Authors: Sean Hoade
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Horror, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Post-Apocalyptic
All Rights Reserved © 2015 Sean Hoade and Severed Press
Cover art © 2015 Putnam Finch
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without the permission in writing from the publisher.
Cover art by Putnam Finch
Special thanks to Ann Hoade
Also by Sean Hoade
ZOMBIE SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL
REVIVA LAS VEGAS!
INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR (STORIES)
AIN’T THAT AMERICA
For Mike Davis and the
H.P. Lovecraft: Hero or Hack?
by Martin Storch:
There are many who, even now, dismiss Howard Phillips Lovecraft as a mere “pulp” writer, a terrible stylist, a one-trick pony. This dismissal does no harm to Lovecraft—who of course is quite dead—but does a serious disservice to the readers of today and tomorrow, those who would gain a sense of his cosmic horror, of our complete insignificance to anyone or anything beyond ourselves.
By reading Lovecraft, one gains a sublime realization of our tininess, of our utter vulnerability against the forces of nature and time, not to mention the losing end of the bargain we would be at should a powerful alien race ever encounter us. We would be, as H.G. Wells said, as ants beneath their shoes. They would not necessarily be malevolent, but that hardly matters—what matters is that they could crush us and destroy humankind without even noticing we were there. We are like gods to the animals of Earth; aliens with the technological ability and will to travel as far into space as required to visit our humble planet would make them like gods to us.
If we ever are to resist such a threat—or, if resistance be impossible, then at least understand our own demise—then we could do far worse than to drink deeply of the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Cthulhu—or something indistinguishable from Lovecraft’s fictional
, whether all-out nuclear war, or class riots, or a plague like no other—may very well rise to consume us one day. We may not be able to fight it, but at least we can spare ourselves the devastating
that would come with such a horrifying end …
At just before 1300 hours UTC on 23 March, every human being on Earth was struck by devastating headache. In some cases, the pain was so severe that eyes screwed shut, victims doubled over and sank to their knees, and any speech other than raw screams of agony was impossible. For some, the horror was less; for others, much more.
Fifteen seconds into the seizure, some lost sensation in every part of the body other than the area right behind the eyes, all consciousness being focused involuntarily upon that locus of torment. That may be, strictly speaking, inaccurate: hands and feet might have still been relaying information to sufferers’ brains, but if so it went unprocessed. There was nothing in the mind or body of billions of people other than the piercing white-hot needles of pain.
Thirty seconds into the attack, some victims suffered spontaneous vomiting; others stripped off their clothing and ran naked in the streets; still others remained motionless except for rolling on the ground or floor, hands impotently pressed against their eyes as they screamed.
In slightly more than forty-five seconds, the assault relented and the pain ceased. In that time, however, the world was already a much different place.
Southern Pacific Ocean, 50°S 126°W, 20 meters from the Event
First Mate Constantine Costas wondered for the hundredth time how the air could be so cold and the sun still bake his skin. The ship chugged steadfastly through the water, which had to be just a chin hair under 0°C, the sunlight breaking down the smallest chunks of forming ice.
A few hundred miles south was the great white continent of Antarctica, which Costas had laid eyes on a few times as they tracked a whale pod as far as they could go. He found it more boring than staring out at the open sea, which he found extremely boring in the first place. But at least there was
in the sea. The frozen ass-end of the world didn’t offer anything but escape routes for whales trying to lose the
among the ice floes.
A few hundred miles to the east was the tip of South America, with Tierra del Fuego on the far side and nothing on the near side except, again, ice. A thousand miles to the north was nothing. Two thousand miles to the west was more nothing. Cigarettes were his best friend out here—better than anybody on the boat, that was for certain—but there had been so little whale activity that he’d kept himself entertained by smoking two packets a day instead of his usual half a packet enforced by his wife when he was home and when he packed his kit for this voyage.
He finished the last puff of his last cigarette from his last packet, flicked the butt over the starboard side and turned to go below and see if he could start up a poker game to win more smokes. He was just wondering what he could put up as ante when he saw out of the corner of his eye: The swell.
The swell portended that something huge was about to break the surface of the water. The only thing Costas had seen that created a swell this huge was a whale, or maybe two whales in unison for one of this size. The ocean itself seemed to heave like a mother’s belly as the baby shoved its way out for birth.
The swell grew in width as the sailor watched. He wondered why the bells hadn’t sounded and his mates weren’t shouting as they usually did when such a leviathan was within reach. They hadn’t seen a whale in two goddamn weeks—where
Costas’s eyes grew wide as he watched the mountain of water rise from the surface, its full size only now becoming apparent as it blocked the horizon along the entire starboard side.
