Lovecraft 101: The Basics Of Cthulhu Mythos Fiction

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by Mark McLaughlin

Because I’ve written many Cthulhu Mythos stories, people often ask me questions about the creator of the Mythos, Howard Phillips Lovecraft. They usually know that he was an author from an earlier time and that his fiction is still fairly popular. They often ask which of his stories are the best ones to read to get a better understanding of his work. Launching into Lovecraft’s work for the first time can be daunting, since his tales are set in such an elaborate fictional universe.

Discovering the works of H.P. Lovecraft is like finding a yellowed treasure map stuck in a dusty old book. The more you study it, the more you find yourself wondering: Could this be real? Have I come across something truly magical?

Lovecraft wrote wild, complex tales of fantasy, science-fiction and horror, and certainly, for many readers they do seem magical. Lovecraft also possessed a talent for generating convincing details, creating a world that could seem surprisingly genuine, when combined with his fervent style. That’s why his stories are still being read today, and will be read for years to come.

Lovecraft was born August 20, 1890 in Providence, Rhode Island. His most memorable stories appeared in Weird Tales and other horror and science-fiction pulp magazines, mostly in the 1920s and ‘30s. They were called pulp magazines because they were usually printed on a cheap grade of wood-pulp paper.

Lovecraft’s top stories include “The Dunwich Horror,” “The Call of Cthulhu,” “At the Mountains of Madness,” “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” and “The Colour Out of Space.” If a person wants to read Lovecraft, those are great stories to start with, since they all contain a substantial amount of background information. Lovecraft also excelled at poetry, and his greatest achievement in that field was a sequence of sonnets known as “Fungi From Yuggoth.” The money he made from writing did little to support him, and he had to rely in part on a family inheritance. He died in poverty at age 46 on March 15, 1937.

Many of Lovecraft’s protagonists were scholars, mystics and explorers. They didn’t seem to have or need day-jobs. You won’t find any hardware store owners, advertising executives, or interior decorators in his works! There are some female characters in Lovecraft’s stories, but not many. That may be because there weren’t many women in his life, though he did work with female writers in his role as a ghost-writer. He eventually married one of his writer friends – a businesswoman named Sonia Greene. It was a short-lived marriage, but they cared deeply for each other.

Most of Lovecraft stories are set in the fictional city of Arkham, Massachusetts, home of the equally fictional Miskatonic University. Arkham is loosely based on Salem, Massachusetts. Lovecraft’s best-known creation is undoubtedly Cthulhu, the cosmic entity introduced in the story “The Call of Cthulhu,” which appeared in Weird Tales in 1928. Cthulhu was a gigantic monstrosity of alien origins. His scaly, bulbous head featured a beard of tentacles, and his flabby, dragon-like body included long wings and fierce talons.

Lovecraft’s friend, writer August Derleth, named Lovecraft’s monster-mythology the Cthulhu Mythos. The mythos included multiple creatures divided into specific groups – the Outer Gods, the Great Old Ones, the Great Ones, and the Elder Gods. The Outer Gods are ruled by the daemon-sultan Azathoth, who holds court at the center of the cosmos. His entourage includes Yog-Sothoth, who co-rules with Azathoth and appears as a mass of iridescent globes. The messenger of the court is Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos. The court of Azathoth includes the female nature deity Shub-Niggurath, known as the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young.

Other deities in the mythology of H.P. Lovecraft include the Great Old Ones, a group of ancient, alien entities who once ruled the Earth and have since become dormant, but can still make their influence felt. The most prominent of these deities is the aforementioned Cthulhu, who sank with his temple on the island of R’lyeh to the ocean floor. But someday, it is said, when the stars are right, the island will rise again and Cthulhu will be let loose, to infect the world with his madness.

The Great Ones are the minor gods of Earth who rule the Dreamlands – the domain of dreams, mentioned in many Lovecraft stories. The deity Nyarlathotep protects the Great Ones. When Nyarlathotep visits our world, he sometimes appears as a tall man who resembles an Egyptian Pharaoh. He can also take on many other appearances – mostly monstrous.

After Lovecraft’s death, August Derleth tried to arrange Lovecraft’s deities, and some of his own creations, into groups of good vs. evil, or even the elements of earth, air, fire and water. His Elder Gods were supposed to be ‘good’ gods. But, Lovecraft’s creations were never meant to be neatly divided into good and evil forces, like Christian angels and demons. With the possible exception of the more sophisticated Nyarlathotep, the majority of Lovecraft’s entities were bestial and amoral.

At the center of most of Lovecraft’s stories is the Necronomicon, a fictional chronicle and guide to mythology and magic. The book made its premiere in Lovecraft’s 1924 story, “The Hound.” Allegedly, anyone who read the book went mad because of all its arcane secrets. The author of the Necronomicon was Abdul Alhazred, a reclusive poet of the deserts who worshiped Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu.

The name Abdul Alhazred was actually a pseudonym that a very young Lovecraft enjoyed using after reading 1,001 Arabian Nights. Many readers of Cthulhu Mythos tales have believed the Necronomicon to be a real book, and to this day, libraries and bookstores still receive queries, asking if they have any copies available.

Lovecraft was probably inspired to create the Necronomicon by Robert W. Chambers’ book, The King in Yellow, which features a book of evil also named The King in Yellow. Like the Necronomicon, The King in Yellow drives its readers insane once they’ve read it. Lovecraft absorbed many aspects of The King in Yellow into his fiction. He also encouraged others to write about his characters, monsters, and mysterious settings … and decades later, many of today’s horror writers still do, including myself.

If you’d like to see some of the Cthulhu Mythos books I’ve written over the years, take a look at many of the other blog entries on this website. You can also check out my author’s page at Amazon:
https://www.amazon.com/Mark-McLaughlin/e/B008QCY4TC

Many of my latest tales of Lovecraftian horror, co-written by Michael Sheehan, Jr., can be found in these collections:

HORRORS & ABOMINATIONS: 24 Tales Of The Cthulhu Mythos. Paperback available on Amazon:
US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1791560520/
UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1791560520/

THE HOUSE OF THE OCELOT & More Lovecraftian Nightmares. Paperback available on Amazon:
US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1795518367/
UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1795518367/

 

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“The Gateway to Carcosa” – A Story from HORRORS & ABOMINATIONS

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Below you will find the story, “The Gateway to Carcosa,” from the Lovecraftian fiction collection, HORRORS & ABOMINATIONS: 24 Tales Of The Cthulhu Mythos by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.  Enjoy!

The paperback collection is available on Amazon: 
US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1791560520/
UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1791560520/

You can also watch a reading of this story at:

The Gateway To Carcosa

by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.

This is the thing that troubles me, for I cannot forget Carcosa, where black stars hang in the heavens, where the shadows of men’s thoughts lengthen in the afternoon, when the twin suns sink into the Lake of Hali, and my mind will bear forever the memory of the Pallid Mask.

