A Blind Idiot of A God

This Week’s Prompt:49. AZATHOTH—hideous name.

The Story: Father And Son

Azathoth is a creature of some surprising clear description in the works of the Lovecraftian Mythos. Azathoth, epithets ranging from the Demon Sultan to the Nuclear Chaos to the Blind Idiot God, is the close thing the mythos has to a creator deity. From Azathoth spews forth all things madly and randomly, creation occurring out of his court on a whim. Azathoth is credited as having long gone mad, being now only entertained by his court of outer gods and their music and piping. Azathoth’s origins are perhaps as manifold.

The name holds many hints. One theory is that Azathoth derives his name from Azazel. Azazel is a desert demon or fallen angel who accepts the scapegoat for the sins of Israel, an angel thus involved to a degree in the purging of sin. Azazel is also credited, however, in Enochian texts as the creator of the weapons of humanity (in traditional mythic fashion, he gives men weapons and women make up). He was also there the father of some of the Nephilim, man-eating gigantic heroes that were destroyed in the flood.

Another theory suggests, particularly from the name Demon Sultan, that Azathoth derives from the story of Vathek. Vathek is an old Gothic story, that is distinguished in the setting and cosmology from other horror tales of the genre. Vathek is set in the court of a Caliph, and the predominant religion in imagery is Islam instead of Christianity. We named ‘Valley of Vathek” after the main character, and a full version of it can be found here. The connection between Vathek and Azathoth the Demon Sultan seems based primarily on it’s ending of profound suffering in the courts of hell rather than the expected elation. The punishment of the damned is a sort of blinding truth and madness.

Azazthoth, broadly speaking in the Mythos itself, is to a degree the supreme creator deity, credited with giving rise distantly through more famous children such as Yog Sothoth and Nyrlanhotep. More pressingly, his authority is somewhat supreme. His name alone cows multitudes of monstrous creatures

Demiurge

Demiurge

Azathoth bears a resemblance to the characterizations of a few more creators worth mentioning. Chaos/Kaos as creator of course resembles Azathoth, as an apparently unintelligent creator force. Hudun resembles him as well, with no perceivable senses. Instead Hudun simply exists, and is in fact slain by receiving senses in certain Taoist texts. The Gnostic Demiurge, a creator of reality who is blind to it’s true nature and has woven a nightmare realm from his own selfishness, has a passing resemblance as well, if only as a hostile creative power that seeks to trap mankind.

Azazthoth has one significantly literary reference that must be recalled however.

Azathoth’s name and title however, belie more horrifying insinuation. His name recalls an alchemcial term: Azoth, the primary substance of Creation in many branches of Western Occultism and alchemy. Described sometimes as the source of Solar fire and Lunar water. Azoth then is similar to primary material or chaos. But unlike those, Azoth persists at the core of everything. The thing that gives things their existence.

Azoth

A depiction of Azoth

This presence is echoed by the title Nuclear Chaos. Now, in the post Hiroshima world, Nuclear has a very clear meaning as associated with radiation. And certainly, as horror iconography goes, radiation and nuclear weapons might be reflective of the destruction and perverting influence of the gods of Lovecraftian lore. But the Nucleus here meant something entirely different. It meant the core of something, it’s center and by extension it’s very being. The nuclear chaos alludes to Azathoth’s all pervasive nature that makes him more than a distant disorder. The madness that is Azathoth, the thing that is at the bottom and center of everything, giving existence to all things, is insane. Utterly idiotic and insane.

AtomicBomb

This is almost a horrible punchline to a nihilist joke, isn’t? It reads almost like something from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or Goats. It’s a silly supposition, comically from the right angle. But we must labor to make this farce something almost horrifying. Restore some majesty it has lost.

So how to make this horrifying? Well, we might first abandon the primacy of the creature. Being trapped or happened upon by an absolutely mad and all powerful entity is itself rather terrifying, if full of humorous potential. The strange and disturbing effects that something omnipotent and foolish could do are rife with potential.

Or we could focus on the change wrought on such a being. How did Azathoth come to be in this state? What was it like, when the essence of the cosmos changed from what it was before? That has potential, but might be too abstract, and frankly too small in effect.

