Tag: lovecraft

Flash Fiction: The Outermost Gate

Courtesy NASA

Participating in the Terribleminds Second Game of Aspects.

One hundred and fifty years of spaceflight innovation, and it’s still a pain in the ass to get a decent meal.

Commander Ellington grumbled softly as he pulled himself towards the galley. He remembered times back home when just a whiff of his mother’s home cooking would make his stomach growl like a hungry lion.

“What’s on the menu today, Slim?”

The technical expert of the construction crew was actually named Vladimir Moroshkin, but being skinny as a beanpole, Ellington had taken to calling him ‘Slim’. The physicist didn’t seem to mind.

“The same as before, Commander. Pre-cooked meats of a dubious nature and recycled water it’s best not to contemplate too long.”

“What I wouldn’t give for some decent chili.” He sighed, popping a meal in the microheater. “How’re things out there?”

Slim looked out the porthole at the in-construction Pluto gate. “Main structure is 90% complete, components are in place, and capacitors are holding charges. Crews probably need another few days to get the toll systems and registration servers talking to the relays.”

Ellington nodded. “Once it’s done we’ll have gates in orbit around Earth, Mars, Venus, Europa, Titan… am I missing any?”

“They just finished the Triton gate, sir.”

“That’s gonna make booking flights confusing. Anyway, where do we go from here, d’you think?”

“We’ll probably have to break the light barrier properly to go further. Properly, I mean. Not with artificial wormholes.”

“Does it ever bother you, ripping holes in space the way we do, just to travel more quickly from one place to another?”

“No, sir. The technology that powers the gates is completely-”

Before Slim could finish his sentence, the station shook. Supplies went flying from the galley shelves. As warning klaxons started going off, Ellington propelled himself to the main console of the small station. Slim was right behind him.

“Did something hit us?” Ellington asked as he scanned the instruments for hull breaches and other damage.

“Nothing solid. Looks like it was a shock wave. Suit comms are down.”

“A shock wave from what, Slim?”

Ellington looked up and got his answer.

In the silent, dark tapestry outside, a violet fissure had appeared. It glowed, blotting out the stars behind it. As Ellington watched, tentacles colored a green so deep it was nearly black wormed out of the fissure and began to push it wide. He glanced at the gate, seeing the men scatter. Looking back, more tentacles appeared, and within the void past the tear in space, Ellington saw piss-colored eyes. Ancient eyes. Eyes full of hunger and hate.

“Slim… tell me what I’m seeing.”

“The instruments are going haywire, sir. I need a moment.”

“Not sure you’ve got one.” As Slim watched, the thing in the fissure lashed out at the gate, swatting men and women in space suits aside as they tried to return to the station. They were unarmed, and their only means of escape was the ion-powered rocket that could get them to Triton and the gate there could get them home. The journey would be short, as Pluto’s orbit this year was closer to Neptune than it had been in decades, which was why the eggheads back home decided to move forward with building the gate.

Not that it would matter if the horror pulling itself into reality could also travel through the gates.

“Can you tell me anything about the fissure?”

“Near as I can tell, it’s putting off a frequency of radiation I’ve never seen before. Radio telescope was the first instrument to zero in on it.”

“Let’s hear it.”

Reluctantly, Slim flipped the external speaker switch. The control cabin was immediately filled with screaming. If it had been one voice screaming, it would have just been disconcerting. Instead, Slim and Ellington heard a thousand voices, all crying out at once without words, deeply in pain and endlessly, endlessly angry.

“Right. Time to get the hell out of here.”

Ellington turned and went down the central shaft of the station to where the shuttle was docked. He slid inside and did a quick check of its systems, making sure it hadn’t been damaged. He caught glimpses of the creature out the windows, but tried to ignore it. He stopped, however, when he saw the gate’s capacitors lighting up. He moved back to the shaft and kicked off of the deck, propelling himself back to the control cabin where he seized a handhold.

“What the hell are you doing, Slim?”

“If I can get the gate to generate a sympathetic counterpoint vibratory radiation pattern…”

English, Slim.”

“I think I can use the gate to close the fissure, sir.”

Ellington stared, then looked outside. The thing was even more massive than he’d thought, and it looked like it was still emerging from the fissure. It could easily reach the station with its tentacles, and Ellington feared one would collide with them any moment. He heard people in the upper reaches of the station, clamoring about, probably eager to leave. He didn’t blame them.

Slim twisted knobs, tapped in commands via keyboard, and finally pulled a lever. The gate sprang to life. Instead of the usual blue color, the capacitors glowed an angry red. Soon the entire gate was alive with that shade, and the radio telescope conveyed a sound that drowned out the screaming.

It was a single, reptilian, very pissed-off roar.

