When I learned that Jeremy Reeves of Cornell & Diehl was resurrecting a Small Batch blend, The Old Ones: From Beyond, I immediately dashed for my car. It's been two years since Jeremy last attempted to domesticate this blend and I thought, with good reason, that he would have destroyed the recipe and done his best to forget it. What could he be thinking? We were lucky to escape with our lives the last time.
Some madness must have overtaken Jeremy's mind. From Beyond was perhaps the most ambrosial mixture to emerge from Cornell & Diehl, but it was fraught with peril. He had nearly destroyed the planet with the last batch and I'd been sure that he would never again risk such a catastrophe. I had to get to him immediately and talk some sense into him, but the weather turned foul even before I slid onto the highway. Lightning flashed across the afternoon sky, which was now as dark as Charles Manson's imagination, and the wind buffeted me while rain deluged the windshield at a 70-degree angle. Impossible detonations of thunder exploded like mortar shells and rocked the frame of the car. The 10 miles to Cornell & Diehl would be challenging, as if some ancient god had decided to impede my way. What was particularly awful was that this terrifying prospect could well be accurate. From Beyond was, after all, inspired by H.P. Lovecraft and possessed by C&D's The Old Ones series.
I had tried and failed to block it from my thoughts and from distressing my dreams, but I indelibly remembered the nightmare of From Beyond and the terrifying creatures it allowed into our world. I could easily understand Jeremy's attraction to it, especially because he thought of it as perhaps his greatest achievement. It was a reconfiguration of Dunhill's Nightcap, but formulated to replicate that blend's flavor characteristics after substantial aging. I was kicking myself now as the rain cascaded from the sky and the dark highway veered ominously and unexpectedly. Of course Jeremy would try again. I should have anticipated this horrifying prospect.
He had nearly destroyed the planet with the last batch
It was understandable that Jeremy would explore ways to resurrect this blend without opening another portal to a nightmare dimension. The specific components in their exact ratios at low humidity had somehow unleashed monsters from another plane of existence, threatening the very survival of the human race, but the tobacco was irresistible — silky, creamy, and buttery smoothness enveloped the palate, permeated with a dark, dense, and smoky sweetness and punctuated by the subtle spice of genuine Perique. Its only drawback was that these enticing flavors brought with them the threat of hideous monstrosities rampaging across the world. I had serious doubts that Jeremy could find a way around this unfortunate circumstance: something as uniquely sublime as From Beyond would inherently be accompanied by something awful, just to balance the books of the universe. He had to be stopped before creatures beyond the imagination of even H.P. Lovecraft dominated our plane of existence and all of our lives were forfeited.
The storm grew worse as I sped into the parking lot at C&D, where Jeremy's car was the only vehicle. Good, I thought — the others have escaped. I sprinted for the door, hoping I wouldn't be electrocuted by the unending cascade of lightning that was striking trees and utility poles all around me. I burst into the warehouse, relieved to be out of the storm but terrified of what I might find.
It was dark. The warehouse is never dark. Except for an emergency light in one distant corner casting ominous shadows, nothing could be seen. It's a huge space, similar to an aircraft hanger, and it was ominously silent, except for the wind, rain, and thunder. I started walking toward the offices and blending rooms, my shoes wetly squelching on the concrete floor.
He had to be stopped before creatures beyond the imagination of even H.P. Lovecraft dominated our plane of existence
Jeremy was slumped over a blending table, muttering to himself, a single lamp illuminating the table and holding the darkness of the room at bay. "I don't understand," he was mumbling. "It should have worked. It should have worked."
"What have you done?" I said, approaching from behind. He was startled and looked up. It was evident that he had not slept in days. His beard, always magnificently full, was scraggly and shot-through with streaks of white; the bags under his bloodshot eyes were dark and severe, and his hands, always rock-steady, trembled. "I just tried calling you," he said. "We have another problem. We beat it before and now have to do it again. I thought I had it figured out, but look." He gestured to the surface of the table.
An unlabeled tin of tobacco sat square in the middle. It seemed normal enough, but strands of tobacco had spilled over the rim and were scattered across the table's surface; not randomly, not haphazardly. No, it was with purpose. The tobacco clearly spelled out the word, "Diabaulus."
"I looked it up," said Jeremy. "It means evil personified. It means devil."
"That makes sense. It has the same Latin root as 'diabolical.' But capitalized like that, it looks like a name. Why would you spell that out?"
"I didn't. It ... manifested."
"What, just spontaneously? How does a creature from another dimension know Latin? Are we dealing with educated monsters now? Did you see it happen?"
