I figure a few notes of background might be relevant here.
We updated our house chore board today, and I declared Sunday dedicated to “Making Weird Shit.” Because in our heart of hearts, that’s what my cohort and I love to do. Curiously enough, I ran across an old story of mine that I wrote fifteen years ago and trunked. It was a strange, and fairly short mashup of Hunter S. Thompson and Lovecraft.
So, in the interest of “Making Weird Shit,” I dug in and made some light revisions, cleaned it up a bit, but mostly left the story as-is.
Then I recorded a video of me reading it. Because life is short and I gotta do something while I’m stuck inside.
I’ve also included the story in print form in case you like reading and such.
Here’s to a good summer of making weird shit to hold back the darkness.
Fear and Loathing in R’lyeh
There are no bars aboard the Al Haziz out of Mozambique. It’s a refitted tanker that the Pan Pacific Archeology Coalition is using as a staging point for what they claim to is the most significant find of the century. After four days of sobriety amid exuberant academics who glow with knowledge of something important that they will never be able to explain to people like you and me, I decide to take matters into my own hands. Breaking into my own rapidly diminishing stockpile of mind-altering substances, I am able to bribe the resident helicopter pilot with a handful of Black Bettys to take me to the nearest depraved port of call. He ends up taking me to a nearby Polynesian island that isn’t on my map, the name of which can’t be easily pronounced by white tongues.
But as promised, they have a run-down hotel with its standard issue run down hotel bar. The beer is from fuck-knows-where, piss warm, and bottled, perhaps by fish, judging by the after taste. These screw-heads seem put that flavor in everything, so maybe it’s the local poison. I order twenty beers and hope that the strange taste isn’t formaldehyde that these bastards put in as preservative. I wouldn’t want to drink too much of that twice. I am still missing my favorite hat from the last time it happened.
While we sit on increasingly wobbly wooden stools and test the local drunk and disorderly tolerance levels, my drug fiend Japanese pilot / guide Gen tells me what he knows about the find.
“It was a seismologist studying the Marianas quake two years ago that found it,” Gen says. He lifts his beer to his tiny, disdainful smile.
“Fuck seismologists!” I say. I slam my empty bottle down on the pitted bar top and reach for another.
“And geologists!” Gen says, slamming his bottle down hard enough to break the bottom off in one jagged disk. I decide to keep an eye on my boozy buddy. He might be dangerous. Plus, I’m too old to fake knowing how to fly a helicopter, especially in my state. And God only knows what the whore hopper behind the bar would do if my credit ran out.
“Okay,” I say, “Fuck geologists too!”
“They did a sonar sounding of the ocean floor to look for fault lines and they found big sections that were hollow, deeper in the trench than they had explored before.”
Under water caves aren’t big finds so I go with the crazy thoughts in my head, a tactic that has served me for half a century. “Buildings,” I say. I don’t really believe it myself, and try to picture the path where my asshole editor decided to send me out here.
“Yeah…no….well, eventually they thought that’s what they found,” Gen says.
“But there are buildings?”
“Maybe,” he says. Then he shrugs to show how much he just doesn’t give a shit. “They still haven’t been able to get a good look at them. They’re too deep.”
I slam a few more beers while I process the information. Then it hits me. “Wait. So, if the buildings are too deep to see, then how did they get down there? They couldn’t have been built there.”
“It would be pretty unlikely. Not even super smart dolphins. Too much pressure down there,” Gen says. He nods, smiling as if, like me, he’s suddenly imagining dolphins with hammers.
“But if they were on an island that sank, like Atlantis or Mu….” I say, puzzling my way around it. I stare at the bartender who stares back at me with bulging eyes. He has flaps of skin on his neck that look suspiciously like gills. What is in this damn beer?
“Sunken islands? Like a lost civilization,” Gen says. He sounds unconvinced.
“But you don’t believe that.”
Gen turns his gaze on me and there is madness in his eyes. I fear the Black Betty’s have taken hold of his fragile nervous system and I find myself wondering if I’m about to die at the ass end of the world. I fumble for my stun gun and mentally curse myself for having left it back on the copter. Then he settles back onto his stool, calmer for a second or two.
“I’m just a pilot, doc,” he says. It looks like he’s choosing his words carefully. “For the last six months I’ve done nothing but fly every kind of expert in the world to that damn boat. They all say the same thing. There never was an island on that spot.”
At that point the room starts doing an extended dance routine and I grab the counter to keep from going asshole over elbows. For some reason, I appear to be the only one effected by this disturbing motion.
“No buildings,” I say, then realize that I am mumbling.
“Probably not,” he says. It sounds like he’s miles away. Underwater.
I feel betrayed. By my devious editor who sent me out here to be skinned and eaten like a missionary while he sets fire to my house with a whore on each arm and a wine bottle up his ass. By Gen who has not been drinking as heavily as me, forcing me to pick up the slack. But mostly by that whore we call gravity as she chose that moment to flip the room upside down and bludgeon me unconscious with the bar.
* * * * *
When I wake up, I think for a moment that the bar is still going through convulsions. It makes me wonder why they didn’t wait for that to be over before they woke me up. Then I hear the noise of the rotor and realize we’re back in the copter. That sneaky bastard Gen must have shanghaied me back at the bar. He hears me groan and looks over with an apology on his face.
