The story “Shoggoth Apocalypse” appears in the new fiction collection, NIGHTMARES & TENTACLES: 13 TALES OF THE CTHULHU MYTHOS, ©2021 Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.
by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.
It could no longer be denied.
Slowly but surely, the Earth was dying.
Centuries of pollution and nuclear war had rendered much of the world’s surface not only sterile, but also poisonous beyond any hope of redemption. The ocean floors were covered with sunken vessels with cargo holds filled with toxins. Virulent tumors haunted the living and mutations plagued the newly born. All the bees were dead, and without their assistance in pollination, most plants essential to the survival of humankind could not thrive.
World leaders may shake hands with each other at news conferences, but in fact, they rarely have any desire to work together. Each wants a bigger piece of the planet than they already have, so they are not about to make life any easier for their colleagues. But eventually they all came to realize that Earth’s days were numbered – and in the face of that realization, the sundry differences of these dignitaries seemed petty indeed.
The President of the United States, August Danforth, consulted with senior executives at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Then he met with other heads of state, as well as a veritable army of progressive industrialists, and it was decided: America would spearhead an initiative to establish new living quarters for humanity on Mars.
In his State of the Union Address, delivered to a joint session of Congress and televised nationwide, Danforth stated, “Now is the time for all citizens of Earth to join hands as we look toward the stars and prepare our new home for the future. Though Mars is an ancient world, it is clean, and therefore, ripe for planetwide terraforming and rejuvenation.”
At this point in his speech, a display screen to his left brightened, displaying the title, PROJECT EUROPA. “I have been in contact with top astrophysicists engaged in the study of traversable wormholes,” Danforth said. “We are now working on establishing a timespace pipeline between the surface of Mars and Jupiter’s ocean-harboring moon, Europa. We are calling this initiative Project Europa and we believe it will ensure a successful future for the human race.”
The screen’s image changed to a computer-generated image of an iridescent tube, twisting through outer space. “The timespace pipeline can carry huge amounts of flowing water without wasting a single drop. The lifeless moon Europa holds more water than all of Earth’s oceans combined, and transporting much of it to Mars will effectively rehydrate the red planet.”
Next, the screen showed silver vehicles rolling across the sandy surface of Mars. “We’ve sent exploratory teams to examine the terrain of the red planet. Their findings indicate that it once hosted an advanced civilization in the distant past.”
A new visual featured passageways of reddish-orange stone, covered with carved symbols chiefly composed of coils and swirls. “Beneath the planet’s surface, they’ve found countless winding passageways created by the Martians in ancient times, as well as elaborate stone channels for conveying water. The water which will pour through the timespace pipeline, from Europa to Mars, will course through these channels and passageways. This will reestablish a healthy water table on the planet. Once water has been restored, cloud coverage will slowly return to the skies.”
Danforth smiled as a new image — a bizarre, alien face — sprang into view on the screen. The visage was covered with fine black fur and featured light-blue teeth and blazing red cat’s-eyes. “Handsome devil, huh? Earthlings, lock up your daughters!” he said with a laugh. “Our scientists tell us that based on preserved remains our exploratory teams have found, the Martians looked something like this. Interesting side note: the Martians had mottled green bones and were much smaller than humans, so without their skin, they really were little green men. Now here’s something a little easier on the eyes….”
The next image was an artist’s depiction of tall grasses, flowers and trees growing across rolling plains. “Once Mars has been rehydrated, hardy, fast-growing plants that we’ve genetically developed for this project will increase the planet’s oxygen levels,” the President said. “Enclosed bio-dome communities will be constructed at strategic locations, and citizens will be transported to their new homes quickly and efficiently. Together, Mars and the human race will enjoy an exciting fresh start.”
This statement elicited thunderous applause from the audience of politicians. Danforth’s ambitious plan also met with the general public’s approval, and rightly so, since their only other alternative was slow death on a global scale.
The next day, Danforth met with Brent Roman, Director of Project Europa, in the Oval Office. Roman was a lean, dark-haired man with an impressive background in both astrophysics and public service.
“Flooding the chambers of the Martians is a key step toward the success of the project,” said Danforth. “I realize that. But what about the contents of those chambers? And the carvings on the walls? We don’t want all that to be lost forever.”
“Excellent points,” Roman said. “I already have initiatives in place to address those issues. Teams are working around the clock to remove every single Martian artifact from the chambers. In fact, the work is almost completed. These items will be shipped to Earth by the end of next week – well before the flooding begins.”
Danforth patted his colleague on the back. “I should’ve known you had the situation well in hand. Now how about those carvings?”