"No, I turned away and it was there when I turned back. I'd taken precautions but they were evidently inadequate and I seem to have reopened the portal to the hell dimension. Of course, I immediately evacuated the staff."
"Dang it, Jeremy, do you know how inconvenient it is to have monsters roaming around, tearing up the countryside and devouring residents? This is unacceptable."
The tobacco clearly spelled out the word, "Diabaulus."
Jeremy is probably the most cool, laid-back guy I've ever known, instantly likable and fun. To risk the lives of billions of people, even for a magnum opus like From Beyond, was unlike him. If this portal opened entirely, life on Earth was doomed.
"For months now I've been overpowered by the absolute conviction that if I adjusted just one of the components without changing the formulation, then From Beyond would be perfect and monster-free. So I tried it."
I reached out and swiped the tobacco across the blending table, erasing the name. "This Diabaulus, whatever it is, probably influenced you somehow," I said. "It knew you after the last catastrophe and it reached across dimensions to manipulate your thoughts. It knows that you're hard-wired to develop exquisite tobacco blends, and it knows that From Beyond was an irresistible temptation for a creator like yourself."
"Maybe. I was sure I'd put it out of my mind, but once I started thinking about it again, I couldn't stop. It was an obsession. From the time I woke to the time I drifted into nightmarish sleep, my mind was entirely dominated by From Beyond. You may be right; I think I may have been deceived, perhaps even delusional. So whatever this is, it has telepathic powers. It may not understand much more than emotions and motivations, but it connects."
"We're dealing with powers beyond our capacity to understand," I said. "It's capitalizing on your need for perfection. But this is different from last time when we had all kinds of monstrosities roaming around. If all it does is spell out cryptic messages, and everyone keeps the lids on their tins, maybe we're okay. I don't see any giant tentacles and dumpster-sized squelching amoebic parasites trying to eat me." I looked at the tobacco tin and was shocked to see the name Diabaulus again written across the table in tobacco, but this time with the additional word "thirsts."
"From the time I woke to the time I drifted into nightmarish sleep, my mind was entirely dominated by From Beyond"
"You've not seen everything yet," said Jeremy.
"Thirsts for what?"
"I don't think we really want to know that."
A series of thunderous cracks assaulted our ears, accompanied by nearby flashes of lightning that strobed the room. I reached for the tobacco. "As long as it's made, I'm going to smoke some," I said. "I'm down to one tin from the last batch and I turn it over in my hands everyday, resisting the urge to crack it open, determined to save it for a special occasion."
"I don't know, man. You may not want to do that."
"I've not had a puff of From Beyond in months, and it's sitting right here; of course I'm smoking a bowl. Wait, what? Why? Why wouldn't I want to smoke it?"
"I guess it's better for you to see for yourself." Jeremy reached under the table and withdrew a baseball bat. "Go ahead."
That was alarming, but I filled a bowl and lit it.
The flavor was as I remembered: cool with no harshness, slightly pungent but not shrill, with the Orientals taking precedence at first, their dark-fruit character complementing the Virginias in the background. But it was slightly different. The Latakia's smoky flavor was satisfyingly present and balanced wonderfully with the other components, though in a somewhat subdued role, smoothly highlighting rather than dominating the Orientals. This was the smoke I'd been missing.
"My gosh," I said. "It may actually be improved. Congratulations, Jeremy, this is awesome."
"Uh-huh. Keep smoking."
if smoking a bowl manifested a few poisonously grotesque and malevolent beasties, I was willing to deal with that
It got better with each puff, its flavors marrying and mellowing even as I smoked. I raised my tamper to the bowl and was interrupted by the feel of a heavy something brushing against my leg. I looked down to see a dog-sized, slug-like creature with five hairy and muscular legs emerging from a sack-like and bloated body with translucent skin under which rippled strange, dark, ferocious blobs of unthinkable loathing. Its eyestalks rotated around and focused on me. Its mouth was round with a single circular row of barbed teeth, each glistening with poison, and as it reared up to take a bite out of my thigh, Jeremy hit it with the baseball bat and it flew across the room.
"Unfortunate collateral effect," he said.
"That happens whenever you smoke it?"
Jeremy nodded wearily.
"But it's different. It's almost imperceptible but it has enhanced creaminess. The mouthfeel is exceptional. What did you change?"
Jeremy loves talking about tobacco and he became more animated. "Well, you know the basic configuration: top-tier 2017 NC Red Virginias and Bright Canadian flue-cured leaf of the same vintage, as well as 2018 Turkish Izmir, 2019 Greek Basma, Dark Burley, genuine St. James Perique, and Latakia. But the Latakia is different. We've switched to Turkish Latakia, which is overall a much cleaner and higher-quality product than what was historically available. Its flavor profile is remarkable."