– Robert W. Chambers, “The Repairer Of Reputations”
 

As Ethan drove his midnight-blue Cadillac into the parking lot of the Aylesbury Public Library, he noticed something odd about the ivy-draped brick building. The frames of the doors and windows were all painted gold-metallic. He thought it seemed like an overly flashy touch for a humble small-town library in Massachusetts. But then, he pondered, why did a library have to be considered humble? Maybe there was something marvelous inside. Perhaps even regal. Certainly, that was what he hoped.

He had no problem finding a parking space near the front door: only one other car was in the lot. He entered the library and wondered if they’d forgotten to turn on some of the lights. The interior of the building was unusually dim. The windows were located high on the walls, and the slant of the sunlight coming in didn’t seem to reach the floor.

He soon saw the driver of the other vehicle. Clearly it had to be the librarian at the front desk. She was a slender, pale woman with dark, sleepy eyes. Her long black hair hung down from her scalp like a wet curtain. For one unnerving moment, she seemed to resemble a drowning victim, risen from the depths. She looked up with a polite smile and the illusion passed.  

He walked up to the desk. “Good morning. My name is Roger Clarence. I understand you have a rare book here entitled The King In Yellow. Would it be possible for me to look at it today?”

The clerk’s smile drooped into an expressive frown. “Look at it?” Her voice was surprisingly low and raspy. “Do you not intend to read it?”

“Well, of course I intend to read it,” he said. “That goes without saying.”

“Not necessarily,” she said. “If you only wanted to give it a cursory examination, I could grant such a request immediately. But if you wish to sit down and read it, I will first need to acquire the permission of the Executive Director. Then I will need to set up a private room in which you can read it, free of distractions.”

What distractions? Roger wondered. The place is empty except for the two of us. “Sorry, I misunderstood. Yes, I intend to read it. If you need to call your Director, go ahead.”

“The Executive Director is in the building,” she said, “but he’s very busy. I’ll tell him you wish to read the book. I’ll see what can be done for you. In the meantime, you’re free to look around, of course.”

“Thank you, I will.”

Roger began to wander through the dim rows of books. It soon became apparent that the facility’s collection was mediocre at best. His favorite library, located on the campus of Arkham’s Miskatonic University, had a larger and more extensive selection, but the one thing it did not have was a copy of The King In Yellow, which he needed to see.

He only knew a few facts about the book. The text was the script of a two-act play set in the mythical city of Carcosa, near the mist-shrouded lake of Hali. The title character was a supernatural entity, apparently both a demon and royalty, who interacts with two women of the city, Camilla and Cassilda. And, Roger’s elderly father, Graham, had spent his final years in a private mental institution because he had read the book all the way through.

For several months before he died, Graham pleaded with Roger to help find the key to the Gateway to Carcosa. The old man had read the book at the library in his hometown of Aylesbury and by reading the book, he knew there was a Gateway to this ancient, beautiful city.

“If I could show people the Gateway,” Graham had said, “they would know I am not insane. Help me find the Key. Once I have it, the Gateway will present itself to me. Then I can show it to others. They will know there’s nothing wrong with me. People say reading The King In Yellow can drive a person insane. I say it can reveal the path to the wonderful reality beyond the world we know. Be my clever boy, Roger. Find the Key.”

If only he hadn’t laughed when his father told him those things. He couldn’t help but laugh: it all sounded so silly … so theatrical and bizarre. The look on Graham’s face was the definitive image of despair. The next day, the old man killed himself by cutting his own throat with a broken bottle.

Roger realized too late that he had destroyed his father by not believing him. But what if Graham had been right?

Clearly Roger needed to know the truth about The King In Yellow. The only way to do so would be to find the book and try it figure it all out.

As he wandered through the library, he passed the entrance of a hallway which seemed darker than most. As he looked down the hall, he noticed a metallic gleam. The gleam then shifted and took the form – or rather, the silhouette – of a tall, robed man wearing an elaborate crown, or perhaps headdress. The silhouette seemed to be cut from a sheet of burnished gold. It shifted again and within a second, disappeared from sight.  

He walked down the hall, hoping to catch sight of the gold silhouette again. He noticed a door with a window of frosted glass at the far end. The glass glowed pale gold. Was the room beyond lit by a yellow bulb? That didn’t make any sense. The builders had probably installed yellow glass in the door’s window – perhaps for the same odd reason that had compelled them to paint the outside window and door frames gold-metallic.

He turned to walk back to the bookstacks, but instead found himself entering a large hallway from which branched dozens of smaller halls. This can’t be right, he thought. The building isn’t big enough. This doesn’t make sense.

He crossed the major hall to enter a smaller one, and again found himself staring at the gleaming silhouette of burnished gold. This time, the silhouette was closer, and he noticed a thin slit running down the middle of the metal sheet. Like before, the vision shifted and disappeared. He walked down this hall and at its end, found another door with a glowing pane of glass.

He walked back to the main hallway and found, to his confusion, that it was now much narrower. He walked briskly up the hallway, passing dozens of side halls. Finally he stopped. The distance he’d walked had to be at least four times longer than the actual building, and yet he wasn’t making any progress.

This place isn’t big enough to be a labyrinth, he thought. There’s no way I can be lost, yet I am. Maybe I just need to call out to the librarian. She can tell me what’s happening.

“Miss?” he shouted. “Miss, can you hear me?”

He waiting, listening, but couldn’t hear a thing. He glanced down a side hall and saw the glint of gold again. He hurried toward it. Soon it became the gold silhouette, shaped like a crowned man – but before it came within reach, it shifted and disappeared.

He continued walking and sure enough, there was another door with glowing glass. Clearly his only option was to pass through. He was about to grab the knob when the door was opened from the other side.

“Oh, there you are,” said the dark-haired librarian. “Sorry I took so long. The Executive Director is very busy today, so I had wait a while for him to see me. Come right in.”

Speechless and confused, Roger nodded and entered what appeared to be a simple office with a wooden desk and chair, as well as several filing cabinets. He took just a moment to examine the glass in the door and it was indeed tinted a light shade of amber.

“Is there something wrong with the glass?” the librarian said with a frown.

Roger shrugged. “No, not  at all.” He noticed she held a sheaf of papers. “What do you have there?”

“The book, of course.” She set the sheaf on the desk. “Or rather, photocopies of the pages. We keep these copies on hand to satisfy requests like yours. The book is too valuable to allow people to handle it. The Executive Director said you can read it in this form.” She tapped the sheaf with her forefinger. “I should add, this is a photocopy of the true, unaltered edition. Years ago, a gentleman asked to read the book. At the time, we also owned an inferior copy from an edited printing. Our current Director wasn’t working here then, so we didn’t recognize it for what it was. The imperfect edited version left out vital knowledge, and sadly, it left left the reader in question so confused … so addled.… Let’s just say the results were not optimal.”

With a sad smile, she walked out of the room, closing the door behind her.

Roger sat down and began to read.

The hours passed as he pored over page after page of The King In Yellow. He soon found himself entranced by the customs, rituals and pageantry of the mythical city of Carcosa. The play was written so beautifully, with such soul-flaying tenderness, that he found himself brought to tears many times.

