Friday, February 02, 2007

Lovecraftian Homage

So I've been working for the last week or so on an homage to my favorite horror writer, H.P. Lovecraft.

Unfortunately, I've been unable to get the right feel for the story and I'm - quite frankly - getting frustrated.

So, if anybody who's familiar with the Great HPL's work could provide some feedback, I'd be really grateful...

Whaddya think?


Miles Richard Whitcomb peered about the thick fog of the docks, shivering in the damp sea air. He sighed in frustration as he tried to find his way through the thickest fog he had ever encountered. It swirled and drifted about him like thick, muslin gauze.

Suddenly, he jumped in fright as a drunken sailor lurched unannounced out of the gloom. The drunken sailor staggered passed Miles, cursing and stumbling before disappearing into the ether again. Just as quickly as he had appeared, the drunk was swallowed up by the night; a smell of gin and his unwashed body the only evidence of his passing.

‘That’s quite enough,’ Miles thought, primly. ‘Enough is enough!’

He was about to turn around and return to his automobile when he saw a sign appear out of the swirling gloom before him. He squinted at it and saw, with no small amount of disappointment, that it bore the picture of a misshapen black bird perched upon a gravestone. Below it, written in faded and peeling paint, was a name; The Shunned Crow.

He had found his destination, although he was at something of a loss to explain how. For that matter, he wondered how on earth he had been convinced to come to this out of the way seaside pub at this time of night in the first place. After all, Miles did consider himself a reasonably smart man, and this conviction made this current lapse in judgment all the harder to understand. In fact, he now felt slightly foolish that he had even agreed to this meeting at all.

He thought back to the first letter he had received from the man he was coming to meet. Mr. Otep was, as he claimed, a representative of the Egyptian government and he had first corresponded with Miles a little over six months ago. Mr. Otep had contacted Miles as a result of a search for some pieces of missing antiquities. Now, nearly a half year later, Miles regretted his casual mention to the Egyptian that he was going to be in Boston for business. His correspondent was overjoyed at the news and had insisted on a face to face meet. Before he could object, and despite his initial misgivings, Miles suddenly found himself agreeing. He was damned if he knew how it had all transpired, but that was how he now found himself on a dark, foggy, dock in upstate Massachusetts.

He was not pleased and, had his upbringing allowed him to somehow honorably break his word, he would have uncaringly stood up Otep. Unfortunately, he was not capable of such rudeness.

And yet, despite his resolve to stand by his word, the hour drive from Boston to Kingsport alone had almost convinced Miles to turn around. Even still, a strident inner voice clamored at him to leave – to turn around and drive as fast as he could back to Boston. In fact, the voice was worse now that he was at the rendezvous point.
Steeling himself against his urge to flee, he pulled his coat tighter about himself and readjusted the leather satchel that was slung over his shoulder.

Miles spied a flight of three steep steps that led down to the bar’s entrance. He descended and reached for the scarred and black pub door, pushing it open and stepping across the threshold. As he did so, billowing tendrils of cloying sea fog followed him into the dimly lit room.

He paused uncertainly at the entrance; struck by the age of the room and bar before him. Shaking off the cold and his own chilling apprehension, he ducked and entered beneath a low slung ceiling, its exposed beams supporting the floor of the building above. Nailed at random spots to the ancient beams were oil lamps that threw a dim and unfriendly light over tables set about the room. An ancient brick fireplace in the far left corner threw yet more light, but that light too seemed somehow pale and unnatural.

The pub looked like it had been around, and changed very little, since the 1700’s when Kingsport was established as a shipping port. Miles could easily imagine generations of sailors, pirates, and privateers reveling in rum-soaked debauchery. The room was redolent with the stink of bad alcohol and bad tempers; a stink that stretched back like a passed storm cloud over the last 300 or so years.

A quick survey showed him that it was a slow night at the Shunned Crow. Besides himself, Miles saw that the pub’s only other occupants were a bartender and two sailors near the fireplace. The sailors were either passed out from drink or dead.

