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?).

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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.

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The Gate to Nothing

This Week’s Prompt:36. Disintegration of all matter to electrons and finally empty space assured, just as devolution of energy to radiant heat is known. Case of acceleration—man passes into space.

The Resulting Story:It Fades,It All Fades

The prompt this week is one of a cataclysm made by human kind’s ascension to an unacceptable height, specifically beyond the bounds of the earth into the stars. There are echoes of similar stories in both Classical and Biblical stories of hubris that we will discuss before examining the possible story routes this might take, from stories of survival to stories of despair. And perhaps how each could take the form of horror.

Hubris is a tradition among the Greeks for years. It is perhaps best and most famously expressed in the story of Icarus, where in Daedulus is imprisoned by King Minos in a labyrinth of his own construction. Daedalus constructs two sets of wings using wax and feathers in order that he and his son might fly across the sea and escape. He warns Icarus not to draw too close to the sea, or the waves will engulf him, or too close to the sun, where the wax will melt. Filled with joy at his wings, however, Icarus flys toward the sun and then plummets to his death as his wings melt away.

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Bellérophon, one of the first heroes of Greek Myth, likewise meets his death in ascending. With the horse Pegasus, he attempted to ascend Olympus after slaying the Chimera. He attempts this twice over Pegasus’s protests. The third time, Pegasus bucks him per Zeus’s instructions, and Bellérophon…well, plummets to his death.

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These two stories of hubris, however, are personal tales. The prompt is regarding one of more cosmic significance. And for that, there is the time honored tradition of the deluge story. The deluge is a tradition across the world, and often has something to do with humanities…problems. Among the Greeks, the Deluge was over the decline of Bronze Age man. Among those of the Near East it was due to the noise caused by humans, disturbing the sleep of the gods. The Bible implies, by placement, that the flood was caused by perhaps the Nephilim or the raising of the Tower of Babel. The Maya story varies, but reasons include transgression or neglect of proper duties.

I could not locate the cause of the Hindu flood, which was also survived by a man with a boat. This begins the second theme of these myths: after the deluge, the survivors (if there are any. The Maya story has every member of that race of mankind destroyed) repopulate the earth and often play some role in defining the laws that are to come. This next race of human kind is almost always shorter lived and less grand then their ancestors as well. But they are more pious or perhaps more strongly instructed to avoid offending gods in that way.

The flood then is the means by which the divine punishes mankind for stepping past his bonds. But…well, the heat death of existence is a good deal more permanent then that. Heat death is the reduction of all movement, all existence to nothing. The prompts to something more like the end of Ragnarok or the floods of fire in Revelation, which have a sense of total annihilation. These though are eventually followed by rebirth. The death of the Sun in Egyptian and Aztec myth is more akin perhaps, but still not quite imminent enough.

No we must abandon folklore here, I fear. It is too cheerful and lacks the sort of dread and doom that this story seems to imply. The fear being invoked here is one of emptiness, of annihilation in every capacity. It’s an almost tragic doom decreed by fate. And for that, inspiration might come from the realm of Poetry.

Particularly, the poems around the end of World War 1 come to mine. T.S. Elliot’s Hollow Men at the end becomes that disturbed and doomed atmosphere. The Second Coming by Yeats is much similar, although one filled with dread of a coming future more than a wasteland. There is in both, however, a sense of collapse of the world and everything around it. From these we might create an account of the final days of the universe.

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The horror of annihilation must be balanced against the implicate tragedy. After all, while a slow death of existence is somewhat horrifying in the existential way, it is …well, rather dull. By definition, little happens as the universe winds down. It is a whimpering slow death, not the grand death of dramas. How to make that engaging then?

Well, partially this can be achieved by drawing an omniscient description of decay, but a purely descriptive story is rather boring as well. No, it occurs rather more interesting to describe how the last man becomes the last. The wandering of two souls, one on the verge of death, the other weighing whether to follow him into the void that expands forever outward and inward. Or perhaps the person struggles in vain to reverse the collapse? That might be the best yet.

Yes, an island floating in the void, as the ground around it breaks apart, as the plants begin to wither provides an excellent marker of time as things end. Who these people are is another matter entirely. I am not sure myself. I would be in favor of scholars and scientists, stereo typically those most capable of such feats as to hold back the flood gates of oblivion.

That is all I have for this prompt this time. But maybe, in this broken jaw bone of lost kingdoms, you have seen etched something grander. Something more beautiful. Or more dreadful. Similar topics have been discussed here and here.

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The Tears Begin To Show

This Weeks Prompt: 35. Special beings with special senses from remote universes. Advent of an external universe to view.

This Week’s Research: Djinn and Beyond The Grave

Kavets village had had a terrible winter. It was colder, Alyona muttered, then ever before. The snow was thicker, the trees seemed more dead. The world seemed to be caked in a thick malaise of some sort, giving everything a feeling of rigor mortis. Fire wood resisted the ax, water took longer to boil, the air was more a persistent and dreadful fog that you could almost swim through.

And then there were the men, if you could call them men.

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They were mostly old men, Dmitri and Kuzmas being the notable exception as young boys. They’d gotten together their hunting rifles, their old war rifles, their stolen rifles and said no more when the draftsmen came. They wouldn’t send more young men off to fight, more wheat to feed the pigs in Moscow, no more obedience to strict laws about where trains would be placed. Alyona had been with them for a time, but Kuzmas said a woman’s place was back on the farm, while the men went out to fight.

As Alyona walked the latest bread to the main of the village, hoping to find some more wood for the fire, she saw them coming back in their mock uniforms, cheering. A bunch of old men and boys with guns, convinced they’d stop all this feudal nonsense. Alyona noted they were back from the wood, coming east. They always marched around the village to the woods on the hill first, filling it with the latest catch before coming to the village.

To protect the sensibilities of the children. That didn’t stop the occasional gruesome souvenir or spectator from the village women. One, Nasha, had a necklace with a bloody hand sewn on, to keep the wicked hands of revolutionaries away from her at night. She hung it over her door.

“You see how he shook?” Dmitri said with his loud, drunken voice.