As he neared the end of Act One, he began to wonder if in fact, Carcosa was the real sharp-edged world and his own dull reality was the myth. He learned about the Pallid Mask and the cries it made in the Tower that Ascends Forever. He read on into Act Two, even as the walls of the room began to fade away. He did not question the fact that the room’s door was still standing. Its pane of amber glass shone like a warm, inviting dawn. Heavy mists from the Lake of Hali encircled him. Overhead, three moons drifted into view in an impossible sky flecked with black stars.

The gold silhouette appeared before him, and having read about the King and the Pallid Mask, he knew now: this was the Gateway to Carcosa. His father had only read the edited version, and so, did not know what he was asking when he asked Roger to find the Key for him.

Roger could never have handed him the Key to the Gateway because in fact, the Key was Death.

Roger walked to the amber glass and shattered it with his fist. Taking up a shard, he ran the sharp edge across his throat. Hot blood spurted from his neck, but he didn’t feel any pain. The slit down the middle of the Gateway opened up and the two halves swung open.

Ahead, he saw his father standing in a glorious garden. A robe of white silk was draped around his narrow shoulders. Behind him, flowering vines crept up a gold-metallic trellis. By his side stood a fine-boned, silver-haired woman, holding an exquisite blood-red orchid. A peacock of gleaming midnight-blue strutted toward her. She extended the flower and laughed as the bird pecked it to shreds.

Tears of happiness streaming down his face, Roger hurried through the Gateway.

The old man looked his way and smiled. “Look, Cassilda!” cried the old man. “My Roger has found the Key! What a clever boy!”

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Top 13 Lovecraftian Movies NOT Based on Lovecraft

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by Mark McLaughlin

There are plenty of great movies based on the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, creator of the Cthulhu Mythos. And, there a lot of great movies of a Lovecraftian nature that aren’t based on his stories – but they have a lot in common with his works, so they are often associated with him.

What elements make a movie appear to be Lovecraftian? Basically, if the movie features any of the usual trappings one might find in a Cthulhu Mythos story, that will forge the connection in the minds of viewers. Those elements can include:

  1. Hideous life-forms with tentacles and/or misshapen bodies. These life-forms can include otherworldly gods with strange, polysyllabic names. Monstrous, otherworldly oceanic beings also give off a Lovecraftian vibe. A shark movie like Jaws would not be considered Lovecraftian, since the shark is simply large and ferocious.
  2. Gateways to Hell-like alternate dimensions. Phantasm, with its bizarre dimension of evil hooded minions, provides a great example.
  3. An evil book with unholy powers. That age-old grimoire, the Necronomicon, plays a pivotal role in the Cthulhu Mythos, since it’s the Bible of Lovecraft’s universe. If a horror movie has an evil book in it, chances are, the filmmakers were trying to capture that Lovecraftian Necronomicon vibe.
  4. Lost races and human regression. Folks who have devolved into subhuman or fishlike creatures are essential to Lovecraftian fiction. The stories The Rats in the Walls and The Shadow over Innsmouth are prime examples.
  5. Obscure cults and rituals. A movie about a Satanic cult, like The Devil’s Rain, would not be considered Lovecraftian because it concerns Christianity. The sinister, inhuman cult in The Void is extremely Lovecraftian.
  6. Egyptian horror. Lovecraft’s character Nyarlathotep is an essential element of the Mythos. The androgynous god Ra in the movie Stargate is a fine example of a Nyarlathotep-like character. If the horror element is just the presence of mummies, that’s not enough to regard the movie as Lovecraftian. Mummies are really just undead folks, and Lovecraft covered that topic extensively in two stories (The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and Herbert West–Reanimator) that had nothing to do with mummies.

Below, I list the top 13 Lovecraftian movies that are not based on the Cthulhu Mythos. But before I do, here are some honorable mentions.

Ghosts of Mars (2001) tells of malevolent Martian spirits who enter and possess human visitors to the red planet. The combination of science-fiction and undead alien souls has a strong Lovecraftian feel to it. Quatermass and the Pit (also known as Five Million Years to Earth, 1967) also concerns malevolent Martian spirits. In this movie, alien spirits have come to Earth and they begin to possess humans. The Martians look like a horrific cross between gargoyles and locusts.

The Phantasm franchise, which began in 1979, features a strong mix of horror and science-fiction elements, including gateways to the dimension of evil robed creatures, as noted above. Stargate (1994) features an androgynous, evil pharaoh, reminiscent of Nyarlathotep, also noted above.

The Maze (1953) is a black-and-white 3D movie about a family curse, and the plot has a few elements in common with The Shadow over Innsmouth. Black Sunday (1960) is reminiscent of Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Both feature a deceased practitioner of the dark arts who strives to take the place of a look-alike modern descendant.

I now offer you the top 13, revealed in reverse order. I also provide the year in which each was released.

13. Monster on the Campus (1958): Most people probably would not associate this movie with Lovecraft. Even so, I think Cthulhu Mythos enthusiasts would enjoy it. A scientist accidentally discovers a way to turn life-forms into devolved/prehistoric versions of themselves. The pseudo-science of this B-movie epic is delightfully bizarre.

12. The Cat Creature (1973 TV movie): I’ve always loved this creepy, moody film. The title monster is an Egyptian shape-shifter, and in one of its forms, it reminds me of Nyarlathotep when he takes on the human form of a pharaoh. Also, the tone of the movie, like that of some of Lovecraft’s stories, is reminiscent of a detective mystery. Lovecraft wrote during the era of pulp magazines and many of his stories featured the breathless tone found in mystery tales at that time.

11. The Mole People (1956): Lovecraft wrote frequently about lost races, secret societies, and beings that dwell in darkness. With that in mind, The Mole People is entertainment pay-dirt for anyone who enjoys his work. It’s a thrilling adventure set deep underground, where a race of albino Sumerians dwell in an ancient stone city. The Sumerians have enslaved a grotesque mutant race of mole-like humanoids, who make great pseudo-Lovecraftian creatures.   

10. Gargoyles (TV movie, 1972): Like The Mole People, Gargoyles is an exciting tale about a lost race. I rank this one a notch higher than The Mole People because it works to establish the fact that gargoyles are a part of human history. We learn that long-ago memories of the gargoyles are what led to humanity’s belief in demons. That assertion actually makes the movie seem more real – because it makes sense.

9. Hellraiser franchise (first movie 1987): Hellraiser, as most horror movie fans know, is about the Cenobites, a cult of sadistic pleasure-seekers who visit Earth from their Hell-dimension. The Cenobites are always working to bring recruits into their realm of horrors. The cult has a highly sexual, pain-oriented manifesto, which often detracts from the more Lovecraftian themes.

8. Dagora, the Space Monster (1964): Dagora is a gigantic, jellyfish-like space creature that feasts on carbon in its many forms. This Japanese movie monster is quite interesting, but it never really captured America’s imagination as Godzilla did. Dagora looks very much like a jellyfish and so, has no eyes. Audiences probably would have connected more with the creature if it had been given expressive eyes. Still, the movie is well-developed and entertaining.

