At the Bottom Of The World

This Weeks Prompt: 31. Prehistoric man preserved in Siberian ice. (See Winchell—Walks and Talks in the Geological field—p. 156 et seq.)

The Research: The Old Ones…The Human Old Ones

The arctic wind is cold enough to cut rather than bite. Especially along the shore, as we made our way by boat to the large glacial outcropping. I pulled my jacket close over myself. Honestly, there was no reason for a man of my learning to be out here, so close to the worlds savage wilderness. Confirmation of what was apparent to anyone of intelligence was superficial in the grand scheme of things, but it helped to witness evidence you knew existed. But I was persuaded that the chilled air would be good for my temperament, and that some sketches could use my improvements.

It is hard to describe the arctic. It is mostly, without exception, a void of color and warmth expanding endlessly towards the horizon, broken by reflective cracks of blue. The scale of the void is only matched by the bareness of the open ocean. The parallel is apt, with islands of habitation popping up along the edge. One rig in particular lay across a cavern carved into the glacial walls, with Old Glory flying atop its edge. Unlike most zones of civilization in the tundra and bareness, this was hanging off onto the water and secured only by several steel beams to the might of the glacier.

“Now, if you’ll follow us this way sir, you’ll find what the object.” one of the workmen, in a coat three times his size said, gesturing for me to follow into the cave.

Right, the object. Some primitive man-thing, some backward savage they’d found the silhouette of covered in iron beneath the glacier. Iron this deep, and so form fitting, might indicate (to the foolish fellows within academia) that this might be actual equipment and clothing of a primitive man. Still, even ignoring such things were beyond him, a natural statue of humanity’s earliest form was of some use.

The caverns were like the lungs of some horrible beast, veins letting wind flow through them. Everyone was covered head to toe. Eventually, in the oil lamp lit depths, they brought me to the beast. A massive blob of black and red beneath the ice.

“Isn’t it wonderful, Mr. Crane?” a fellow who, prior to speaking, looked exactly like the rest of the barely civilized workforce. His voice, uncomfortably jolly, gave him away as my colleague Johan Berkly. One of those…less intelligent academics I mentioned.

“It inspires a sense of immenient dread that might be mistaken for wonder,” I said. I am at home in the warmth of an office, in my excellent chair and pipe. All three elements lacking, and I couldn’t find wonder in the holy ghost.

“Oh, Crane, you’ll see. The discovery of a century! I wonder how old the poor thing is.”

“How old indeed. No doubt we’ll find some proof of some Mongoloid deformity.”

“Well, I suppose,” Berkly said, glancing at the wall at that. Never a fan of phernology, strange man. How he earned tenure, I’ll never know.

A number of large drills were brought, to carve out the ice. It took several minutes of Berkly’s giddiness for cracks to form. At first, there was a revolting squishing noise and some of the iron oxide infused water began to flow out. Were I a suspicious savage, I would note how the very walls seemed to bleed from our intrusion. As a man of science I was unalarmed.

At first.

And then there was a shaking. The cracks spread rapidly. They all poured with blood. Blood spilled everywhere, like a scab of the earth being undone. It froze as it hit the ground, a crimson floor in a white hallway. And there, emerging from the cracks as if from a sanguine baptism, stood a tall woman with dark skin. She looked…peaceful. Almost as if she were enjoying a long sleep and slowly relized she was being disturbed.

Her eyes will stay with me forever. They were as bright as a pair of suns blazing in the cold void out us, heat burning across the workman’s face, leaving the room filled with the smelt of burnt hair and smoke. I was transfixed for a moment, as the skin of the workman fried and the smoke rose off of him. The walls of the hall began to crack from the waves of warmth slowly flowing off of her.

Control of my legs returned with the warmth, probably more from alarm at a sensation besides the near death embrace of the dread winds. Slowly I backed away from the woman towards the passages. The other workman turned to run, only to catch the woman’s gaze. Desert winds suddenly emerged in the depths, the sun rising again down here in the depth. As the head of the other workman began to crumple and burn to ash, I made it back another step. Berkly let out a shout, it took minutes for it to register, echoing as it did.