We could return to the notion of Azathoth as an inspiring source. Something that hasn’t been touched on that Lovecraft was fond of was the creation of arts in the wake of terrible beings. We discussed this somewhat, back in our discussion of wicked muses. The Demon Sultan has played that role in the past, particularly regarding The Music of Erich Zann. This might put further emphasis on the name’s hideous in someway, regarding perhaps its latent power inscribed into a poem or even a play (something like the King in Yellow perhaps?).

Yellow Sign.png

Azathoth as an infectious thing in reality, spreading and warping like a maddening rot, might be an approach to consider somewhat seriously. The story would need to begin with establishing the nature of reality as it is, and then gradually introduce the corrupting changes. Ideally, only our character notices these changes. Perhaps they are only changes in his perception, perhaps they are real. The changes will be such that whatever goals the lead was pursuing become increasingly impossible. Slowly, the world seems to drift away from his understandings and notions. Until, at last, he is isolated to a degree in an alien landscape.

Hegel

Hegel. Looks Kinda Like A Deep One

In this manner we might examine Azathoth as an anti-Hegelian conception of the universe. Hegel’s theory of history purports that the world spirit, the embodiment of …well, existence grows closer and closer to self knowledge through the synthesis of thesis and anti-thesis. Azathoth, who sits not only at the core of real space but at the center of the Dreamlands, and thus of both the waking and sleeping world, is the opposite. If anything, Azathoth is losing awareness, deluded by music and his own madness.

Of course, incorporating these ideas into a single story is hard. I suggest then a short vignette. A brief story of a decay to madness that has, at least on paper, another plot entirely. A story of a date, or of a confrontation with a father, or a bad day at work. A generally normal outline, that slowly decays both in the mind of the main character and in the outline overall. A place of insecurity can be magnified by the inclusion of a literally changing world. Albeit, at least physically, probably for the worst.

If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.

By the Lake

This Week’s Prompt: 44. Castle by pool or river—reflection fixed thro’ centuries—castle destroyed, reflection lives to avenge destroyers weirdly.

The Research:Out Of the Lake

Robert, Seamus, and Logan observed the smoldering remains of castle Lochancath. From the tall tower, the only stone structure left. The men below were rifling through the crumbled buildings for anything that could be carried home. The proper treasury was already under guard, trusted men at arms of the three lords holding fast with spears to defend newly one gold.

“I wonder if it will all be as leaves.” Robert wondered at the ash whipping into the air. “That’s what they say about faerie gold, isn’t it? Ash and leaves when you leave with it.”

“I doubt the coffers of the lord were leaves. If they were, someone would have beaten us to killing all this lot years ago.” Logan said. “Ys title or no, you don’t pay men with leaves and not get a pummeling from’em. Antsy men aren’t trustworthy ones either.”

“Men of magic have their way of doing things. I’d not put it past them, to value leaves as gold. Given Their style, who can say? That knight, with the blade made of mirrors was rather dreadfully skilled, despite his size. You’d think a giant would be less swift.” Seamus said. “And who knows? I suspect their magic fades with them, but well, would you look at that.”

Seamus gestured over the opposite end of the tower, looking over the castle’s namesake lake. There, in the still waters, the castle and town were reflected as they had been summers ago. Not a single sign of seige or famine, every building intact and gleaming gloriously from the waves. Only a small ripple disrupted the image, something bobbing along the shore.

“Is that–” Robert said squinting. “By God, it is. Would you look at that, a little Moses.”

“Go, get the babe from the river reeds.” Seamus said, turning to one of the standing soliders, “Bring it here.”

“Bring it here? No, no kill it before we suffer whatever magics it has.” Logan said, turning ot Seamus. The solider waited in confusion.

“Kill it? Can you not see the value in a sorcerous squire?” Seamus replied.

“Yes, but can’t you see the danger? One boy was spared by Herod, one by pharaoh, one by every tyrant. And they will grow and avenge themselves on their parents.”

