Authors: Jonathan Woodrow,Jeffrey Fowler,Peter Rawlik,Jason Andrew
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Horror, #Occult
|Apotheosis: Stories of Human Survival After the Rise of the Elder Gods|
|Jonathan Woodrow & Jeffrey Fowler & Peter Rawlik & Jason Andrew|
|Simian Publishing (2015)|
|Tags:||Literature & Fiction, Genre Fiction, Horror, Occult|
|Literature & Fictionttt Genre Fictionttt Horrorttt Occultttt|
Humanity struggled to grow and evolve as a species for thousands of years forever caught in the shadow of a dread threat known only to a devoted few. When the stars are right, the Old Ones will return to claim utter dominion of this world. Lovecraft Mythos stories often climax at the moment of the fateful return of the Elder Gods and the audience is left to ponder what might happen next. This anthology features stories about humanity under the reign of the Elder Gods and ancient terrors. Featuring stories from A.C. Wise, Glynn Owen Barrass, Steve Berman, Gustavo Bondoni, Jeff C. Carter, J. Childs-Biddle, Evan Dicken, Jeffrey Fowler, Cody Goodfellow, Andrew Peregrine, Peter Rawlik, Joshua Reynolds, Adrian Simmons, Jason Vanhee, June Violette, L. K. Whyte, and Jonathan Woodrow.
Apotheosis: Stories of Human Survival After The Rise of The Elder Gods
The authors maintain copyrights to their individual stories, which are printed with this anthology with their express written permission.
Apotheosis is copyrighted © 2015 by Simian Publishing. All rights reserved.
Cover: Mark Henry
Editor: Jason Andrew
Copy Editors: Lisa Andrew, Maria Cambone
11222 Greenwood Ave N. #205,
Seattle, WA 98013, USA
by Jason Andrew
I remember the very day that I discovered the Lovecraft Mythos. A sweltering summer drought swept California when I had been shipped off to a rural farming town named Sanger. The entire land felt foreign to me. Fields and dirt replaced stores and concrete. I was a stranger in a mundane land of broken backs and dry tomorrows.
Books were my world then as they are now. I was an introverted kid that had virtually nothing in common with my relatives save for blood and familial love. They took me to the town’s antiquated library hoping to find something to keep me entertained through the summer until school started and it was there that I found the massive tome from Arkham House that featured a bowdlerized collection of H. P. Lovecraft stories edited by August Derleth.
My fingers tingled just holding the book. I had begun to dip my literary toes into the macabre. I had consumed every novel from Steven King and had just begun my journey into the sexual fantastic grotesquery of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood.
In that book lay a vast uncaring universe where ancient things tread creation unconcerned with the trivialities of mortal, human existence. Lovecraft’s purple, archaic prose appealed to my youthful sensibilities. Everything seemed to be an epic battle with forces beyond my control. This book proved to be a gateway to other greats — the quiet dread of the King in Yellow by Robert Chambers, Robert E. Howard and the undreamt of Hyborian Age, and the terrifying ghost stories of Algernon Blackwood.
This was an era before the internet where rumors of lost editions and out of print books everywhere. A fan had to explore old thrift shops and libraries and swamp meetings hoping to find a hidden treasure. It was just maddening enough to imagine yourself one of Lovecraft’s protagonists, desperate to know that which man was not meant to know. My friends and I spent many of our formative years borrowing these creations for our own purposes— casting the Old Ones as gods in my Dungeons and Dragons campaigns, recreating entire races of Deep Ones that plagued my characters, and Nyarlathotep serving as tormentor and wiseman.
Slowly, I moved on to other obsessions until college where I discovered much to my disappoint that the Arkham House I had read — pardon the expression — whitewashed much of Lovecraft’s racist and chauvinist attitudes. How could I reconcile my adoration of these stories with the realization that the germ of their inspiration came from hate and fear?
To paraphrase Papa Hemingway, a writer has to fight his demons if he wants there to be blood on the page. Other writers played in Lovecraft’s metafiction sandbox and made it their own in ways that might have horrified the old man — the transgressive dark fantasy and horror of Caitlín R Kiernan, Wilum Hopfrog, Pugmire, or the weird tales of China Miéville. Lovecraft himself felt out of touch with his own time and I suspect trapped by the cage of his own fears and disorders. It is any wonder that his universe appeals to those that feel different? Is it any wonder that the Other had been so featured in stories inspired by Lovecraft?
Apotheosis is the elevation or exaltation into godhood — to make something grand from the ordinary. Can you pluck something the muck and transform it into your image? If that is possible, then surely the Lovecraft Mythos has become radically diverse and thereby immensely more interesting.