7. The Green Slime (1968): The Green Slime comes alive with a swarm of tentacled, one-eyed, human-sized monsters, all invading a busy space station. The single red eye of each monster gives them a savage, evil look … far more malevolent than eyeless Dagora. The movie is unintentionally campy, but I rank it fairly high because it doesn’t skimp on the monsters. It trots out a veritable space-army of rubbery mini-Cthulhus, and that makes me smile.

6. The Beyond (1981): This brooding Italian horror is reminiscent of Dreams in the Witch House. A woman inherits a hotel which may also hold a gateway to a Hell-like dimension … just as the witch house offers access to an evil realm. The film is surreal, nightmarish and mesmerizing, and the presence of a grimoire entitled Eibon amps up the Lovecraftian mood. The Cthulhu Mythos includes a grimoire called the Book of Eibon, but the name is probably all the two fictitious books have in common.

5. Godzilla franchise (first movie 1954): Like Cthulhu, Japanese movie monster Godzilla is a gigantic, dragon-like horror that rises from the sea to destroy humanity. Also, both Godzilla and Cthulhu can hibernate for great lengths of time. Many of the Godzilla movies are much campier than the original, and so, are less Lovecraftian. Godzilla’s universe also features many other oversized monstrosities, just as Lovecraft’s universe features more creatures than just Cthulhu. A rival studio released a different movie series about Gamera, a gigantic turtle – but let’s face it, a turtle isn’t all that scary. Most Gamera movies were aimed at younger turtle-loving viewers.

4. Alien franchise (first movie 1979): The monster in this movie franchise isn’t as big as Godzilla, but it is far more terrifying. Its appearance is completely unearthly, and more insectile than humanoid. It is also a ravenous eating machine, a predator with no concern whatsoever for other living beings. It does not try to connect with its victims in any way. In that regard, the alien is just like Cthulhu, who has no concern whatsoever for humans.

3. Event Horizon (1997): Event Horizon presents the concept of a haunted house in outer space, a spaceship being the house. The movie fulfills that vision with horrendous, Lovecraftian gusto. What we have here is a spaceship that has visited a Hell-dimension … and brought back some Hell with it. After all, can anyone dip into a universe of evil and emerge unscathed? It’s a gloriously dark, multi-layered movie that has become a cult classic.

2. The Void (2016): Speaking of cult movies…. The Void is, in fact, a cult movie about a cult. A small town is besieged by the robed followers of an unearthly religion, and before long, a group of people find themselves trapped in a hospital. The followers have black triangles for faces and are genuinely disturbing. Tentacled monsters and horrific rituals are plentiful in this nightmarish adventure throughout the film. The movie is practically condensed cream-of-Lovecraft soup, with all the things you love about the Cthulhu Mythos boiled down into a thick, savory bisque.

1. In the Mouth of Madness (1994): I’ve watched this one several times, and it never disappoints. I always notice something new with each viewing. What we have here is a robust horror film with thinly veiled references to the works of Lovecraft and Stephen King. This movie is the ultimate Lovecraftian meta-fiction. But really, isn’t a meta-fiction, in itself, a surreal concept worthy of Lovecraft himself – an unearthly story within a story? In the Mouth of Madness captures the very essence of insanity: not being able to tell fact from fantasy. It also features passageways to other dimensions, ghoulish monsters, and of course, plenty of tentacles.

So there you have it: my top 13 Lovecraftian movies not based on Lovecraft. If you love the works of H.P. Lovecraft as much as I do, perhaps you might enjoy reading my tales of Lovecraftian horror, co-written by Michael Sheehan, Jr.:

HORRORS & ABOMINATIONS: 24 Tales Of The Cthulhu Mythos. Paperback available on Amazon:
US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1791560520/
UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1791560520/

THE HOUSE OF THE OCELOT & More Lovecraftian Nightmares. Paperback available on Amazon:
US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1795518367/
UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1795518367/

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These books are companion volumes, and many of the tales are continuations of Lovecraft’s best stories. In addition to co-authoring the books, I also created the cover art for both. I feel the effort was well worth it.

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The 10 Greatest Stories Of H.P. Lovecraft

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by Mark McLaughlin

I’ve always loved the works of H.P. Lovecraft – even when I was a little boy. My parents used to drop me off at the library when they went shopping, and I’d spend the afternoon reading horror stories. My folks were pretty laissez faire about where they left me, back in those days! I wouldn’t suggest that anyone should ever use their local library as a free babysitting service.

That library’s fiction section held half a shelf of Arkham House story collections and anthologies, and so I read loads of stories by H.P. Lovecraft, August Derleth, Robert Bloch, Carl Jacobi, Donald Wandrei, and many others. Reading those stories made me realize that when I grew up, I should also write horror stories … so I did, and still do.

Of all the authors I read back then, I enjoyed the works of Lovecraft the most. They were so awe-inspiring, so utterly entrancing! Over the years, I’ve read each of his stories dozens of times. Fore the record, my favorite Lovecraft story is “The Dunwich Horror.” Back when I was a kid, I thought it was the best story ever written. As an adult, I now realize it’s a bit heavy on the exposition, but hey, I still get a kick out of it.

I’ve written many Lovecraftian stories over the years, and often I’m asked which HPL works are my favorites. With that in mind, I have compiled a list of what I consider to be his ten greatest tales. What do I mean by ‘greatest’? Basically, the list includes stories that display his incredible imagination to full advantage. My list does not include any of Lovecraft’s collaborative works. There are just too many to consider.

You will notice that some of Lovecraft’s classic stories are not on my list. Here are some notes on my process. “Dagon” is a fine story, but arguably, it’s a simpler version of the longer and more complex “The Call of Cthulhu.” By that same token, “The Festival” is, in many ways, a shorter version of “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” in that both feature protagonists who have adventures and learn their true origins.

Short stories like “The Statement of Randolph Carter,” “In the Vault,” “The Unnamable,” “The Hound,” “The Outsider,” “The Music of Erich Zann,” “From Beyond,” “The Cats of Ulthar,” “Cool Air,” “The Picture in the House,” and “Pickman’s Model” are outstanding, but they rely on twist/surprise endings and offer less depth than the top ten I’ve selected. Other short stories, like “The White Ship” and “The Terrible Old Man,” read more like vignettes or prose-poems than actual full-bodied stories.

Longer stories like “The Lurking Fear,” “The Rats in the Walls,” “The Horror at Red Hook,” “The Thing on the Doorstep,” “He” and “The Shunned House” are all well-developed, with more impact than the twist/surprise-ending stories I’d mentioned, but they are only marginally connected to Lovecraft’s more robust Cthulhu Mythos stories, which would be considered his greatest and most groundbreaking works.

“The Shadow out of Time” would be No. 12 on this list. It is a majestic, wonderful story with a high degree of development, but it is told at a more leisurely pace than one usually expects from Lovecraft, and the twist at the end is not as impactful as many of his other endings.

“The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” would be No. 11.  At 51,112 words, it’s Lovecraft’s only novel. It’s a grand tale of wizardry, reanimation of the dead, and ancient family secrets. It doesn’t have much Cthulhu Mythos content in it, and while a Lovecraft story does not require Mythos content to be entertaining, I still find his Mythos tales to be more enthralling and original. Plus, Lovecraft’s story “Herbert West–Reanimator” also concerns reanimation, and Herbert West is a more compelling character.

