Ia Ia: What A Terrible Phrase

This weeks 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.

Related Research: Part 1,Part 3

Related Stories:Part 1,Part 2,The Finale

We’ve discussed some of the mythic resonance of mighty Cthulhu last time. This time we will delve into some of the more …forgotten portions of The Call of Cthulhu. Some of the, frankly, uglier portions as well. For The Call of Cthulhu in many ways resembles that potent primeval ocean, containing within it an embryonic form of all sorts of ideas for the mythos. And sadly, one of those ideas has not aged well.

It is in this prompt as well. You might, fellow brothers and sisters of our esteemed society, have noticed something odd about the nations cited. Egypt and Babylon, not Greece or Rome (nations of great antiquity in other works), nor China or India (who’s age equals Egypt and Babylon’s). What is peculair about these states? Simply put, they are nations of sorcerers.

book-of-the-dead

The magic of Egypt was well documented for an Anglephile such as Lovecraft. Not only was their familiar references in the Exodus story, but the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which contains number of rituals for passing through the afterlife unscathed gained Egypt a reputation of sorcery for many years. The form of Nyrlanhotep as the “Black Pharaoh” show signs of this notion. Not that, perhaps, it was undeserving. Egyptians certainly practiced magic to a remarkable degree compared to others.

pyramids

Further Egypt had a reputation in older mysctisicm. In Kabbalah, Egypt is often metaphorically tied to the lower realms of existence, inhabited by strange demons and dark magics. It ought not be surprising, then, that Lovecraft ascribes that land a special place with regards to dreams and age, as dreams and magic are often joined.

But garden-girdled Babylonia? What has that have to do with sorcery? The same text damns them both. Firstly, it should be understood that Babylonia might refer to Babylon itself – which has a dark reputation in Bibical works and those works influenced by them, producing the centuries old Emir who fights Charlemagne in The Song of Roland, supposedly building the Tower of Babel, the Biblical Beasts of Revelation – or a general region of the Middle East, a stand in for the notions of Zoroaster, the Magi, and similar learned men.

babylon

Claiming the Middle East is mystical is not novel. Not even for Lovecraft (note, it is a mad Arab who unearths the Necronomicon, and it is Irem the City of Pillars he dies in, and Azazoth we will see is the Demon Sultan). This sort of Oriental-ism was in vogue at the time.

And even the notion of a nation of sorcerers is far from rare. Gulliver, in his travels, finds a nation of necromancers. The Persian epic the Shahnameh includes such a nation under the White Div and Afraisib. Many in Scandinavia attributed (according to James Frazer) the power to command the winds exclusively to the Fins. Giants the world over have hidden powers. The Greeks believed (to a point) that the priest of Zoraster could preform magic. The Rakshasa and Danavas of India were mortals with magical powers. Even elves and fae, it could be said, resemble a magical tribe of men more than a strict divinity.

the-white-div

But I mentioned ugliness before, didn’t I? And I’d rather not delve into this, but no discussion can hide from this forever. So, I will conjure a spirit rarely raised when observing the Call of Cthulhu. In the second portion of the story, we hear talk of an ancient conspiracy of sorcerers and madmen who eagerly await the return of Cthulhu. This becomes common in many such stories. The more troubling part is the language:


negro fetichism”; Esquimau diabolists and mongrel Louisianans”; and that these are all organized around “undying leaders of the cult in the mountains of China.”

Yes, it’s time to talk about the racism portion of Lovecraft, as well as the uncomfortable conspiracy his story engages in. It must be noted that in a short space of time, Lovecraft associates the Cthulhu cult not only with Africa, Native Americans, East Asians, and Arabs, but further that he distances it from European witch cults. The intent, apparently, being to show how alien and strange this new(old) cult is.

