What follows is a very rough first draft of a short story, hacked out in three hours when I got in tonight. It’s not really a Cthulhu Mythos story – in fact it is not – but it is I hope a very very Lovecraftian story, and a slightly weird if not horrific tale. I think it was S.T.Joshi who pointed out that apprentice writers often do bad Lovecraftian pastiches – well I thought I’d do just that, and arguably it crosses the line in to self conscious parody. I think I understand though the motifs and themes Lovecraft wrote about, perhaps better than some who do write excellent horror tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, and my attempt to address those themes from a different (playful) perspective reflecting the Britain of today, and the culture I know and live within may, I hope amuse a little, though doubtless my attempt to barbecue the Sacred Cows of the Mythos will cause indignation in some, despite the fact I hope my affection for it all shines through.
The Festival (Revisited)
The Autumn term at Brichester University saw the brief and glorious sun of Fresher’s Week soon driven off by the humid dirty drizzle. On this day I was to go on a walk round the Goatswood Sculpture Trail; the slime of decaying leaves on the narrow pavements of town persuaded me to seek new pleasures closer to home. Brichester, where “variety is a life of vice”, had to offer something better on this humid cloying evening than kicking around Non-Euclidean art strung between ancient trees in the darkest of the hillside thickets. The hills rise wild west of town, and I could imagine my dorm mates returning caked in the primal muck of those rain soaked slopes.
The drugs available just weren’t new, effective, or interesting enough; those who remained on campus seemed to drift with a listless, jaded air. Then I realised just how quiet everything was: one by one, the flitting figures huddled against drizzle or entangled in frantic fumbling embraces were vanishing, until I began to fear I was the last person on the planet. My mind turned to a film I had caught late one night on YOUTUBE, in which God had swept the faithful from Earth, leaving nothing but neatly folded piles of clothes where the righteous had been seconds before. Maybe the Devil had learned that trick?
Laughing,humming an old Blondie tune, I turned my stride to town. I went walking through this city’s neon lights, trying so hard to find what was –wrong — or affordable. The dull crunch underfoot of discarded hypos reminded me how easy it was to become lost, seeking solace in dreamquests. I cursed the carpet of decaying leaves, and turned on to some avenue of sin, face sleek with the endless steamy drizzle. Lavinia’s Sex Dungeon, all velvet ropes and musclebound door staff offered the tortures of the past reinvented as the sensual pleasures of today; I barely smiled, and walked quickly past the parade of lap dancing clubs and pretentious boutiques, moving to the town square.
For a moment the sounds of techno from the Starry Wisdom Vodka Bar tempted me. The place is a converted church, but now a student hang out, filled with joy and licentiousness where once there was only condemnation and cold empty pews. On a good night in there the spirit, er spirits, really move you, scouring away virtue and inhibitions like the paint stripper it chemically resembles. “Blurred Lines” blared out, an anthem for a generation who observe no limits, indeed fail to recognise the very concept of limits, yet the place seemed curiously empty.
And then I saw the lights, and heard the music, and realised what I had not before. A constant shuffling, hopping crowd of well dressed adults and neatly groomed children, little Tarquins and Henrietta’s pulled by savagely right on dads clutching The Guardian were inexorably moving towards Campbell Park, where several large marquees clattered against the sulky breeze.
Brichester Science Festival! A thousand tweets had brought it to my attention, not one had I truly noticed. If I ever pieced together the thousands of isolated tweets and emails I recieve daily, Facebook updates and texts, I would surely go mad from information overload, or become a mad cat chap, or a consumer junkie. I ignore almost all of them, even a few dozen I robotically like to establish I am still friends with folk I have not seen in years, and who make my social media a book of dead names. They exist in electronic limbo, all flesh stripped away and living, breathing, all too human persons reduced to web of electronic dalliances and fleshless poking that would do a Greek god proud.
I was delighted. The Festival is all that is best in modern culture. The BBC, Channel 4, the broadsheets, the literati, all would be clustered here, and I ‘m happy for my mounting student debt could take a severe hit if I get to see my heroes, and maybe see a few benighted fools put in their places. I strolled up, passed the hyena pens where a lady biologist (you might know her from TV? Esme Pabham?) was breastfeeding a particularly snarly little cub, up to the Exhibition tent where an animated display from the Gilman Annexe of the great new particle accelerator showed how Higg’s Boson heralds the collapse of our current reality at some unspecified future. I moved around fantastic videos showing the heat death of the universe, the Big Crunch, and some daring work on possible evidence of impacts with with other universes, alls mashed together like a shapeless conglomeration of bubbles, and smiled brightly at the display on branes and the eleven dimensional universe.