“Only because their parents were fools, and headed prophecy. If we are fated to die at the hands of one of Lochancath’s heirs, tell me, will killing this babe forestall our destiny?” Seamus said, shrugging. “There is much to gain, and little to lose. Stories are not history, and the scholar is quick to see the doom as foertold. How many did Herod massacre with no savior? How about Caesar?”

As soon as Seamus was done, his footman returned with the babe, wrapped in red cloth. It was pale green, and quiet despite staring out with ever curious eyes.

“Do not bring that thing up in your own house at least,” Logan said, shaking his head. “Send it somewhere where it will never learn what we’ve done nor have ambitions to thrones our sons have been promised.”

“Very well, he’ll live with a squire of mine. I know just the one.”

KnightCeremony.png

It would be almost two decades before the child was seen by Seamus or Logan. It was on Saint Jude’s day, and Logan had almost forgotten the boy in the years since. He was thus at also for words when the old squire, now a knight in his own right, presented the boy to the court as Anloch, here to become squire of one of Lord Seamus.

“My son Anloch has done well in my household, serving with distinction and grace. I humbly submit him to be a squire of your majesty,” the old knight said, gesturing at the youth beside him. He was still pale, almost luminescent. Long curling red hair hung from his head, and his hands and feet seemed made for a larger man. Logan, frowned, his mind worrying about some forgotten dream. Frankly, as the youth was presented, bowing humbly to the king, Logan suspected the weight of the feast landed heavily on him.

“Ah, we’ve heard a little of this lad,” Seamus said with a smile, “Except that he is fond of the hunt and does not lack skill at it.”

“Many a mangy hind have I hunted, four fierce boars I’ve speared as well.” Anloch replied, standing unblinking before Seamus. His voice reminded Seamus of a flute, high and airy. “And many more than these have I found with hand and knife.”

Seamus smiled and laughed.

“Boars, you say? For someone so slight, that is quite the feat. Well, you are welcome in my court then. Come, sit at my side.” Seamus said, gesturing beside him, and sighing low some. He seemed tired to Logan’s eyes. Perhaps he had been up late, examining plans and books. Or perhaps memories of the wars abroad, of battles near and far, had kept him up with their clamor. Logan shrugged it off.

The youth tilted his head as he sat beside the sons of his new lord. They engaged in some lengthy conversation, but neither Seamus nor Logan could hear it. As he spoke, he gestured with his hands, spinning invisible circles round and round in front of the boys eyes, as if Anloch was trying to weave a net out of the air.

“He’s come along well, hasn’t he?” Seamus said after to Logan. “And hunting so much at his age. He’ll be a grand fighter, even if he never does practice. Imagine him honed in iron.”

“He winces at the sight of a mirror,” Logan said, frowning. “Even his reflection in a plate of iron gives him pause. It worries me, that he’s grown so.”

“Are you talking of Anloch papa?” Seamus son, Scath, said. The boy was barely into his eleventh year, but already walked about with a knife at his side.

“Yes, was he fine entertainment?” Seamus said, kneeling down to his son’s level.

“Yeah! He’s done so much work out in the woods! I think Rachel has gotten smitten for him!” Scath said.

“Scandalous. Well, we’ll see how she feels when she’s of more marriagable age.”

“You’d consult your daughter?” Logan asked with a raised eyebrow.

“If I didn’t, tragedy would most certainly follow. You are slow on your hearing of old stories, friend. A bitter bride is poison in the house.” Seamus said, waving a corrective finger.

“Papa, where’s Anloch from?” Scath asked. Seamus turned cold for a moment, before smiling at his son.

“Well, Sir Bedeve is from the western part of the county, so that should–”

“But he doesn’t look like Sir Bedeve! He’s got no beard, and red hair, and his eyes aren’t as blood shot and he walks like a bird,” Scath asked, crossing his arms.

“Well, you have the curiosity of a crow and belly of a pig.” Seamus said, poking his nose and belly. “Anloch’s from Sir Bedeve’s house, and that’s all that matters.”

“But he talks funny–”

“That is all that matters, little one. For you and anyone else.” Seamus said, ending the discussion as much with his tone as with his words. Logan saw Rachel looking from behind a column, darting back at the end. He ought to have considered things to come.