Which is functional, and other authors have corrected the imbalance, but it certainly comes off as Mr. Lovecrafts own paranoia that every non-Caucasian ‘race’ is scheming against civilization. I’m not sure if that was the intent, but in this day and age sadly that is the take away. I will allow the fine Mr. P.H. Lovecraft to talk a bit about this detail of Mr. H.P. Lovecrafts life:

Many movements have sprung up regarding conspiracys and the power they have. And while some are amusing (the Illuminati conspiracy, which was started in the middle ages, existed to promote democracy, womens rights, and literacy; the fears of Satanism are also unfounded), others have disturbing tinges. The fears of a New World Order and the Elders of Zion conspiracy reek of anti-semitism. The Freemasonry conspiracy, while slightly more grounded, seems to have started from a fear of deism as opposed to more tradtional religions. Many truther attempts likewise are more concerning for implications than nothing else (including, for example, the Kennewick man).

That is not to say such things have no place in horror. Mysterious lodges and secret societies are excellent venues for horror. And the notion of magical conspirators is hardly modern. The old Gnostic tradition with its mighty Demiurge and Archons who manipulate the world certainly subscribed to something akin to a conspiracy theory. More recently, the Rose of the World presents a similar conspiracy (a Satanic one at that) to maintaining communist power. It is sometimes, however, necessary to be aware of where things come from. 

With that delightful thought I will have to leave you, brothers and sisters. Next week, part two of Mr. Derelth’s tale. I do wonder what comes next from his old bones.

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Insomnia and the Infernal

This Weeks Prompt: 23. The man who would not sleep—dares not sleep—takes drugs to keep himself awake. Finally falls asleep—and something happens. Motto from Baudelaire p. 214.

This Week’s Story:Mr. Jared Jahpeth

This prompt is a strange one. Like last time, it refers to a text I do not have (that is the poetry of Baudelaire), and while certainly the poems are preserved (we will get to them shortly), there is the problem of determining a motto from the manifest works.  Before that, we have insomnia for some dread reason.

Insomnia, especially self imposed insomnia, has echoes in other existing stories. In fact, I do believe this prompt to have been fulfilled in the story Hypnos written some five years after this prompt. That in mind, I will endeavor any way to see where this seed goes. My own mind is not, after all, that of Mr. Lovecraft.

Devil1

The best beginnings of the plot are with Baudelaire. Baudelaire was a translator of Poe and a poet of no little skill in his own write. My research to narrow his wide catalog relied on letters between Mr. Lovecraft and a friend, bringing me to three of said friends translations: L’Ennemi,Au Lecteur,Remords posthume. Now, the prevailing theme of this poetry is a familiar Lovecraftian one. Decay, time, and the eventual destruction and ruin of things.

But where Baudelaire stands a part is in two precise areas. Unlike Mr. Lovecraft, Baudelaire presents the most important aspect of decay as it’s slowness. Gradual, barely noticeable changes culminate in the dead and desecrated world we now have. This is not unheard of in Lovecraft, but the subtle movements are hard to do in horror literature so focused on the current activities of the character.

The other area is more rich with lore and story. That is, there is in Baudelaire, an active agent of decay. An Enemy, a Devil. Mr. Lovecraft’s personal beliefs on such matters are complex, as while an avowed atheist, the role of devil is occasionally played by the ever valuable Nyrlanhotep. Yet, I think this raised corpse of Howard does it well.

I am intrigued then, in the notion of making a religious horror story from this seed. The motto in this case would be the simple one “The Devil’s in heaven, all is wrong with the world.” But what is the nature of the Enemy?

Devil2

If there is any character who looms as large as God and Christ do over Western literature, it is the Devil. Even the irreligious can recognize his features at times. But the features are vary…variable. That is a topic of such vast consultation that I will only do in broad strokes, and only in western lore, what the nature of Evil may be. Needless to say, from a popular culture perspective, there are two major works that provide the template of the modern devil. Folkloric works vary greatly, however, and from region to region.

DevilCover

Look At the ANGST! Look At It!

Modern conception, however, draws from elsewhere. Namely, from the works of Milton and Goethe. Here the Devil or at the least, his representative, are portrayed as wily rebels, tempters supreme, and as possessing good, or at least artistic, taste. Here we have the origin of the soul bargain and contract in blood from Faust, and the notion of a sympathetic devil from readings of Milton that were common in the Romantic period (Though, not universally agreed on). These traits, rebellion and temptation, were always to a degree present but both Faust and Paradise lost thrust them to the fore and burned them forever into certain forms.