The problem with Latakia has been that it's unsustainable: wherever it has been produced, it has depleted local resources to the point where it can no longer be made. "It's too labor-intensive to make," said Jeremy. "It's ecologically unsound because of the quantity of wood that has to be harvested for fire curing, and it takes a long time to traditionally cure. It's just a very inefficient process and very prone to product loss and product contamination with things like twine, nails, rocks, and pieces of charred wood. Latakia has been a problem."
We've switched to Turkish Latakia, which is overall a much cleaner and higher-quality product
The thunderstorm was slowly moving away. Its roar had diminished and only low grumbles reached us via bone conduction through the cement floor. Occasionally there was a louder boom, but it seemed to be easing.
Jeremy explained that a Turkish company founded by four people with decades of experience in the tobacco industry had branched out from traditional Latakia production. "Each of them saw that there was demand for Latakia and that there simply was no way to meet that demand. The quality of what was available was not high. So they set out to make a better product, and they accomplished it."
Another boom reverberated through the building, as though something big had fallen on the roof, and Jeremy looked nervous, as though he knew something I didn't. I wondered if a tornado might follow in the wake of the storm, dropping debris. The wind seemed to be getting even stronger, shaking the walls.
Traditionally, a single smoking barn for Latakia would consume about 400 pounds of wood a day and was in a continual state of fire curing for five or six months. "That's an enormous amount of wood consumption, and that's why Syrian Latakia went away. They essentially harvested the wood into oblivion and, in response, the Syrian government banned its harvesting because it was leading to topsoil erosion."
The political environment in Syria contributed to instability, and Latakia production moved to Cyprus while most of the tobacco was grown in Turkey or Greece, and a little in Cyprus. There were high costs involved with moving the tobacco from one country to another, and political turmoil resulted in continual delays and lots of moving parts to monitor. "It made Latakia an expensive thing to produce, an expensive thing to move around, and with the amount of labor involved, I think it was hard finding workers. I think it was hard with the curing taking place in one place, and the tobacco coming from another place, for there to be a very cohesive vision of the end product. And so for a long, long time, Latakia would end up in bales in a condition that often wasn't great: totally run through with all sorts of detritus from the curing process: twine, nails, and pieces of the barn that had burned off and —"
Jeremy was interrupted by a gigantic crash that shook the building, followed by more thunder, but I soon realized that the sound was not from the storm when the low bass rumble graduated in pitch to a deafening and prolonged shriek that conjured the primordial beginnings of the world. I looked out the window and in the gloom thought I saw an enormous tentacle whip past.
"They essentially harvested the wood into oblivion and, in response, the Syrian government banned its harvesting because it was leading to topsoil erosion"
"What are you not telling me, Jeremy?"
"I think that when I reformulated From Beyond, I opened another portal and that thing — Diabaulus — came through. It's been roaming around the building. I saw it lift a forklift into the sky and it never came back down,"
"But the moisture level is right? That fixed the problem last time."
"It's right. Somehow it isn't working this time. Maybe the creatures from beyond learned from their last visit how to better get through and no longer need the exact combination of factors and components to act as a perfect key between planes of existence. I don't know. I was hoping we could figure it out. But there's an important difference. The tobacco itself opened the portal last time; now it seems that the tobacco is fine. It's only when it's smoked that the portal is opened."
"Well, I imagine people will be smoking this, so that's a problem."
We heard another gigantic crash, this time preceded by what sounded like a window being pulled from a wall and its glass shattering and scattering. We looked through the doorway into the warehouse. A 12-foot hole torn from the wall was letting in rain and wind, and dozens of enormous palettes of empty tobacco tins had been torn apart and were strewn across the warehouse floor by the thousands, all ruined. As I surveyed the carnage, my peripheral vision registered something immense outside passing by the rupture in the wall. I stared but saw nothing more. We went back to the blending room, where again the tobacco was arranged on the table to read, "Diabaulus thirsts."
"We gotta figure this out," I said. "I don't know what this thing thirsts for, but it can't be good for us. Obviously, the Turkish Latakia has changed the way these monsters enter our world. What's the rest of the story with this Latakia?"
Jeremy explained that the new Turkish company modernized the Latakia industry with aluminum flue-curing barns and computerized monitoring of moisture and temperature. "They looked to modern Virginia style flue-curing barns and to modern barbecue smokers for design cues that could be implemented and included. And what they came up with was a design that's much more airtight, with a chimney affixed with a damper system so that smoke would be held in the chamber for longer, ensuring there was enough smoke developing in the chamber that it reached a certain pressure, at which time the damper would allow that excess smoke to escape." They also implemented an offset firebox approach so that the tobacco was no longer at risk of direct contact with fire if there was a flare up. They provided a humidification system and a system for airflow.
