completely different. We take you and the bear to the jungle. Where it still mauls you.
The Bad News Bears: There are two bears.
Congratulations again! Please enjoy your reward for your years of tireless service.
*I’ve just been notified by Mr. Baldwin’s people that he is not willing to fight a bear. You are on your own. Sorry.
Please join me in congratulating<NAME> on nine years with <COMPANY>! Thank you for all that you do for the <REDACTED> team! Thank you and beware. Beware the terrible curse of the 9th year, a curse born in the mists of legend. It is said this office was built on the site of an ancient village. A village in which dwelled 9 diabolical witches. None can say what happened with any certainty that grim February day, only that when the next caravan of traders arrived to ply their wares, they found nine graves for those condemned of vile sorcery and an empty town which their animals refused to enter. That night they heard strange and terrifying sounds from the abandoned buildings, and all they found in their search of the area were strange charms made of bone and hide. Charms that resembled a nine pointed star that blazed brightly in the night sky. The village was condemned and left to rot, no one brave enough to tempt the fates by reclaiming the site until history obscured the blood dimmed past.
Over the years many dark and terrible deeds have been attributed to this curse. Every ninth server comes installed with never before seen vulnerabilities. Every ninth employee is overcome with madness and relegated to the lightless basement, from which their incomprehensible screaming will never be heard beyond the cold iron bars confining them and the runes of warding carved into the concrete. Every ninth cup of coffee tastes kind of off. Not like… rancid or anything where you would refuse to drink it, just disappointing in a vague sort of way. Like you thought it would be better than it was. I mean, you still drink it, but you kind of wish you had poured it out instead and made another one. But then you’d feel wasteful. You can’t win in that situation.
I cannot predict with any degree of certainty what might occur to you as a consequence of your anniversary. Will the witch cult return to haunt you with dreams of their violent ends, driving you to the depths of insanity? Will you disappear to whatever nightmarish place the rest of the village was cast, their spirits lost to this world? Will you be forever cursed to drink unsatisfying beverages? Never really experiencing satisfaction from your drink of choice, just a general malaise. Who wants to live like that? No one, that is who. I think I would rather have my soul ripped apart in the bladed winds of torment in the plane of eternal fire. At least then I would have the hope of a nice cuppa.
Congratulations again. Congratulations and doom. DOOM.
Happy 6 year anniversary,<NAME>! That is an impressive milestone. As you know, <COMPANY> is a world leader in employee recognition experiences. Anyone can give an employee a pocket watch or a crystal paper weight. Here at <COMPANY> we want each experience to be as unique and memorable as you are, <OTHER NAME>! To that end, we have devised a new “movie magic” package! Please choose from one of the following:
The Martian: An all-expenses paid trip to Mars! That is right! We will send you and a person of your choosing to the red planet! There you will experience all the fun and enjoyment Matt Damon did in the hit film! You will grow potatoes and explode your hab and have almost no chance of rescue as we can only afford the initial trip there. Shooting things into space is EXPENSIVE! If you only knew.
Titanic: Ever wanted to see an iceberg… up close? We will fly you and a guest to the arctic where you will be dropped on an out of control boat on a collision course with destiny! Does this seem less impressive than the first one? It should! We pretty much blew our entire budget on that Mars thing! I mean, the cost of launching the fuel alone is $12 billion! And you need a lot of fuel to get there! And not just fuel! Space is a vacuum! You need an oxidizer if you hope to achieve a burn. It is like sitting on top of a huge bomb! An expensive, expensive bomb! Better hope we did our math right or KABLAMO!
The Terminator: A relentless killing machine will hunt you and a person of your choice through the streets of Los Angeles! Will a reluctant hero arrive form the future in time to save you? Of course not! We can’t afford time travel research! Not when it is estimated to cost an additional $10,000 per pound of material we need to send along with the fuel on this crazy expedition! It will take 500 days to reach Mars! Do you know how much food and water two people need to survive that long? Well we do, because we did the math. It is WAY more than we thought when we dreamed this up. Even pants are heavier than we anticipated! Honestly, it isn’t even a robot hunting you! We just paint some guy silver and give him a gun!
