Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Lovecraft Short Story Contest

In October of 2014, the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society's official Facebook page (affiliated with the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society) held a short story contest. Though the Facebook page never announced the results of the Facebook page contest, a lot of great stories were submitted by some of the 39,000 Facebook page members. 

The rules were challenging. I think I barely scraped by with my post. 

1) No one could die. I'm still not sure why this was a rule, but no one in the story is allowed to die outright.

2) The story had to include the internet.

3) The story had to include multicultural elements. 

4) The story could only be 2,000 words. 

We were allowed to do with these rules what we wished. 

The Squealing Nerd is proud to publish these stories here with full permission of each contestant. Each week I will post a new story for as long as I am receiving them. Each story is in the exact state it was in when it was submitted. I have made no changes to these stories. 

These stories are not owned by the HPLHS. These stories are the property of their respective offers, and their presence on this site does not affiliate me in anyway with the HPLHS.

Our first story is from Tarquin Mandrake, member of the HPLHS Facebook page. 

"The Malware Maleficarum"

The vicissitudes of fate and the sharp tongue of a nagging wife had necessitated my acceptance of a position in the IT department of the United Nations. My spouse encouraged me to settle alone in Switzerland, leading a vanguard she would follow at some unspecified juncture.

I work in the Palais des Nations (formerly base of the League of Nations) among academics who strike thoughtful poses in tweed. The UN is an IMF slush fund whose function is to transform forests into reports that nobody reads or acts upon, it’s a coalition presiding over massacres in UN safe areas and a kindergarten where the NSA can despatch their greenest recruits to learn the rudiments of espionage confident they’ll wreak no lasting damage.

However, there are leagues within leagues and some are more effective than others.

I found Geneva cold, grey and superficially pleasant. My command of languages helped to offset some of the barely concealed hostility my dark skin provoked. The faux roman Palais des Nations afforded me a respectable office where I led a team comprising; myself, Stephanie, a researcher of French Algerian stock, and Abdul, a scrawny diminutive Muslim cockney from London’s East End, a vulgar jackanapes with a genius for computers.

It was Abdul’s contention that they had bundled all the ethnics on our wing into one office.

We were tasked to unscramble the blog journals of the missing Professor Hoffhenk whose references to a hybrid pantheon of mostly Egyptian deities may prove instrumental in unlocking a computer system which contains vital records of all of the United Nations’s endeavours in North Africa for the last 60 years and obstinately refuses being opened or backed up.

Within the UN the Professor’s disappearance had been almost as murky a business as the ghastly fracas on the steps with Carla Del Ponte. We have a two month deadline to find the 8 letter password that would open the Professor’s operating system, retrieve the data and expunge the OS entirely from the mainframe.

I was reading an alarming account of the Blue Devil children of Gilgamesh when the switchboard patched through an excited Stephanie, finally we had a line on Professor Hoffhenk’s office and it was only an hour’s drive.

“Lick wood!” I said, “Jah provide.”

“I’m sorry,” Stephanie answered, “I do not understand vous?”

“Make I fetch Abdul and meet fe in car park” I said.

“Mais oui, naturellement,” Stephanie replied doubtfully.

I raced to the canteen to find Abdul sitting at a long table surrounded by dossiers and young academics enjoying lunch, the multi-cultural clatter of the canteen is his preferred working environment. I recognised one of the folders; Cyrillic letters found on chemical weapon fragments in Syria.

“Yeah, look,” Abdul addressed the table, “Who bombed them? We didn’t bomb them?”

“S'il vous plaît, aidez-moi?”

A Syrian delegate looked uncomfortable.

I tapped Abdul on the shoulder.

“Wha’gwan?” I enquired.

“Nothing boss, ‘aving me dinner, innit.”

“Well, is move yer rass me ah tell you, no fill your belly and talk foolishness like a damn h’idiot. Cho.”

With this I left the canteen, Abdul dutifully swept the folders into a tote bag and followed.

While Abdul drove, Stephanie briefed me on the back seat. She had been systematically ringing all of the antique booksellers in Switzerland, a loathsome task. Today she struck gold. A bookseller remembered Professor Hoffhenk and offered an address.

I find it is when I’m with Stephanie that my prolonged separation from my wife weighs least upon my thoughts. She has the customary insanity of the French and some difficulty in understanding clear English, but amply compensates for these deficits in wit, sagacity and diligence. Crass though it is to record such doggerel she also has physical attributes that make for a pleasing companion; brown skin, hazel eyes and the region of Stephanie’s posterior is not entirely abhorrent to me.

We arrived in Maxilly Sur Léman at the guest house, a modernist monstrosity enveloped by the neatly tended lawns that overlook Lac Léman. Banging on the door elicited no response. I encouraged Abdul to work his East End magic and we were soon entering the concrete structure through a smashed open door to the rear of the property.

But for a few Adam and the Ants posters the lower rooms were sparsely decorated, our dread concern was that the house had been let to other tenants since the professor’s disappearance. A few copies of Scientific American were piled beside the television. It was up the wooden stairs that we started to see some reassuring signs of our quarry’s occupation.

Egyptian papyrus were framed in the corridor, Abdul took pictures. There were three doors on the landing, Stephanie stood behind me while I opened the first. A bedroom, white walls, a few more Adam Ant posters; the kinky ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ era. Beside the bed a liverish pink book, silky to the touch with a certain diabolically familiar odour.