And I must thank Berkly three fold. Firstly, for his alarming shout that woke me from my dimmed slumber. Secondly, for a lifetime of indulgence and decadence that made it ahrd for him, once pushed onto the floor, to get up. Three, for making a very loud thud when pushed in such away, allowing for me to sprint down the halls, away from the madness. I am certain that someone as simple as him must have made his way to the choir invisible. If for nothing else than his noble sacrifice for the cause of mankind.

Chunks of the tunneled ceiling began to fall around me as I ran all the way to the rig affixed outside. I stopped for a moment to catch my breath, not being much of an athlete myself. There was something like the sound of thunder behind me as I heaved as well I could. Slowly turning, I saw a new line running across the cliff, and a sheet of Arctic landscape sinking into the sea. I have enough knowledge of the world to know what follows a collapsing glacier.

“Everyone,” one of the workmen shouted, “Onto the boats! Now!”

For once I yielded to my lesser. As we stood on the boat moving out to sea, there was a brilliant flash and something shot forth out of the glacier, a newborn comet out of the depths, dripping with blood. It burned to look at.

I cannot say where she went, or what dreadful thing she was. Certainly, if we share any lineage with such a thing, who with but a gaze can unmake the glaciers, then I fear we have not found some savage ancestor, but rather some ancient and enraged spirit.

I like this Crane man. I tried to capture the arrogance of Mr. James Frazer’s work with him, but don’t know if it entirely worked out. Depending on prompts, I’d like to return to Mr. Crane and his newly unleashed god/prehuman power. It seems…fascinating as a calamity. For those who may suspect another inspiration for the angel in the Arctic, keep quiet.
Come back next week for our new prompt!

32. As dinosaurs were once surpassed by mammals, so will man-mammal be surpassed by insect or bird—fall of man before the new race.
Oh…insects and birds. That will be intriguing.

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Serpents and Sickeness

This Week’s Prompt: 27. Life and Death. Death—its desolation and horror—bleak spaces—sea-bottom—dead cities. But Life—the greater horror! Vast unheard-of reptiles and leviathans—hideous beasts of prehistoric jungle—rank slimy vegetation—evil instincts of primal man—Life is more horrible than death.

The Resulting Story: The Snake and The Shade
There is a lot to cover in this prompt, my fellows in mortuary of writing. Mr. Lovecraft’s prompt is neatly divided and thus we can cover the extensive ground quickly, but you’ll forgive me if it takes some time to get to the plotting of it all. That must wait until the end.

Death, given that it is the lesser of our two topics, will get perhaps the least coverage. Desolation as a notion, and the concept of the wasteland and horror of emptiness, is a fairly familiar one to modern audiences. I would point to a number of examples, but the Nothing of the Never Ending Story does exceptionally well as desolation made manifest. The sea bottom dead city and the ruin call to mind, personally, a poem by the great Poe. The City In The Sea, which certainly inspired a certain piece of Mr. Lovecraft’s own writing, is certainly what is alluded to here. I recommend the poem highly, it is one of my personal favorites. It’s motifs, however, have little bearing on the second phase of conversation however. Life.

Life as a horror is…less common. First a brief review of the creatures presented to us: we have described here a number of familiar features. First there are the vast unheard of reptiles and leviathans. As we have already covered dragons (here) and leviathans (here), I will leave this be. Next, of course, is the ‘hideous beasts of prehistoric jungle’. I presume Mr. Lovecraft means dinosaurs, but you might have heard these creatures more resembled poultry than nightmares.

Still, the conjuring of the jungle is important. Jungles are nasty areas, impenetrable regions to most (as Mr. Lovecraft might say) civilized peoples. They do not abide well with agriculture, having fairly poor soils that require slash and burn, and worse still have all sorts of diseases and infections through out them. And of course people live there, and often are believed by their neighbors to have terrible powers.