I now present the top ten, revealed in reverse order. I also provide the year in which each was written.

10. “The Whisperer in Darkness,” 1930: This 26,000-word novella is a blend of horror and science-fiction. It tells of a secret Earth colony of the Mi-go, a race of fungoid creatures from Pluto, also known as Yuggoth. This story is highly imaginative and entertaining, and really, my only major gripe is that the aliens try to drug the protagonist’s coffee at one point. Really? Horrific fungoid creatures from outer space try to slip a guy a mickey? One has to remember, the story was written back in the era of pulp magazines, and in those stories, it wasn’t uncommon for a bad guy to engage in sneaky mickey-slipping. 

9. “Herbert West–Reanimator,” 1921-22: This story ran in six issues of a magazine. The narrative suffers from being divided into six segments, since there is some rehashing of plot elements from one segment to the next. In this tale, a medical genius has developed a serum to raise the dead. This story really has nothing to do with the Cthulhu Mythos, but I like how Lovecraft has crafted a zombie tale as a work of dark science-fiction … much like the original Frankenstein novel, actually. Lovecraft did much to combine horror and science-fiction in delightfully weird, inventive ways.

8. “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” 1926-27: This magical novella-length adventure tells of Randolph Carter, an adventurer who explores a fantasy dimension, the Dreamlands, to find a mysterious, beautiful city. This story deserves more attention, since it is wonderfully imaginative and exotic – so if you haven’t read it yet, be sure to check it out. The various domains of Oz pale in comparison to Lovecraft’s Dreamlands. The adventure provides numerous insights into the Cthulhu Mythos, including additional information on that brooding Lovecraftian deity, Nyarlathotep.

7. “The Dreams in the Witch House,” 1932: A cursory reading of this story might lead one to think it is about a boarding house haunted by a witch. But actually, the plot transcends the typical haunted house drama by revealing that the witch, Keziah Mason, travels through time and space with ease. Her wicked familiar, Brown Jenkin, is a hybrid creature with the body of a huge rat and a ghastly human face. This story is a compelling combination of Gothic menace and sci-fi/horror, and an avatar of Nyarlathotep makes an appearance.

6. “The Haunter of the Dark,” 1935: This is the tale of a young scholar who takes an interest in a sinister church, once part of an evil cult. The cult drew its power from an alien artifact known as the Shining Trapezohedron. Like “The Dreams in the Witch House,” this tale combines a haunted building story with far-flung science-fiction/horror concepts. Also like “Witch House,” this story provides insights into the horrendous nature of Nyarlathotep. This story is a sequel to Robert Bloch’s 1935 story, “The Shambler from the Stars.” In 1950, Bloch wrote “The Shadow from the Steeple,” a sequel to “The Haunter of the Dark.”

5. “At the Mountains of Madness,” 1931: The novella “At the Mountains of Madness” concerns a bold Miskatonic University expedition to Antarctica. The explorers discover what is left of an ancient city, once populated by monstrous beings known as the Elder Things and their rubbery, shapeless servants, the Shoggoths. This story recounts how many of the creatures and races found in Lovecraft’s work first came to Earth, and so, is a valuable resource in understanding the overall history of these beings and their interactions on our planet. The Elder Things are fascinating, highly intelligent aliens, and it’s a pity that Lovecraft never expanded this tale into a longer novel.     

4. “The Dunwich Horror,” 1928: In “The Dunwich Horror,” we meet Wilbur Whateley, a seemingly deformed young man who travels to Miskatonic University’s library on a questionable mission. He wants to read the Necronomicon, a book of ancient occult secrets. We soon learn that he is actually part-human, part-transdimensional deity, and that he is trying to carry out a monstrous agenda. We learn a lot about the Necronomicon and the deity Yog-Sothoth in this tale, and the descriptions of the outlandish Lovecraftian creatures (Wilbur and a certain relative) are priceless.

3. “The Colour Out of Space,” 1927: This is one of the finest tales ever written about the horrors of living in rural isolation. Lovecraft also addressed this theme in “The Dunwich Horror” and “The Picture in the House.” A meteorite hits the farm of Nahum Gardner, and a living alien color transfers from the meteorite into the soil, gradually poisoning the plants, animals and humans living on the property. The story is an excellent tale of a monstrous first encounter between humans and an alien presence, and it truly confirms that Lovecraft was an early master at combining science-fiction with horror.  

2. “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” 1931: This is certainly one of the best small-town-with-a-secret stories ever written. As we learn more and more about the community of Innsmouth, we soon come to realize that its residents are in communication with forces of evil. But are they really evil? Like beauty, evil is clearly in the eye of the beholder. We also learn about the Cthulhu Mythos in this story – and about human nature, too. This is an especially well-developed story and while the ending features a twist, it’s rather profound, and also one that most readers will not see coming.

1. “The Call of Cthulhu,” 1926: I find it amusing that “The Call of Cthulhu,” one of the greatest, most original horror stories ever written, was first published in Weird Tales magazine – but it wasn’t the cover story for that issue. The cover was devoted to a story entitled “The Ghost Table.” Poor Cthulhu had to ride in the back seat and let some haunted furniture take the wheel. “The Call of Cthulhu” certainly deserved the cover, since it is a wildly imaginative masterwork. It unveils the tale of an unspeakable ancient entity, asleep in a temple at the bottom of the sea. Obviously, it is the definitive Cthulhu Mythos tale – a mystical, exciting adventure told in Lovecraft’s inimitable style.

I love Lovecraft’s work so much, I’ve made it my long-term goal to write a sequel (or in one case, prequel) to every major story he ever wrote. I’m not finished yet, but here is the progress I’ve made so far:

Lovecraft story: “The Shadow over Innsmouth”
My sequel: “The Tantalizing Taste You Will Never Forget” (co-written by Michael Sheehan, Jr.)
Where the sequel can be found: Horrors & Abominations: 24 Tales Of The Cthulhu Mythos by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.

Lovecraft story: “The Call of Cthulhu”
My sequel: “The Testament of Cthulhu” (co-written by Michael Sheehan, Jr.)
Where the sequel can be found: Horrors & Abominations: 24 Tales Of The Cthulhu Mythos by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.

Lovecraft story: “From Beyond”
My sequel: “The Curse of the Tillinghasts” (co-written by Michael Sheehan, Jr.)
Where the sequel can be found: Horrors & Abominations: 24 Tales Of The Cthulhu Mythos by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.

Lovecraft story: “The Rats in the Walls”
My sequel: “The Nightmare in Delapore Tower” (co-written by Michael Sheehan, Jr.)
Where the sequel can be found: Horrors & Abominations: 24 Tales Of The Cthulhu Mythos by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.

Lovecraft story: “The Creature in the Waxworks”
My sequel: “The Whisperer in Darkness” (co-written by Michael Sheehan, Jr.)
Where the sequel can be found: Horrors & Abominations: 24 Tales Of The Cthulhu Mythos by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.