If Miles had felt uneasy about this rendezvous before, he now felt doubly unsure.
Making his way across the sawdust coated floor, Miles cautiously approached the bar. The bartender barely looked up from a newspaper spread before him on the dented and gouged bar top.

As he drew closer, Miles felt his unease grow. There was something odd about the bartended and it wasn’t until he drew closer that he saw what it was. Miles was certain that the bartender was one of the ugliest men he had ever laid eyes upon. The bartender had large, protruding, unblinking eyes and his ugly and angular face had an unhealthy pallor, made more so by the dimly lit ambience of the bar. Additionally, his chin was almost nonexistent and, Miles noted with some revulsion, he had a slightly fishy smell to his clothes or skin.

With great control, Miles stopped himself from wrinkling his noise in distaste.

“Excuse me,” Miles said, “I’m supposed to be meeting somebody. Has a Mister Otep been in this evening?”

The bartender did not speak. He simply pointed back the way Miles had come. Miles followed the gesture and realized that there was a small alcove near the fireplace that had been hidden from his view by the door. Sitting there, his face cloaked by shadows, sat a man in dark clothing.

“Thank you,” Miles said to the bartender. After a second of consideration, he added, “May I have a beer, please?”

The bartender again said nothing as he moved to get a glass. He turned and began filling the dark mug from a keg behind the bar. As he waited, Miles found himself uncomfortably drawn again and again to the bartender’s strange eyes. It seemed to Miles as though the man was incapable of blinking. It took a moment before Miles realized that he himself was blinking rapidly, his own eyes suddenly and sympathetically dry. He had to force himself to stop blinking as the bartender returned.

Miles picked up his glass and laid two quarters on the bar.

“Keep the change,” he said, turning away. The bartender still said nothing as Miles made his way to the table.

“Mr. Otep?” he asked when he reached the dark alcove.

“Yes, Mr. Whitcomb,” the dark man said, leaning forward, “Please, sit down.”

Miles hesitated before he sat, and when he did he looked at the strange man he had inexplicably come to meet at this sinister and out of the way pub.

Mr. Otep was a tall, muscular man, as was apparent by the fit of his clothes. He wore a dark pea coat and leather gloves over hands that seemed unusually broad. Otep also wore a black turban. And - as Miles had expected and as befitted a man of Middle Eastern origin - Otep had dark skin and a swarthy look. What Miles had not expected was the severity and sharp angles of the Egyptian’s features. The Egyptian might have been described as handsome, but his handsomeness was somehow marred by the coldness of his black eyes.

Miles took a sip of his beer to hide the sudden shiver that he felt race up his spine and down his arms and legs.

“It’s so nice to meet you after all of this time,” Otep said, smiling.

“Yes, and it is nice to meet you also, Mr. Otep,” Miles replied.

“Have you brought the item, Miles? I can call you Miles, can’t I?”

“Yes, quite fine, Mr. Otep,” Miles felt himself relaxing. There was something disarming about the dark man’s quiet politeness.

“I must say I envy you, Miles. You are fortunate to have had such a famous relative.”

“It’s really not what you would think, Mr. Otep,” Miles replied dismissively, “There are few who would call my Uncle Howard famous, and certainly not those who read mainstream literature. Sadly, my Uncle was a writer of a small sub-genre that few people seriously read once they reach adulthood.”

“Oh, I must politely disagree, Miles,” Otep purred, “Your uncle was an amazing man who will undoubtedly live on through his works. Howard Phillips Lovecraft was a visionary, Miles; a literary visionary!”

“If you say so, Mr. Otep,” Miles said, not really believing it. For his part, he had found his late uncle’s writings rather wordy and somewhat anachronistic. Miles said as much.

“Anachronistic? Please explain this word, Miles. English is not my first language” Otep apologized.