Life’s danger, mostly then, is of unlimited growth. Growth unconstrained and uncontrolled. This as concept has a number of echoes, in science and science fiction. To begin with the more grim, such a terrible notion might be summarized as cancerous. Cancer is the out of control growth that Lovecraft fears, a never ending mutation and spread the consumes an otherwise healthy host. The parody of proper life (if we use such a phrase) unrestrained by death is a fatal one.


He Looks So Suave For An Eldritch Horror

Moving to the nearest fictional relatives, the idea of life without death as being terrifying is fairly old. The trapping of Death by Sisyphus results in that very sort of chaos. Further cases of immortality as a curse, such as the Sibyl, abound in classic literature. Certainly, this fear of boundary violation is deeply rooted in a fear of the dead themselves, but we covered that (here). In more modern fair, Marvel comics has the (in)famous Many Angled Ones, who descend from a universe without death. They are terrible creatures, unstoppable and mighty. To be without Death is to be truly terrible.


Not Pictured: The HUNDREDS of Monsters

Life giving entities are also fearsome. We have discussed Tiamat, but perhaps now ought to mention Gaia. Gaia, while now thought of as the kinder being, did sire many races of monsters to usurp gods. She sent forth giants to topple Zeus, and from her come the Cyclopes and the Hundred Handed Ones. Before Gaia, there is the primeval Khaos who spews forth new wonders constantly. Never ending creation is chaos and anarchy, and thus terrible indeed.

The connection runs even in Lovecraft’s own works. Abhoth and Azathoth are life giving entities who create almost mindlessly. Life without purpose almost defines the shoggoths, creatures of absolute horror and dread. These entities are terrible, ancient, and eternally giving birth to horrors against man and culture.

And, as with Jungles, there are sometimes things living among them.


Naga Shrine

When we discuss ancient reptilian creatures in weird fiction, however, we set upon a second set of serpentine stories: the intelligent serpent. The Naga, for example, of India are a set of dieties that are powerful and deadly. They have their own cities beneath our own, conflict regularly with the Garuda bird, and offer there service to Shiva. They were, like many serpents, river creatures and new secrets of poison.


Trust Me, Trust Me

A stranger American breed persists, of a hypnotic snake in Hoosier territory. There, it is said, snakes manipulate children and cows into giving them human food and drink in order to grow large and terrible. This mental manipulation is a common trait in media with snakes, of course. The serpent Kaa has hypnotic eyes, the Dragons of Middle Earth have alluring speech, and Jafar (another Disney character, unrelated to the noble vizier) uses a serpents staff to bend the sultan to his will.


Because You Overthrow the Gods With Rocks. Of Course.

There are also the Gigantes, the giants born of Gaia we mentioned earlier. Sadly, little is known, except they had serpent legs. Even more obscure are those three primeval serpents (Ananke, Chronos, Zas) of Olympus, who built the world. But we must pass them by.

The Serpent People.png

They’ve Got Spirit, I’ll Give Them That

For the last batch of weird serpent creatures are the most modern: The serpent men. Found in Mr. Lovecraft’s works and Mr. Howard’s, the serpent men are a recurring force in pulp literature. Common traits include advanced technology, cultish organization, ancient civilization (at least prehuman), and a penchant for disguising themselves. Conspiratorial minds add (in their paranoia) other abilities to this already strong list: mind control, blood rights, and interbreeding. I will not grant the strange madmen more than the strange powers madness gives their delusions, but what writer can’t exploit such stuff. Serpent men(or lizard men, in some cases) have since spread to other works: tabletop games, the works of Doctor Who, the movie V, Star Trek, and others.

For the story, then, and the horror of Life over Death, the best means is perhaps contrast. Death may be given the beginning. Perhaps our protagonist wanders out of a desolate wasteland or a wretched heath. He sees, in the distance, the signs of life. This in turn gives him hope. But as he approaches and enters, he finds the hope false. The life dreadful and hostile. And what fate in such a place awaits him, who can say? After all, from life come man’s wicked instincts, my fellows.

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