Lovecraft story: “The Haunter of the Dark”
My prequel: “The Abominations of Nephren-Ka” (co-written by Michael Sheehan, Jr.)
Where the sequel can be found: Horrors & Abominations: 24 Tales Of The Cthulhu Mythos by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.

Lovecraft story: “The House of the Ocelot”
My sequel: “The Cats of Ulthar” (co-written by Michael Sheehan, Jr.)
Where the sequel can be found: The House of the Ocelot & More Lovecraftian Nightmares by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.

Lovecraft story: “The Terrible Old Man”
My sequel: “Another Terrible Old Man” (co-written by Michael Sheehan, Jr.)
Where the sequel can be found: The House of the Ocelot & More Lovecraftian Nightmares by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.

Lovecraft story: “At the Mountains of Madness”
My sequel: “Shoggoth Apocalypse” (co-written by Michael Sheehan, Jr.)
Where the sequel can be found: The House of the Ocelot & More Lovecraftian Nightmares by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.

Lovecraft story: “The Dunwich Horror”
My sequel: “The Surprising Sweetness of Their Blood” (co-written by Michael Sheehan, Jr.)
Where the sequel can be found: The House of the Ocelot & More Lovecraftian Nightmares by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.

Lovecraft story: “Herbert West–Reanimator”
My sequel: “The Glorious Return of Herbert West” (co-written by Michael Sheehan, Jr.)
Where the sequel can be found: The House of the Ocelot & More Lovecraftian Nightmares by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.

Lovecraft story: “The Dreams in the Witch House”
My sequels: “The Last Witch-House” and “Uncle Caesar”
Where the sequels can be found: The House of the Ocelot & More Lovecraftian Nightmares by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.

Where to find the books: 

HORRORS & ABOMINATIONS: 24 Tales Of The Cthulhu Mythos by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr. Paperback on Amazon:
US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1791560520/
UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1791560520/

THE HOUSE OF THE OCELOT & More Lovecraftian Nightmares by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr. Paperback on Amazon:
US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1795518367/
UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1795518367/

 

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Post-Apocalyptic Novel Offers Hope For The Future

apocalypse-cover    Mike-and-Mark-Photo

Above, the cover of the new book, APOCALYPSE AMERICA!, and the authors, Michael McCarty (in glasses) and Mark McLaughlin.

APOCALYPSE AMERICA! is available in both paperback and Kindle formats. Please use these links to find out more about the novel in each format:
Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07QFGK36Y/
Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1095333763/

APOCALYPSE AMERICA!, a new science-fiction novel by authors Michael McCarty and Mark McLaughlin, tells of a future when the world will be under attack by Internet Witches, flesh-eating dust mites, murderous robots, and mutant scorpions. But according to the authors, the novel is actually a tale of hope and redemption.

“The novel is set in a terrifying future,” McCarty said. “Following a devastating nuclear war, America has turned into a wasteland. A cult of digital beings known as Internet Witches have used their advanced technology to attack the country through its computers. Humanity’s fate rests with Cain, a young nomad who must find a legendary paradise known as Eden. Cain is joined on his trek by new friends and together, they work to save Earth’s remaining people from destruction.”

McLaughlin noted that the protagonist, Cain, is a survivor – an eternal optimist who doesn’t panic. “As a team, Cain and his friends are able to fight monsters and still proceed with their objectives,” he said. “They take a look at the seemingly insurmountable problems around them, assess their resources, and work out an action plan. If something doesn’t work, they try something else. I think that’s a good game-plan for all of us. Don’t let the world get you down. Keep striving for success. Find like-minded friends and work with them to achieve mutual goals.”

APOCALYPSE AMERICA! may be a post-apocalyptic novel, but there’s an underlying positive message: Never give up!” McCarty said.   

“I think this book will resonate with readers because at some point in our lives, we all may face a personal apocalypse,” McLaughlin said. “We may lose a pet, or a job we enjoyed. Our health may suffer. We may even lose a loved one. But no matter what goes wrong in our loves, we still have to move on with our lives. We have to find the strength to face tomorrow, and move forward with purpose.”

McCarty’s recent books include Lost Girl of the Lake (coauthored by Joe McKinney), Conversations with Kreskin, and Modern Mythmakers: 35 Interviews with Horror and Science Fiction Writers and Filmmakers. McLaughlin’s latest paperback releases are Horrors & Abominations and The House of the Ocelot (both co-authored by Michael Sheehan, Jr.).

To find out more about the works of Michael McCarty, visit https://monstermikeyaauthor.wordpress.com/. To learn more about Mark McLaughlin’s projects, visit www.BMovieMonster.com/.

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At The Mustache Of Madness: Revisiting “The Dunwich Horror”

mark-tentacles


by Mark McLaughlin

It can’t be easy, trying to make a movie out of an H.P. Lovecraft story.

If you’re a fan of his work, you might wonder why there aren’t more Lovecraftian movies. After all, his stories are all so thrilling and imaginative….

But, there are some technical issues to consider. Personally, I delight in everything that Lovecraft ever wrote, but I do realize he was writing for the printed page – not the big screen.

For one thing, most of his stories feature hybrid deities whose bizarre forms could easily confuse movie viewers. People who aren’t familiar with these creatures might think, “What’s the deal with that big fat lizard-guy with the tentacle-beard and bat-wings? Is he a demon, an alien, a mutant, a deep-sea creature or what? Why is he always asleep at the bottom of the ocean? What’s so scary about that?”

Lovecraft’s creatures carry a considerable amount of back-story, which can be imparted in a story with relative ease. But it can be tricky, trying to convey all that exposition in a movie. I suppose you could give the hero an assistant who asks a lot of questions, like any one of Dr. Who’s companions. Still, that can get tiresome before long.

How do you casually explain, on-screen, the basics of a character as wildly convoluted as Nyarlathotep? “Well, you see, he’s sort of a shape-changing demon from another dimension. He’s known as the Crawling Chaos, though I’ve never seen him crawling around. When he visits Earth, he likes to dress up as a young Egyptian pharaoh. No one really knows why.”

Also, Lovecraft’s deities/creatures are often divided up into groups that don’t sound all that different. There are the Great Ones, the Outer Gods, the Great Old Ones, the Elder Gods, and the Elder Things. Okay, most of them are really old and/or great … yeah, we get it. The real question is, who gave these groups those names? They sure didn’t name themselves. For example, the Elder Things were huge, winged aliens with heads shaped like starfish. They would’ve been more likely to call themselves the Huge Things, the Winged Things, or the Starfish-Headed Things, instead of just referring to how long they’ve been around.

American International Pictures released the Lovecraft tale, “The Dunwich Horror,” as a movie back in 1970, and it’s clear they had to make a lot of hard decisions about how closely they would adhere to the original plot.

In the written story, the lead character, Wilbur Whateley, was the hybrid son of a human woman and the cosmic entity Yog-Sothoth. Wilbur was a freakishly tall, misshapen humanoid with a riotous conglomeration of unearthly limbs and organs. Obviously that would have been an expensive challenge for the production company’s make-up department.

