By H. P. Lovecraft
Music by The Old Ones
read by Morgan Scorpion
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Nyarlathotep . . . the crawling chaos . . . I am the last . . . I will tell the audient void. . . .
I do not recall distinctly when it began, but it was months ago. The general tension was horrible. To a season of political and social upheaval was added a strange and brooding apprehension of hideous physical danger; a danger widespread and all-embracing, such a danger as may be imagined only in the most terrible phantasms of the night. I recall that the people went about with pale and worried faces, and whispered warnings and prophecies which no one dared consciously repeat or acknowledge to himself that he had heard. A sense of monstrous guilt was upon the land, and out of the abysses between the stars swept chill currents that made men shiver in dark and lonely places. There was a daemoniac alteration in the sequence of the seasons—the autumn heat lingered fearsomely, 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.
And it was then that Nyarlathotep came out of Egypt. Who he was, none could tell, but he was of the old native blood and looked like a Pharaoh. The fellahin knelt when they saw him, yet could not say why. He said he had risen up out of the blackness of twenty-seven centuries, and that he had heard messages from places not on this planet. Into the lands of civilisation came Nyarlathotep, swarthy, slender, and sinister, always buying strange instruments of glass and metal and combining them into instruments yet stranger. He spoke much of the sciences—of electricity and psychology—and gave exhibitions of power which sent his spectators away speechless, yet which swelled his fame to exceeding magnitude. Men advised one another to see Nyarlathotep, and shuddered. And where Nyarlathotep went, rest vanished; for the small hours were rent with the screams of nightmare. Never before had the screams of nightmare been such a public problem; now the wise men almost wished they could forbid sleep in the small hours, that the shrieks of cities might less horribly disturb the pale, pitying moon as it glimmered on green waters gliding under bridges, and old steeples crumbling against a sickly sky.
I remember when Nyarlathotep came to my city—the great, the old, the terrible city of unnumbered crimes. My friend had told me of him, and of the impelling fascination and allurement of his revelations, and I burned with eagerness to explore his uttermost mysteries. My friend said they were horrible and impressive beyond my most fevered imaginings; that what was thrown on a screen in the darkened room prophesied things none but Nyarlathotep dared prophesy, and that in the sputter of his sparks there was taken from men that which had never been taken before yet which shewed only in the eyes. And I heard it hinted abroad that those who knew Nyarlathotep looked on sights which others saw not.
It was in the hot autumn that I went through the night with the restless crowds to see Nyarlathotep; through the stifling night and up the endless stairs into the choking room. And shadowed on a screen, I saw hooded forms amidst ruins, and yellow evil faces peering from behind fallen monuments. And I saw the world battling against blackness; against the waves of destruction from ultimate space; whirling, churning; struggling around the dimming, cooling sun. Then the sparks played amazingly around the heads of the spectators, and hair stood up on end whilst shadows more grotesque than I can tell came out and squatted on the heads. And when I, who was colder and more scientific than the rest, mumbled a trembling protest about “imposture” and “static electricity”, Nyarlathotep drave us all out, down the dizzy stairs into the damp, hot, deserted midnight streets. I screamed aloud that I was not afraid; that I never could be afraid; and others screamed with me for solace. We sware to one another that the city was exactly the same, and still alive; and when the electric lights began to fade we cursed the company over and over again, and laughed at the queer faces we made.
I believe we felt something coming down from the greenish moon, for when we began to depend on its light we drifted into curious involuntary formations and seemed to know our destinations though we dared not think of them. Once we looked at the pavement and found the blocks loose and displaced by grass, with scarce a line of rusted metal to shew where the tramways had run. And again we saw a tram-car, lone, windowless, dilapidated, and almost on its side. When we gazed around the horizon, we could not find the third tower by the river, and noticed that the silhouette of the second tower was ragged at the top. Then we split up into narrow columns, each of which seemed drawn in a different direction. One disappeared in a narrow alley to the left, leaving only the echo of a shocking moan. Another filed down a weed-choked subway entrance, howling with a laughter that was mad. My own column was sucked toward the open country, and presently felt a chill which was not of the hot autumn; for as we stalked out on the dark moor, we beheld around us the hellish moon-glitter of evil snows. Trackless, inexplicable snows, swept asunder in one direction only, where lay a gulf all the blacker for its glittering walls. The column seemed very thin indeed as it plodded dreamily into the gulf. I lingered behind, for the black rift in the green-litten snow was frightful, and I thought I had heard the reverberations of a disquieting wail as my companions vanished; but my power to linger was slight. As if beckoned by those who had gone before, I half floated between the titanic snowdrifts, quivering and afraid, into the sightless vortex of the unimaginable.