“Wind, good brother, wind.” One of the older men said. “Dead men don’t move that much.”

“Shame we couldn’t get more.” Kuzmas said, shaking his head. “They go fast don’t they.”

Alyona wondered how fast Kuzmas would go, should the fights draw closer. Every day, they came back sooner. And Alyona had noticed, as she had worked on sewing, that there seemed to be one or two less, never mentioned, when they came back from the woods.

“Oh, well, you can’t expect it to be perfect.” Kuzmas had said with a shrug. “People get lost or scared and run off. And once or twice, they get shot. But only once or twice. Don’t worry about it. Those damned fools are getting scared by the woods more and more, they’ll leave us well enough alone by winters end.”

As the party passed the street, talking still about the warning woods and boasting of how many conscripts they’d sent running, Alyona heard a whisper on the wind. It sound high pitched, almost like a cats. The sound rose briefly, pushing her along, before fading.

Alyona decided it was a headache, and went back to finding firewood in the village square.

***********************************************************************

Days past between that and the next fire fight. Kuzmas had trouble telling the difference in movements. Kuzmas kept to himself about what happened on the train tracks. There was no need to bother the women about the explosion. They’d tied a few grenades together and made something like a pipe bomb. Kuzmas didn’t tell the women that they had missed. That maybe they aimed to high, and hit someone or something in front of the tracks, and that while the other men appeared ignorant, he had seen blue blood flying with Dmitri’s.

“Where’s Dmitri?” Alyona asked as he walked back, rifle over his shoulder. Kuzmas smiled and lied that he had gone off alone to drink in the woods.

The woods was were they had their pacts and sermons. When they got their hands on officials from Moscow, they brought them to that old woods where fairy tale giants and ogres built castles to the sky. Naum, who had fought briefly in the wars of the Tsarists, and who had come back from the city with something witch-like in his eyes, often told them it was a good place for a burial.

“There are old spirits here, that tell me if we bury them here, offer their bodies here, they will be made pure and the spirits will fight with us.” Naum said, typically when explaining why the bodies of so many officials hung from the tries. Kuzmas didn’t care much for talk of spirits. He cared for cutting the men who stole his father and brother, no matter how much they screamed.

Kuzmas was fairly certain if their were spirits in the wood, however, they weren’t kindly ones.

“Where’s Ivan?” Alyona would ask. Kuzmas would lie. Say he got scared and ran off. There was no need to worry her about the occasionally skirmish that drew nearer and nearer. Something calmed his blood whenever he thought to bring it up.

Kuzmas didn’t care much for talk of spirits. But he knew they were there. One, a tall one with great owl eyes and long blue fingers and arms, followed him wherever he went. Kuzmas only saw it once or twice, and it left no tracks. It just stared with it’s great eyes, and opened it’s mouth to speak. But nothing ever came out.

A living man came into the village one day, dressed in a conscripts uniform. He’d come home, this old hand, this man of war who’d seen the front and the trenches. He’d come home, back to Alyona, who had smiled on him before he left and wept for him after. He’d come home, this Makariy, sober and with his rifle.

He smiled at Alyona, but the smile of a distant person. He didn’t say a word.

“He was looking for the village in the old woods.” Kazmus told her, himself smiling the first sincere grin he’d had in weeks. “He has news, back from the fronts out east.”

********************************************************************

Alyona again heard that tone, that ever rising whistling tone. That sharp, steady, slowly pericng tone. Had Kazmus the presence of mind to look, he would have seen his blue imp squatting on her shoulder, mouth agape to speak.

The villagers gathered around Makariy without much prompting. There were gifts offers, praises to God and saints, and other rejoices at the return of a prodigal son. Makariy, with shaking hands, refused all things. He only asked for a chair to stand and speak on.

“I…” he said, the next world strangled by invisible hands for a moment before beginning anew, “I have not come how merely for celebration.”

demon-maw

The villagers murmured a bit.

“I’ve come with a warning. When I fled my regiment, to come home and protect the land of my father, and my fathers father, and so on, I learned something terrible. The Red Army is closing in.”

Alyona frowned as the whistling began to drown out Makariy’s words. Now, though, it had slowly morphed into a song. A song who’s lyrics, in the wind, were muddled and unclear. But there was something earnest in them, like a long forgotten lullaby from child hood.

“-at least a thousand men, to root us out.” Makariy finished when Alyona could focus again. The crowd was aghast. The three score fighting men could hardly hope to hold out against so many. Even with the entire village, how could they hope to hold out and be victorious.

“Can one not stand against many?” Naum said, standing up, his long beard making him look like the icons of wild prophets. “Can we not, as the Maccabees of old, fight off these invading foes?”

“The Maccabees still had God.” Makariy said slowly. “Do we? I smelled sulfur all the way here, sometimes worse.”

“Of course we have God!” Naum said, his face frowning deeply at the notion otherwise. “Would he side with the Reds, priest murdering, orphan making, monk slaying, academics? No, the Lord has always been with us, men of farms and women of cloth!”

Kazmus stared as the imp gestured at Naum, frantic hands flailing like a terrified child. Kazmus followed the finger towards the old man’s sermon. He stretched, it seemed to Kazmus, large above the crowd, a singular tendril raising him into the air, twisting down into the earth as it went. There were gasps from the crowd.

“A saint, a miracle…” Alyona whispered.

“Who can doubt we have God on our side now?” one of the older men muttered.

Kazmus kept quiet, watching Makariy’s face contort. But he seemed to relent. They would fight, Makariy said, they would fight in the way that few beat many, quick and strong like lighting. There was no joy when Makariy spoke.

***********************************************************************

The next few days, Kazmus saw his little imp more and more.

“What is it, friend?” Kazmus said, leaning down as it gasped, trying to speak. It walked along the newly made barricade that was to be Kazmus’s standing spot, lined with a good view into the woods and hidden by branches. The imp pointed west, plaintively, time and again.

“Ah, don’t go on like that. West ain’t much better, little one. The Whites will get you out there. Or worse.”