“Slim? What did you do?”

“Exactly what I said! I don’t…”

From the gate emerged a head that could have belonged to some sort of dinosaur. It was topped with ridges of horns, its scales were the color of blood, and when it exhaled (wait, exhalation in space?) plumes of fire shot from its nostrils. Seeing the abomination in the fissure, it shot out of the gate, spreading leathery wings and reaching out with talons easily as long as Slim was tall. It grappled with the tentacled monstrosity and opened its mouth. Flames washed over the fissure.


“Yes, sir?”

“I have a craving for popcorn.”

Flash Fiction: The South Ward

The Necronomicon
Courtesy istaevan

For Terribleminds’ Flash Fiction Challenge “Sci-Fi Fantasy Open Swim“:

Terrance Palmer wasn’t a field agent. Most of his days were spent in the office, examining the profiles of perpetrators to assist the investigations of braver men than him. However, Agent Burrows had tapped him specifically to ride along to the mental hospital. With its wrought-iron fence and gate, long drive to the main building, and security measures including several checkpoints, Palmer felt it resembled a prison more than a place of healing.

“What do we know about her?” Burrows asked the question as they waited at the second checkpoint in the building.

“She is, or was, a professor of anthropology.” Palmer kept her file and notes from one of her books under his arm. “Her main area of interest was religions and cults, and she wanted to prove that there really is no difference between the two.”

“Makes sense.” The door buzzed and the two FBI agents were shown into the south ward. “How does she go from that to… what was it?”

“Paranoid delusions.” The doctor who met them supplied the answer and offered his hand. “I’m Doctor Ahmed. Thank you both for coming.”

“Has she made any more threats?”

“No, Agent Burrows, she has not. She continues to say the world is in danger and she knows the how and why.”

Palmer looked into the common area as they were lead back towards the woman’s room. One man watched them walk by, his left eye twitching in a disturbing fashion. Palmer tried to ignore it, and stay on task.

Ahmed produced a ring of keys, unlocked the deadbolt, and opened the door. “Doctor Chamberlain? The men from the FBI are here.”

She had been facing the wall, sitting at an old desk, and turned to face her visitors. Palmer had seen photos of her before, but they hadn’t captured how piercing her blue eyes were in person. Her long brown hair, normally braided or in a bun for her promotional photos, was only loosely tied back, and strands hung in her face. She stood and smoothed out her formless gray sweatsuit.

“I apologize for my attire, gentlemen, but creature comforts like appropriate clothing are hard to come by in this gulag.”

Ahmed held up his hands. “Now, Doctor Chamberlain…”

“You be quiet. Go drug up some of the others. You know, the actually crazy ones.”

Ahmed said nothing, but retreated from the room, leaving the door open. Burrows leaned against the doorframe and crossed his arms over his red tie and FBI badge.

“You said there was going to be an attack.”

“Yes, I did.” Chamberlain’s eyes were fixed on Palmer. “You’ve read my book.”

He blinked. “How did you know?”

“You have a haunted look about you. And I see a photocopied page of Worshipers of Stars in your folder, there.”

Palmer took the folder out from under his arm, and nodded. “Yeah, that’s the one. Do you really think that ancient civilizations worshiped beings from beyond the stars?”

“Is it any more fantastical than worshiping an old man in a nightshirt living in the sky?”

“Let’s stick to the facts.” Burrows did not sound at all interested in the theological discussion. “The attack. How do you know about it? When and where will it happen?”

Chamberlain blinked. “I know about it because I pay attention. You can’t see them now, but the stars are right. It will happen soon.”

Burrows narrowed his eyes. “We were told you were making threats.”

“Not threats. Predictions.”

“Ugh. Come on, Palmer, we’re wasting our time.”

“Wait a second.” Palmer studied Chamberlain’s face for a moment. “You’re not crazy.”

Burrows’ voice was incredulous. “What?”

“I study crazy people. She isn’t crazy.” Palmer kept his eyes on the professor. “Did you mean to get incarcerated here?”

Chamberlain’s eyes went wide for a moment, and she nodded. “I knew it would be here. The layers between dimensions are thin where sanity is at its most tenuous. And the candidates are ideal. Pliable, weak in mind and body due to medication and sub-standard food…”

“Wait.” Burrows stepped forward. “Candidates for what?”

A scream came out of the common area. Something grabbed Burrows by the ankle and yanked him out of the room. His badge and sidearm clattered to the ground. Palmer rushed into the common area, and stopped short at the sight of what was happening.

The man who had watched them before now stood, his left arm replaced by some sort of rubbery, squid-like appendage that now had Burrows by the ankle. Blood and ichor seeped through his gray sweats and half of his face looked melted. His good eye, the human one, swung towards Palmer.