Neither of which are conducive to a horror story. The deal with the devil perhaps is, especially unwittingly, but that hits many beats of earlier tales on this site, including the Damned Spot. But the devil plays into our themes of Baudelaire especially well. Yes, even better as a simple devil.

Devil3

Tales of tricking the devil abound in Ireland and Irish influenced lands (such as the south), but the tale of Ysyr also invokes the devil as a trickster who leads to the destruction of a golden land. There in, he deceives a wicked noblewoman and her ogre helpers and leads to their sinking. Some say the key to the kingdom still sits in Ireland, under an unmarked grave.

Stories from Cambridgeshire tell of a man who met the devil on the road, and found his body turned into a burnt skeleton the next day. His hounds, large black canines the size of horses, occasionally hunt across the sky. In other regions, he arises as the source of local ills and dark powers. Salem I will leave untouched, until again witchcraft crosses our table. Needless to say, the great malicious spirit than maintains in folklore only that.

Folklore provides that ghost story aspect, a simpler character. And while in a longer tale, the monster may have many facets, many meanings, works as short as ours need something simpler. Something a bit baser. So folklore, in structure, might serve us better than lengthy novels and epic poems.

Devil4

I’m not saying basically this. But basically this.

As I said, neither popular culture icon works well at the start. The tempter is a tad horrifying, but overdone. The rebel is an excellent hero for a war story, a fantasy epic even, but would be difficult in a horror tale (unless as in Hypnos, the rebel attempts to recruit the hero). But! The Rebel victorious? That has potential. Particularly if he is as petty as the devil of some folktales, an impure creature that delights in small suffering as well as lofty goals.

Keep in mind the nature of dreams. They are often where divine visions or ghostly apparitions emerge. The devil, as arch-divine rebel and bringer of discord to the realm cosmic, then works well in the disruption of dreams and the cause of nightmares. The devil is in Heaven after all, and thus all is wrong in the world.

I will not dwell long on the horrors a successful revolutionary can inflict on the world. History provides enough of that, and I wish to avoid politics. Oh, the fates of the Muses who once inspired. Oh the Graces who brought virtue. The heavens under hellish reign are never better off. The rebellious prince of sin, if victorious, would be a terror indeed. If such visions pursue a man, no wonder he doesn’t want to sleep.

But! But our story ends when our troubled sleeper rests. This is difficult, since a terrible fate that sudden is hard to betray from the first person. Perhaps, we might structure it to resemble an investigation. After all, the rapid and large number of drugs needed to stay awake for a long period of time might attract attention. This would push much of the above research into subtext, as our investigator (true to form) is unlikely to know the cause of the erratic behavior until the end.

Still, it keeps suspense longer. Odd nightly behaviors can be ascribed to numerous things, a number of strange phenomena. And investigation is one of those knowledge seeking professions that, most often, lends itself to horror.

We likely then will have a number of characters as the investigation proceeds, though perhaps backwards from what the prompt has proposed. We perhaps start from when he wakes and piece together what went wrong.

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Look Upon My Wonders, And Despair!

Prompt: 21. A very ancient colossus in a very ancient desert. Face gone—no man hath seen it.

Resulting Story: The Shedu

This prompt brings to mind a number of the things. Firstly, and most obviously, the poem Ozymandias :

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.” (Shelley)

OR

In Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:—
“I am great OZYMANDIAS,” saith the stone,
“The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
“The wonders of my hand.”— The City’s gone,—
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.

We wonder,—and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place (Smith)

Luxor Temple.png

The poem of course relates to the great Pharaoh Rameses II, and supposedly the Pharaoh of Moses time. Egypt held British imagination, and by extension Mr. Lovecrafts, for a multitude of reasons. Firstly was its staggering age. Egyptian civilization ranges from 5000 B.C.E. to 0 C.E., longer than any civilization elsewhere in the world. The preservation of that nation, the elaborate burials and the sand covered monuments, also elated the modern world which played with the notion of eternity. It was a bit of otherness that was nearby and attached to antiquity.