“My Uncle Howard always fancied himself a Victorian English gentleman who had had the misfortune of being born on the wrong continent. His writings reflected the style of a bygone era. ”

“Ah!” Otep breathed, “I understand, Mr. Whitcomb. But, I expect that much of what you say is most likely tainted by your Midwestern values and upbringing. Please don’t take that as an insult or sleight. In fact I almost envy you your provincial American attitude.

“Thank you, Miles said, unsure of the compliment.

“I’ve just realized,” Otep said, “that I’ve never asked you what is it you do for a living, Miles?”

“I am an engineer for the Willy’s Overland Motor Company, in Toledo. I was born and raised there, in fact.”

“That, I suspect, may have something to do with your evaluation of your uncle’s works. Do you feel that your mechanical tendencies affect your appreciation of art?”

“I wouldn’t say that, Mr. Otep. I enjoy art as much as the next man. I just never really developed a taste for the medium in which my uncle wrote. Let’s just say that my tastes run to the more realistic and less fantastic.”

“Toledo?” Otep asked, his brow furrowing in thought, “Isn’t that where the protagonists from one of your uncle’s more celebrated works came from?”

“I believe it was called The Shadow Over something or other. Yes. He wrote that story after my mother and I visited him one summer. He told me later that he had used me as a basis for that story’s main character. It is somewhat flattering.”

“Yes, I imagine it would be, Miles. But, enough small talk. Let us, as you American’s say, get down to business.”

Otep leaned forward expectantly as Miles reached into his satchel, retrieving the object that had brought him to this dark, seaside pub. It was a wooden case, the size of a cigar box and made of a polished, rich mahogany. Carved upon it was a strange symbol that looked much like a misshapen star with a flaming eye at its center. It was an exquisitely crafted piece that showed a remarkable level of workmanship.

By his manner, it was apparent to Miles that Otep was not concerned with the box so much as with what it held.

“And the sculpture,” Otep breathed, “it is inside?”

“Yes, Mr. Otep, it is. Truth be told, I find the sculpture actually quite ugly and I don’t particularly care for it. The only attachment I have to it is that it was left to me by my uncle when he passed away ten years ago.”
Miles opened the box, revealing an obsidian carved statuette that could only be described as horrific. As he often did when he looked upon it and despite its being an inanimate object, Miles mused that it sat almost malevolently in its ugliness. The carven figure was vaguely octopoid, but it also bore disturbingly humanoid characteristics.

All in all, it was most unpleasant to look upon.

He glanced to Mr. Otep who looked upon it with a predatory longing.

“You see,” Miles explained, “As I wrote, it is not something one puts on display for when company comes to visit.”

“It is breathtaking,” Otep said, much to Miles’ surprise.

“Yes, well,” Miles said, closing the box. Otep looked almost heartbroken to lose sight of it.

“What would you say, Mr. Whitcomb,” Otep said as he turned his black gaze upon Miles, “If I offered you one hundred thousand American dollars for that sculpture?”
Miles visibly started. He blinked in shock before answering.

“As I said in my letters, Mr. Otep,” Miles replied as he slipped the box into his satchel, “I am not interested in selling it. If indeed it is of Egyptian origin, I will be happy to allow you to take photographs and molds of it for your government. Although I absolutely detest the piece, it is a gift from my uncle. I feel obligated to keep it if only as a cherished heirloom.”

“Would you let it go for two hundred thousand dollars?” Otep countered.

Miles looked positively distressed at the amount of money he was being offered for the sculpture, but held firm. He shook his head, “I’m sorry, Mr. Otep. No. I came to Kingsport here at your request and out of respect for your cultural heritage. I did not come to sell the statue. I am most sorry.”

The Egyptian smiled again, and Miles again felt that same sense of disquiet.

“Of course, Mr. Whitcomb,” Otep said, “Forgive my…coveting of your inheritance. Your uncle had an enviable eye for antiquities. May I enquire as to whether or not you have any other objects de art or papers from your uncle’s estate?”