That’s probably why they hired a handsome hunk, Dean Stockwell, for the part … that, and the fact that he was far more visually appealing than some transdimensional body-part casserole. Of course, they did want him to look somewhat sinister, so they gave him a sinister mustache. It really was an awesomely thick mustache … a veritable mustache of madness. I suspect they also made his hair curlier, and his eyebrows bushier, to make him look randy and satyresque.

The original story didn’t have a romantic interest, which is no surprise to Lovecraft readers. Fiction-wise, romance was not Lovecraft’s strong suit. Love – and women, for that matter –  rarely figured into any of his plots. That must be why Sandra Dee was brought into the film. A nationally released movie without an element of romance isn’t going to get very far.

The print version of “The Dunwich Horror” made readers wonder whether or not ancient monstrosities would take over the Earth and destroy humanity. The movie version made viewers wonder whether or not Nancy, the perky coed played by Sandra Dee, would finally lose her virginity to Arkham’s handsome mystic outcast.

One of my favorite moments in the movie comes shortly after the distinguished Dr. Armitage asks Nancy, who helps out in Miskatonic University’s library, to take care in putting away the priceless Necronomicon. Nancy agrees, but in no time at all, she allows Wilbur Whateley to browse through the ancient grimoire because he has “great eyes.” I’m glad she’s not in charge of national security….

Later, in the movie’s saucy ritual scenes, one cannot help but notice that Wilbur has propped up the Necronomicon on Nancy’s luscious body. At one point, he even has to part her legs a bit to get a better look at … the book, presumably.

We’re entering spoiler territory now, so please, don’t read on if you plan on watching the movie and would like to be surprised.

Certainly the movie’s most dramatic scene is when Wilbur and Dr. Armitage have their final face-off at the pagan altar site. Out of the blue, they begin to jabber occult phrases at each other that sound like words being hollered backwards. Apparently, the good doctor is better at jabbering, and has learned a higher quality of backward buzzwords. His occult cries cause Wilbur to burst into flames, and the defeated lad falls screaming off a nearby cliff.

At that moment, Wilbur’s supernatural, snake-tressed twin brother decides to make the scene. But by then, Wilbur has perished, the magic has dissipated, so the twin must depart for some Yog-Sothothian limbo. I was hoping that the twin would look like a giant mustache, composed of thousands of slender tentacles, but I suppose such an expensive effect would have been beyond the production’s budget.

Will there ever come a day when Lovecraftian movies are as popular as superhero movies? Probably not. Like I said: For most viewers, they’d require too much explanation. Lovecraft’s fictional world is filled with otherworldly concepts and pseudo-scientific mysteries, and that’s the way it should be. He wished to generate a profound sense of cosmic awe, leaving readers with more questions than mere words could ever answer.

The movie “The Dunwich Horror” is certainly enjoyable, but it doesn’t capture the dark, brooding brilliance of Lovecraft’s story. At least it presents many of the written tale’s marvelous concepts and inventive plot points … and really, that’s good enough. Hopefully, many of the folks who have seen the movie have found and enjoyed the source material, ushering new devotees into Lovecraft’s literary domain.

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APOCALYPSE AMERICA! Sample Chapter: City of Two-Thousand Sins

apocalypse-cover

Here you will find a sample chapter from APOCALYPSE AMERICA! – the new post-apocalyptic/science-fiction novel by Michael McCarty & Mark McLaughlin. The book is available in both paperback and Kindle formats (FREE on Kindle Unlimited).
Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1095333763/
Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07QFGK36Y/
(The above pages will eventually be united.)

CITY OF TWO-THOUSAND SINS
Las Vegas, Nevada

The city had no name. But then, names weren’t a priority anymore.

One forsaken settlement was pretty much the same as the next: no food, no water, no power, nothing. After the depletion of all fossil fuel resources, the collapse of the world economy and the nuclear war with Mexico, America was in ruins. Swarms of locusts and flesh-eating dust mites ravaged the Midwest and West Coast. Also, the global warming process had accelerated, baking the once-prosperous land into a barren dust bowl.

At one time, the city had been a place of opulence and excitement. Traces of its former glory could be seen everywhere. Marble walls and fountains. Crystal chandeliers. The ruins of gaming tables, stages and bars. At one time, people had enjoyed this city.

Those days of fun and games were long gone.

– – –

Jeb was the official sin-counter.

He was a tall, dark-bearded man with rugged features, surprisingly gentle eyes, and numbers tattooed all over his body. His face featured a ‘24′ on one cheek, a ‘7′ on the other, and a ‘365′ centered on his forehead. He had a ‘111′ on each palm and a ‘222′ on the sole of each foot.

His task was to count the sins of those who lived in the nameless city. He recorded them all in his Book of Sins, which rested on a podium in the Great Hall. This Hall, the spiritual center of their community, was the enormous lobby of their casino-hotel-church.

Each Sunday, he would number and chronicle the sins.

“Sin one-thousand, nine-hundred and ninety-seven: Noah slept well past noon and did not do his morning chores,” Jeb read. He smiled as he handed Noah a red token.

The gathering crowd mumbled their approval.

“Sin one-thousand, nine-hundred and ninety-eight: Jonah ate bread without giving thanks,” Jeb read.

“That isn’t a sin,” Cain complained. He was a young adult now, and only vaguely remembered the death of Kaila and Farma. “It was not a meal. One does not need to give thanks every time one eats some small morsel.”

“I’m too hungry to care,” Jonah rasped between dry, cracked lips.

– – –

The sunny days roasted the flesh and the windswept nights chilled it to the bone.

Years ago, after the power had gone out for the last time, a man named Herod had removed all the Bibles from the hotel rooms and burned them in trash cans inside a supermarket. He had appointed himself leader, and he’d thought this action would serve his people well. After all, people were more important than books.

The blaze kept everyone there warm all night. The previous night they had used menus and playing cards. Those hadn’t burned well because of their heavy lamination. They gave off sickening fumes and many people became ill. But the Bibles had burned splendidly. They kept everyone nice and warm.

Eventually the people turned against Herod. He hadn’t done anything wrong…. But still, they needed to vent their frustration with the world somehow, and his helpfulness – his patient optimism in the face of maddening despair – had become an annoyance.

A group assigned to the task tied him down outside of the tallest building in the city. Then they went up to the top and starting dropping things down on him out of a penthouse window. There was no special significance in this particular form of torture: it just seemed like the thing to do at the time. In the end, Herod was reduced to a pile of human slush embedded with a medley of broken everyday objects – everything from wine glasses to typewriters.

– – –

“You know the rules, Cain,” Jeb said. “If we all don’t agree that a particular act is a sin, then it has to be put to a vote.”

“Please, don’t,” begged Sarah, an emaciated woman with bleeding gums and many sores on her skin. “Let’s not waste time. I’m famished! The last thing I put in my mouth was a cockroach I’d caught. I gave thanks before I ate it, but I still threw up a minute later. I’m so hungry, I’ll die if I don’t get some food soon.”

“I don’t make the rules,” Jeb said. “I just count the sins. And I shall always do so, until the day we are all too weak to even move. It is my task. I answer to a higher power.” So saying, he looked up, as did everyone else in the Great Hall.