Faceless Sphinx.png

And Egypt is famed for a number of monuments, perhaps most famously the Pyramids and the Sphinx. The Sphinx surely is more in line with our prompt (since the pyramids bare no face), and is common in Mr. Lovecraft’s conception of Nyrlanhotep. The Crawling Chaos’s most famous name is ascribed to ancient Egypt, as a lost Pharaoh lost Pharaoh of a bygone age. His faceless form (here conceived by cyanyurikago) may well have been created in response to this prompt.

Sphinx

But the sphinx offers some interesting potential. The prompt elicits some prehuman creator, and if we are to construct a monument that has been created by something inhuman, an inhuman body might help. There is the precedent of similar forms across the ancient world (as the ancient aliens people have noticed, albeit incorrectly), particulary with Greek sphinxs, the Lamassu of Mesoptamia, and a number of creatures in Southeast Asia.

We then have a few notions tied up in the story. Firstly, we have the idea that some knowledge has been forever lost to humanity (the face, at the least), and that some intelligence has robed mankind of its place as the first to build (an existential dread, as others have come and gone before), something of the nature of time (the desert evokes worn down nations, and with certain organizations attacking the remains of desert dwelling civilizations lately, a topical fear), and something of the nature of life. After all, if the makers cast it in their image, they certainly only barely resemble human beings.

To its lost nature, we certainly have a precedent in Lovecraft and elsewhere, with a number of lost cities to pick from. To leave Egypt, we have the city of pillars,Irem. Located in the Arabian desert, Irem was supposedly the home of occultists and things worthy of God’s wrath. Mr. Lovecraft expanded it as the home of disturbing and alien creatures, particularly reptilian things. We might also look to the ancient Zoroastrian and Persian texts that talk of Hankana, a fortress for Afraisiab.

IndianaJones

Someone like this, but more professional.

From all this, however, we can gather a notion of who serves the best protagonist. Whoever suffers the most from the horror, feels its stings the most accutely, should be the victim. Best, then, some archaeologist or antiquarians, who worries about what has been lost. Given the Middle Eastern nature of most of these, our good friend the British Empire might provide a good servant. There is some trouble, constantly poking at the Empire for protagonists, however. Some other arrogant power would have to do. A cold war expedition, perhaps from the United States in the region?

The problem there is that the Union has never felt eternal. Always it seems to be at risk, and its reign as superpower has been punctuated by existential dangers (from within and without). Perhaps the other direction then? Something more ancient? We could return to the era of the Ottoman Empire,who held sway over both Egypt and for a time Arabia. Certainly we could lead into our story with a discovery by our lost investigator. An Ottoman occult investigator certainly is something I haven’t heard of. Or an occult institution.

What is added, however, to the horror of each empires? The British discover of course, that their place is not special. That civilization did not spring from the Isles or Rome, but somewhere they would right off as backward and worthless. The Union finds that as well as increased dread that something that cannot be known exists in the world. The United State’s age of supremacy was built upon an understanding of the world that was near complete (or felt so). What wasn’t known could be discovered, nothing was beyond the pale of human understanding.

The Ottoman Empire of course suffers a bit like the British (though depending on the placement of the desert, not nearly as much) and its own eternity is a bit more imperiled. Depending on the time of it’s discovery, the dual element of declining empire and the lack of men as mighty as the prophets may play into the decay as well. The British and the United States lack a belief or idea of decline, for the most part. The old man of Europe died a much more awful death than England did, a decay more than a sudden dispersal. Still, I’m torn.

What do you say, dear brothers and sisters? From which land shall we sew our lost story? For some added difficulty, I may try and complete the latest horror prompt from these fine folks, and draw from the word “seed pod”.

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The Prophecy Of Tammuz

This Week’s Prompt:20. Man journeys into the past—or imaginative realm—leaving bodily shell behind.