The imp grew irritable and leapt toward Kuzmas, grabbing him with both hands, and turning him East. There, Kuzmas saw a terrible mass, a mountainous shape in the form of a human head rising out of the ground. A dark helm was on it’s head, and from its neck and hair spread a number of tendrils like trees. It’s mouth was open wide, in a perpetual roar. The landscape bent around it, black and bleak hills and stars shining a pale red. Hosts of insects flew out.

But this was not, to Kuzmas confusion, merely a change. Rather it was like the world as he saw it was superimposed onto this new one, as a thin photograph was held over one’s eyes. As he heard the distant gunfire, he saw the great insects with long legs and deadly stingers shaped like grotesque fish bones. And Kuzmas felt light headed, as he saw more of the great blue imps coming around him.

“Gunfire! They’ve come!” Naum shouted from the lines. Alyona stood in her house, armed with a knife. As she sat, so armed behind an overturned table, Alyona muttered prayers unto God for deliverance, uttered pleas for a place in heaven, and that her sins be forgiven.

“Grant us victory this day, All Mighty Lord, grant us-” she said over and over, until a growing tone rose in her ear.

“Oh, not now, not now. Not when they are just over the hill.”

The music played, rising and falling, played alluring and calming. The tone played sounds like angelic singing and bestial growling. The lyrics made no sense, formed by a choir invisible. But their meaning was clear. Run. Run West. Run to woods west.

“No, no, no. We stand and fight.”

A second choir joined the first now, urging more and more to run. But the tone was now the deep rumble of stones, the cracking of wood, the roar of river. A sweeping, a smashing, a consuming sound. A warning, a warning that a great predator, a great host was coming to carry her off parcel by parcel and wash out any trace of her.

Even if they didn’t kill her, even if her pulsing blood filled body was untouched, she would die.

Alyona refused still to move. She would stay and fight, and if that meant die, she would die. This was where she was meant to be.

The song changed again, a third sound. This one made no effort at message, only feeling. A rhythm of explosive blasts, the sounds of dead men crying out in misery, the weeping of children, the symphony of the dead. As it played, the house seemed to shake under the weight of the sounds. As it moved, for a moment, Alyona was able to see a spiraling staircase of stars rising out onto the sky, the movements of brilliant faces and shifting forms.

“Fine! Fine.” Alyona said, peaking over the table. Naum was staring walking about with his hunting rifle, looking about every which way. But if the music would not cease it’s torment until she left, then she’d leave. The back. The back door would be unguarded.

***********************************************************************Makariy stood calmly along the edge of the barracks. The air buzzed about him, vibrations tingling through his body. He had felt them on the Eastern Front. They had led him home, although he still waited for why.

He could smell, even from a distance, that moldy sulfur that seemed to settle around the Red Army. The Black Army had a corpse like touch to it as well, lacking the strange liveliness of the Reds. There was desperation to Black Army troops, a madness of some half-born half-dead creature. And when he squinted he thought he saw something behind them, a shadow larger then them cast behind them. But only occasionally.

Makariy watched dimly as he saw the troops moving like flood waters among the trees. A thousand was a vast number, one that without prior knowledge, could not be explained or expected. Naum might get the people to stand. To hold their ground. To die and be martyred. But Makariy was rooted by that smell and that vibration in the air, that feeling that suddenly something was going to rip and tear the very world around him apart. The fields of battle rooted him, the conviction of doomed men rooted him. He knew that without a miracle he was here to die with his fellows.

And for a moment, there was.

There was a great light, shining light striking out, slicing itself open like the world was a deck of playing cards and the wind was scattering them apart to show something else unraveling about him. The trees peeled back to show a brilliant dance of lights and a strange wind worked it’s way through from the other side, smelling of lilacs and the taste honey. The tear rotated about, drawing Makariy’s eyes with it as the first gunshot rang through the air, answered by a hundred of it’s compatriots and enraged shouting.

It lead back to the gruesome woods of hanging bodies and burial mounds, the place where the world seemed to have left the tangible and slipped into a dream like state. Where the swaying mutilated form of Red men seemed just ready to prophesy in this new world.

None noticed Makariy leave as the second stanza of shots started. One rifle was the same as every other, and Naum had whirled them into a frenzied swarm around him. No ant ever notices if one of it’s own slips away, even if they were merely washed away by the rolling rain.

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Kazmus followed the imp to hill. Alyona was pulled along by ancient song. And Makariy drawn by the shimmering promise of escape. Each found their way into the hanging woods, surrounded above by dead foes and below by buried beloved. At the meeting of the red and the green, where the corpses and worms crawled, they all saw it as they heard it as they smelled it as they tasted it as they felt it. It was a sensation of the entire body lifted upward and outward, like the loosening of a too tight belt allowing a belly to roll out.

And the world seemed to bend round them, and the sky bowed for them, and behind it they saw worlds undreamed of. Great hands pulled them forward, up and past what lay below, out of their bodies and into a heaven of planet sized palaces. When they looked down, the small Russian village was as small as a needle, the universe fading backwards and away. And they felt chains holding them down, chains of bone and flesh.

So they cut themselves free.

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So a mild confession: I ended up not using as much of the djinn research as I planned. Rather, for most of the ‘mysticism’ on display here, I made use of a 1960s Russian text called “Rose of the World”. This story is one I’m fairly certain I could expand on (it’s rushed near the midsection, Makariy doesn’t get much development, etc) but the amount of space and time worked against that. However, the base idea is one that if I get the chance I’d like to return too. If I had the foresight, this might have been as good as the AntiMuse story (my personal favorite from the Society).

Next week, we go to SPAAACE.

And therefore everything must die.

Come back next week to learn more!

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Everyone Wants To Be A Cat

This Week’s Prompt: 28. The Cats of Ulthar. The cat is the soul of antique Ægyptus and bearer of tales from forgotten cities of Meroë and Ophir. He is the kin of the jungle’s lords, and heir to the secrets of hoary and sinister Africa. The Sphinx is his cousin, and he speaks her language; but he is more ancient than the Sphinx, and remembers that which she hath forgotten.

The Resulting Story:The Great Mau and The Wolf

Well, my fellows, we knew something like this day would come. Is there any corner of the internet, vast bulk that it is, that is free of cats? I think not. They have become as constant as air is to the real world our corporeal forms inhabit. And Mr. Lovecraft was certainly a cat lover, a friend to all felines in writing and in life. We will proceed then with some trepidation.