BoarHunt.png

Years again passed, and Anloch remained something of a fixture at court. Logan watched his youth and found his own age weighing stronger and stronger. He seemed, when he looked in the mirror, to be a caricature of the elderly, each day growing feebler and feebler. The more time he had to ponder the change, the slower his mind’s gears seemed to turn.

Logan assumed the same was true of Seamus.He hadn’t seen Seamus in two years, with his boy Scath returning missives, not infrequently with that Anloch boy attending to him. Like a flame, he drew people round him wherever he went. Ladies and squires and even knights at courts, Logan had seen. Tripping over themselves to talk to the strange lad, who never seemed to blink properly. It bothered Logan to know end. Anlochs blinks, they rolled between his eyes instead of closing and opening at the same time.

He needed not to assume with Robert. The two rode and visited frequently. Each time Robert seemed to speak in more hushed tones and in more irregular patterns. Pauses would give way to hurried or slurred words, and he’ stare lazily into space for hours. Something had become of him, Logan knew it.

Logan thought over this as he rode under moonlight, a dog helping him on the trail. He knew the boy was related to this nonsense. His daughter had vanished into the night, along with half the guards and footmen. And as tired as he was with the world, he had reserves yet to go and find her.

Logan’s hounds followed her scent down the old roads at night, back to the ruins of Lochancath. He saw two more horses, Robert and Seamus’s riding to the same outcropping, and the same placid lake. There along the shore, in the rubble and remains, Logan saw a sight unimaginable. A host of men and women dressed in the finest clothes, men at amrs with shields painted white with a single red stripe, children in baptismal apparel. His daughter among them, and Seamus’s son as well, and at the head of the host stood Anloch.

How tall he was! He towered a head and shoulder above every knight and walked still as softly as a cat. He directed the host with a single finger down into the lake, and each walked into the reflection of the castle, still perfectly maintained in the rippling water. Anloch turned wordlessly to see the three lords who he had beggared of household and lives. On his brow was a third, crimson eye. He did not smile knowingly, he did not smirk with malice. There was a calm of completion that he spread, as he with a few steps, descended into the depths.


 

So, there are a few things I wouldn’t do if I were to rewrite this. Logan and Robert could be fused, and the center of action is clearly in the two middle acts, during Anloch’s ‘seduction’ of the various courtiers. As it is, this is a piece that suffers a lot, as I feared it would, from my attempts to say at 1500 words. I have some ideas for expanding it into a bigger story later, but those will have to be done outside the Society.

If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.

Childhood Dreams

This Week’s Prompt: 37. Peculiar odour of a book of childhood induces repetition of childhood fancy.

The Resulting Story: In The Closet
This week’s prompt is an interesting trip into the notions of childhood, fancy, and nostalgia. Sense information stimulating memory is a fact so certain it is almost common sense. That a certain sight or sound might bring recollections long forgotten to the fore, but smell strangely enough seems particularly adept. Among writers, it is probably the most neglected sense, far from the favorites of sight and sound. Personally, I blame language, which is read and heard more than it is inhaled through the nostrils.

The place then is what sort of memory is conjured by the childhood book. It is an odd memory, a fancy that is ‘repeated’ not recalled. This indicates a sort of delusion perhaps. Or maybe the fancy is being told to someone?

It’s also of acute intreast that it isn’t the contents of the book, but the smell of the book that recalls the fancy. Again, as a book lover will tell you, there is an old book smell. But what sort of fancy is so tied to the smell of a childhood favorite, rather than the words or pictures? It seems logical to suppose that the book itself must be key, or something in the book. A stain, a flower pressed between the pages, a leave that has in a way become one with the paper.

The childhood fancy is thus more likely an incident that touches on the book as a physical object rather than as a container of ideas and feelings.

ChildBook1.png

Next is the examining of fancy. What is a fancy? I will brush aside a perfect dictionary definition. A fancy seems, colloquially, to be a notion. Or rather, a brief thought about the world that is not necessarily true. A recurring bit of imaginative practice. I might say that a childhood fancy of mine was that a chicken was lurking in my closet at night, despite our house being miles away from such foul fowl. Another might be that a teacher is a vampire, that an old lady down the street is a witch, and other similar concerns. Concerns that, in retrospect, are probably a tad silly.

