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.

egyptianmau

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.

cat sith.png

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.

shere-khan

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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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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Tick Tock Goes the Clock

The Clock

This Week’s Prompt: 12. Happenings in interval between preliminary sound and striking of clock—ending— “it was the tones of the clock striking three”.

The Resulting Story: Six Nine Twelve

Alright, so we have an ending line, which implies either some sort of fateful count down or at the least an imminent event occurring at three. What we are being invited to play with here is time, a thing which we have dabbled in the past (or future?) back in the eternal days of Yann. With that in mind, what can we do here?

Well, structurally, we can easily set the story into blocks, separated by time stamps. We’d have to end on around 2:50 or so, to allow for the three to come in at the end as prescribed. But what occurs could range from mundane to maddening. We could take a note from Edgar Allen Poe, and drive our characters made with an unseen but unwavering sound. An inevitable sound, the movement of inexorable time closing in.

We could, however, instead do something with the folkloric associations with clocks. Clocks owned by men and women were often thought to stop when the owner died (as paintings are supposed to fall, pets howl, and ghastly apparitions appear). A clock, however, that despite all evidence continues to tick suggests something…unwholesome about its owner. The clock that moves erratically, or that continues on past breaking is something of a terror. Time itself is undone, and with it goes good order.

I’m going to point to a particular story, not by Mr.Lovecraft but rather Mr. Harlan Ellison. Repent Harlequin, said the Ticktockman is a superb story that deals with the notions of time, of regularity, of chaos and order and hypocrisy. And happens to fit into today’s theme. For Father Time, the Master of Clock, is a terrible enemy. And that hostility might here be used. The clock strikes three, and that may mark the end of the struggle. After all, the story occurs between a sound and the clock striking. Perhaps it is over one hour, a desperate hour to escape the moment. To escape time, and in the end loss is inevitable.

There are stories abound, of course, in the Mythos of time. The Silver Key deals greatly with time travel, and anything to do with Yog-Sothoth is riddled with so much ticking and rippling of time that their reality is sometimes hard to know. And of course there are the Hounds of Tindalos, who come from a different sort of time. Time is one of those dreadful abysses, and the creatures that walk and swim in it are dangerous and alien.

So of our story? I don’t yet know, fellow necromancers. I suspect the structure will be as I proposed, with chunks separated by time markers. As for the content, some sort of struggle against time seems necessary for the subtext at least. This corpse may be …less human then most. Perhaps barely recognizable. But we shall see.

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