To begin with, this story is not quite “properly” unfinished. The Cats of Ulthar is a completed work, and casts some doubts on the veracity of the list as “incomplete”. It is spared in that, according to the list, the prompt dates a year before the text itself was published. However, I’d be remiss not to link to it here.

Moving on some, we have a few proper nouns. Ophir and Meroe are connected only by ancient Hebrew lore, with Ophir as a rich port of gold belonging to Solomon. Meroe was the site of a victory by Moses under the Pharaoh, where the walls were guarded by serpents and other such sorcerers. Such places are certainly the sort of old lost nations that would have entranced Mr. Lovecraft, and I shall refrain from dragging out tired old discussions on the nature of lost nations. Particularly since both have been located in Africa.

And while the jungles of Africa are not the first I think of when I think of clawed jungle lords (those would be India and their might tigers and Rakshasa), Africa is recurrent in the European imagination of the early 1900’s as a jungle. The call to Egypt and the Sphinx cement that are cats, who are wise and ancient, to be African in extraction and possess deep and hidden knowledge of an almost sorcerous sort.

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To properly categorize such a creature, I turn a bit to cat’s themselves. It is not surprising that this most ancient cat is African, particularly Egpytian. The first domestic cat breed, the mau, is Egyptian and often it is remarked that Egyptians revered cats as sacred. Cats in many cultures can see the unseen, spirits and ghosts. For their supernatural perception and their tendency to exterminate mice and other pestilence bearers, cats have a reputation as unfortunate or exceptionally lucky creatures.

When it comes to specifics, however, the reputation does vary. Islam pays homage to the cat, as a favorite pet of Muhammed on some occasions, and the preferred pet by far. The Yule Cat, of Scandanavian sources, is not a pleasant creature that any holy man would love and in fact feeds on those who, during the new years, did not receive new clothes. Joining it from the North is the Cat Sith, a faerie that resembles a large black cat with a white spot on it’s chest. The Cat Sith sometimes played a benign role, as a king of cats or their nobles, but also sometimes stole the souls of the dead by waiting over their graves after death.

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Across the pond in the new world lurks the Wampus cat, a creature that supposedly has roots in Native American lore. A woman supposedly wore a cat skin to spy on a warrior meeting, and was discovered. The local shaman cursed the woman to the form of a cat, and she has lurked in Tennessee ever since.

In the realm of general fiction, there are two cats worth mentioning before going on to general possible plot and structure. That is, the cat that frightened me as a young boy, and the cat that may have frightened you unawares.

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The first is a familiar figure, from that wonderful mouse ironically: Shere Khan. Lest we forget, the prompt reminds us that cats are kin with jungle lords, and if there was ever a king of the jungle more dreadful and terrible then Shere Khan, I have not yet heard of him. Haughty and violent, self assured and strong, the great beast was terrible in its ways. Tigers are a regal sort already, but in the Khan there is something of his namesake perhaps.

The second is one you’ve heard of, but by different names. He was, when first scribed on the page, the Prince of Cats Tevildo. Later he gained other names and titles, Thu and Gorthaur. Finally, you have perhaps heard and seen him as the Dark Lord, the Nameless Enemy, the Deceiver, The Lord of the Rings, Sauron who was Marion. That archenemy, that lieutenant of Melkor, that dread beast was once a feline. A lord of lions, a tyrant of tigers, a consul of cougars, a…the alliteration alienates a bit doesn’t it?

That said, I think for this story we will leave the more malicious tribes and lines of felines off to the side. This story, I suspect, is not a horror story but a fairy story. A great mau, oldest of cats, a cat of Ulthar, has called some conclave near the base of the sphinx. But what danger gathers the leaders of the entire feline race, from every place and location?

What enemy do cat’s dread the most?

That is simple.

Dog.

teacup-shi-tzu

No, not this kind.

Cats and dogs squabble seemingly endlessly, and I am certain there is some fascinating work to be done, comparing stories of their battles. For our purposes, however, we are not simply dealing with a dog. Not a pug or a shi tzu or any other lap dog. No, our creature I think ought be a bit fiercer to menace the eldest of cats. A hound, a hound like Fenris and his brothers, who will eat the gods and the sun and moon.

wolf

This kind

Such dreadful hounds exist and persist in fantastic works. There is Dunsany’s hound of the Gods, Time. There is Mr. Lovecraft’s own time related beasts, the Hounds of Tindalos. The werewolf and its kin permeate to much to list. Needless to say, I think a canine antagonist to our feline protagonist would work well.

Further, I think I’ll set this one in a more modern location and time than some of the others have occupied. This is a bit tricky, but more than possible with such a fae story. After all, what dreadful things has the hound been up to as of late?

The problem of course, is that this story is unlikely to be a horror story. The result is likely to be more of a fantasy story than anything to horrific, except perhaps in the natural horror primal in great dogs and feline magic.

I will also endeavor to include the #horrorprompt of this week: Sanguine Eyes. Perhaps a bit literally.

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The Storm Comes. The Dragon Roars.

This weeks prompt reads: 26. Dream of ancient castle stairs—sleeping guards—narrow window—battle on plain between men of England and men of yellow tabards with red dragons. Leader of English challenges leader of foe to single combat. They fight. Foe unhelmeted, but there is no head revealed. Whole army of foe fades into mist, and watcher finds himself to be the English knight on the plain, mounted. Looks at castle, and sees a peculiar concentration of fantastic clouds over the highest battlements.

The Resulting Story:The Battle of Timalt Tower
Welcome back, brothers and sisters of our esteemed order! We apologize for the delay, but tests must be taken and some recovery was need after dwelling on the abyss for too long. So we begin this week looking at something a bit new. A dream again, of a great battle worthy of the father of fantasy, with dragons and swords and duels and inhuman powers! So, let us take it a part bit by bit and begin.

I will not begin by examining the nature of the color yellow. That is a doomed rabbit hole of hundreds of cultural contexts that might not lead anywhere. I will, however, begin by addressing Mr. Lovecraft’s most famous character in yellow: The King in Yellow. The King in Yellow and his city of Carcosa actually predates the works of Lovecraft.