“Help… me…”

Palmer pulled his jacket open to grab his sidearm. At the same time, the man’s right hand split open like a banana peel and another tentacle spilled out onto the floor. It whipped towards Palmer. He ducked to his right, raising his Sig and lining up the sights. He went to the range every week as a habit, but had never fired on another human being. But is it STILL a human being? The question hung in his mind.

A gunshot went off behind Palmer. He glanced to see Chamberlain, with Burrows’ gun, her grip practiced and her expression calm. Turning back to the… thing… Palmer followed suit. A few rounds later put their target out the window. Palmer holstered his sidearm and helped Burrows to his feet.

“What is the meaning of this?” Ahmed was indignant, and terrified. Palmer turned to Professor Chamberlain and put out his hand.

“The gun, please, Professor.”

“Diana.” She put the gun in his hand. “My name’s Diana.”

“I’m Terrence. People call me Terry.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Terry. I think it’s safe to leave now.”

“I demand to know…!”

“Doctor Ahmed.” Burrows rubbed his neck. “My partner and your inmate just opened fire on something terrifying. Give me the paperwork to release Doctor Chamberlain. The Bureau needs her.”

“Not just the Bureau,” Diana said. “The world.”

Flash Fiction: Mind Mangles Matter

To tackle the Terribleminds tiny tale-telling trial, “An Affliction of Alliteration“:

The Necronomicon
Courtesy istaevan

At last. The answers were finally within reach.

They’d all told him he was mad. His colleagues in the studies of the arcane and obscure, scholars like himself, had said it was forbidden for him to delve into underground ruins such as these. What would they say now if they saw him here, the flesh-bound tome in his hand, its incantations spilling from his lips as his stained fingers followed the words scrawled in blood? Nothing kind, to be sure. They frowned on this and had tried to keep him out of every library they could contact.

And that was before their goons had shown up to deal with him.

Mercenaries, he’d gathered. Hired from some private military company to subdue or possibly kill him. But they’d arrived too late. This ruin was now his home. He knew its secret passages and secluded corners, excellent places from which to spring with a good, sharp knife in hand. He chuckled as he looked at the corpses around the room. All that expensive military hardware, and they couldn’t stop one bookworm with a sharpened piece of metal.

Not that they stood a chance. Nothing could stop his destiny.

One of them clung to life. He crawled slowly, his legs refusing to work since his spine had been severed. That had taken a bit of doing, what with how the knife stuck between the vertebrae when the mercenary had taken the stab above his kidney. Now the man on the floor was muttering something about a wife and child as he reached for a gun or something. The scholar made a face and, not turning away from the tome, moved to put his boot on the mercenary’s head. He kept applying pressure until something broke. He didn’t look to see what it was. He just scraped off his boot and went on reading.

Honestly. Some people had no manners.

Finally he began to feel the change. The air became charged and more thick. Breathing in to continue chanting took more effort. Giddy anticipation surged through the scholar. This was the moment he’d been waiting for! He’d never been able to get the vision out of his head, nor to quiet the voices he heard day in and day out. Now, perhaps, with the arrival of their master, they would fall silent.

The chamber shook. Masonry began to crumble. The ground heaved beneath the scholar’s feet and everything seemed to shift and twist around itself. It was as if reality was trying to reject the very thing he was calling forth from the void, the whole world recoiling in fear from that nameless thing once banished into the cold dark between the stars, bent on returning to devour the souls of the unwary. But the scholar felt no fear. In fact, even as the room threatened to bury him forever, he began to laugh.

Every jock that had put him down in school, every girl that had turned him down because of his looks, every colleague and so-called superior who scoffed him for not being as brilliant as they – all of them would suffer. He was the only one with the mind to discern the clues that lead him here and the fortitude that gave him the means to do what had to be done. Now was his time. This old world would be swept clean by his will alone, and when the new one arose, he would be its master, just as what he was summoning would be his.

There was an audible popping sound. The world stopped rolling like the nauseous belly of a child who’d eaten too many sweets. The scholar blinked tears from his eyes. He caught a glimpse, just a glimpse, of something that was at once familiar and completely incomprehensible. He thought he’d be prepared, but he found himself speechless, stunned. He’d anticipated being in awe, genuflecting himself before that which now walked the earth. But in that moment, he did nothing. He wasn’t sure if he’d succeeded or failed. He didn’t know if what he’d seen was an earthly manifestation keyed to ensuring his mind did not snap too soon or some sign that he’d been outsmarted at the last second by a more mundane source. He hesitated.