“Bumberass” I involuntarily exclaimed. A quick glance within the book almost stopped my heart.

Torture upon living subjects was the topic of the books illustrations. Here was a tome, perhaps a millennia old, whose illuminator seemed completely competent in human anatomy. No comical bodily humours here. It was an awful combination of sadistic bloodlust coupled with a minute attention to detail.

Why bother, I thought, nah kill nobody?

There were a few annotations in the margins, “join our insect nation,” and later “cut off his head, legs come looking for you.” Noticing some arcane symbols in the text I sent Stephanie with the book to the car.

In a wall closet I found an impressive arsenal of weapons; rifles, shotguns and machine guns. Abdul entered the bedroom, “Ere boss, have a gander.”

He held an olive green plastic memory stick that had been taped to the back of one of the picture frames, the size of a pack of chewing gum, Mnomquah was written on the back in marker pen. I made a quick mental calculation – 8 letters, and bumped fists with Abdul. This had to be it.

We set up Abdul’s laptop in a shabby office. Within minutes we had the password prompt page of the Professor’s operating system open. I tapped in mnomquah and hit enter, the screen dimmed.

A door slammed open downstairs.

“Bonjour?” a voice called, "Il y a quelqu'un?" Abdul and I crept back into the bedroom, he dived into a closet and shut the door firmly behind him. The little shit. I stood behind the bedroom door and peered anxiously through the crack. "Vous n'avez pas le droit d'entrer ici dedans, vous savez."

He was a pale Middle Eastern man, wearing a blue suit and a pink grease-stained shirt that barely concealed an impressive pelt of chest hair. He looked decidedly unwell. I suspected jaundice. He walked into the bedroom we had so recently vacated then stopped dead, transfixed by the laptops screen.

I looked for a means of escape. The window was double-glazed, there was a door on the far side of the room, but to get there meant scaling the bed, the floor or the door might creak and even if I managed to get past him to the stairs I’d end up leaving the loquacious Abdul behind. Hopeless; diplomacy was called for. I straightened my tie, comporting myself.

The creatures head is a writhing mass of tentacles; it lumbers savagely into the room, raking deep grooves in the wallpaper with its pincers. It wears a blue suit and I shudder realising that this was the man that had just climbed the stairs, somehow horribly transformed.

At first I assumed that it used its tentacles as a star-nosed mole employs its disgusting snout, building a mental construct of its environment through touch, but as it lifted its pincers I saw that there were vents in the ribs of its light blue suit through which hateful green eyes bulged, and as I saw them they narrowed in on me, crouched behind the door.

The creature changed direction, ululating a horrible gargling din akin to a walrus drowning in tar, its claws smashed aside an occasional table, the tentacles slapped meatily against the ceiling. I leapt sideways and climbed over the bed to reach the door on the far side of the room. It was bolted at the top and bottom. My sweaty fingers worked desperately at the top latch, looking back the creature was within five feet.

The latch reluctantly pulled down but now the creature was too close. I jumped across the bed and used its width to keep the enraged creature at bay. If only I had something sharp I could take out an eye. I could smash out a glass panel from the book cabinet but how to handle broken glass without carving up my own hand? The weight of the creature was starting to buckle the bed.

My phone rang. The opening bars of Pink Floyd’s "Money" incongruously filled the room. I instinctively glanced at the screen. Did I want assistance reclaiming a PFI? I pocketed the phone, swearing freely. A heavy pincer swatted me around the head, dislocating my jaw. Agony, I fought the compulsion to pass out.
The creature reared back, preparing to charge. I dove towards the door, both hands yanking at the lower latch. The creatures shadow loomed over me. The latch seemed to be superglued in place. I puffed short urgent breaths through my mangled jaw.

The latch would not come loose. This was the end.

Abdul yelled ‘Let’s have it!” and machine gun fire raked the room.

While Abdul pushes my jaw back into place I glare at the creature we have tied up and pushed into a corner. It will not remain restrained for long. Leaving is imperative. There is a painful jolt and my mouth is realigned. I spit blood.

We hear a scream and find Stephanie in the office with the laptop closed in her hand.

“Don’t open it,” she drops the portable computer, “the project is .. online.” 

She struggles with her belt buckle, one of her legs is rapidly swelling.

At her request Abdul and I take her trousers off.

Her right leg is now four times larger than the left and mottled with a cottage cheese like growth. The smell is appalling, like pilchards and rank tobacco.

I nod to Stephanie but her eyes are rolled up in her head, something like the furled wing of a grotesquely magnified house-fly flickers out of her nostril. I leave the house just in time to see Abdul drive away, I’d shout at the car but my jaw hurts and in truth 

I know; there’s nowhere to go.

The project is online.

The air is full of screams coming from every direction but one; the broad flat expanse of Lac Léman. I boot up my smartphone. The internet has pretty colours today.

From other houses and cars, pulled up on the route nationale, I see screaming people emerge and head towards the lake, all undergoing revolting transformations.

An elderly man with a foot growing out of his groin, a woman with five arms and a head swollen with a puce liquid, they walk and crawl down the steep incline towards the water.

I am screaming so hard I find it difficult to breathe. A vortex is forming, I see a bird trying to fly pulled inexorably backwards towards the lake. Within Lac Léman a vast creature swims towards the surface, beneath that creature is not a lake bed, but stars. The lake is a portal and we are summoned.

That which where once hands let go of my phone, I have invited my wife to play Candy Crush Saga on Facebook.