“Right now, thousands of drones equipped with lights and cameras are progressing through the passageways, capturing images at every level. Those electronic files are being transmitted to our scientists so that programs created expressly for this project can combine the imagery, giving us a complete picture-map of all the carvings. We’re hoping they were carved in a Martian language, rather than a decorative pattern. If they do form words, we will be able to translate them.”
“That would be truly amazing.” The President flashed a joyous grin. “I hope it is a language. What a story those carvings would have to tell! The epic tale of life on Mars! Keep me posted on what you discover.”
“Certainly, sir,” Roman said, moving to leave the room.
“Oh, just one more thing,” Danforth said. “When those Martian artifacts arrive, let me know. I suppose they have to be decontaminated and checked for radiation and all that, but as soon as they’re deemed safe, I want to be the first to really give them a look.”
Roman’s brow furrowed in thought as he considered the request. “Ordinarily, that’s not how it works…. How about this? Would you consent to wearing a Level A Hazmat suit with self-contained breathing apparatus? After all, you’re the President. I can’t run the risk of subjecting you to any form of alien contamination.”
Danforth nodded and gave Roman an enthusiastic thumbs-up. “Of course! Good man – I appreciate your concern. Thank you!”
– – –
The Martian artifacts were shipped to Earth at the end of the following week, just as Roman had stated. That same day, Roman contacted President Danforth, informing him that the carvings in the Martians passageways did indeed represent words, and that a sizable portion of the carvings from a long stretch of hallway – a main artery of travel – had been translated. Roman had reviewed the transcript and was prepared to give Danforth a briefing on its contents.
Roman and Danforth met in the Oval Office later that afternoon. Roman brought with him a briefcase which contained a rare and ancient book. It was a hefty volume, bound in leather dotted with clumps of black bristles.
“What the hell is that thing?” the President said as Roman withdrew the hidebound oddity from his briefcase. “It looks absolutely ghastly.”
“It’s a book,” said Roman. “The Seven Blasphemies of Ghattambah, written in 1417 by Adrian Mondrago, a warlock living in Belgium. The Mondrago family has headed a cult devoted to the insect-god Ghattambah for centuries. About 300 years later, his descendant Azmael Mondrago wrote his own book about the cult – Wyck’d Secrets Of The Infernal Beaste Ghattambah.”
Danforth sighed wearily. “What does any of this have to do with the Mars project?”
Roman opened the book and set it on the desk in front of Danforth. “Each page is divided into quadrants, and each is in a different language: English, Greek, German and another not found on Earth.” He pointed to a section on a page filled with swirled characters. “It’s the language of Mars. Ghattambah was once worshipped there as well. The content on every page is given in all four languages, so our translation program was able to use this book as a sort of Rosetta Stone to decipher the carvings.”
Danforth turned pages in the book, which was copiously illustrated. “Some of these drawings are utterly disgusting,” he said. “All cut-up body parts, weird symbols and creatures straight out of nightmares. Like this thing. What the hell is this monstrosity?”
Roman looked down at the illustration. The being depicted on the page was a huge, insectile horror, with a flabby, tubular body and an abundance of pincer-tipped legs. Each thickly veined wing was shaped like a wide sword with a spiral blade. The creature’s misshapen head was mostly composed of a gaping mouth filled with crooked, needle-like teeth. The fat lips were embedded with small, black eyes.
“That,” Roman stated, “is the insect-god Ghattambah.”
“And it’s been worshipped on both Mars and Earth?” Danforth said. “How is that possible?”
Roman smiled. “The worshippers of Ghattambah claim that their god dwells outside of time and space. They believe he can be anywhere and everywhere at once, just like the Christian god.”
“Crazy occult nonsense.” The President slammed the book shut. “So do the carvings in those tunnels have anything to tell us?”
“Quite a lot, actually,” Roman said. “First of all, the Martian society was agricultural. It may seem strange for such a society to worship an insect-god, but in fact, they lived in harmony with the abundant forms of insect life with which they shared their planet. They enjoyed honey from a bee-like species and wore fabrics spun from cocoon filaments, exuded by grubs much like our silkworms.”
“What did they do for food?” Danforth asked. “Let the bugs eat it?”
“Mars was once covered with plant life. Plenty of crops, woodlands, jungles … more than enough fruits, nuts, and vegetables to feed Martians and insects alike. But then came the Elder Things.” Roman opened The Seven Blasphemies of Ghattambah again and, after thumbing through the pages for a moment, found an illustration of a huge alien creature. Its five huge, membranous wings sprouted from a leathery, barrel-like body. The head of the thing was shaped like a starfish, and the whole cumbersome form stood upright on five flexible limbs. Each of the five arms of the starfish-head was tipped with a staring, baleful eye.
‘These things came to Mars?” The President frowned at the illustration. “Where were they originally from, and how did they travel through space?”
