"A sense of monstrous guilt was upon the land.... and everyone felt that the world and perhaps the universe had passed from the control of known gods or forces to that of gods or forces which were unknown."
- H.P. Lovecraft, Nyarlathotep (1920)
Here's a literary experiment. I've reimagined H.P. Lovecraft's classic story, NYARLATHOTEP. I've borrowed a few phrases and the outline of the plot, but changed the details. If you enjoy the story, check out my original supernatural horror fiction:
The chaos crawls, like an infant exploring the world. It crawls, like a man dying of thirst in a desert. Yet this chaos is neither a newborn life nor an impending death, but something more alien and obscene. It is the audient void, the speech that is silence, the word that has no meaning.
It is perhaps a sign of how far I have tumbled into that void that I can no longer discern or remember the country in which I reside. I look out the window and see twisted, skeletal faces that could belong to any people on earth. There are no monuments left standing that might demarcate a particular history or culture – all such symbols have been pulled down by inarticulate mobs, or leering monsters that imitate the mindless multitudes. Even the seasons have undergone a daemoniac convergence, so that ashen snows follow fast upon infernal heats, and gnarled spring flowers bloom while bloodstained leaves adorn the groaning trees. The world may be at war, or instead suffering through some torturous mockery of peace and prosperity – I cannot tell. Such things have little meaning in the wake of Nyarlathotep’s terrible wisdom – even the numbers on clocks and calendars appear arbitrary and insignificant.
They say he came out of Egypt, for the earliest reports of him deemed that he was swarthy, and claimed he had the bearing of a pharaoh. I think this speaks to the influence and rumormongering of cults and cabals, rather than to some objective truth. Perhaps he began his work as an Egyptian, and carried about him some unwholesome scent of embalmed princes. Yet how then can we explain that he speaks the language of every country in which he appears, or resolve the fact that some swear that he is as Chinese as Confucius, or mumbles with a Southern drawl, or speaks with an Irish brogue and quotes William Yeats? Maybe Nyarlathotep was born in the black heart of a pyramid, or tumbled from the stone womb of an apocalyptic sphinx, yet there is evidence to suggest that he is not one man, but many – the cacophony of Babel’s echoes rendered into a thousand forms of flesh, each perfectly suited to command the attention of a different culture, each forming a unique path to damnation, or whatever screaming madness will pass for perdition in days such as these.
Word of his magic spread from friend to friend, along whatever lines of technology might be available, in whatever mediums of socialization existed in a given place. Every blessing of civilization became a barbaric curse. News of him was everywhere, and there were always crowds to hear his prophecies, and marvel at his hypnotic science, and catch the plague of nightmares that he shared so readily with fingers caked in blood. No two of his performances were ever alike, though the results were always similar. These demonstrations were usually held beyond a flight of stairs – either in some claustrophobic attic room or in some rat-infested cellar, in which the corpses of ineffective cats could be found in dark corners. He set up screens of uncertain material – some said they were made of parchment or vellum, while others voiced less pleasant theories. People always smoked during the performances, so that the air was thick with acrid fumes, somehow more noxious than any ordinary cigarettes or pipes could have produced. People would press tight against one another, sweating and shivering, sickened by the closeness of persons who seemed unaccountably repulsive once they had been packed into the dreadful spaces that Nyarlathotep had arranged.
I was there one night. The others watched the horrific projections with rapt attention, no longer much cognizant of the human life around them, but utterly committed to the revelations of light and shadow upon the pale, stained screens. No one could afterwards remember quite what they had witnessed. Were these scenes from the past, or from the future? Was that the hood of a cultist in some bleak empire of eons passed, preparing a virgin body for sacrifice to some monstrous god? Or rather a harbinger of what was yet to come? Was that charnel planet our own? Or had Nyarlathotep revealed the place of his origin, to lure us towards the amorphous grasp of our new, elusive master?
I don’t know how I managed to avert my eyes from the intended spectacle, and thereby catch a glimpse of the equally horrific events that transpired upon the bodies of the viewers. Strange lights seemed to flicker in their eyes, like sparks dislodged from a malfunctioning soul – yes, the soul, revealed at last as a broken machine rather than a spiritual organism. Strands of hair began to rise from people’s heads, swaying like serpents that could hear the music of some damnable pipe or whistle. Shadows slipped from the corners of the room and hunched on people’s shoulders, chewing on their clothing as though the mere existence of such fabric offended some malevolent and abstract hunger. Then the bodies of the people began to ripple and bulge, the fluid in their flesh displaced by forces far stronger than the gravity of sun or moon. Sometimes a hand would puff up to twice its normal size. Shoes creaked from the swollen feet within. Shirts and blouses heaved abominably. Delicate garments strained to withhold mountainous and volcanic bellies. In several instances, the whole head of a man expanded until I thought his skull should burst, and spill the damp architecture of his consciousness across the transfixed crowd.
In the end, the deformations were brief and temporary, and the shadows retreated from whence they had come, carrying only small scraps of clothing, or tiny pieces of skin, or the broken fragment of a fingernail. And when the display upon the screens had finished, the members of the audience looked much as they had done before. Yet I could not help but notice a certain gaunt and withered look about them, as though the turbulence of their inner fluids had been accompanied by some leeching of their blood. Everyone looked older, more sour, and more cruel.
Then Nyarlathotep laughed and called the people slaves and cowards, and other names that I did not recognize. He raised his hand as though it grasped a whip with which he was about to torment us – and everyone fled in terror. We scrambled up or down the stairs – I cannot remember which direction, exactly – swelling and contracting as an unruly herd, clawing at one another for space to move, or simply out of innate contempt for what we now seemed to one another. Yet once our mass of people had spilled out into the curiously empty streets, we slowed our movements, looking around to see what kind of world remained to us.
“It’s just the same!” cried some, and the idea was strangely terrifying to them.
Some people screamed, pointing into the darkness. There was nothing there to justify their horror – nothing that I could see. Yet they pointed with great urgency, and screamed. Everyone was dazed, numb in mind and heart, adrift in a spell of loneliness that no one could begin to break. They were afraid, as they had never been afraid since before Prometheus stole some fire to set against the night.
“Someone tell me where to go,” sobbed one woman.
“Why can’t I wake up?” whined a man, convinced he was in a dream.
Then, slowly, the chaos of the crowd began to form into long, twisting lines, following some inexplicable compulsion of organization, some hidden plan for their alignment and arrangement. They had no place to go that was not death and madness, no world that was not an abyss of sorrow and confusion, no path that was not marked by terror and abomination. Yet, even so, this human chaos crawled onwards into darkness.
I was allowed to watch, retaining some remnant of my mind. I do not know if this was reward or punishment, though I am inclined to think the latter. I see them crawling still, writhing across the haunted ruins of the earth, while I write to the music of baleful drums and the slow symphony of Nyarlathotep’s flutes.