I pondered editing an anthology set in the Lovecraft Mythos for years, but the exact theme of the potential anthology always eluded me. I knew that I didn’t want the same retread of the dread possibility of the Elder Gods finally coming to Earth when the stars were right. I wanted to see worlds where the Elder Gods have come and conquered — and then revealed what happened next.
The seed of this anthology came to me while listening to Cody Goodfellow flamboyantly read the story that appears in this collection. “Earth Worms” posited a world where the Elder Gods came to a broken world not as conquers, but as saviors and farmers that transplant humanity to a new Eden.
And that’s when the anthology crystalized in my mind. I wasn’t satisfied with stories that teased the Elder Gods, but never revealed their eldritch glory. I didn’t want to wait until the stars were right; I wanted to experience the dread then and there and see what would happen next. How could humanity survive such horrors? And if they did manage to eke out some sort of existence, what would be the price they paid? The perennial quote from Fredrick Nietzsche echoed in my head.
Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.
Would they even still be human in any practical sense?
Apotheosis: Stories of Human Survival After The Rise of the Elder Gods
is the fourth anthology I’ve edited under the small press imprint Simian Publishing. As always, Simian Publishing wanted put out an anthology that would be open to talented emerging writers and set them alongside known professional writers.
Our guidelines established one hard rule: all stories in the anthology had to focus upon humanity surviving in a world where the Elder Gods has returned and conquered. We asked for character-driven stories exploring what it meant to be human in a universe of ancient horrors beyond the limits of morality. We wanted this anthology to embody a wide range of human experience, voices, and in particular, to credibly consider our present and future demographics of the world.
I believed in this project and we asked for our patrons to help us fund it. Our successful Kickstarter collected $2,333 towards paying our writers. I would like to thank each and every one of the 92 patrons who allowed us to chase this dream. Thank you for supporting Simian Publishing and the small press.
A themed anthology is a great risk for an open submission call. Some writers will scrounge through their trunks sending anything that might vaguely fit the guidelines. Others will glance at the anthology and spark their own ideas. We received over 300 submissions. Reading through the slush was the most difficult aspect of this assignment as the scope and breadth blew my mind. There were great ideas from new writers and old-school professionals. Once I narrowed down the submission pool to 150, every successive cut was to the bone. The great sculptor Michelangelo once said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Simian Publishing painstakingly read through every submission until we began to see a pattern for the project and learned what we wanted the final book to be.
Apotheosis: Stories of Survival After The Rise of The Elder Gods
has more than 70,000 words worth of stories that terrify and delight you. It will open windows to worlds never before glimpsed or dreamed of — to face our nightmares by dragging them into the light and riding them for all they are worth.
The poet Heather McHugh once wrote that horror is seeing the alien in the familiar. Terror is seeing the familiar in what should be alien. Isn’t that the point of horror?
by Andrew Peregrine
The smiling people always seem to be staring at you, even without eyes. We have two in the office today, a male and a female. They keep out of the way, to be fair. The male has spent most of the day at the window near the forgotten copy machine. I think he has moved twice all day. The female has been more active. She was in the kitchen for the morning and somehow moved into the main office this afternoon. Come to think of it she seems to have been following Jason for most of the day.
They keep to themselves, but even when they are facing away from you they still seem to be staring at you. The males all dress very alike, neat suits and ties, with elegant and almost identical tailoring. The females are a little more varied: some wear suits, others dresses, and their hairstyles can be quite individual. They always seem to stand perfectly still, and move quickly when you aren’t paying any attention. The most unnerving thing about them though is their faces. They are all the same, blank white ovals, broken only by a huge smiling mouth of sharpened teeth.
They are everywhere in the city. So common you almost don’t notice them anymore. They just stand around watching us, sometimes following. Yesterday, I saw a crowd of them following a pregnant woman along the street. I suspect she’d tried to ignore them at first, but more had gathered behind her. I looked up when she turned and started screaming at them to leave her alone, but that seemed to make more of them join the group. Faced with the silent, grinning crowd, she fell quiet and backed away. She broke into a run, but then suddenly stopped only a few yards later. She sank to her knees, as if she was exhausted, and just sat there crying. The smiling people crowded around until I couldn’t see her anymore. I kept walking.
I’m not entirely sure what my job is. Every morning I arrive at the office to find a collection of paperwork on my desk. It mostly needs filing, and I have to read a lot of it and then sign it to say I’ve done so before passing it on to the next department. Once or twice I’ve seen my own name signed on a document I don’t remember reading. But none of them are memorable. Lists of data, market research, and invoices for products I don’t even know if we sell. Come to think of it, I’m not sure what we do sell, or if we sell anything at all.