I’m no physicist, but I take reassurance that everything one day must inevitably end, just as my brief human existence will. All around me stand a crowd of hungry ghosts, who don’t realise what they are yet. Everyone of us is an apparition; we all appear briefly, haunt fleetingly those locations we wander blindly through all the days of our lives, madly acting out our passions and trivial desires; and then one day we fade away again in to nothingness as the cosmic cock crow calls in the daybreak of our deaths. There is something of the ghost about us all. “Even this must pass away”.
I cursed the fact I had missed the live recording of my favourite radio comedy show, you know the one that combines up to the minute science with a panel of wits mocking the benighted and bewildered the superstitious and the naive. Oh Brave New World! I am glad that I was born in an age of reason, of progress, of optimism – an age of “Whoosh!” to use the term H.G.Wells used to describe the halcyon era of scientific progress that was the Edwardian age. Sod it, I missed the show, but I could catch the panel later for the talk about Darwin, and how he saved us all from ignorance by vanishing forever the wicked mythology of purpose and meaning. So what could I get in to? Everything was packed?
Then I noticed a few pamphlet wielding cultists, their minds mired in ancient mythology, adherents of that cursed book of lies and bigotry, whose very essence corrupts and enslaves men’s minds. Clutching their King James Versions like wards against reason and sanity they were being escorted off the site, having apparently tried to preach their venomous Bronze Age mythology to the Great Man himself, the Professor. The Professor is Cambridge Chair for the Public Understanding of Futility, one of the greatest writers on Evolution, the mechanistic universe, and the bigotry and intolerance of (and need to do away with) religion. He won’t debate Creationists, or Faith-Heads, won’t have any thing to do with them, or even acknowledge their madness. “They thrive on the oxygen of publicity” as he had written in one New Scientist piece – he denies them that. And why would a man of Science wish to even discuss the terrible mythologies of some remote, savage past?
Now they were thrown out I saw my chance – “room for one more?” The security guy shrugged and let me through – after all there were seven more seats now. “Jesus Freaks” he muttered, with an admirable contempt, spitting after them. “Hurry up lad, the Prof has finished on why Evolution shows human life is meaningless and is about to show the Total Perspective Vortex film”. I nodded in glee, and ran in, joining steamy crowds of enthralled students, cord wearing academics and pretty much every middle class resident of the county, and hundreds who had flocked here from every nation to hear the Truth: that we are cosmically insignificant specks of life on a tiny backwater planet, nothing more than a pale blue dot, no a grain of sand, no not even that, the tiniest speck of dust, in an immense universe of trillions of galaxies. I am pretty sure those were the Prof’s words, and seeing this swarthy joyous man of languorous athleticism declare it, the whole tent exploded in strange joy, applauding our complete absence of meaning, and his utter dismissal of all human values as embodying more than relative truths. All our morality he explained, is nothing more than comforting lies we tell ourselves to hide from the facts.
There was some commotion at the back of the tent, and just as I was expecting more bearded sandal wearing cultists to start singing choruses, I was surprised to see two of the lady biologist’s hyenas bounding on to the stage. The Professor looked at them with disinterest, and suddenly the wild beasts fell on their stomachs, fawning in some strange exultant terror as they crawled forwards, and then reaching up their ugly muzzles, their rough tongues caressed his hands. A little girl in front of me wet herself in sheer joy, and clutching her cuddly Cthulhu tight in mingled ecstasy and embarrassment , cried out out to her spellbound mother “It’s all meaningless mummy! The doggies know it and they worship him! None of it matters!”
Then I saw the Preacher. Most students know him – not the Chaplain, who exemplifies what is best in the Anglican tradition, lacking all conviction like most of his ilk – no some wild pastor of some cultish house church up in the hills, teaching ancient myths with a power to damn from that accursed book, always in the terrible English translation of Tyndale, or perhaps the vile Authorized Version of King James. It was his ilk who burned the witches and his heavy brow and dark beard testified somehow to the wife-beating chauvinistic soul that burned within his black and ignorant heart. He stands most market days by the cross, calling out for us to repent, and turn away from sin and embrace his dead-yet-living God.