The Research:Out of Body, Out of Time

Splendid was the city of Uri-Gaol, high in its prime. Its walls were strong, laid down such that even the seven sages could find no fault with it. Blessed where its people, greatest among the nations of the world, jewel of great Atlantis. Its temples were adorned by conquered idols, its men well versed in the tools of war, its sages knew the movement of the stars.

Yet the crown did not rest on an easy head. Long the Rah paced up and down his halls, wondering at the passing of shadows or the most minor of mumblings. He was tall even for that age, towering over thirty feet in height, his hall shaking every so slightly with every step. But still he stared out into the sea at night.

“Can it be this is all? What more do we have to strive for? And if this is zenith, high noon for the world, when will the descent come?” He would ask to the empty and cold stars. No reply came, not from them nor from the ones priests said set them in motion.

After many nights of worry, he sent his finest ship and his warriors with fiery arrows out once more, the first time in a century. Many recalled fathers who served in the wars before, when Hyperborea stood apart or when far flung colonies sought to rebel. But no, the Rah sent them forth with a simpler aim.

“A seer, a seer like the oracles of old. Find me the greatest who might peirce that final veil of time, and tell me when Uri Gaol may fall, and how such fate might change!” he proclaimed form his enameled throne.

So they set out, over steppe and sea, surveying the wild peoples and settled lands. The found men who saw the future in the order of the stars, women who understood the whispering of leaves and markings on trees, priests who produced portents in pigs stomachs, and prophets who saw it in the movement of birds. The captain of the ship was displeased with these, and asked what sage they all held in common.

The mob gathered in the great ship was silent for a time, then abuzz with murmuring. Great scrolls were drafted by each esteemed visionary, listing backward all the esteemed sages they knew, and how they had died or where they had gone to last. The compilation stretched from room to room, until at last, a common name was found. To the distress and grumbling of all.

“What has taken you now? Or did you not predict this? The captain said with a laugh as the quiet discussion dulled to angered faces.

“It is a man we have all heard of.” one of the astrologers said slowly.

“A man who knows many things, or claims to, about lands to be and kingdoms that will come.” One of the tea women said, biting her lip.

“But his methods, they are unteachable! His precepts go without reasons!” the first continued.

“One day he tells this future, the next day another, as if such things vary based on the wind and weather! Such a man is hardly wise.”

There were murmurs of agreement amongst the gathered diviners. Yes, they had heard of this man, this Tammuz, who claimed outrageous things as truth and obvious things as lies. He once proclaimed that there would be a time without kings from atop his great tower. That one day, Not even the great princes of the earth would still stand before might Time, hound of the Gods. That the wonders of the sevenfold light might be lost forever, that cities of black stone and vile intent would stand on the dust of mortal men.

None of the prophecy was pleasing to the captain of the guard. But it did not matter, this Tammuz was alone in any certainty. He brokered no debate and predicted no thing small enough that others had pressed their sight as far. And if he was charlatan or mad man, he would better entertain the Rah. Thus over the complaints of the crowd, he was sent for.

The men found Tammuz atop his tower of limestone, alone on an island in the great sea. He stared ahead, rising only one they landed. He was an emaciated man, his face long and his mouth too wide. His eyes were shrunken but clearly open, small dots of vision on his tanned face. All along his body were drawings, crude and childish, of people and places. They rambled into each other, some sprawling cites suddenly the roof of a house, who’s windows were man’s face and glimpses into poorly pictured woods.

“Who has come to hear my announcements? Men of battle? Your days are numbered always and forever. Abandon the stupid pieces of metal and become goodly statesman. Then you may at least have pride in your waste.” He said, jumping to his feet and grabbing one of the men by the shoulder.

The warriors with their shining metal armaments looked at each other in confusion, but eventually made it understood that the Rah of Uri-Gaol wished to see him and hear his sage words. Tammuz stared at them for a time, as if amused by some joke they didn’t hear, before suddenly snapping awake and laughing uproariously.

“Then why does he call for me! I am no sage, no. But I will come, and see Uri Gaol, like one visit’s his gardener before he dies.”