... enormous palettes of empty tobacco tins had been torn apart and were strewn across the warehouse floor by the thousands
"They just basically re-envisioned and redesigned and greatly modernized what traditionally had been done in wooden barns, and took a process that consumed roughly 400 pounds of wood a day and turned it into a system where each barn consumes less than 50 pounds of wood a day. And rather than needing to be in continuous operation for between five and six months to get the level of smoke saturation required for Latakia, they're able to accomplish their fire curing in between two and three months, a much more sustainable operation. They actually partnered with the Turkish government to create a sustainability program around the harvesting of the wood necessary to produce Latakia, setting heights under which you're not allowed to cut the bush, allowing certified harvesters access to what had previously been protected lands, and turning those protected lands into regulated lands with certified harvesters. When wood is harvested from each plant, that plant is marked, and no further harvesting can take place in that area until two years have passed. So allowing the wood to regenerate and not uprooting any of the trees or bushes all adds an additional layer of sustainability to this so that Latakia doesn't drive the wood extinct, and ultimately make itself unable to be processed, which is what happened in every other place."
Without warning, a mammoth tentacle crashed through the roof three stories above and tore the metal ceiling away to expose most of the room we were in. Two tentacles, each as big around as a minivan, reached down from the heights, turning left and right as though sniffing the air, all of the hundreds of suckers on each lined with serrated, ravenous, snapping teeth. Diabaulus was searching for us. He was thirsty.
"Those processing changes sound great, Jeremy," I shouted, bolting for the corner to avoid a wide swipe of toothy tentacle. Jeremy dove behind a storage cabinet. "But how does that affect the flavor?"
"I find the Turkish Latakia bears a little more of the fruity characteristics that one might associate with the former Syrian leaf," shouted Jeremy, who was picking up an empty 55-gallon drum to defend himself from a tentacle that was getting close. "There are definitely some flavor similarities there. But it's right in between some of the characteristics that we expect from Syrian Latakia and what has come to be recognized as characteristic flavors of Cyprian Latakia. I think that the woody notes and fruit notes are a little more discernible in the Turkish product, whereas the more heavy smoke and leathery notes were calling cards of the Cyprian Latakia flavor profiles." He threw the drum and the tentacle caught it, crushing it as if it were styrofoam. "But overall, it isn't a dramatic difference. Most people won't notice it." He dove under a table as the tentacle lunged toward him. "The biggest difference is the fact that it will now be consistently produced and will be able to exist into the future."
... a mammoth tentacle crashed through the roof three stories above and tore the metal ceiling away
"That's reassuring," I said, warding off a tentacle with a broom handle. The toothy suckers got hold of it and wrestled it from my hands, chewing it up like a wood chipper and spitting the shavings into the air. "But we have to do something now to fix this. You're going to have to change the recipe."
"What? No way," shouted Jeremy, who was pushing a stainless steel blending table over to put between the tentacle and himself. "It's as close to perfection as I've come and I won't ruin it."
"If you don't do something," I said, dodging behind a tobacco-cutting machine, "we're going to die here and no one will ever taste that perfect tobacco."
Grumbling, Jeremy tore open a bag of Virginia tobacco and sprinkled a couple of strands into the tin of From Beyond. He shook it up to mix it and started loading his pipe.
I joined him and refilled my own pipe, and we both lit up. The tentacles seemed to smell the mixture and turned their attention more precisely toward us. They whipped back and forth as if in anticipation of a delicious meal as Jeremy and I fired up our pipes to produce as much smoke as we could.
The tentacles paused. They appeared to be confused, and then they disappeared. Only a gaping hole in the roof and a room full of overturned machines and tables hinted that they had been there.
Jeremy and I stood blinking at each other as rain fell on us. "That didn't take much," said Jeremy. "Just two strands of tobacco was enough to alter whatever mechanism allowed the tunnel between dimensions."
"Are you going to change the recipe?"
The tentacles seemed to smell the mixture and turned their attention more precisely toward us
"I hate to do that. The balance is impeccable."
"Do you really want to send Diabaulus to all of your customers? I bet that will hurt returning business."
"Okay, two strands of Virginia per tin."
I had a horrible thought. "What if, for example, I were to just randomly happen to smoke those two extra strands first. Would the rest of the tin then become a portal when smoked?"
Jeremy looked unhappy. "I don't think so. I guess we'll find out."