“This is the only thing I have left. I have donated all of Uncle Howard’s letters and papers to Mr. August Derleth in Wisconsin. He is compiling many of them for posterity and for inclusion in a volume of books.”

“That is unfortunate, Miles - most unfortunate.”

Suddenly, Miles smelled a strong fishy odor and sensed a presence behind him. He half turned to see the bartender hulking over him. Too late to react, Miles could only flinch as the bartender struck him with a club.

Miles fell into unconsciousness.

He awoke to find himself once again embraced by thick fog.

In the distance, there was the muted tolling of a channel buoy. Miles also heard the lapping of water and smelled the sharp tang of sea water. It carried the heavy, fishy, decomposing odor of harbor water.

Groaning, he rolled over to find himself on the deck of a skiff. Peering with anxiety through the fog, he saw with some relief that he was still at dock. Remembering what had happened, he whispered a small prayer of thanks to God that he was still alive.

As he struggled upright, he winced as his head thudded painfully, no doubt from where he had been struck. Just as he sat up, he heard the clumping of footsteps and he saw that Mr. Otep and the bartender were approaching from the ship’s wheel house. The dark Arab was talking, and as they drew near, Whitcomb heard their conversation.

“…now that we have the statue,” the Egyptian said, “tell your brethren to meet us. The time is nigh, Obed. Dagon will be pleased.”

The bartender said nothing. He simply stopped by the rail of the deck and began taking his clothes off. Watching with mounting horror, Miles saw the bartender reveal a body that was not entirely human.

The bartender’s skin was rubbery and marbled with veins. It was stretched tight over oddly shaped joints. The creature’s feet, for it was obvious that the bartender was not entirely human, were long and webbed like those of a frog. The horrific beast finally spoke, but not in words that Miles recognized. It made several raspy, wet, croaking sounds, and Otep nodded as thought he understood. It then turned and slid clumsily over the side of the skiff. There was a splashing into the dank water below, and then silence.

Miles was quite certain that he was losing his mind.

Otep turned, walking towards Miles. He smiled again and Miles felt his blood run cold..

“Ah, Miles. So glad you could join us again. I apologize for my friend’s overzealous in subduing you. It pleases me that you’re not seriously injured as I have other more sinister plans for you.”

“Dear God,” Miles said, “what is going on?”

“I am taking care of some unfinished business, Mr. Whitcomb. It took me a considerably long time to find both you and that artifact your uncle left you. Before that, it took me the better part of twenty years to find that Lovecraft had it. It was fortuitous that he left it to you and that I could strike up a correspondence with you. My luring you here has been a long time coming.”

“Who are you, really?” Miles asked.

“Why, Miles, don’t you know?”

Otep bent down and grinned, his toothy smile seeming too wide and too evil. Suddenly and right before Miles’ disbelieving eyes, the man’s skin seemed to darken and grow blacker, like the ends of a piece of paper placed in a flame.
Miles shrieked and, to protect his sanity from this new horror, Mile’s mind dredged up a memory from his youth. Something he had buried deep down within himself since he had become an adult.

In his mind, he was suddenly twelve years old again and in his childhood bedroom back in Toledo. It was night time and he was reading a copy of Weird Tales by candlelight. The memory flooded over him and he suddenly remembered what he had forgotten in the long years since then.

With dagger-like recall, he remembered that had spent countless nights in his childhood room, shivering in fear and delight as he devoured every story his Uncle Howard had written. He had loved reading all of the old pulp magazines! He had been so proud of his uncle and loved to see the name H.P. Lovecraft on the cover of Amazing Stories or Weird Tales.

He had wanted to write like Uncle Howard, then. It was only when he had grown older and become an adult that he had given up the foolishness of science fiction and horror stories. He felt shame as he realized that he had turned away from his uncle’s genius and his own dreams of becoming a writer in favor of a solid and bland career in Mechanical Engineering. . His shame warred with the dread and horror that he felt as he realized that Mr. Otep was one of the nightmares that could only have been conjured from Lovecraft’s imagination.