Yellow Sign.png

The King in Yellow is in fact a play initial, about the arrival of the King in Yellow from his realm of Hali. The book it is found in deals greatly with many horrifying concepts, but chiefly the play is famed for driving those made with truth at the end. The King in Yellow comes as a revelation, a terrible truth that will expand his realm over into Carcosa. The book as a whole focuses on similar revelers, artists and decadents.

For these, the King in Yellow is also often associated with decay, decedance, and entropy. And the allies of the men in yellow, the great red dragons, are similair. While the term dragon has grown to apply to just about anything vaguely serpentine (as giant applies to all things big, and fairy to all things magical), there is something of a concrete definition to be found. In general, a dragon is a serpentine creature, possessing magical powers, and often legs.

This includes a variety of creatures of course. The dragons of the Journey to the West, who are lords of vast treasure and the undersea realms, fit the mold as easily as the great wyrm Fafnir, a transfigured dwarf of the Volsung saga. It also includes perhaps the Feathered Serpent (a proper deity, who we will discuss on article only to him and his kin), and my favorite dragons: the slavic Zmey, who have three heads and spit thunder and occasionally have children with mortals.

zmey

Best dragon.

But these dragons are known to Englishmen, and are brilliant red. The color is the key here. And as I would not try and unearth all the secrets of the color yellow, I will likewise not do so with red. But a red dragon? That symbol is known. The red dragon, as those who play various tabeltop games or read Biblical lore might know, is the most fearsome of all kinds. For that is the beast of revelation, the great dragon with seven heads and seven crowns upon it’s heads, and a blasphemy on each crown.

RedDragonRevelation.png

So we have an allegiance of somewhat diabolic forces, and an air of enchantment. For if this story is to have weight, I would certainly not permit a dream to be the focus of an entire plot. Thus we have the last section, the strange clouds floating over the tower. Strange clouds and storms are often means of transportation and conscious movements.

But storms also have a second role: They are marks of strange and dangerous creatures. The Umu dabrutu, the Zu, and Pazuzu of Sumerian mythology, for example, are terribly and chaotic storms bearing weapons into battle. The Maruts form another host, underneath the greater storm gods. The thunder birds are kinder creatures, but still, beholding one forces one to do all things backwards. The storm, as a symbol of power among many a high god, is also a dangerous and chaotic force at times. In more recent times, ariel spirits are often counted among the ranks of demons and horrors.

lighting-sprites

In other news, these were seen above hurricane Matthew. Delightful.

Thus we have something of a notion of what is at stake. There are great forces of desolation and diobaltry on the rise, threatening to overcome the English dead. There is some strange sorcery on the tower, kindly or no. Perhaps some wizard has switched places with the leader of the english, in order to save them. Perhaps it was some working of the enemy leader, who possesses some magic if he’s able to hold a form without a head or body.

This would be where I dwelled a great deal on the formation of our story…but it is again rather plainly laid out. Likewise, we have a protagonist and narrator already. So again, we will leave it be with these wondering on the things themselves.

What relation to these yellow tabard men have with the dragons? Are the dragons their beasts of battle, or are they the dragons servants? They are willing to engage in a duel on foot, and appear to be proficient at their swordsman ship. The dragon might bespeak a welsh character, or even a Norse, with the dragon as a flag or figurehead on a ship.

somersetflag

What is the history of this war? Is it recent? Is it habitual, for men in yellow to assail England from some country unseen? We are told this is a group of Englishmen, not a group of men from any particular reason. This places it probably after the Norman Conquest, or shortly before it. Interestingly, if we take the terms metaphorically (and thus in a way that I, dear brothers and sisters, find incredibly dreary), we find that a flag of such resembles the flag of Somerset. Of course, Somerset is distinctly and definitely English. Still, perhaps that will be useful for your reconstruction.

We will come again next week, then, with this English leader’s corpse. And all will be well.

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Black Sun, pt. 2

This week’s prompt: 25. Man visits museum of antiquities—asks that it accept a bas-relief he has just made—old and learned curator laughs and says he cannot accept anything so modern. Man says that ‘dreams are older than brooding Egypt or the contemplative Sphinx or garden-girdled Babylonia’ and that he had fashioned the sculpture in his dreams. Curator bids him shew his product, and when he does so curator shews horror. Asks who the man may be. He tells modern name. “No—before that” says curator. Man does not remember except in dreams. Then curator offers high price, but man fears he means to destroy sculpture. Asks fabulous price—curator will consult directors. Add good development and describe nature of bas-relief.

Read The Rest Here: The Black Sun, pt. 1,Black Sun Finale: The Account

The Research: Part 1,Part 2,Part 3

The board of directors and there various associates agreed to meet on Walpurgisnacht. Mr. Derelth’s complaint (or as he preferred it, concern) was not as it turned out unique. The various associates confirmed to him the date must be Walpurgisnacht, because no other time was amicable to all the directors and yes, sadly, all of them would be necessary. The meeting would be held in Germany, per the old meetings, and because the location was of easy access to the majority of the directors.

After all, many were buried in the Teutonic forests, and dragging them any great distance would be a hassle.

Derelth thus found himself in a small carriage (the directors found the booming of a combustion engine intolerable and bothersome), dressed as best he could manage and quite terrified. He had never attended such a meeting. The board had spoken to him after the Great War, briefly, to inform him of some of the relics he had and to ensure he knew what signs to beware. And then, it had been through an agent who seemed only dimly aware of his purpose.

The meeting place was a large house atop a hill. It was built, from Derelth’s best understanding, before. Before what was a hard fact to nail down. Certainly before the Great War. Likely, by all accounts, before the unfortunate business at the Bastille. Possibly before the British lost their colonies. And after that accounts drifted farther and farther, with on deluded attendee that traveled with Derelth asserted it was nothing less than older than the forest itself.

Derelth arrived at the cyclopean stone structure. Outside was a man dressed in the old manner of a manservant. He was a tall balding man, almost pale blue around his veins. He bowed greatly as Derelth stepped out.