Gladiator: Relive the excitement of the Russell Crowe smash sensation, as we make you fight to the death and sell tickets! What? We have to do something to cover the losses from that Mars thing! Why does an internet company even want to go to Mars? It doesn’t make sense! I’m not going to lie, some ether may have been involved in that decision making! And by some, I mean a lot. Like A LOT a lot.
The Notebook: We give you a notebook. It isn’t even a nice one. It is one of the leftovers from when we were planning that whole Mars expedition. Honestly, we may have written in it. We sort of didn’t care by the time we reached this point. We really overdid it coming out of the gate and lost steam after that.
Congratulations on your one year anniversary, <NAME>! You help the <PRODUCT> team make a big impact in the hosting space. Almost as big of an impact as the hits in this weekend’s big game!
Yes, two teams will square off to determine who will be declared the winner in this super contest of dominance. I am speaking, of course, of the imminent invasion of our planet by a vile space faring species called the Zarrax.
A grim and terrible foe, they are known to adorn themselves with the polished skulls of their vanquished enemies. Rumors they wear the skins as cloaks have been dispelled as their terrible plasma weaponry burns away far too much of the flesh, leaving great and terrible tears where boiling fat oozes from the smoking wounds.
Of course, should their long range weaponry fail, they can always fall back on their foul pain lashes, barbed lengths of twisted wire with which they ensnare their foes to drag them, screaming, back to spiked torment cages. While we cannot fully comprehend the dark technologies the aliens employ, the tortured screams from these macabre devices are somehow harnessed to power their warships, of which countless numbers shall blacken our skies and rain destruction upon our cities.
Of course we cannot count humanity out. There is always the hope that we will capture one of their space craft and write some manner of computer virus which we can then upload to their control vessels and in so doing win the day. It is a longshot, but it is potentially our only hope for survival. We have already enlisted the aid of Jeff Goldblum. While he continues to insist he is just an actor and doesn’t actually know anything about technology, we are expecting great things from him. Otherwise, we will shove him into one of the torment cages on the ship and make for the moon to wait this whole mess out. Whatever happens, humanity shall survive. Perhaps irreparably twisted by our encounter with these monsters, our psyches shattered and little left save a mad, bestial drive to live, but survival all the same.
Happy 11 year anniversary, <NAME>. That is an impressive milestone. Be sure to celebrate it. Enjoy yourself and escape, if only momentarily, the terrible knowledge that you are being hunted. Hunted by a creature so awful it cannot be named, lest in so doing I call its wrath down upon myself. A leviathan of smoke and shadow and flame. Tentacles. So many tentacles. Grasping. Tearing. Rending. It is unstoppable, and it hungers. Hungers for human flesh. For our spirit. The essence of our being.
It could be I gave it your name. In a moment of weakness. As I stood in a circle of salt, having summoned this titan from the depths of whatever ethereal plane of torment it calls home, holding the crumbling grimoire in my quaking hands. I felt suddenly small. Inconsequential. My protections laughably inadequate. It roared inside my brain, demanding a name. The sheer strain of the assault on my mind caused my vision to darken and blood to leak from my nose. I fell to my knees and spoke the first name I thought of. Your anniversary was so close. It was right there in my mind’s eye. My insides roiled and twisted. I loosed my tongue before I scarce knew what was happening.
It laughed, if you can call the primal, deep rumbling that came from such a thing laughter. My eyes burned from the stench of brimstone and the impossible heat the thing radiated. The candles I had so carefully arranged were naught save puddles as their wicks guttered and blew out. I stared into the swirling mass of chaos that comprised its mass, my sanity straining under the effort. Before it left it oozed one single tentacle over the line of salt I had artfully placed, tapping it thrice, as if to say, “Foolish boy. You cannot contain me. You have no knowledge of what you have unleashed. You are a child playing at a deadly game.”
It shattered the very earth as it fled, thrashing. I gasped for air and slowly rose to my feet, weeping. In the distance, terrible screaming, as though the sleepy little town I had chosen as the site of my studies had become Armageddon itself. The ancient tome was naught save a pile of ash, whether burned up by the gaze of the monster or simply crumbled to dust from the strain of the ages, I cannot say. The world no longer makes sense. I know in time it will return to finish what I started. You will be the herald. After it has completed its dark task with you, warping and corrupting your flesh, I will know my time is nigh. Without the book, I have no means of stopping it.