This was no whale. This was … an island forming right in front of his eyes? A nuclear test beneath the waves that no one had warned shipping about displacing the water? Maybe that’s what it was, because now the mountain of water seemed illuminated from below by a sickly green light. Was that what nuclear bombs looked like going off underwater?
The mountain finally stopped growing and now the green light filled the swollen water, the surging water covering the green light going up and up until the swell broke and—
Every blood vessel in Constantine Costas’s brain aneurized and reduced the inside of his skull to boiling paste that spurted from his ears and his eyes and his mouth before he collapsed to the deck. Every member of the
, awake or asleep, suffered the same furious melting of their brains even before the ship capsized and sank to the depths of the icy ocean.
Tierra del Fuego, Argentina
54°S 68°W, 2200 km from the Event
There is nothing more boring than a café in a busy town
, Marko Horvat thought as he idly tapped his wedding ring against the porcelain of his empty cup. The city of Rio Grande had swollen to 70,000 souls over the past few years, relocation driven by the industrial boom of factories making those laptop computers, Internet-books, whatever people called them. Marko did not own a computer and could not foresee ever needing such a machine. Over his fifty-three years at the bottom of the world, the son and grandson and great-grandson of sheep farmers turned businessmen turned investors, he had led a louche life of leisure that suited him perfectly, living off the sale of those farms to the computer factory people.
, he thought for the thousandth time as he raised his cup for another
, the espresso keeping him warm as he sat outside on that chilly morning.
Marko had history on the archipelago. He never missed Croatia because he had never visited the place, had no interest in it. His father had visited once, he said, to find a Croat wife, this in order to please Marko's grandfather, who had come to the southern tip of Argentina as a small boy with Marko's great-grandfather. Marko's grandfather had a few childhood memories of the homeland and wanted Marko's father to see “where he came from.”
Marko’s father hadn’t been impressed by Croatia, and he disagreed with Marko’s grandfather that the local Fuegian women were degenerate in some unspecified manner. He did his duty and searched for a wife among the villages and cities of Croatia, but in the end came home alone and married a Fuegian girl, Marko’s mother.
Marko smiled at the thought of his mother as he gazed out upon the choppy waters of the southern Atlantic. Because of her, he was truly Fuegian. More than a hundred years of history tied him to this land, and his own wife—born in Rio Grande herself—had blessed him with two sons. He had said to his wife many times that he expected them to follow in his footsteps as gentlemen of leisure, idle investors in a town obsessed with business. The cafés would never be totally ignored as long as there were men singularly devoted to not going to work.
His sons would have sons and daughters, who would have children of their own, and so on; with the mercurial weather and soil of Tierra del Fuego defining their lives, they would embody the
in which they grew. Indeed, in another hundred years, Marko thought, his family line—
A wave of red-hot pressure suddenly built behind Marko’s eyes and before he could finish screaming “
his eyes were blown out of their sockets by the sheer force of his brain bursting into liquid. He fell onto the cement outside the café, his jellied eyeballs lying where they had squirted across the little table.
Marko could not hear it, but all through Tierra del Fuego, every man, woman, and child, every human shrieked in agony as the interior of his or her head exploded against the skull. Those farther to the north and west of the country experienced the horror for a few seconds longer than those closer to the Event, but all died before they could finish their screams.
Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, Antarctica
, 4500 km from the Event
There were forty-six winter-overs at Polheim this season, mostly support personnel to keep the station running through the six months of continuous darkness and deadly cold every year, but several geologists, meteorologists, and astronomers as well. As every year, the night shift watched the three movie versions of “Who Goes There?” from 1951, 1982, and 2011 once the last flight had taken the summer scientists and crew. Doctor Hillary Becker’s favorite was John Carpenter’s
, the one from 1982, where Kurt Russell and company battled … well, a
That movie night had been more than two months ago. Since then, it had been utter isolation at Polheim. This was Roald Amundsen’s name for his first camp at the South Pole, but Hillary liked to use it for its old-school appeal. Even though she was a respected astronomer studying gravity waves in the darkness and dryness of the antipodean winter, she still drank whiskey with the boys and could usually hustle a couple of matchsticks at the billiards table in the game area.
Hillary used to joke that universities could afford to hire a couple of extra theoretical physicists because their lab expenses consisted of pencil, paper, and a couple of boxes of chalk. Here at the bottom of the world, however, she had access to observational equipment and data analysis tools that any cosmologist would postpone tenure for. The reason there wasn’t a long line of the astrophysically minded trying to get access was that it required a six-month stay in the loneliest, most inhospitable place on Earth. (It was even worse than physics department yearly reviews.) Hillary had survived a battery of psychological tests and health evaluations before being allowed to sign on for the long winter’s night at the South Pole.