And so in darkness, the ship returned to the pacing Rah, who was certain something had gone amiss. Envoys abroad assured him until pressed that there were no enemies, and he was not yet certain if the paltry chieftains and princelings were really disgrunteld and jealous or if his ministers invented them to placate him and hide the real danger. But the arrival of his prized ship brought the sun kissed lord some comfort, or the closest thing a man such as he can bear, a feeling that certainty is coming. Either doom or delight, the die forever cast.

Needless to say he was shocked to behold Tammuz.

“And what is this?” he declared rising from his throne in uproar. The captain of the gurad step forward to speak.

“This is the single man all diviners gave recognition, if not respect. He alone gazes far into the abyss where only the gods might know, or at least he alone claims to.”

“I can speak for myself and my own counsel,” Tammuz said, standing tall and smiling wide, “please good Rah, I am no mute mumbler what must meander through the grains of sand and glass to find what is and is not true. I set my mind and body to the heavens, and toss my self hence, to see the worlds to come. Like a man on a ship monitoring the waves, I know what will be and how each shift moves them. Let me do my work and all shall be well.”

The Rah relented, and Tammuz sat then there on the stone floor, fixing his gaze forward into the throne of the Rah and between the seven lights. Tammuz sat and watched.

Days passed, and the Tammuz remained as still as stone. The courtiers of the Rah walked around the strange man, whom spiders slowly built webs upon. Messengers came forth with tidings, averting the line of his gaze. Eventually it was addressed.

Out Of Body Out Of Mind

“Majestic Rah, who the sun has set upon the earth,” the man from the west had said, robed in brilliant green and gold cloth, “why does this man stand here, unopposed?”

“Worry not, aspirant, he has set his mind to future things, that I may know we reign forever,” the Rah said with a wave of his hand.

“If you wish to be free of doubt, Rah of the Heavenly Mandate, I may supply answer. I know men who can grant you warriors who cannot be defeated, I myself have forged swords that never fail and who’s wound never heal, and other wonders that drive away the darkness of war.”

“What of plague?” the Rah asked, stroking his beard. “Have you wonders for these?”

“Not I, it is not my trade. But ask of the lands in the East, closer to mighty Meru where the Gods once lived and walked. They may have something.”

“Bring your works to my palace, and I shall send to the east.”

Unbeknownst to the Rah, their words disturbed Tammuz sleep, and for a moment he was nearly started awake and his mind nearly returned to the current day, but it was not to be. So the ships went out east, to find a man who could make similar wonders. One who might make elixirs granting wise men eternal life or who knew how to restore the dead with but a draught. And there they found a woman, dressed in blue and silver, who before the Rah said such things.

“Of plauge and age, worry not. I have beheld the most eternal things, the unchanging desert and the unbroken mountain. From them many things can be learned, that Uri-Gaol will stand forever more.”

And she brought peaches stole from the gardens of lost gods, and books written in blue that told the secrets of the heavens. And the man in green and gold returned, with blades of fire that fought by themselves, and a host of men with heads of lions and bears and tigers. So fierce where they that none, the man promised, would stand against the king, not even the gods who’s city was overhead.

And the clamour of alchemists running at the bidding of the woman, and the roars of the beastly soliders, and the clang of the mystic swords, and the out cry of the priests newly revitalized made the silent hall ring with noise. And in it’s midst sat Tammuz, buried in cobweb and dust, such that he resembled a hill of decay. But still he would not wake.

As the ships rose once more to war, that Uri Gaol not fear its neighbors by standing alone on the world, Tammuz did not wake. When the Rah’s court took bestial paramours, Tammuz did not rise. When the sorcererers in green and blue wove new creatures to fight for the king, scaley goats to provide for them, and great serpents to pull his barge through the heavens, Tammuz did not rise.

It was not until the Rah again was in his hall, his paranoia abated at last by pleasures and destruction,that Tammuz stirred from the pile. The moon moved before the sun, as the sages had said it would. A pair of brilliant lights shown out of the pile. And it stirred. Out came Tammuz, his drawings changed with time. His body was like a corpse, maggots crawling through his eyes and flies out his mouth. His forests were burned along his chest, and his skin stretched paler than the moon. His eyes were not the placid eyes of the dead but glowed with a brilliant light, blinding to those who did not burn brighter by the seven rays of heaven. And when he spoke, his joy was still there, though his voice sowed terror.