“The Martians never learned where the Elder Things came from. As for how they got to the red planet.…” Roman tapped one of the wings in the illustration. “Somehow, these creatures were hardy enough to survive in outer space. I’m under the impression that they were composed of a type of matter different from what is normally found in living beings. They could actually propel themselves through space. I believe their wings somehow allowed them to ride along cosmic magnetic fields.”
“We need to learn more about that method of space travel,” the President said, matter-of-factly. “It wouldn’t use fuel!”
Roman nodded. “I already have a team looking into it. As I was saying, a colony of the Elder Things took up residence on Mars, in caves far from the dwellings of the planet’s indigenous inhabitants. For centuries, the two races shared the planet in peace. Many of the Elder Things were scientists, and they lived to satisfy their intellectual curiosity. And while they enjoyed researching a variety of sciences, their most advanced specialty was bioengineering.”
“Did they work with stem cells?” Danforth asked.
“I’m sure stem cells would have been the tip of the iceberg. According to the carvings, the greatest achievement of the Elder Things was a synthetic life-form known as a shoggoth. They used these creatures initially as beasts of burden, and later as servants and assistants, as they taught the shoggoths to do increasingly difficult tasks.”
Danforth cast a glimpse at the book. “Is there an illustration for that, too?”
Roman shook his head. “Afraid not. The carvings tell us that shoggoths were massive protoplasmic entities – shapeless masses of living tissue – that could move with incredible speed. Their main method of attack was to rush upon an enemy and engulf them. They could control the shape of their flesh and issue eyes, limbs and hands as they were needed. They reproduced by dividing, like amoebas, and were practically indestructible.”
“Interesting!” Danforth’s face lit up with excitement. “Very interesting! A creature like that…. Surely you can see the incredible possibilities.”
“Certainly. They can do jobs that might be too dangerous for most humans. The construction industry could certainly use them. In a nuclear power plant, they could–”
“No, no, no!” Danforth crossed his arms in exasperation. ‘I’m talking about military initiatives! With front-line troops like that, America would be unstoppable. We definitely need to look into this shoggoth technology as well.”
“Hold on! You don’t know the whole story yet,” Roman said. “The shoggoths are the reason Mars is now a dead planet. The Elder Things lost control of them and the shoggoths went on a rampage. Eventually the Elder Things abandoned the planet, leaving the shoggoths behind to devour every last scrap of life. The final carvings were made by the last Martian priest of Ghattambah. By then, most of the red planet was a ravaged wasteland, destroyed by a shoggoth apocalypse.”
Danforth thought for a moment. “So what happened to the shoggoths?”
“The carvings don’t say. I think it’s safe to say they outlived the Martians, so there was no one left to continue the chronicle. If I had to make an educated guess, I’d say the shoggoths all starved to death. Nothing left to eat. In time, the planet completely dried out. I’m sure the shoggoth rampage caused the planet to lose its atmosphere – and water – at an accelerated rate. Still, I’ll need to look into that.” Roman returned The Seven Blasphemies of Ghattambah to his suitcase. “Tomorrow we’ll go to see the Martian artifacts, and personally, I can’t wait.”
“Are the artifacts currently ready for viewing?”
“Yes. They’ve been placed in a very spacious, completely secure government warehouse. But I figured–”
“Let’s give them a look right now!” Danforth said. “No time like the present! I want to see those Martian goodies while all this information is fresh in my head. I’m a busy man with a million things to think about. If we wait until tomorrow, half of what I learned today will already be forgotten.”
– – –
Two hours later, Roman and Danforth stood, garbed in Level A Hazmat suits, in a huge warehouse filled with hundreds of stainless-steel tables, all loaded with a bizarre array of alien artifacts.
Most of the tables held domestic utensils – pots, plates, cups, knives, and odd hooked tools which might have been used as forks. Apparently Martian children enjoyed playing with metal dolls. The fact that the dolls held curved silver swords made Danforth smile. “Toy soldiers!” he cried. “Look, the Martian kids played with toy soldiers! It does my heart good to know that they had an appreciation of military defense. A world with quality weaponry is a world well-protected.”
“Apparently their weapons weren’t enough to defeat the shoggoths,” Roman said. He picked up a black, shiny item with a distinct split down the middle. “See this? It’s one of their hooves. It’s as hard as stone. The Martians walked on cloven hooves … rather like some people’s image of the Devil. Makes me wonder if some of them ever made it to Earth at some point. After all, the Elder Things were able to fly from planet to planet. The question is, did they have a method for transporting living things through the void?”
“Good question! Let me know if you find out. That would be technology we could put to good use – especially since we need to move millions of people to Mars. We already have a plan in place, but a plan can always be improved.” Danforth strolled from table to table. “So many strange devices…. How were they used? What did they do? It’s anyone’s guess. But, we’ll find out eventually. I’m sure of it. Aaah, what do we have here?”