My work colleagues are a decent bunch, but the office is usually quiet. There is always at least one of the smiling people around. You can feel their nonexistent eyes burning into you as you work, trying not to look at them. So there is little chatter here. We just exchange knowing looks as we pass papers to each other. It’s like sharing your space with a predator. We instinctively keep quiet and move away in their presence. I’ve seen conversations end abruptly and groups break up just due to the presence of one of the smiling people. I’ve never seen one of them hurt a human being yet, but that’s what makes it worse. None of us know what they are capable of.
Alison brings me another pile of papers, and sometimes she smiles at me, a rare thing among us these days. I don’t know her very well, but I look forward to seeing her each day. She is quite an average looking girl, but clever and funny. I like the way her hair curls over her face, and the smile I keep hoping she saves for me. Our hands touch and linger with each other as she passes me the papers. But the smiling people are there as always. Our moment passes and she turns to leave. I want to say something, ask her to go for a drink, even say something stupid just to bring her back. But it never seems the right time. On her way back to her desk, she turns and glances at me. I look away, embarrassed by my own failure.
With my attention on Alison, I fail to notice one of the smiling people has come closer. He stands at the end of my desk, still like a statue. His dreadful grin is turned towards me and he leans a little closer over my desk. I try not to move too quickly, reaching again slowly for the pile of papers Alison left. As I pull them towards me the smiling person’s hand is suddenly upon mine. He leans a little closer again, bending halfway over the desk. I can feel the office go silent, everyone trying their hardest not to notice what is going on. The hand covering mine is soft and moist, and cold. My hand begins to go numb at his touch and my body is screaming at me to pull away. But I daren’t move. We are locked together there for what seems an age; my heart beats so hard I can feel it pounding in my chest.
Then I’m suddenly released. The smiling person is no longer in front of me but standing with his back to me. I think he is staring at Alison’s desk at the end of the floor. I feel suddenly sick. Running to the toilets I curl up in one of the stalls and throw up until I’m empty. No one comes to see if I’m alright.
At the end of the day, no one stays any later than they have to. We shuffle on our coats and gloves and silently scatter back into the city. It is always cold here, and the seasons never seem to change. The date was lost a long time ago, so no one marks the festivals. It feels forever like January, Christmas long forgotten and spring so far away. We drift out of the building in ones and twos. Large groups tend to attract the smiling people. A few of the couples attract one tagging behind them, silently following them home.
They seem to have had their fill of me today though, and I reach home without an escort. There is rarely any electricity operating in the city, so I have to take the stairs. I pass a few more smiling people on a couple of the landings as I make my way to the eighth floor. They turn and watch me pass but seem interested in someone else. A group of them on the sixth floor stand watching a small boy play with a ball in the corridor. His mother stands in the doorway, trying to wave him inside with silent urgency to little avail.
My apartment is on the eighth floor, but at least it is quiet. Of the six apartments on this level, only two of them are occupied. Outside my door is my weekly parcel. It is wrapped in brown paper and while there is no name I know it has been left for me. Getting out my keys in the silent corridor I pick up the parcel and quickly enter my flat. Dumping the parcel on the table, I lean on the door and look around for a while. Sometimes the smiling people get inside, but this time I am blissfully alone. Taking off my coat, I open the parcel, enjoying for a moment the trepidation of opening a gift, even though I know what it contains.
As usual, the contents are a little random, although mainly canned goods. I remember the brands from my childhood, and it always makes me wonder if they are still being made, or if one day they will simply run out. There are a few candles among the various cans. With no electricity, candles are an essential, but the ones they send are slightly sticky and soft. The smell of them tends to get into your clothes, a deep dank smell of old basements and soggy books. I put them in a drawer; there will be enough light for a while, no need to light one yet.
I usually keep the curtains closed because I’m close to the wall here. The apartments on the other side of the building look out into the city. They show the rows of broken buildings that stretch out in ruin upon ruin. My view looks out the other way, towards the wall. No one I know has got close to the wall itself, but few people would want to. It rises over sixty feet high and is made of wreckage and bodies. It looks as if something vast scooped up the remains of rubble and victims left from the apocalypse and glued them together with spit and bile. It is a vast, organic-looking mess of stone, metal, and horror, sculpted by something inhuman to corral us here. They say it goes around the whole city, or at least what remains of it. When I think of the scale of that, all those bodies, it makes me feel sick. I try not to look at it, but the sky is worse.