“Oh Rah, I have seen plentiful futures for Uri-Gaol, forgotten by later days. I watched as it shifted and shattered, as you sowed your own doom. But this you already knew. Who hopes to evade prophecy, without knowing he fulfills it? No, but I saw farther, past when the mountains sink, and when this ocean is a desert, and when the desert beyond is an ocean. Oh the terrors that will be wrought, the canals of blood as many struggles with man over the scraps of kingship you have not squandered. And the beasts will remain and feast upon the carrion, and alchemist will make dark wonders out of sight.

“Oh Rah, I have seen multitudes of dooms upon Uri-Gaol and the heavens above. I have seen how darkness will wrap itself in splendor, how plague will come with trade, how war will come from within, how nature herself abhors you. I speak for the oldest house, the house I saw at the edge of time and who’s owner command rings from all edges. By his might was I held down, by the terror of his house did I survive.

“Oh Rah, thrice on three times will the world rise and die. Know that no generation hence will recall Uri-Gaol, for it will be less than a ruin, less than even a myth or legend, but rather only a place dreamed of in the distance. Know that the nightmares made flesh will be your legacy, who once may have been wise. Know that I and those who follow me, who bear the sigil of death and are born of decay, will linger alone in this place when it is buried beneath the waves.”

And each word Tammuz spoke bore plauge and storm out into the world. Each syllable an aeon of past and present misery washed over the Rah and his court, a lotus unfolding to show a darkened core. There was no weeping, for tears trembled. The court merely stood, all other speech render moot by the litany from beyond. And so they remained, until Uri-Gaol sunk beneath the sands and seas.

I will not deny, my fellow writers and gravediggers, this prompt took many attempts and I am still not entirely pleased with the result. It has some touches, in this latest form, with my attempts on Dunsany and eternity from a time back, and the letter to the commander of the faithful. It strikes me as worse than either of those however. Still, this stiching will have to do. Some day later I might expand this, dive deeper and pull together a better work. But for now, we must move on to the next prompt, the next corpse, the next untold terror.

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Out of Body, Out of Time

This Week’s Prompt:20. Man journeys into the past—or imaginative realm—leaving bodily shell behind.

The Resulting Story:The Prophecy Of Tammuz

Welcome back brothers and sisters of the Undead Author Society. We have quite a bit to discuss in this little prompt, so please bare with me. We have to go to strange and odd places, as there’s a great deal to talk about with time, space, and the mind.

Firstly, the basics. The idea of out-of-body experiences was common and accepted in certain circles by the time of Mr. Lovecraft. Astral projection, as it is commonly called, has a rich tradition dating back millenia. Famous works such as The Divine Comedy are found the world over, detailing adventures into the underworld or strange locations, fairy realms and spirit lands.

In particular, in certain sects of shamanism and the like, astral projection is a means not only to see wonders, but to correct wrongs. The spirits must be battled or confronted, but This is still a somewhat common trope in fantasy, as the successful Nickelodeon cartoon Avatar the Last Airbender and Cartoon Networks Gravity Falls to a lesser extent show.

However, what is less common was it as a means of travel. A common idea in the early days of science fiction was the use of astral projection instead of other more mundane means of interstellar or temporal travel. Examples include the seminal John Carter of Mars and Mr. Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy . The notion has mostly by now been abandoned in favor of spaceships, with actual real world success resulting in the dismissal of more fantastic or pseudo scientific ideas.

Thus the imaginative realm Lovecraft refers has the great potential to be a dream scape, such as the wondrous Dreamlands we have already discussed, or a foreign world. Or even the past. But the past seems more banal, with our modern minds knowledge, then either of those places. How could these be mistaken for one another?