– – –

In the early days after the chaos started, the people in the town went more than a little crazy. The death of Herod set the pace for even more bizarre acts of cruelty, prejudice, and – more often than not – perverse righteousness.

Angry crowds strung up sinners from telephone wires, or burned them alive to appease ancient demons. They crucified the lawyers of the nameless city. Of course, back then it still had a name.

The city had been filled with lewd women with painted lips. Pious men would chain each limb of a woman to a different car, and then the vehicles would each drive toward a different point of the compass. They thought that perhaps this would give direction to their future. But that future was lost in a haze of heat and toxic fumes.

– – –

“We have to take a vote on it,” Jeb said. “All who think it was a sin for Jonah to eat without giving thanks must now say ‘Aye.'”

A loud, hungry round of ayes echoed through the hall. Jeb did not bother to ask to hear nays.

A young boy in the crowd gasped and fell to the floor. Sarah rushed to his side and cradled his head in her lap. “My son is weak from hunger,” she cried. “If we do not have some food soon, he will starve to death.”

Desperate for something – anything – with which to nourish her child, the woman picked a few large scabs off of her arm and pushed these into her son’s mouth. The boy gave thanks before he began to chew.

– – –

Years passed, and many people took to living in cars. There was no gasoline left, but they still loved and took pride in their vehicles.

All the cars in town were rolled toward the casino-hotel-churches. People weren’t allowed to live in these holy realms – they were a place for the purging of iniquities. Of course, that was before they realized the true value of sin.

The cars made nice little homes. To keep the cars cool during the day and warm at night, they buried them in the sand. They took out the engines to make more room. Families huddled in their cars, in the cozy darkness. It became traditional to fasten the baby’s cradle in place on the dashboard, so the wee one could reach up and play with the fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror. From this choice location within the car, the baby could also be entertained by watching the insects and vermin that crawled on the other side of the front windshield.

– – –

“It is agreed. Jonah did sin by not giving thanks for his morsel. That leaves the count at one-thousand, nine-hundred and ninety-eight,” Jeb handed Jonah a green token. “Is there any other sin I should record?”

The group was quiet. One could not make up a sin. For that, they would cut out one’s tongue, and fill the offending mouth with hot coals. There were words about that in those old Bibles – “a tongue for a tongue”? Something like that.

“I had indecent thoughts about Jezebel,” Matthew said. “I thought how delightful it would be to pleasure her for long hours, well into the night.”

“Yes, that is a sin,” Jeb said, writing it down quickly and handing Matthew a gold token. “That is sin one-thousand, nine-hundred and ninety-nine. Any more?”

– – –

Back when power was plentiful and vehicles were used for transportation, people paid good money to sin.

They watched half-naked women prance upon brightly lit stages. People use to gamble night and day. They danced, they gorged, they fought, they swore. There were even whorehouses on the outskirts of town. The brothels did not operate in secret – they were acknowledged businesses.

The country went up in smoke because they did not watch their sins.

During the crazy times, the people were less efficient when it came to dealing with sin. At times, they even wasted precious foodstuffs. Some sinners would be covered in honey and buried up to their necks in sand. They would let armies of red ants eat them alive. Thus would the ants gnaw away the sins of the world. Those tiny, industrious insects were the first sin-eaters.

But not the last.

When the Bibles were burned, one page – from the Book of Mark – had been caught by the wind and blown free. And this page told them a tale of wisdom. It told them all about Legion, a demon who was in fact a collective of evil spirits. Eventually they learned how to apply this wisdom to their lives, so that they might survive.

– – –

Jeb ignored the hungry growls of the crowd. “If no more sins are recorded, we must wait until the next Sunday when we meet.”

“But we can’t wait any longer,” Sarah said. “I must eat, and so must my boy! Please let us finish this.”

“I only follow the rules,” Jeb said. “My task is to count the sins. And since there are no more to count, I must conclude—”

“I pleasured myself,” blurted Barnabas, a thin, middle-aged man with missing teeth. “Just a few minutes before the meeting.”

The room was quiet.

“Thank you,” Jeb said. “That is indeed a sin.” He handed Barnabas a silver token. “We now officially have two-thousand.”

Robed acolytes came forth out of the shadows, pushing slender golden posts mounted on wheeled bases. They arranged these in a pattern throughout the Great Hall. Then they connected the posts with purple velvet robes, creating a long maze that looped around the sacred crap table.

“Everyone who has sinned, line up in the order of the number on your token. Everyone else, please step aside,” Jeb said.

After everyone had lined up, the acolytes came forth with buckets filled with ashes. They used the ash to write everyone’s numbers on their foreheads. Then they collected the tokens and piled them up on the crap table.

Jeb closed his eyes, thrust his hand into the pile, and grabbed a token.

The people in the velvet-roped line-up stared at Jeb with fearful eyes. And yet they also began to wipe drool from their eager mouths.

Jeb looked at the token he had selected. “Number one-hundred and thirty-eight.” He looked in the Book of Sins. “Here it is. ‘Adam drank alcohol until he became ill.’ Yes, he will do. Adam, step forward.”

Adam was a short, bald man who was sweating heavily.

“Please wait here,” Jeb said.

Jeb’s boss made him nervous. This privileged individual was the only person allowed to live in the casino-hotel-church. He lived alone in a high suite – nobody was allowed to go up except Jeb, after the count.

Jeb climbed the stairs, up and up and up.

The crowd waited.

Eventually Jeb’s boss followed his minion back to the hall.

The people, as always, gasped when they saw the boss. His was an appearance to which one could never become accustomed. His skin was as orange as the sun, and his slit-pupil eyes were bright green. His lips were bright red and his hair was long and black. He wore no clothes but carried a burlap sack.

He looked strange, yet in their sun-baked desert world, he did not seem out of place. In fact, he resembled a desert snake.

He was Legion, and he was many.

The people of the city without a name had given much discussion to Legion, for his page was all they had left of the Bible. Their thoughts had drawn him to them. When he’d arrived, he had struck a new bargain with them. A whole new system of vice management.

“Two-thousand sins….” the demon hissed, with a voice like a whispering congregation of evil. “A feast of sin for me. And now, a feast for you.”

Legion stared at Adam intently. The bald man began to swell, and he hunched over until he had to drop to all fours. Bristles popped out of his pink flesh, which grew thick and leathery. His neck bulged out, his eyes sank inward and his nose lengthened into a quivering snout.

The people of the nameless city brought out ropes and soon, they had the fat hog hanging by its hind legs from a beam above one of the stages. Legion pulled two objects from his sack. He stuck an apple in the pig’s mouth, and then handed a butcher knife to Sarah and allowed her to slit the beast’s throat.

“Again you have saved us,” she said.

The green-eyed sin-eater smiled and looked out over the Great Hall, at the sun-scorched, hunger-maddened masses. So many to share so little…. Some would not eat at all. In the end, most would only get a scrap of meat – enough to keep them alive and desperate in this Hell of their own making.

“Yes,” he said. “You are lucky to have me.”

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