I had as a young boy taken a peak within the accursed Gideon’s Bible; in later years I had sought out for my amusement and kicks such terrible blasphemous works as Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer, a Roman Catholic missal, and the asinine but creepy works of Francis Collins. At night I had laughed at these old collections of mumbo jumbo and fractured remnants of a long dead myth cycle, yet while some I know could study this stuff, at least through the rational lens of Robert M. Price or the demythologizing gaze of Bultmann, I could not ever read those old awful stories without a shudder.
And this wild eyed fanatic now gazed straight in to my eyes, and said “we must leave – now!” I looked upon him in shock: something in the terribly earnest way he said it made my blood run cold. “No” I retorted “the Professor is about to show his multi-media presentation; after that he will show us Science experiments and tricks with electrical apparatus – I do not fear truth, science or knowledge, unlike you!” The Preacher just laughed, and said “keen to hear his big announcement? They have found a tenth planet, behind Pluto. God made that as surely as he made everything else. I know because the Holy Spirit told me. Now let’s get out of here.” Trembling, frothing with anger, I somehow allowed myself to be led out, even as the opening slide exploded in to a Crawling Chaos of the Cosmic Microwave Radiation Background, and the exultant crowd oohed and ahhed like it was a firework. I passed out in to the night, a cold refreshing rain now washing my face clean of the sweat and grime of the marquee.
I was ready to strike the Preacher; yet I have always sought after strange and uncanny corners of human knowledge, and it seemed I may as well listen to that this crazed mongrel had to say. I allowed myself to be walked to a pub, and looked disgusted at the cheap gassy beer he bought (without as much as a wink at the rather pneumatic barmaid). As he settled opposite me I gazed at him in mingled pity and disgust, this sinister death cultist of a barbaric Levantine mythos. “So you are proud of your ignorance?” I spat at the fool.
“Ignorance?” he laughed with horrible sincerity “The Fool has said in his heart there is no God. Psalm 14. You think I, who believe the universe is alive with meaning beyond dead matter and soulless voids, am the ignorant one?”
I snorted. “Science has shown…”
His rejoinder was fast. “Science? What do you know of science? You think our science can approach truth? Why? Why can we even rationally understand the Cosmos? How can we know anything? What makes our Natural Laws of a nature for our fragile human brains to comprehend?” A slow smirk crossed his saturnine bearded features, his sharp white teeth glinting through the froth of his beer. “Is Truth something that adaptive advantage would select for? Why if we are evolved creatures should Cosmic truth, and real knowledge be important to our ancestors in the struggle for survival? Did they help us in the savannah when a sabre tooth came a prowlin’? Course not. Thomas Huxley, Darwin’s bulldog, never bought Natural Selection you know. Despised it. Let me read you something he did write though…”
He reached in to that blasphemous book of fables, whole passages underlined in heavy pencil, ancient formulae shaded in a dozen highlighters, whole passages ringed with exclamation marks. To my relief he uttered not one of the hoary old formulae, but took out a crumpled piece of ancient newspaper.
“The teleology which supposes that the eye, such as we see it in man, or one of the higher vertebrata, was made with the precise structure it exhibits, for the purpose of enabling the animal which possesses it to see, has undoubtedly received its death-blow. Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that there is a wider teleology which is not touched by the doctrine of Evolution, but is actually based upon the fundamental proposition of Evolution. This proposition is that the whole world, living and not living, is the result of the mutual interaction, according to definite laws, of the forces possessed by the molecules of which the primitive nebulosity of the universe was composed. If this be true, it is no less certain that the existing world lay potentially in the cosmic vapour, and that a sufficient intelligence could, from a knowledge of the properties of the molecules of that vapour, have predicted, say the state of the fauna of Britain in 1869, with as much certainty as one can say what will happen to the vapour of the breath on a cold winter’s day …”
I laughed. “So Huxley was a fool, who could give up the old superstitions, and accept the Cosmic Insignificance of man, and the loss of all meaning in the face of a hostile and amoral universe. Why I know enough to know that Alfred Russel Wallace was a Spiritualist – do you expect to entertain me next with table turning?”