Screamingly sentient, dumbly delirious, only the gods that were can tell. A sickened, sensitive shadow writhing in hands that are not hands, and whirled blindly past ghastly midnights of rotting creation, corpses of dead worlds with sores that were cities, charnel winds that brush the pallid stars and make them flicker low. Beyond the worlds vague ghosts of monstrous things; half-seen columns of unsanctified temples that rest on nameless rocks beneath space and reach up to dizzy vacua above the spheres of light and darkness. And through this revolting graveyard of the universe the muffled, maddening beating of drums, and thin, monotonous whine of blasphemous flutes from inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond Time; the detestable pounding and piping whereunto dance slowly, awkwardly, and absurdly the gigantic, tenebrous ultimate gods—the blind, voiceless, mindless gargoyles whose soul is Nyarlathotep.
By Linton Robinson
read by Jason Warden
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“You’re going to do it, aren’t you? No matter what I say.” She was leaning against the back of the cave, as far from the door as she could stand.
“Do we really have a choice, Debra?”
The dance of her fingers in the worn out fabric of her dress betrayed the building panic that she kept so sternly from her face and voice. The kids sitting right there. Not taken in for a minute by her pretended calm.
“We don’t really have enough for the children.” He was glad she’d said it right in front of them. They were all in this, all the way. Everybody should know the stakes. In fact, the kids were the stakes, weren’t they? She didn’t say, “enough for us,” did she? Those grubby kids crouching on their piles of blankets were the only reason they did anything anymore. Why they even went on surviving. It was the sickest joke of The Times. Could these kids even have children? And if they did would they be monsters like the ones outside that door?
“We’ll get by. Somehow. We have so far. And they need to know that you pay a price to be human. Or what’s the point?”
She didn’t speak or move, but he knew she wouldn’t protest anymore. She’d been the softie before Retribution. He kidded her about it, called her a walking bleeding wound. It was crazy, stupid, unfair. But they’d do what they could do. This time.
He spoke to her very softly, looked at the three scrawny faces in the sleeping pit. “We’ll be fine. We’ll get by.”
Her fingers were still: she’d accepted it. He caught himself wishing she hadn’t. That she’d grabbed the shotgun and stood between him and the meager bags of food they’d spent all summer gleaning from what was left of the world. He tried to put more conviction in it for them.
“We’re alive aren’t we? We’re here, together.”
Only Renee, the youngest, darted her eyes around the damp-walled cave, taking in heaps of rubbish and broken limbs, the smoke-smudged ceiling, the hanging pelts. Yes, honey, “here” isn’t all that great, but it’s the only “here” we’ve got.
“We’re going to live through all this. You’ll see.”
Debra fidgeted, moving a little closer to the solid timber door set in the stone wall that filled the cave’s mouth. She’d felt safe here, he thought. At least safe. And now?
“What I don’t see is how they lived through it all,” she said tonelessly. She turned to him, the ruins of her pretty face torn with conflict of heart and gut. “How could they still be alive?”
Her fingers were moving again. “Did you see their hands? How could they…?” She glanced at the bedding and shut up. Shrinking against the wall, she waved a forlorn hand at the sacks of provisions. The few cans still left, the nuts, the grain they’d risked so much for, the dried meat, the hopelessness of it all.
That’s enough of that, he thought. These little guys are beyond nightmares at this point, but there’s no sense in totally poisoning their imaginations. Get it done and be done. That was the way. He strode to the crate table they ate on and snatched up the shoddy plastic bag of food he’d selected. He lifted the shotgun to rest on his shoulder and motioned with a nod of his head. “Could you open the door for me, hon?”
She moved to the door reluctantly and again he hoped she’d refuse. That she’d make him refuse, take the sin on her own head. She turned at the door and wrenched his heart by straightening the filthy dress, patting her hands at the side of her matted hair in a motion that tumbled him back to the real world. The one they’d lived in before, but apparently hadn’t deserved to stay around for them. She looked at him with a ghastly expression that he knew was supposed to be a smile and loved her for it with a stab of forgotten passion. “Ever the gracious hostess,” she said brightly.
He moved into position and pointed the gun forward. He hesitated, figured a second, then hung the bag on his left elbow so he could put his other hand on the slide of the trusty old Mosberg. Twenty shells left, he thought. Five in the magazine. How many of them are there out there?
He nodded to her. More than twenty, anyway.