She could take it, though. She hadn’t married or birthed children, instead setting her brain as her most important organ, the functioning of which she supported with not only mathematical and scientific study but also literature, anthropology, music—anything she could get her hands on, she dedicated herself to making room for it in her beautiful mind. She was on a fast track to the Nobel Prize, one of the most brilliant women—people—on the planet.
In her wide reading, she had a soft spot for Weird fiction, especially that of one Howard Phillips Lovecraft. His tales of cosmic indifferentism and existential dread were the perfectly perverse companion to her attempts to learn just what was behind the veil of reality. Her gravitational wave work had pushed the theory of cosmic inflation—the most antithetical theory possible to ideas of a universe that would last—to the forefront, and she credited HPL with helping her get curious about it in the first place.
Hillary had just finished a game of chess, barely winning against the station’s hulking Russian electrical engineer who made sure the jet fuel kept Polheim’s generators running, when she felt something odd. Felt it and saw black stars shoot through her field of vision. She could see that Anatoly just across the table had been struck by something as well, getting a concerned yet distant look on his face.
“Nat, are you—”
Anatoly’s eyes went glassy, and he vomited blood down the front of his jumpsuit.
Hillary gasped at the sudden sensation swelling behind her eyes—
—and her head slammed against the bolted-down table as multiple aneurysms rocked her brain, paralyzing her but leaving her conscious even through the most shocking agony she had ever felt, like her eyes were going to be forced out of her head by hot pokers
from the inside
She couldn’t focus her eyes well and barely burbled when she tried to speak to get Anatoly’s attention, to beg for something to
please God make the pain stop,
but she could see blurrily that the Russian was slumped in his chair, his head back and mouth open, blood streaming from his nostrils. If he wasn’t dead, she hoped for his sake that he would die soon and be spared—
Hillary absorbed another shock of pain, and another. She could feel her mind dissolving as her brain’s vessels split open in locus after locus, lokkiss aftr loaaaacus,
plaaapbh affa nnnnng
Always a scientist, even through the excruciation, Doctor Hillary Becker observed her own brain as it died, as every bit of learning she had ever done evaporated into the expanding aether, lost forever.
19°N 99°W, 7717 km from the Event
Arthur Green, captain of Qantas Flight 314, nodded at his copilot and spoke into his headset: “Mexico City, this is Qantas TREE WUN FOW-er requesting permission to land.”
“Roger, Qantas TREE WUN FOW-er, we’ll have the path for you in just a moment.”
Captain Green relaxed and stretched a little. It had been a long and uneventful flight from Sydney. No drunken passengers to be scolded by the flight attendants, not much in the way of turbulence at 40,000 feet, and his copilot not being overly chatty so he could do a little reading—how had he lived his entire adult life without ever reading Lovecraft? It was like taking a trip back in time, and to a much spookier age. But the book was put away as they prepared for landing at Benito Juárez International, checking the 777’s instrumentation one more time and giving one last weather update to the passengers.
“Qantas TREE WUN FOW-er, proceed to runway WUN FIFE.”
“Runway WUN FIFE, roger,” Green said, and adjusted the airliner’s heading. He had nineteen years of flight experience, but landings were the only part of the journey that ever bothered him. Taking off, as long as no one was taxiing onto the wrong runway, was no sweat. And nothing had ever happened in flight to Green except a blown engine one time and a fire that forced him to turn the plane around 200 miles from the departure airport. But he’d had a couple of
that were pure terror. At twenty years he was going to retire, so he wouldn’t have to put up with landing protocol and the horror of landing in storms or on icy runways.
Computers did a lot of the work of flying now anyway, but both captain and copilot always stayed alert to any sign of trouble in the process. Autopilot could land even a 777 in a dire emergency, but Green couldn’t think of a single case among his colleagues that this last resort was ever taken.
With that in mind, he made sure the autopilot was disengaged as they—
“Motherfucking Jesus Christ!”
the copilot screamed even as Green could hear what sounded like all 416 passengers shrieking as well. An instant later, Green felt what had made them all cry out, and now he screamed, too. His head felt like something was trying to break out of his skull through his eyes. His hands jerked the wheel violently to the left, his brain unable to allow his eyes to open, the pain was so great. In fact, Green couldn’t feel his hands, so he was unaware that he had thrown the Boeing hard left with just 200 feet between them and the tarmac.