It must be remembered that the past, in Lovecrafts time, was still being uncovered. The age of the world was growing, but how old say, humans, were was less set in stone. Lovecraft and his fellows thus populated the past with human and inhuman nations on a multitude of lost continents, a trait that sadly dates them somewhat. As tectonic plates were just being discovered, to Lovecraft the sudden sinking of Ryleh or Atlantis in a few thousand years seemed totally reasonable. Today, baring the supernatural in the case of both, we also have observation of the ocean that derails the horror somewhat.

This notion of prehuman ancestors also owes it self to one of the…unsettling influences on fantasy, horror, and science fiction of the day, particularly weird fiction. The occult, in particular, the Theosophical society. An oddity of occultism, part of the Theosophical societies doctrine included the notion of ‘root races’ who were increasingly involved in the operation of the world and built large scale civilizations that eventually fell. The society aimed to manipulate or guide human evolution according to heavenly precepts, to better receive a world teacher.

Blatavsky

The reason this is appealing to weird fiction authors ought to be obvious. Even at a superficial level, it invokes conspiracy, strange alien masters, ancient relics and technology, and the expansion of humanity into the unknown. The problematic part occurs when considering the ‘root races’, particularly the assertions regarding Aryan superiority over semetic peoples. The inherent racist overtones of Theosphony’s pseudo scientific eugenics make it a poor choice at times, except in the broadest of strokes. Still, some of the fantastic material may be mined (reading the wikipedia page on root races alone, you can see the outlines of Numenor et al. With dark magics and human hybrids)

That in mind, what sort of story presents itself from the prompt? We might begin with the notion of time travel instead of spatial travel. While time travel is a dangerous plot utenzil, it allows for immediate effects and raises some unsettling stakes. There is a paranoia to the idea that, at any moment, the past might be rewritten and we would know nothing of it.

It is best then that we have about five characters, it seems. We have one who travels between worlds, two who dwell in modernity, two who dwell in the past. It is probably best that the travelerer not know he is in the past, but rather believe he is in some new fantastic locale. We want a careless protagnoist, who will unwitting cause damage or change. Such is the Lovecraft way.

That said, we must have a conflict with his new and alien surroundings. This seems easy enough, given that our mystery magnificent culture can certainly provide clash. It would do well to think on what sort of conflicts however. It would be in poor taste to insist that modern virtues are superior in every way to past ones. The past was not a savage hell that only needed modern reason to solve its problems, nor is the present a logical utopia.

On the other hand, the past was not a rosy innocent time where the only problems were solved with simple discussion, nor is the present a cold emotionless hell from which we cannot escape. Some work must be done, then, on this past culutre and determining the present of the story. We might do a present a bit off from ours if we want to make things easier (the sins of two pasts are easier to see then the sins of the present and past, and are less likely to cause uproar).

But that is exactly why we should not do that. This is horror after all, and what’s the point if you don’t leave someone unsettled? Now back to our tales outline. First, we must arrange the present. The when, where, and who. After this, we send our traveler tumbling backward into the past, through some accident (probably of a head injury, though a simple sleep could do in a pinch.Either is random enough). We present the past, and the lead makes choices, causing some change. He returns to the present, only to find it altered.

Now, the alteration itself is tricky. How grand an operation should it be? A great deal of short story work has been done with small changes, linguistic differences or the like. Grander changes have some stereotype to them (how many times will Nazis win WW2? Or the Soviets the Cold War?), so they may have more room to explore.I think a medium is need. Not one small change, but hundreds. Noticeable, but not insurmountable differences reflecting the characters choice.

Conan

Onto the character, I have noticed we haven’t done a non-white person. Perhaps that will be worth a swing, to better diversify our cast. I wonder also about the genre. Mr. Lovecraft was not just a horror author. He wrote fantastic tales, such as the Dream Quest for Unknown Kadath and was good friends with the seminal creator of Conan the Barbarian , Robert E. Howard. takes place in the same world as the Mythos. Perhaps we will simply stick to fantasy for this one.

The fullness of that development is more than one of these posts has time for. Needless to say, I will endeavor to make it surprising. What clear paths do you see? What changes would you make? What worlds would explore?

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