What I would consider childhood fancies, then, are sort of in that place we discussed briefly before of magical realism. They are extensions of the child’s mind and conclusions to create a dream like reality the child operates in. They aren’t questioned or even in the realm of questionable things, being unstated and assumed facts of the child’s existence.

One that, presumably, is inaccurate. An adult may find his childhood fancies therefore silly, or he might find himself longing for those more innocent years, where he could believe in such things. Certainly, there is a running theme of longing for the innocence of children by adults, wanting the comfort and presumed simplicity of yesteryear. It is tied deeply with other nostalgia, longing for what memory has obscured into simpler, kindlier days.

Without tipping my own hand on the matter too much, I think such presumptions were made to be overturned. Memory has a tendency to abandon half of what occurred, either the good or the ill. And given that we have been without, well, straight forward horror for a time, I believe the ill be what is missing.

In this case, perhaps the smell restores a fancy that was clear as a child, but the adult dismissed until recollecting it. Fairy stories have provided us endless terrible creatures that prey on children, from ogres to beasts of the woods. Perhaps he or she recalls a nasty encounter with one of these nightly terrors?

ChildBook2.png

But then, how did they survive?

Leaving that question be, a return home to confront a monster that one believed since childhood to be a mere fable seems a fairly good start for a story. Apart from the ultimate question we mentioned above, there are a few others that will need answering. Why is the person in question back in town? Presumably they left long enough not to encounter the book again. What do they remember the monster as? An imaginary friend? A nightmare? A more mundane horror?

Of course, there is also the question of ‘what the thing is?’ but that is a question to save for later in the cycle. I think, if we are to create a childhood nightmare, it should be something tailored. Folklore creatures are wonderful, but for now simply inventing a new beast might be better. I’ve yet to engage in that for sometime. I might fall back on folklore for inspiration, of course, but the field of frightening children is a…broad one indeed. If you have a favorite, post it below!

If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.

Serpents and Sickeness

This Week’s Prompt: 27. Life and Death. Death—its desolation and horror—bleak spaces—sea-bottom—dead cities. But Life—the greater horror! Vast unheard-of reptiles and leviathans—hideous beasts of prehistoric jungle—rank slimy vegetation—evil instincts of primal man—Life is more horrible than death.

The Resulting Story: The Snake and The Shade
There is a lot to cover in this prompt, my fellows in mortuary of writing. Mr. Lovecraft’s prompt is neatly divided and thus we can cover the extensive ground quickly, but you’ll forgive me if it takes some time to get to the plotting of it all. That must wait until the end.

Death, given that it is the lesser of our two topics, will get perhaps the least coverage. Desolation as a notion, and the concept of the wasteland and horror of emptiness, is a fairly familiar one to modern audiences. I would point to a number of examples, but the Nothing of the Never Ending Story does exceptionally well as desolation made manifest. The sea bottom dead city and the ruin call to mind, personally, a poem by the great Poe. The City In The Sea, which certainly inspired a certain piece of Mr. Lovecraft’s own writing, is certainly what is alluded to here. I recommend the poem highly, it is one of my personal favorites. It’s motifs, however, have little bearing on the second phase of conversation however. Life.

Life as a horror is…less common. First a brief review of the creatures presented to us: we have described here a number of familiar features. First there are the vast unheard of reptiles and leviathans. As we have already covered dragons (here) and leviathans (here), I will leave this be. Next, of course, is the ‘hideous beasts of prehistoric jungle’. I presume Mr. Lovecraft means dinosaurs, but you might have heard these creatures more resembled poultry than nightmares.

Still, the conjuring of the jungle is important. Jungles are nasty areas, impenetrable regions to most (as Mr. Lovecraft might say) civilized peoples. They do not abide well with agriculture, having fairly poor soils that require slash and burn, and worse still have all sorts of diseases and infections through out them. And of course people live there, and often are believed by their neighbors to have terrible powers.

