Written by Tony F Paulazzo
Illustrated by Andy Paciorek
Who shall call their dreams fallacious / Who has searched or sought
All the unexplored and spacious / Universe of Thought.
The last days were a mad time when the things walked once again upon the Earth. Caleb and the little band of settlers lived within the subterranean depths of Cumbrian caves, subsisting on lichen, and blind, bleached creatures surviving alongside them in the dark underworld. As they delved deeper below the surface, they found an alien world with its own ecology. They felt constant hunger, constant fear and constant despair, that they were no longer emotive but existing on day to day survival instincts.
You know you’ve fallen from grace when you’re ripping into still bleeding animal carcass, eating a recently deceased relative or friend, drinking brackish water, fucking anything that’s warm just to feel – something. It was scary to think that all religion had been a sham, that mankind were just the failed slaves of an infinitely superior race, themselves cursed from time before living memory by yet another race, who, if they were even aware at all, viewed humanity as less than bacteria.
Jeera, a girl of about his age, stopped moving below him, he looked down, all disinterest to mirror her own face:
“Are you ok?”
He rolled off her, not even bothering to finish, “Shit! How long we been down this black hole? I’m going out of my fucking mind with boredom. I wanna eat something tastier than those white voles and goddamn worms.”
She laughed, a nasty short bark, “You want we should go back out there and talk-”
“Fuck, we’re an endangered species now-”
“Just fuck off Caleb!”
She stood up, her ribs pointing out of her emaciated body; standing at the cave mouth, looking into another cavern where their small tribe had set up camp. The little light they possessed came from a central fire - their eyes had adapted well in the five years they’d been cowering down here. Her bulging belly was at odds with the rest of her body, but all the females were pregnant, or trying to be; first rule of survival, procreation, even in madness.
She was pissed, Caleb was right – that always pissed her off. Humanity should be exploring the stars now, propagating outwards and laying claim to the universe; instead they’d found out the stars were already owned: Fuck! The planet was owned; even the Shoggoth had been here a billion years in one form or another, hiding in the dark depths of the oceans and stars, calling mindlessly to their dead masters, ‘Teleki Li’ until they found the Great Old Ones to worship and serve.
The night was the worst because then the shared dreams would come, tearing soul, body and mind apart, the universe literally came apart at the seams and they could locate you in that vulnerable state. Be found by the frog like son of Cthulhu, Ythogtha, and you would not wake up, but be found by your comrades ripped to shreds, or sometimes never found at all. Humanity was obsolete - they feared the future, for it appeared there was none, no help coming, no Superman.
She cradled the coming babe in her arms, praying to a non-existent god that it might stay safe in her belly forever, whilst at the same time fearing what might come out of her body, she’d assisted in the birth – and dispatching, of outright monsters, though Caleb had once postulated that they might be the future of humanity. We have always feared what is different to us, Jeera thought, and wished she didn’t have to give birth in this dark hell, didn’t want to lose whatever was growing in her belly. She grimaced, she felt sure the thing wasn’t perfectly human, had been changing, she could feel him in her mind, exploring, intimate sharing. She also felt pretty sure that the boy was Caleb’s, though there was no sure way of knowing, but as Caleb, again - damn him! had said, if we’re to survive the coming epoch then our way of thinking, of living, of being, must change to reflect the new cosmology.
The monsters didn’t hate us, they nothing us; at worst a nuisance attacking and killing their slave race and some human worshippers, after all, their predecessors had allowed us to evolve out of the oceans, had permitted our ancestors to serve them.
Jeera hated Caleb, he kept her in a state of perpetual confusion, he seemed to prefer fucking her over any other girl, yet his mind was touched by the madness; he’d say things like...
“Madness is the new sanity. If you stay sane then the new world will destroy you, you need to revel in the madness, hug it to your breast like sirens in the distance.
“We’re not even a footnote in history, let’s not go sailing off to that dark place quietly, sobbing in our caves, afraid to even look outwards at what might be out there in the light.
“We need to find our new place in the world, for I feel we may have one, we are adaptable, our new children are changing, yet we thoughtlessly destroy them for not having two arms, ten fingers – truly, we are the monsters, for if something doesn’t fit in our narrow view we refuse to accept it.”
Yet deep within a part of herself, she wanted to be close to this mad thing, and if she ever saw him lying with another woman, another part, buried deep within, burned, however, she could show him no warmth, no intimacy except to open her legs willingly enough for him to enter when he so wished…
It begins by falling into darkness.
Surrounded by stars of impossible colour, music of chthonic variance batters your very soul. Living starships flashed past at light speed, planets teeming, an explosion of life man had not been conscious of spread across the universe. Beings of cool, vast intellects that, unaware of our existence shared an apparent cold indifference to our survival. Humans were inchoate, unfinished, broken...
The universe would invariably tear open and time became a stream travelling in both directions, where you could see the beginning and end of it, stretched across a strange landscape of burning sand dunes, bizarre skies and incredibly twisted cities, all angular and alien perspective; monstrous statues dotted here and there, alive with a vibrance of neuronic power; pyramids of ancient authority.