“Mr. Jonas Derelth? Is that you?” The man said, standing up right with a tedious clik-clik-clik noise. Jonas Derelth nodded slowly, taken aback by someone knowing his first name. It was a secret he had made some effort to keep, avoiding even public records where he could.

After all, even he knew that in the secret places of the world, names are powerful things.

He was lead into a room lined with veiled portraits. The tall footman stood beside three hundred others, each leading a new guest gripping some package or another. They were shown seats, a long a great black wooden table. On the otherside of the room, an identical desk stood. And behind it, the directors.

ANnuaki1.png

A number of them were grim visages, men dressed in hides of beasts and adorned with antlers and skulls. They seemed for a moment to be mere smoke, shaped like men as they sat. Some were women wearing helms of battle, some were almost child like if only they were not so terrible to behold. And a host swirled behind these, phantoms with swords and spears and staves.

In the center of the directors, on the greatest seat, was a man eight feat tall. He had a long beard, kept in orderly curls. He’s skin was bronzed, and his suit was green with gold ornamentation. Attending him were forty nine other men, dressed in long robes and veiled. Their eyes flashed like lighting from behind the robes. When Derelth and the others got seated, he was the first to speak, with a voice that boomed and shook the seats.

“We are gathered here to see this proof, that something troubles our great woods and shakes the cedars again. Show us what has come, that we might render judgement upon you.”

The procession was quickened by fear. Derelth saw great statues of seashells brought forward, with scorpion men or many headed dragons. His own great disk stood beside numerous others, each featuring that strange black spiral sun. All looked erratic, irregular shapes, unfinished ideas that still seemed real. Like the worst of a Bosch painting, or the troublesome drawings of a half sane man.

Each told the selfsame story, of some strange and half awake artist bringing in dread drawings of cannibalistic cadavers or crawling criminal crocodiles or other worse creations. All they said from their dreams. And this troubled the directors greatly. Particularly the man in the middle who’s voice was akin to thunder and who’s glare was like lighting.

But it was another man, one of the ghastly host on the periphery, who first spoke.

Annuaki2.png

“This is…troubling. The border between dream and reality ought to be more sure than this. Why, I know this stone,” he said fluttering over to one of the dark stone sculptures, “and it is found in those deepest of dreams, that come perchance once a century. The dreams of deep things that know this sort of slippery stone. The dreams of deep and wide-eyed sharks and that kind. Dreams that no mortal man should see.”

“Something has dredged it all up, then,” another director with bark skin and branch fingers said. “Dragged up all this to the mortal mind. What of it? We saw the sun rise and set over these very woods in the minds of men. Veles comes, Veles goes. The winds rage for a time, but all is gone by the end except perhaps a new scar.”

“No, no,” the man in green said, standing again, “no, my good Leshy, these things do not rise. This sable sun, this pitch colored star is an omen of old. Before the forests where trees, back when they were the Great Mother’s hair and when the lakes still ran with her blood.”

“The earth turns all things back again,” the Leshy said, standing tall, taller even then the man in green. “What of it? Why call this conclave to speculate?”

“We are not speculating, you indignant sprite!” the man in green boomed. And the room shook. “No, no, mere speculation would be welcome. In the hazy realm of possibility and chance, things may change and perfect. But this? No, no, I know these signs of old. The Black Sun across the sea, that dread fertile mother is rising again to zenith. The father flame, from which all terrors spill, it rises once more from the embers.”

“Your talking nonsense. What is this of fathers and mothers? Dreams have been bent by other calamity.”

“Once,” the man in green said, suddenly calm, “there was a mother-father, who dearly loved her children. For he-she had a thousand fold a thousand children. Each a different face, a mind of its own, cleaving and tearing at the skies and seas. For you see, in those days, there was no earth. But in time, some of her children got the mind to slay others. There was much fighting. And the mother-father, torn at the devastation, slept, and was content to sleep until the blood stopped flowing.

“And so it was for many a millennia. Most of the children died. The others built halls out of their bones, made their skin into lands and their hair into trees. The children taught the animals, the plants, and eventually the men and women of the world their arts. How to fight as they did, how to write as they did, how to bend fire as they did. In time, the squabbling children came to accord. But there was still the matter of the mother-father. For should she stir, again she would have children in multitudes. And again they would tear at the world, until all was naught.

“So they taught the world how to lie to it’s mother-father. To make mock battle, to wage war in the ways he-she expected. And the children rested. But in time, they too died. Most anyway. Children rarely live long. Others left, to find new places and new homes. Such is life, that the men, women, plants, and animals forgot or fought those ways. The last few trickles of blood ran dry perhaps four centuries ago.

“Not that war has been forgotten, but war as the children fought it? No, it has been lost. And so he-she has begun to wake. First he-she comes in dreams, an echo of the world primeval. We must gird ourselves for battle, for soon he-she will come as the doom of thrones and crowns. And their will be new children born, and the world will break and bend if nothing is done.

“But what perplexes me,” the man in green said, as all stared stunned, “is why no more such shapes have come? What has silenced them, who perhaps lulled her back to sleep?”

For part 1.

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The Fall of Ziegera, pt 2

This Week’s Prompt:24. Dunsany—Go-By Street. Man stumbles on dream world—returns to earth—seeks to go back—succeeds, but finds dream world ancient and decayed as though by thousands of years.

This Week’s Research:The Fantastic Fae From Faraway!

A flood, my savior told me, had nearly washed me under and away. I thanked him bitterly, he knew not what he had done. The next night, for naught but a few hours had passed, I went in search of that emerald bridge. But it was gone. The planks of the old bridge were ripped asunder. There was nothing. I took some solace, reckoning that in my dreams I would witness great rivers and iron mountains.

I was wrong.

I did not dream. I slept and my body seemed to fade into nothing. My mind followed shortly, subdued by slumber. And then I simply was again. If this was always the case, perhaps you cannot grasp the little death that accompanied me.

At first panic seized me. Those priests, who my friends told me where but figments of some over active mind, had banished me back. Cast me down to world that more and more seemed to be the slag and ash of a great wonder. I raced wild for some time, I will not lie. I sought dens of those trying to escape. I went to places that dealt often in dreams.