Life’s danger, mostly then, is of unlimited growth. Growth unconstrained and uncontrolled. This as concept has a number of echoes, in science and science fiction. To begin with the more grim, such a terrible notion might be summarized as cancerous. Cancer is the out of control growth that Lovecraft fears, a never ending mutation and spread the consumes an otherwise healthy host. The parody of proper life (if we use such a phrase) unrestrained by death is a fatal one.

DeathlessOne.png

He Looks So Suave For An Eldritch Horror

Moving to the nearest fictional relatives, the idea of life without death as being terrifying is fairly old. The trapping of Death by Sisyphus results in that very sort of chaos. Further cases of immortality as a curse, such as the Sibyl, abound in classic literature. Certainly, this fear of boundary violation is deeply rooted in a fear of the dead themselves, but we covered that (here). In more modern fair, Marvel comics has the (in)famous Many Angled Ones, who descend from a universe without death. They are terrible creatures, unstoppable and mighty. To be without Death is to be truly terrible.

Gaia.png

Not Pictured: The HUNDREDS of Monsters

Life giving entities are also fearsome. We have discussed Tiamat, but perhaps now ought to mention Gaia. Gaia, while now thought of as the kinder being, did sire many races of monsters to usurp gods. She sent forth giants to topple Zeus, and from her come the Cyclopes and the Hundred Handed Ones. Before Gaia, there is the primeval Khaos who spews forth new wonders constantly. Never ending creation is chaos and anarchy, and thus terrible indeed.

The connection runs even in Lovecraft’s own works. Abhoth and Azathoth are life giving entities who create almost mindlessly. Life without purpose almost defines the shoggoths, creatures of absolute horror and dread. These entities are terrible, ancient, and eternally giving birth to horrors against man and culture.

And, as with Jungles, there are sometimes things living among them.

Naga.png

Naga Shrine

When we discuss ancient reptilian creatures in weird fiction, however, we set upon a second set of serpentine stories: the intelligent serpent. The Naga, for example, of India are a set of dieties that are powerful and deadly. They have their own cities beneath our own, conflict regularly with the Garuda bird, and offer there service to Shiva. They were, like many serpents, river creatures and new secrets of poison.

Kaa.png

Trust Me, Trust Me

A stranger American breed persists, of a hypnotic snake in Hoosier territory. There, it is said, snakes manipulate children and cows into giving them human food and drink in order to grow large and terrible. This mental manipulation is a common trait in media with snakes, of course. The serpent Kaa has hypnotic eyes, the Dragons of Middle Earth have alluring speech, and Jafar (another Disney character, unrelated to the noble vizier) uses a serpents staff to bend the sultan to his will.

GiantsSerpents.png

Because You Overthrow the Gods With Rocks. Of Course.

There are also the Gigantes, the giants born of Gaia we mentioned earlier. Sadly, little is known, except they had serpent legs. Even more obscure are those three primeval serpents (Ananke, Chronos, Zas) of Olympus, who built the world. But we must pass them by.

The Serpent People.png

They’ve Got Spirit, I’ll Give Them That

For the last batch of weird serpent creatures are the most modern: The serpent men. Found in Mr. Lovecraft’s works and Mr. Howard’s, the serpent men are a recurring force in pulp literature. Common traits include advanced technology, cultish organization, ancient civilization (at least prehuman), and a penchant for disguising themselves. Conspiratorial minds add (in their paranoia) other abilities to this already strong list: mind control, blood rights, and interbreeding. I will not grant the strange madmen more than the strange powers madness gives their delusions, but what writer can’t exploit such stuff. Serpent men(or lizard men, in some cases) have since spread to other works: tabletop games, the works of Doctor Who, the movie V, Star Trek, and others.

For the story, then, and the horror of Life over Death, the best means is perhaps contrast. Death may be given the beginning. Perhaps our protagonist wanders out of a desolate wasteland or a wretched heath. He sees, in the distance, the signs of life. This in turn gives him hope. But as he approaches and enters, he finds the hope false. The life dreadful and hostile. And what fate in such a place awaits him, who can say? After all, from life come man’s wicked instincts, my fellows.

If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.