All of this came to him as he lay shivering on the mist soaked deck, looking up into Mr. Otep’s black eyes. They were the cold, dead, predatory eyes of a shark and they had no trace of white

“You can’t be real,” Miles whispered, “You can’t be real.”

“Humans are so imaginative,” Nyarlothotep growled, “It’s part of your nature to create and dream and fantasize endlessly, and yet – inexplicably – you all deny the supernatural when in its presence. It’s a special gift you have that is, sadly, wasted.”

Mr. Otep knelt and looked at Miles with those chilling eyes and continued, “Some of you though, some of you are special. Some humans have a special insight that sees more than the imagined. Artists like Hieronymus Bosch, or Hienrich Fuseli, or even your dear, departed Uncle Howard. They look beyond the nightmares and see the horrors that are real and hidden from most humans’ eyes. They see the real, but the other humans see it as simply the fantastic. Lovecraft himself alluded to this in his story, Pickman’s Model. Imagine the horror, Miles; poor Howard Phillips languishing in his agoraphobia and writing about the nightmares that lurked at the edge of his sight. Nightmares that were there, unseen by those around him but undeniably real!”

“No!” Miles screamed. The logical, adult part of him refusing to believe what the long repressed child within knew as certainty. He was paralyzed, frozen in fear.
Just then there was a large splashing in the darkness and fog. It grew louder and louder and suddenly several man-sized, frog-like creatures swarmed aboard the ship, croaking and pointing into the fog. Mr. Otep stood and walked to the edge of the rail, peering into the gloom.

After a long moment there was heavier splashing, but it was subtly different from that of the frog creatures. Beneath the clamor of the splashing there was a heavy, liquid, breathing sound that was both horrifying and inhuman.

The dark man at the rail laughed and raised his arms, a parody of Christ on the cross. The sounds drew nearer and nearer and suddenly, out of the darkness, a giant ropy alien appendage appeared. The unnatural limb was smooth and black. It was grotesque and wrong and throbbed from within with an unnatural luminescence. The tentacle wrapped itself around Otep, caressing his dark clad form in greeting. Meanwhile, the frog creatures began croaking and moaning and chirping in orgiastic pleasure at the arrival of this new terror.

And then, when he thought it could get no worse, Miles felt something within himself snap as he saw more of the bioluminescence slowly emerging from the fog. Whatever it was, the monstrosity that was approaching was terrifyingly huge. It was mind-boggling and Miles could feel an evil wind coming in draughts through the chill fog.

“DAGON!” screamed Otep.

At this, and fearing that his life and very sanity were in peril, Miles’ paralysis broke and he leapt up from the deck. In a mad, fear-filled dash, he scrambled over the far end of the skiff to the dock below. He fell painfully, but was up in a flash, running in blind terror into the fog and darkness-cloaked streets of the small sea town. Behind him, he heard Otep let out a cry of rage and he heard other sounds; sounds of the frog creatures moaning in despair, the sound of flapping feet in pursuit, and, finally, a bellowing roar. It was a roar that would haunt his nightmares; it was a roar of a creature that did not belong in this world.

It was the roar of the black, glowing creature.

It was the roar of madness.

Miles did not look back. He darted in primal fear up the twisted alleys and treacherous cobblestones of Kingsport.

After what seemed like an eternity, he finally found his automobile. Safely within it, he raced southwards towards Boston. He realized with mounting dread, that he still had his satchel with him. Afraid of what he might find, he felt with trembling fingers within the leather bag. As he had feared, he touched the familiar polished surface of the box Uncle Howard had left him.

“Dear God,” he whispered, “they’ll never stop looking for this!”

His mind already damaged and his heart thudding like a drum within his chest, he drove on through the night, uncertain of what to do next. He was only sure that he had had his eyes opened to a new, terrifying world and that the dark and not entirely human Egyptian would never stop looking for him or for the artifact he had at his side.

“Thanks, Uncle Howard,” he moaned.

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