The clouds are yellow now, swollen and infected, and they clot a sky made of green and mauve hues. On some nights, the colors can be almost pretty, but most of the time they make me want to retch. They churn together up there, as if in pain. Sometimes they make shapes, shapes of creatures I remember only in my nightmares. I tell myself they are only shadows, but a part of me knows they are not. There are no birds, but sometimes you see flying things skittering across the sky. It’s one of the reasons we tend to stay on the ground. Everything here feels hungry now.
After unpacking the box, I crouch by the bedroom door to lift a loose floorboard I found years ago. I look around the apartment again quickly, just to be sure before I take out the small box I keep there. I sit down with my back against the wall and open the box, taking out the small gold ring. It is solid gold, yet still surprisingly delicate in appearance. There is an engraving on the inside that simply says “All my love, 23
March 2023.” It is my mother’s wedding ring.
I think she knew we’d never see each other again when we were separated. I have nightmares of that time, but thankfully the memory has faded. The ring helps me focus on remembering my mother, not the monsters who took her away. But I remember the fear; that never leaves you. I think we were outside, herded up in a great crowd, horrible creatures all around us. There was no screaming, the time for that was long past, just weeping and despair. Everyone knew they were going to die, or at least there was no future. All we had to hope for was that the stories of what they did to those they captured were not true. We were tired and dirty, and I had long given up asking if my father was coming back. Then the creatures surrounding us started pulling and separating people. Everyone began to push and shove and then there were screams as it became clear they were separating the adults from the children.
We stayed together as long as we could, just holding each other. There was no point in resistance anymore. We stayed together until claws grabbed my mother and tore us from each other. As the creatures pulled her from me, she slipped the ring from her finger and told me to keep it safe. I clutched it hard in my hand as they pushed me with the other children into some form of vehicle. The floor was slick and organic, and a tarpaulin was thrown over us as the machine juddered into life and took us away. In was quiet for a while, but then we heard the screams. They didn’t last very long.
My mother’s ring is all I have left of her, all I have left of anything. I have to be careful to make sure the smiling people never find it. I don’t think they search our rooms, but you can never be sure. It is possible they wouldn’t take it from me, but that isn’t the point. It’s the one thing of mine they haven’t touched. They have everything else, but this is mine, and mine alone. Perhaps it is even the last thing on the whole planet that they haven’t corrupted or taken from us.
A soft knock at the door sends me into a panic. I push the ring into its box and quickly return it to the hiding place. Replacing the floorboard I rush towards the door, but then turn back to check I’ve put the floorboard back properly. The knock comes again, a little more urgently. I’m still looking at the floorboard, as I open the door. So I’m a little surprised to see Alison slip into the apartment and begin checking around the rooms. My mind is taking a while to process this new event and so I stand there open-mouthed as she looks into each room. I close the door and wait for her to finish. I don’t know why she’s here, but I know I don’t want her to go.
After a few moments, Alison seems content my apartment is how it should be. She stands in the center of the living room, her coat unbuttoned and her hat in her hand, staring at me. I look at her, not knowing what to do and hoping I don’t say something stupid to make her leave.
“There aren’t any of them here?” she states as a question, taking a step towards me.
“Them? No. No, I don’t think so.”
She drops her hat and takes two paces towards me, pausing as if to reconsider. I have my back to the door but no desire to get away from her. Then she seems to make a decision and crosses the room to kiss me. For some stupid reason I find myself wanting to tell her she has dropped her hat, but her kiss makes sure I don’t say anything. My arms curl around her, and her hands begin to slide into my clothes. She breaks the kiss for a moment and whispers to me.
“Make me feel. I just want to feel something.”
I let her guide me to the bedroom, but we only get as far as the sofa. We share a moment together, or what feels like only a moment. Afterwards, the room feels cold again. Alison puts on her coat, and I worry she is going to leave me until I remember her dress is still on the floor. It has got dark without us noticing, so I light a candle.
“Don’t,” she says. “Not one of those, not now. Not after we’ve…”
I think for a moment and remember I have some packing paper in this week’s box. I tear some into a bowl and use the candle to set light to it before I blow it out. Alison smiles. The paper burns with an orange flame and she comes back to the sofa. We curl around each other with nothing to say as the paper gradually burns away. For the first time in years, I feel what must be contentment. Her coat keeps us both warm.
I wake up later than Alison. I find her in the kitchen making beans on toast, silhouetted against the morning light through the curtains. She is already dressed and her hair is still wet from a shower. I go to put my arms around her but she turns to dish out the food and I only mange to awkwardly kiss her on the cheek.
“I hope you don’t mind,” she says, putting two plates of beans on toast on the table. “I never seem to get beans very often in my box.”