Panic gave way, however, to his older brother Terror. Day by day the sky turned stained. Hour by hour I saw color slipping through my skin. The woods faded, the roads grew. The great factories continued to rise, and then became ruins in time. The castles and manors were lost, first to monks as stern as stones, then to nothing in particular. Perhaps just to rot.

In time, I grew to look at my sickness as a science. I had heard, from a friend in the Indes, that certain holy waters were said to grant visitations. That if one wanted to cross a fabled river, a glass of its water would do the trick, whisking one’s soul away to that forgotten place. Of course, few had heard of the great river the emerald bridge. A nameless river is, after all, hard to find.

It was a rainy day when at last I found a small store that prided itself in such things. Its own defense against the world I suppose. There were jars of preserved bones, each with the saints’ name slapped on with tape. True crosses lined its walls. Such places are dime a dozen, and grew like weeds in desperate times. But what this place had, it’s perhaps one claim to true fame, was the bottles along the wall. Each had a paper tag, this one from the Egyptian Nile, that one from Roman Tiber, here the great Jordan, there the eternal Ganges.

One of these, I reckoned, was that fateful river of the emerald bridge.

I waited until a night when all was quiet and I was alone. I wanted my passing to be swift and sweet, to avoid interference by misguided relatives. I mixed the ashes of a dove’s feather in the cask and drank a single cup. I heard the steel mug clatter on the floor as my hands began to numb. The numb spread over me in a matter of seconds.

When I opened my eyes, I saw that verdant bridge stretching before me. The ground clinked as I ran and danced down the way to that old familiar shore. My laughter rang unopposed through the sky, the stars shining with all the lights of heaven. I nearly collapsed and kissed the ground when at last I set foot on the firm familiar shore.

But not all was right. The woods I knew was no more, nothing but rent stones and thorny groves grew there.  I thought perhaps this was some new season I had missed. Some strange tide that brought oddities. I resolved to head northward, to follow the river to Allnar. After all, perhaps the cunning priests had moved the bridge.

Northward was not as I remembered. When I reached that place that I supposed the great city of shining crystal stood, I found instead a grim sludge. It was as if the earth was bleeding into the river and ocean, a bloody blaze bubbling out. Great shining pillars still stood, but bit by bit they were dragged down. One day I suppose they will sink.

Something had gone horribly amiss. Perhaps, I thought, perhaps I had the wrong cask. Perhaps some curse of the priests had sent me elsewhere. But even I knew this wasn’t right. The pillars bore the old sigils of the Allnar, and some I recalled from my escapades on the ballroom of crystal. I decided to head west, to see the mountains of iron and the priests therein.

There was a distant clicking behind me of hooves as I walked onto those plains, covered in white grass. You would think snow had fallen if it weren’t for the cracking and crinkling sound they made as you stepped. I turned behind myself to see if anyone was following, to confront whatever grim specter waited. But there was nothing to the horizon, except a storm cloud swirling out by the sea where the river came to an end.

Carrying on west, I found the lands of Ziegera no less terrible. The mountains still loomed tall and might, but there were no temples. Instead, great craters and caverns of fire lined there sides, hungry maws of Moloch roaring with smoke. But unlike Allnar, I did here see some living souls. From a ridge I watched them, broken and bent shapes that resembled men. They pushed mighty carts of gleaming gold and burnished bronze, up paths and dumped them into the maws.

As I watched, strange creatures came and went. They looked the part of mortal men, but stood twice as tall and with the heads of lions and tigers. Their mouths spewed fire, and in their hands were great serpentine whips. In iron chariots they rode, taking glee in assailing the poor workers.

I would have turned tail then and there. I heard the distant hoof beats growing quieter now, and if I was to slip by, now would be the time. But one of the older works spotted me. As I made to leave, I heard an aged voice call out.

“Jared?” he said. I stood stark still, a child caught by his parents. The voice, I recalled it dimly. But I could not, even in the land of dreams, place it. I turned as the old man limped away from his cart. Some of the other workers stared on in hushed silence.

“Jared!” he shouted, rushing towards me. His fingers were so thin, they were like claws on my back. I could feel each rib as he embraced me. “I had thought you only a dream from boyhood, a fiction I’d long forgotten! But at last, at last you’ve returned.”

I stared ahead blankly as he turned to the crowd and told of all the things I’d done when I was a younger man. How I had fought against the winds of the North. How I had quested to see that glimmering lion Sharur. How I had only left when the priests drove me out.

And the hoof beats faded at last. I let out a sigh for a moment, glad that at least I had not been caught unawares by whatever foe pursued me. The workers began to stumble back however. And a voice, a voice of pealing thunder, came from behind me.

“Go on, good sir, and finish your story. I have just arrived, but make no pleasantries for me and mine.”

I turned to face the voice, the elder hanging from me like a sash of flesh. And there he stood, atop a great steed. He was tall, taller than I could quite work my head around. I could feel his shadow, stretching from his feet and out over the land until it dimmed even the distant fires. His skin was dark like soot and slag, his breath a venomous green gas full of flies. And his steed, his steed was a wicked thing. Its head was a rabid dog, its tail a serpent, its feet like a lions.

Jared And The Hunt

And behind him were gathered a vast host, each a towering figure atop a monstrous steed, with many heads and mouths. Each bore sword or spear or hammer or whip, cages on their sides and backs. Many roared and bayed as the leader spoke.

The old man stayed silent, his eyes wide.

“No? Then let me intrude. For once I heard of your return, whispered on the winds of the desert, I had to come and pay respect Jared Jahpeth. For without your sturdy bridge of emerald, how could I cross the great river of all torments? Without your cardinal march, I would be bound between the shores. Yet you in your kindness let me in. And now the bridge, broken by the iron of Ziegera a thousand years past opens again! Come, ride with me to glorious conquest and ruination! A thousand year reign, a ten thousand year reign!”

And he reached down a palm the size of nations towards me, aiming to pick me up like a small insect lost in a house. As he lifted me up, I saw that he had a hundred heads stretched above the clouds. Each a new beast, a menagerie of horrors. Each grinned with a thousand teeth and mandibles and in the multitude of eyes I saw cruel delight. And terror held me in place for a time.