She pulled out the big, solid bolt he’d made from a piece of rail they’d carried up from the old freightyards back when they the energy for that sort of thing. She looked back at the kids, who were staring at the door with a sick, blank hunger. There was no use telling them not to look outside. They were going to stare in fascination no matter what she said or did.
So she opened the door.
He did a careful scan, looking upwards and covering the sides of the cleft in the stone as he moved outward. He’d done a lot of dangerous things in the past three years, but he’d never felt this exposed. And everything he had was right on the line with him.
“You be careful, Stan.”
I thought of that, sweetie, he said to himself. Like I thought of just calling those zombies in here and gunning them all down. They were lined up twenty yards out from the doorway. It didn’t look like they’d moved while he and Debra had been agonizing their proper response to this visitation of monsters.
He heard a choked-back whimper behind him. Why couldn’t he have dealt with this somewhere else besides here, with his family at this back? “Oh, God,” she moaned. “How could they still be alive? What did that to them?”
He shrugged his left shoulder, scanning the troupe of freaks in front of him, trying to decide if they were all still there, not somewhere sneaky. “Mutations,” he said. “The radiation, the viruses.”
“How could they be mutated?” she snapped sharply. He could tell she was on the very edge of her nerves. “They’re adults. Not newborns. There couldn’t be any newborns, could there?”
“Chemically mutated amoebas and bacteria? Eating their flesh, causing all those boils and swellings. Cancerous tumors. The smell… Hell, I don’t know Debra. All right?”
He waited for them to move, not wanting to make a move himself. Facing that line of monstrosity he caught himself wondering if they were the first of many. How many other hordes of horror were slumping around the woods? They must have walked all the way out here from the ruins of the city. At least they weren’t armed. He gripped the shotgun like a talisman and slowly let the bag of provisions slide down to his left hand. Several of the walking meatballs stepped towards him.
“Oh, Christ, Stan. Be careful. Just throw the bag to them and come back inside!”
But if they swarmed him, what would happen? He could see himself shooting himself empty, swinging the butt of the shotgun like a club as he went down under the surge of puss-dripping, misshapen blobs of hungry meat. He hoped Debra wasn’t imagining what would happen to her if that happened. And to the girls.
But he knew it was exactly the sort of freakshow her mind would be wallowing in. She’d seen enough horrifying shit the last few years, God knows. The way people act in the panic of collapse, the mindless destruction brought by sureness of death or worse, the frailest of hopes. The rotting bodies the plague spread over the land. And now they had rotting bodies walking right up to their home.
He held up a hand to stop Debra from talking, or hopefully from envisioning. It also stopped the six hulks who were staggering towards him. Leaders, he assumed. Who could still walk unaided, whose eyes weren’t obscured by bulging folds of purple flesh. Whose mouths were all there. Even if their lips weren’t necessarily still around. In an instinctive gesture he raised the gun. They stood, incuriously waiting to see if he was going to put them out of their living hell.
“We don’t have much, you understand?” No reaction. They stood watching him. Three years, he thought. Three years.
“Our children don’t get enough to eat as it is,” he went on. “But we’re giving you what we can. And we’d like to ask that you take it and move on. I’m sorry, but you are scaring us. I sympathize with your situation, but we want to try to live, see our kids live. Understand?” He felt like screaming at them. Say something!
No reaction from them. Then one of the “leaders” lurched forward again. Stan covered him with the shotgun, stepped three yards forward, laid the sad little bag on the ground, and stepped back to within bolting range of the door.
The leader of The Wretched, as he suddenly dubbed them in his mind, groveled up to the bag and painfully bent over to pick it up. He was wearing only a filthy tattered towel around his waist. Christ, are those intestines poking out there, Stan thought. How can that be? How can he…
As the leader peered into the sack Stan watched, far from congratulating himself on his own humanity as he surveyed that sliver of the tiny, pathetic hope they worked and risked for, their forlorn shield against the coming winter. The Head Wretch turned away, shuffling back to his flock of lepers.
“That’s it?” Stan suddenly called out, in voice so harsh it surprised him. The “head man” stopped in his tracks.
Embarrassed, Stan almost mumbled. “Can’t you say something? Anything?”
The nightmare in the flesh turned clumsily and looked at him. His ravaged throat worked, shreds of skin falling off it. The cracked, blooded lips parted and were licked by a yellow-gray tongue.
Stan felt a pang. Who knows if they can even talk? He started to make a gesture that it was okay, to just go in peace.
But the moldering lips parted, the rotted throat moved. And said, “Trick or treat.”