Then something tore him open from the inside and there was no more thought. He felt no sensation other than agony. The pain tore away all his joy, all his anticipation, all his hope. And the pain did not end for an eternity.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! In The Mouth of Madness

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

[No audio this week; RIP old headset. 🙁 ]

There are classics of the horror genre, speaking in terms of movies, that are all about the creatures: Bela Legosi’s Dracula, Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster, Lon Chaney’s Wolfman and so on. Some horror stories move away from such “creature features” and opt for a more cerebral experience, inspired as they are by the works of Edgar Allen Poe or HP Lovecraft. These tales take it upon themselves to explore the inhumanity amongst our fellow man be that inhumanity inspired by simple madness or cosmic horrors. In The Mouth of Madness tries to be both, drawing inspiration from Lovecraft and directed by John Carpenter, helmsman of the 1982 sci-fi/horror classic The Thing.

Courtesy New Line Cinema

When we meet John Trent, he’s in an asylum. Asked for his story, he relates that he was once an insurance investigator. A claim has been filed by Arcane Publishing against popular horror author Sutter Cane over the last novel in his bestselling series. After evading an attempt of Cane’s agent to axe-murder him, Trent takes the case, reads all of Cane’s work up to that mysterious final book and begins having nightmares. With the help of Cane’s editor, Linda, he manages to find the fictional New Hampshire town Cane used as a backdrop for his stories, and soon finds himself drawn into the mad novelist’s world to follow a sequence of events that may doom ours.

The material and feel of In The Mouth of Madness draw their fuel from the burning coals of many a Lovecraft story, but it’s hard not to notice the parallels with Stephen King. The fictional town of Hobb’s End into which our heroes stumble at first seems like a sleepy, friendly little place, but is soon consumed with madness and paranoia. The film, however, does not actually copy any particular character, event or story element from any of its contemporaries or inspirations, focusing instead on overarching themes and a mood of creeping dread. “Focus”, however, may be a strong word, because In The Mouth of Madness is kind of all over the place.

Courtesy New Line Cinema
I happen to think Sam Neill is underappreciated. He’s brilliant in this.

As much as I appreciate movies that take pokes at the rabid behavior of certain subsets of genre fans, it was hard for me to be drawn into the story. Any time an atmosphere of dread seemed to be creeping in, a monster of one form or another would pop into the frame, if just for a moment, aimed at startling both the characters and the audience. Many of the good ideas in the plot – the madness caused by Cane’s books, the manifestation of the fictional town, the Lovecraftian ancient creatures bent on returning to Earth – are lost with the presence of one slavering grotesque leaping out at us going “ARE YOU SCARED YET?” after another. It’s disappointing as well as somewhat counter-productive.

Creature features are very different from deeper, psychological horror. When you watch, say, Bram Stoker’s Dracula or The Wolfman, you’re there for the lurid drama and a spattering of gore. Silence of the Lambs or Seven, on the other hand, is meant to invoke dark thoughts and feelings in a somewhat quiet way, their characters and actions very rooted in the real while being disturbingly abnormal. In The Mouth of Madness wants it both ways. In the end, it ends up being neither particularly introspective nor all that scary.

Courtesy New Line Cinema
This scene had me laughing, not screaming, my head off.

This is a shame, as there are some interesting ideas at work. The fact that Cane’s novels inspire slaving mobs and axe-wielding agents could have sparked a discussion or investigation into the affect of media consumption on the populace. The town appearing out of nowhere from the pages of a book may have served an examination of the theory that worlds created by fiction do, in fact, exist somewhere. Even the movie’s attempt to transcend into a state of meta-awareness falls a bit flat due to the overwrought nature of its jump-out scares and unfocused narrative. It could be argued that this schizophrenic form of filmmaking is meant as an example of what schizophrenia itself might feel like, but even that explanation is flawed given the overall incoherency of the work. You may want to say something profound, but your meaning will be lost if all that comes out of your mouth is gibberish.

While I can’t say it’s a total failure, In The Mouth of Madness is neither an effective creature feature nor a true psychological horror. It relies too heavily on prosthetics and spook house slight-of-hand while not quite approaching the level of surrealism that makes surrealist works like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or Bad Lieutanant: Port of Call – New Orleans enjoyable and understandable to watch while still being batshit bonkers. Still, Sam Neill is a lot of fun to watch as he spirals out of reality and into his own little corner of Crazy Town, so if I were to recommend In The Mouth of Madness, it would be for an evening of MST3K-style fun with friends, rather than actually watching it for the sake of horror. You’ll probably get a much more palpable scare out of actually reading one of Lovecraft’s stories or, failing that, some horror-based fan fiction. Though that sort of thing is terrifying for entirely different reasons, especially when it manages to sell and someone starts making movies out of it. I’m not naming names. To do so would be to invite its attention. And those fans? They never sleep. They. Never. Sleep.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

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