I saw stretching before, in those eyes, a mind capable of thousand cruelties upon the soul, a mouth that in ancient times bore plague and war with its breath and words. And when the iron chains of terror loosened on my legs and arms, I turned and leapt off the arm. Limbs outstretched, I flew as only a dreamer can. I dove and swerved over the mountain tall host. A hundred hissing beasts burst from their skin and soared after me, but the mind is faster than the host.

When the familiar green stripe of the bridge appeared, I descended down.  For a moment I let myself breathe, but recalling the hosts earlier trick, the silence was no comfort. I sprinted in a panic towards the bridge. My footsteps in panic trampled their former steps of joy.

At last I found myself in my study. At once I began to pen this note. Trust me well dear reader, for this is locked in my bottom cabinet. Forsake boyhood swiftly, or the realms of dream become a nightmare. Never seek the paths to Allnar, lest they follow you in your steps. The bandits lie in wait on the other side of the emerald bridge, and the once good paths are filled with vipers.

There is no refuge in dreams any longer.

I hope you enjoyed this tale of horror! The body was so big, I couldn’t cut it down to the normal size. Next time, we will have a lengthier research section, as we approach our fiftieth corpse un-interred. Oh, and if you missed part 1, it’s here.

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We Anti-Mused Now

Undead Author Society

This weeks prompt: 19. Revise 1907 tale—painting of ultimate horror.

The Resulting Story: The Damned Spot, Part 1 and Part 2

The nature of this prompt is problematic, as there is not single piece of writing Mr. Lovecraft published in 1907, nor a piece that has been found later (the closest being the Alchemist in 1908). There is a story much beloved by Mr. Lovecraft, The Willows, which matches the stated year. The problem is it lacks the one horror element that is concretely given (a painting of ultimate horror). For that we need to look elsewhere.

Now, paintings have a history in horror. In Mr. Lovecraft’s work they arrive in the form of Pickman’s Model, which we have mentioned before, and is notable in that it lacks anything overtly supernatural about it’s art work. The portrait of Joseph Curwen plays a similar non-mystical role in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, a horrifying revelation that is conveyed by merely mortal means. The most famous use of a painting in fiction, particularly the weird and disturbing fiction, is Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey.

All paintings act as revelers of some truth in their respective stories, and the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” exists for a reason. Any painting we include, then, ought to likewise reveal something, something preferably both universally true and true about our lead and victim. This is reinforced, of course, by the nature of artist, that we discussed in Idle Hands. To summarize here, the notion of pouring one’s soul and life into an artistic work, or any inhuman thing has some degree of horror present in it. But I believe there is another trope that can be tapped: The Muse.

The muse inspires, the muse arguably actually creates the art, by mortal hands. The Muse, as any artist may tell you, is often a fickle beast, giving inspiration one second and decline the next. Sometimes she robs one of sense, other times she lashes with her tongue and scorns the writer with her eyes. I say “her” for two reasons: the first is that the oringal nine Muses are, after all, goddesses (one of a number of triples in Greek mythology). The other is that majority of literature that talks about Muses talks about them as women from the perspective of men. A few exceptions exist (Shakespeare for example seems to have had a male muse at some point, judging by the sonnets), but it is a common trope.

Cthulhu.png

From the hands of Mr. Lovecraft himself.

How would we play with this trope then? Well, the power of both horror and humor, its close friend, lies in subversion. The Muse is a creature of dreams, an ultimately good and beautiful if fickle thing. But let us take a cue from the most famous work of Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu, and his own Pickman’s Model, and examine a more terrible muse. A nightmare to the Muses dream, a Fury to her Grace. This inversion, to be more perfect, must maintain the dichotomy of the muse. If the Muse is graceful and occasionally full of wrath, let our new creature be full of terror and wrath that is at the same time intoxicating and alluring. It should be terrible to behold, a nightmare that draws others into its world.

We should not forget an important part of the Muse myth: the Muse is invoked. The Muse, in the old traditions, is called upon. Is summoned, is asked for. The Anti-Muse, as our entity will be called for the time, should subvert this as well. Unbidden comes the Anti-Muse, unwanted and disturbing.

An arc, it seems, is already emerging for a story involving such a creature. First we must arrange the normal life of our painter. Next we introduce the Anti-Muse, who is frightful when first glimpsed and is sent away rather than invoked. Only such a demon does not yield, and begins pursuing the painter through other means. The Anti-Muse invades dreams, sends forth visions, and harasses the painter, to the distress of his colleges. For a time he holds out, but slowly and reluctantly gives way. The more the painter indulges in the Anti-Muse, however, the less painful it becomes, akin to many poor habits in the world. Eventually the painter achieves that sublime state of artists, becoming one with the Anti-Muse. Does the painter join the Anti-Muse for a hell ever after, or does the vampiric and monstrous nature kill the painter? I’m not yet sure. I believe our muse must maintain the almost puritanical desire to inspire rather than devour.

You, dear brothers and sisters, no doubt have noticed I have yet to gender our lead. And there is reason for that. For while a complete subversion of the myth would have a woman with a male muse, the sort of topics that bring to mind may be too big. It should not be hard to see more real life parallels with a mysterious man who is rejected, who stalks a woman like prey, and harasses her constantly. But this would persist even if the lead was male. I admit, for reasons beyond my knowledge, I am more comfortable writing the latter, but the horror in the former is more concrete. More…visceral.

And on that note, of all the stories I have attempted, this is perhaps the one where description is of the utmost importance. The ultimate horror of the Anti-Muse is the production of the painting, which must produce some sort of revelation. And this must either be expressed with words, my chosen medium, or by acquiring some artist to display a nightmarish landscape in the next few days. On the one hand, words are cheaper and I can rely on myself. On the other hand, a picture is worth a thousand words.

What would you do with this corpse, brothers and sisters? When writing about a visual medium, do you use words or commissions (or draw yourself)? What about auditory?

A brief note, good friends. I will be taking up Philausiphah’s challenge of including the word gentle in the story next week.

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