“The ride back to the boat is going to be choppy,” I hear him shout over the sound of the spinning blades.
“Someone drugged me!” I shout, eliciting a laugh from the pilot.
“The owner of the bar thought you were dead. He’d never seen anyone drink that much,” Gen says. Then he laughs. “I told him that if he didn’t charge for the drinks that I would dump your body in the ocean.”
Drinking free always puts a smile on my face and this is no exception. Even with the extreme weather knocking the helicopter around like a child’s toy, the beer sits better because I didn’t pay for it. I look out the window and get the vague impression that we are flying into a storm.
“There is another reason I don’t believe there are buildings down there,” Gen says.
“And why is that?”
“Because if they were buildings, they would be too God-damned big,” he says. There is confidence in his voice, like he’s thought this through numerous times. “One of the scientists called them ‘Cyclopean’.”
“That means one-eyed!” I say.
“That’s what I told him. He said he was quoting someone else,” Gen said.
Through the slanting rain, I see the ship draw close. I shut up and let Gen do his job, more out of a sense of my own mortality under dangerous conditions than wanting an end to his discourse. I notice that one of the research lackeys is waiting at the helipad to meet us. The lab boy’s hair and jacket are plastered to him by the rain, but that doesn’t squelch his boundless enthusiasm. His obvious joy puts me on edge. I don’t trust happy people.
“We’ve had a breakthrough,” is all he says as he grabs my arm to steady me and lead me deep into the bowels of the ship.
Within a minute, we are standing in the frenzied snake pit of command control. Monitors everywhere show underwater video being sent back from one of the quite expensive robotic subs. Despite having two of these yellow beauties for a month, they haven’t been able to see squat. They can barely get them to work, most days. My confidence in the coalition getting their shit together proves to be short lived, though. The first sub got to the site fifteen minutes ago then developed critical ballast problems. Sub one is now crippled, perched on the edge of the trench shelf, beaming back crystal-clear pictures of encrusted stone a few feet away. It refuses to move from that spot. They’re in the middle of sending the second damn sub to fetch it.
On its way down, sub two which I shall henceforth refer to as Tweedledee, passes a surface too smooth and vertical to be anything except a wall. For the moment, the plight of the yellow paperweight Tweedledum is forgotten. There it is. Clear as day. A wall, covered with symbols ten feet high, impossible to read in with the available light.
Of course, since I am the late arrival, I am unable to get to the monitors showing the fresh footage. Too many scientists crowd around the flickering images, all of them fighting for space with a bloodlust I rarely see outside of last call at a busy bar. Rather than join the fray and still a little weak in the knees, I take a seat in one of the chairs at the other end of the room. My otherwise inconvenient set insures that I’m the only one with a good view of Tweedledum’s monitors as it twitches, spasms, and ultimately commits robot suicide by sliding over the edge of its rocky perch.
The camera manages to stay upright, but is still sinking uncontrollably with the rest of the sub. I am awarded a clear, but none too exciting picture of ridged, crusty rock sliding past. Then I see a tremble in the picture as the monitor goes black. The monitor light is still on, so I figure that the light on the camera had gone out. There is no one paying attention to my corner of the room, no one to explain what I’m seeing. Then I see a reflection of Tweedledum in the blackness on the screen. As I ponder this, the rockface appears again in a flash. Then it’s gone again and once more I’m looking at blackness and a reflection in the dark. The motion is unmistakable, despite being in extreme close-up.
“It blinked,” I say. I hear my voice and it’s only a whisper. I look around and see assholes in glasses and jackets looking the other way, still studying the rock wall and its unreadable images.
“It blinked!” I say again. This time it’s almost a shout as my anxiety builds. Bile starts to mass at the back of my throat and my heart is racing like the start of a good coke rush. A few eyes turn my way, but it’s too late. The screen that brought back a warning from the depths only seconds ago now shows nothing but static. The line most likely severed, the sub probably crushed by the weight of all the water or maybe something else.
Someone sucker punches me when I start screaming and raving, because everything starts to go black around the time I get my hands around the throat of Chambers, the guy running this monkey show. As I lose consciousness, I can see the monitors behind Chambers as cyclopean buildings topple and disappear forever into the near-infinite darkness of the abyss.
Let me restate that because I choose my words carefully. As dark as the trench can possibly be at that depth, the light filtered out by the unimaginable weight of salt water, fish, ships, and whatever crap we have dumped out there this last week or so, the darkness I saw flicker on the video monitor was infinitely darker. I don’t pretend to know what it was. In my most primal, depraved, drug induced bottom-scraping depths, I have never come so close to seeing anything so totally beyond my own comprehension.
I wake up on a New Zealand fishing boat that rescued the dozen or so of us lucky enough to survive the wrecking of the Al Haziz. I consider myself fortunate to have been unconscious for the whole sinking and rescue, because the crewmen who witnessed the event have not spoken a word since. I doubt most of them will live long enough to see the shore. I know now that there are some things that man was not meant to know. In our arrogance, we woke one of those things up. God help us all, if it is not already too late.