The President picked up an object which resembled a rifle, except for a black metal canister hanging down from its barrel by several short, thick tubes. “I think I hear something sloshing around in this tank,” he said, tapping the canister. “This has to be some kind of weapon. I’d like to have this fluid analyzed immediately. I’d better to hang on to this.”
“If you wish.” Roman walked to a table covered with rolls of white fabric. “This is especially interesting. This cloth is incredibly ancient, and yet it’s in marvelous shape.” He unrolled a section and flexed it. “It’s still very supple! Not brittle at all. It hasn’t even yellowed. It’s clearly superior to any Earth fabric.”
“What are those things over there?” Danforth pointed to a long row of tables, all piled with hundreds of shapeless masses, some more than four feet thick. They looked like hardened chemical spills. Their bumpy surfaces glistened with an oily, polychromatic sheen.
“I have no idea.” Roman said. “Whatever they are, they’re sickening. They look like giant versions of fake puke from a joke shop. I was thinking it might be the waste from an industrial process that we don’t use here on Earth.”
“That we don’t use yet,” Danforth corrected. “Be sure to find out what these things are. They may be dead, but I’m not letting these Martians keep any secrets from us!” He leaned the Martian rifle against a table so that he could pick up one of the smaller masses. “Hmmm, it’s lighter than I thought it would be.” He tried to bend the substance. “It’s slightly flexible. Do you think it could be a Martian version of rubber?”
Suddenly the mass slipped from his hands and fell to the floor, hitting the side of the Martian rifle. The rifle hit the floor as well, triggering a stream of flaming orange liquid to shoot from his barrel. The liquid landed on the white fabric, setting it ablaze. Smoke and flames shot up from the rolls of cloth.
“Oh, hell!” the President cried. “What have I done? All this priceless Martian technology is going to burn up!”
“No, it’ll be fine, just fine,” Roman said. “The sprinkler system should activate any second now. Don’t worry. Everything will be fine.”
A moment later, the sprinklers came on, gushing water over everything in the warehouse … including the many hundreds of polychromatic masses.
Instantly, the masses began to rehydrate, swelling to dozens of times their original sizes. The bumps on their surfaces opened up into thousands of temporary eyes, rising to the surface as pustules of pale-green light. Their dark, spongy bodies bubbled and pulsated. Tentacles, claws and other appendages sprouted from and receded back into the wet, expanding creatures.
“What’s going on?” the President cried. “What – what the hell are these monsters?”
“They’re shoggoths!” Roman cried. “We’ve got to get out of here! Run!”
“Never! I don’t run away from trouble, and I’m certainly not about to start now!” So saying, Danforth turned to pick up the flame-rifle. But before he could even place his hands upon it, the shoggoths swarmed over him. They ripped off his protective suit, drenched him with digestive acids that oozed from pores in their flesh, and absorbed his nourishing protein through millions of tiny, insatiable, sucking mouths.
Roman managed to run a full twenty-three feet before the shoggoths stripped him of his suit and digested him as well. Only his steaming, half-dissolved bones remained.
The hungry shoggoths pushed through a warehouse wall in search of sustenance. They ate everything in their path as they surged through a nearby group of trees, leaving behind acid-scorched stumps and the osseous detritus of two young lovers who had been out for a walk.
The next obstacle confronting the creatures was a five-story office building. The shoggoths broke through the floors and windows and poured from floor to floor, dissolving and digesting hundreds of screaming humans. Rich or poor, black or white, all were consumed with the same complete lack of concern. The boundless hunger of the shoggoths served as the ultimate equalizer.
From there, they scattered in every direction. Having fed, the protoplasmic horrors began to divide and grow, divide and grow. Soon that growth began to speed up, for in their travels, they regularly encountered pockets of pollution, and the mutagenic chemicals accelerated their cellular activity hundredfold. The shoggoths found both the life-forms and toxins of Earth nourishing and delicious.
The arrival of the shoggoths effectively nipped Project Europa in the bud. The resources that would have gone to the project were instead used to fight a losing battle with an ever-growing army of malignant juggernauts.
The humans never knew that the only way to defeat the shoggoths was to completely dehydrate them, causing them to lapse into a safe dormant state. The Elder Things had eventually realized this. Before leaving Mars forever, they used their advanced knowledge of gravitational and magnetic fields to create an atmospheric funnel, siphoning the planet’s waters into outer space.
This cautionary measure, they decided, would render the shoggoths harmless for all eternity.
How wrong they were.
The humans are gone now, but there’s no need for tears. The Earth is now the kingdom of the shoggoths, and for the time being, the planet is teeming with life.
Hideous, ravenous life, but still.…