Then hieroglyphic writings would start etching across the formless lights and the damning familiarity would begin, as if you should understand what they were saying, and as universes flashed past at weird angles to the perceiver, as you began moving to the great centre where the formless beast would be eating away at the heart of the universe – forever hungry and howling in bestial derangement.
In the periphery of vision would be all the multitudinous realms of creatures, ill formed parasitic lights, and slimy, hairy, silicate based creatures of pulsating form and fact. Horrors that would send the tiny brain of man insane with one glance, angels and demons, the unknowable, the actuality of the verse was that reality was horror where everything ate everything, from the stars to the quarks: Mankind was the oddity in this reality, a botched experiment by the Shoggoth, those that would call themselves gods.
Through the black gaping maws of Azathoth, Caleb fell screaming in wordless agony, his very soul being ripped apart by the tidal forces that shredded light as easily as man shredded cotton. He awoke, in the dream state, to find himself on a grey blue world with five suns burning high in the azure sky.
He’d been here in his dreams many times, a tree lined path led up to two misshapen statues burning with energy, he would walk up to them and they would question him in an unknown tongue, and he would be unable to answer so they would bar his progress. Like the writing, the alien tongue sounded familiar, as if he should understand what was being asked, but it always stayed just beyond reach. He instinctively knew, that the further into his primitive brain stem he should travel – to understand the dead, ancient language, the madder he would be when he finally returned to the land of the waking.
Dreams were no longer the insubstantial creations of a catatonic mind, but just as real as your waking life, in which they could play out for years over a single night.
He sensed danger and dived for cover as a great old one thundered into view, like the dinosaurs of yore, they were huge, shambling amorphous creatures, one could be as different from another as light is to day. This one moved its bulk along a multitude of cilia and looked somewhat like a giant tree stump with a ring of eyes around its crown. It was being served by a group of Shoggoth and, Caleb noted, some few chimp like men, who shuffled on two legs, using their arms to speed their movement to keep up with the undulating Shoggoth.
The reason Caleb hid was not because the creature (in the dream he became aware it was called Vulthoom, the Sleeper of Ravermos) might hunt him down to kill him, but simply because he might crush him if he saw him, he might not. The Great Old Ones had reclaimed the Earth, they bore no malice to the remnants of man, much as you would bear no malice to an insect, simply swat them out of existence if you noticed them at all. The Shoggoth, if alone, would attack, but never whilst placating their master. The chimp like creatures had become a relatively new addition to the dream, perhaps they were men who had accepted the madness and become slaves to the Earths new owners.
Mankind had had a conceit, about good and evil, their own sacrosanct inviolability, the rightness of their place in the universe. They had gained dominion over the Earth and had expected to lay claim to the universe in like respect. But in their own way they had emulated the hierarchical structure of their invaders from the very beginning. Perhaps Cthulhu, dreaming in the depths of the starry ocean had infected us, even then.
At least in your dreams you could eat, it would abate your hunger, and even carry you for a few hours into your waking life, as Caleb strolled up to the two statues he helped himself to the fruits and berries he found on bushes and plants. The dirt track became a stone road in the wilderness, leading straight to his gaolers, and though there was nothing to either side of them he knew that to attempt to walk around them would mean instant death. This time though, something else had changed, there stood before him a man, deep black, with hooven legs. He was completely bald, and smiling.
“Caleb my boy, I’ve been waiting for you.”
“Who, what, are you?”
“You wanted a saviour boy, well here I am. My name is Nyarlathotep, though some call me the Crawling Chaos, and I answer only to Azathoth, the eater of souls. I have always been here.”
“You are the deceiver and play men for your own amusement. You called forth the sleeping gods when the stars were right. By what right do you call yourself a saviour?”
Nyarlathotep laughed; a fluty sound in the rarefied planets’ atmosphere, “You are coming along nicely Caleb, but still you are mired in your limited perceptions of the dimensions. Who is it that has permitted the human remnants to join in the true dream of the Verse? Who has given you the chance to not be a forgotten mistake by the rest of the Galactic Lords? It is I, your humble servant and friend.”
He gave a slight bow, “Any thought is an image of the Truth and Good and Evil are the constructs of an imperfect Mind. Do you still not recognise this place? Do you still not understand what the guardians are asking of you? Should I kill you now and save you the bother of living? Jeera is waiting for you to become a man.”
“What is the question they ask of me?”
“Oh, I could tell you boy, but you would still need to answer them to get through, so the telling becomes pointless. You must understand just a little more to pass through the gate.”
“Where does the gate take me? Why is it so important that I go through?”
The man shape sighed, his image shimmering somewhat, as though about to change, “Oh my dear Caleb, do you understand nothing? The guardians and the gateway are allegory; it’s simply a way of opening your fourth neural circuit, sometimes I don’t know why I bother. You creatures seem to like crawling in the dirt and shit of the Verse, I really should just leave you to it.”
“No please, help me understand the question. I shall go mad if I have to endure this for an eternity. I want to… I need to save Jeera. How do I understand the language, it is dead and buried and long forgotten.”