The preacher laughed again, in an unsettling way. A deep baritone laugh, that seemed to have far too much of the human in it. “And Lord Kelvin told Darwin his evolutionary theory broke the laws of physics; and was quite right too – until we understood Fusion. Just wasn’t enough time in a solar system when the sun was a hot ball of burning gas. Scientists rejected Darwin in his day because ‘ya cannae break the laws of physics’ – did you know that boy? No you didn’t because you have rejected your heritage, your grandmother’s prayers, your pious forefathers for a mess of pottage. Yet I can tell boy, you are one of us – saved by the Blood. That was why I had to get you out of there. His Blood has anointed you; you are one of the few, to be sure.”
I spun in sudden horror. My mad old gran, still in her dementia rabbiting on about the Good Lord, and the Book, and saying she would pray for me. How could he know? How could he know I came from a long line of clergy and pious do-gooders, who had brought their madness and the flame of the Inquisition to who knows how may men and women of Science in the benighted past? Did some trace of this ancient madness still run in my genes? Was that what I felt my pulse racing now, felt the blood pounding in my ears?
“How do you know the world was not made in seven days, boy?” he snorted. “If almighty God had done it yesterday, you would be none the wiser, if you were created with all your cocky ideas already in that addled head of yours?” There was something terribly familiar, haunting, about his way of speaking. I found myself nodding a quick assent. “Ok, Ok, so philosophically – yet science tells us…” I retorted, sensing I was losing the fight. Yiy can’t argue with the true cultist – all their sanity is gone.
He once again laughed, and placed his hand in my shoulder, in a manner that awakened dim ancient memories within me, of days long dead, of meanings long forgotten. “Science is founded upon Natural Law being consistent and observable; it can’t deal with violations of Natual Law, because if so all our so called Science would fall victim to the Problem of Induction. The barmaid is Irish: we observe that. Are all barmaids Irish? No. Yet we generalise from our experiments to assume the whole universe works on the same Laws that apply here. We assume God can not suspend arbitrarily our natural laws, despite that being exactly the quality a Creating Being outside of Time & Space would logically possess – the ability to suspend our law, and reprogram them, as surely as a programmer can reprogram say Grand Theft Auto, or mod it so cars are invulnerable or fly without reference to the ground? Methodological Naturalism is an axiom of Science – that it can say nothing of the supernatural, or of God. To say there is no scientific evidence for God is a tautology”. He leaned closer, and I could smell the beer on his breath, feel the sweat of his awful earnestness.
“You know who he is, the Professor? H.P.Lovecraft knew, he saw it, as God revealed it to him – and being blinded by his atheistic fervour he misunderstood it all. This was his dream – he fumbled for a moment, and drew out another piece of yellowed paper from his ancient Bible. Gazing fondly now it seemed upon me, he read in hushed tones…
“I had never heard the name NYARLATHOTEP before, but seemed to understand the allusion. Nyarlathotep was a kind of itinerant showman or lecturer who held forth in public halls and aroused widespread fear and discussion with his exhibitions. These exhibitions consisted of two parts — first, a horrible — possibly prophetic — cinema reel; and later some extraordinary experiments with scientific and electrical apparatus.”
“That is your Professor: Nyarlathoptep, the Bringer of Strange Joy to Yuggoth. Oh he is a clever one, and all the world will embrace his gospel of Cosmic Insignificance, and the loss of all Human Values in the face of an Uncaring Universe — but you won’t, because you are one of the Chosen, saved by the Blood of the Lamb.”
And then he leaned forward, though open that accursed Book, and slowly read the couplet sometimes attributed to the mad visionary, John of Patmos, and as he said those words, a terrible thrill ran through me, as if I heard them for the very first time
“Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and I am the life: whosoever believeth in me, though he perish, yet shall he live”.
And then I saw the watch he wore, the one given to my Grandfather on his retirement in 1968, and I realised in that moment that I was of his flesh, and that I accepted the truth of the Gospel. I fell on my knees, saved by the blood that flowed on the Cross, and made a vow to rectify my life, and called out for forgiveness. My whole past sinful life was suddenly a horror I can not and must not recall, as I was born again in that joyous moment.
He gently took me by the hand, and led me out in to the cold rain of that Autumn Brichester night, and together we cried out praise to the skies in a strange tongue. Slowly, overhead, without any fuss, one by one the stars were coming out. and each one sang out the old, old song of Glory to the Maker of the Heavens and the Earth, the eternal music of the spheres that our petty human Science can never, ever, comprehend.