“It’s all there in the meat muscle you call a brain, encoded in proteins and flickering atoms, a matrix that has existed for as long as you have. But I take pity on your miserable existence. You know where your oldest memories lie; you just have to open the doors Caleb.”
As he faded away, a thousand shapes flitted through the ghost memory, a pharaoh of ancient Egypt, a black, furry, snouted creature, a gelatinous mass, a five-mouthed, morbidly obese woman with numerous tentacles, before fading into a dark fog that dissipated in the dusky silence.
Caleb marched up to the guardians and their swords clanged down, barring him access, their thin reedy voices spoke once more into his brain, “What is your original name?”
And he finally opened the doors into madness…
A billion memories assaulted him, a million entities, a million lives, all part of the whole. The entity that was Caleb was crowded out by all those other lives, their other lives: He was no longer Caleb but a shapeless protoplasmic thing which had just gained sentience, living on a planet long since destroyed in the youth of the cosmos, and it had a name, his name. He spoke it in a sibilant hissing and the guardians’ swords lifted, he was free to walk through, if he could walk, for in his vast life he had slithered, crawled and flown as often as he had had appendages. The memories and feelings were threatening to engulf him, Caleb screaming through all the other versions of himself to retake control of his body, but he could feel himself slipping through the maelstrom – how could the brain retain so much information without exploding?
“You just have to re-catalogue everything before you drown. The mind is size-less, a part of the infinity. Here, let me help.”
Nyarlathotep created a library in Caleb’s mind and began stacking books at light speed, and when Caleb was able, he joined in to help, each book was a past life and he, Caleb, had been part of the Verse from the very beginning. As there was no good or evil, no love or hate, there was no life or death, just a changed state of being. They, all of them, Nyarlathotep, Cthulhu, Caleb, the Shoggoth, Lloigor, Shterot, the Elder Gods, Jeera were as intrinsic a part of the material and immaterial cosmos as the gods, stars and planets…
Caleb awoke in slow degrees; he felt Jeera playing with his cock and pushed her, not roughly, away. He turned round in his library and picked a book at random and opened it…
“Where is this fantasy?” He shook his head in confused wonder, “They crawl and fly and slither – the dark and quiet things.”
Jeera began to sob in the cool darkness, “Oh no Caleb, please no, not you…”
He tried to explain, but even the simplest sentence had tones and structures and overtures that had to be conveyed – meat language was so constricting, so one dimensional.
Gently he said, “The darkness is at the end, we… in the light and you - so open.”
She held onto him in jagged denial, he stood in joyful dance, dragging her up onto her feet, giddily pointing upwards in smiles and vocal cues, “The dreams cut deepest because they are the real, not the real we think, but the deepest real. We hurt but the pain is nonsensical. We go. Now.”
Jeera looked at him fearfully, “Go where Caleb? We live here now.”
He pointed at her belly, “New life,” then pointed upwards in gleeful jubilance, “and light.”
Every word, every thought, every silence, caused an emotional rollercoaster resonance deep within him. It was hard to separate meaning and intent from communication. She allowed him to pull her away from all that she had known and they began to leave the tribe she had called family. Mad or not, she would follow him wherever he led simply because she loved him.
As they neared the surface his command of language came back somewhat under his control, and he spoke of his dream, and the breakthrough, and of his belief that man was not destined to cower in darkness, or be enslaved by the older race, that humanities soul was as old as the others. They had simply forgotten (or chosen to forget), the vast swathes of time, its’ true nature, it was not past, present, future or linear, but more like an ocean of intersecting ripples, yet she appeared to comprehend little of what he said.
“The first Gods of WoMan were nebulous thin grey whispers on the breeze, with no form or substance. Long before we had language to describe and substantiate things, our first Gods simply were… neither good nor evil, just vast shadows alive in our primitive meat-minds.”
The light burned their eyes as they emerged, stumbling out of their self imposed prison into the harsh brightness of day. Blinking away the dancing spots they retired further back into the cave mouth to await the onset of dusk. Three other people had followed their lead, but were so far unwilling to commit to the great outdoors, hanging back and not speaking to the two of them. As Sol slipped down over the horizon, Caleb and Jeera once more ventured out, looking across a landscape pitted with what looked like meteors and unearthly anomalies.
The meteors were of various shapes and sizes, sat in a small depression within a circle of blasted earth, and even beyond that, where the plants and trees’ grew, they held a stunted, foreign appearance, as though their chromosomes’ had been interfered with. Also, dotted here and there, were howling gateways, created from the colours of space, a vortex of unimaginable intensity that could rip a man to shreds. They sat in the centre of five meteors arranged in a circle around them, and Caleb realised they were pathways, some to close by continents, others to distant galaxies.
When Jeera realised he was heading directly for one of them, she finally began to fight against him, pulling him backward in animal fear, but he cajoled and stroked and pressured her into walking forward. The wind whipped against them, abrasive on their naked skin, but he persisted, almost dragging the unwilling Jeera along with him. They stepped through.
READ THE FULL STORY IN CC VOL1, AVAILABLE FROM LULU.COM