Ever heard of American Weird Fiction? Yeah, neither had I until I took a literature class at my old alma mater, Clarkson University. It ensnares the feeling of cognitive dissonance, that eerie feeling that you're being watched or that you're experiencing death, destruction, and the unknown (hopefully) without actually being in danger. YouTube vlogger, Michael Stevens, explains cognitive dissonance well in this video:
For more information on the genre, go here.
This is part two of an award-winning weird fiction tale that I wrote for a fan fiction writing contest with Clarkson's Association of Creative Thought. I called it a fanfiction piece because it dives into H.P. Lovecraft's mythos surrounding the elder god Cthulhu. To read part one, go here. I wrote deep into the realm over the course of 12 hours and ended up winning the contest with my piece. Enjoy!
The Cavern: Part 2
I wake in a stupor. I attempt to stand, but I can’t find the correct command to activate my limbs. In fact, I can’t seem to find my legs. I feel as if I’m taking up more space. I see a pitch-black cave, but my vision goes beyond my physical surroundings. There is energy moving around me; it’s swirling in organized patterns, casually mixing together. This again feels too familiar.
A rock cascades from a chasm above me. Instinctually, I move to shield my face. The rock falls a few feet from where I lay, but I still jump with a startle. There is a large black tentacle in my field of vision. I work to swat it away, but the tentacle waves wildly as if mirroring my defense. That tentacle is mine. Looking at myself, I see many more black tentacles like it. I find myself amassed in black tendrils; simply looking at them makes them wriggle in recognition. I didn’t have that many tequila shots, did I?
The same pointed stare comes from behind me. I swivel rather agilely to find a cumbersome passage. A shadowed figure fills the passage. It advances with similar wriggling appendages brushing against the walls.
“We never thought we would find you.” I can tell this creature is speaking in the same tongue that I heard in the bar, but it resonates as if I’ve been speaking it my whole life.
“What is there to find?” I reply brashly, somehow unaffected by the circumstances. This is just like one of my dreams. How can this harm me in my own cave? My cave. While I have no concrete memory of this place, this cavern reeks of my own taste. It’s dark, dank, and separate from everyone. Well, until now.
“Cyäegha, you’ve been hiding for too long. Come back to us.” The creature’s features become anthropomorphic and somehow shape into the body of something human. It has legs and a torso which heaves with inflated lungs. But its face is covered in dark green tentacles. Wings stretch out behind it as it enters my cavern.
“I seem to belong in the earth.” And I do. At least in this form. Finding no limbs to stand with, I roll myself to the shore of an underground lake. Looking in the pool’s reflection, I see the tentacles. There is a glowing green eye sitting where I expect to see my familiar face, bright with life and tight with anxiety. Swiveling around to face the creature, anxiety spreads to every part of my being. I feel as though I’ve been found out.
“You belong with your kind.” The creature’s eyes come to light as it moves closer to me. It’s the same amber flame I remember from the bar. In my cavern, they don’t belong. My tentacles flare in recognition.
“You are not my kind. You…” My eye widens as I begin to levitate. “You’re Cthulhu.” Cthulhu’s tentacles engulf my face.
I wake with a start. Muffled music comes from behind a door enclosing me in a dank, dark room. I find my tight jeans and crimson blouse back on my body, lying on a ripped couch. A green hoodie falls to the floor, leaving my torso as if having been tucked around me. Band and beer stickers cover the walls. I struggle to sit up, but hands press my shoulders to the couch.
“Slow down there, big guy.” Howard’s face is close to mine looking worn and anxious. “Did you mix your medication with booze again? I’ve told you to be careful with that stuff.”
“Howard, I need to get up. I need to get out of here.” I shove his hands away from me. Sitting up, my head shatters into a million pieces. Is this what it’s like to be above ground?
“Maybe we should call a hospital.” This familiar voice comes from the corner of the room across from the door. The drummer leans against the wall in a black T-shirt. I glance at him, the hoodie, and then Howard who is shaking his head.
“This will be one too many times for her. If the police find out, she may face charges. She’s usually pretty good about walking these things off.” I barely listen to Howard as I slowly stand up, trying not to lose my balance. The drummer glowers at me for a second. While his beard remains unmoving, the coils of facial hair shiver in acknowledgment of my presence.
I bolt for the door. Shoving aside the drummer with more strength than I knew I had, I rip open the door. I nearly fall as something cold and slimy wraps around my leg. I kick it with the heel of my boot and sprint down a hallway. I hear a crowd of people in the direction of a bright light.
The main room of the bar is in full swing as I burst from behind the curtains. Some assholes clap while some yell as I leap from the stage into the crowd. A glance behind me shows the drummer and Howard emerging from behind the curtain, Howard looking bewildered and the drummer glaring with the same glowering eyes. I shove patrons aside as I navigate for the door. Another tentacle wraps around my wrist, tugging me backwards. I yelp, pulling myself through the doorway and slamming it on the appendage. It squirms on the filthy floor of the entrance, spraying dark green blood on my shoes. The drummer stares through the glass pane in the door, seemingly howling with the music drowning out the noise.
I wretch open the door of the bar, stumbling out onto the sidewalk. I tear around the corner of the building down an alleyway. I nearly run into a chain-link fence towering over me. I scramble to hide behind a dumpster. Panting and shaking, I struggle to hold a crouch while looking for an advancing figure. I see no one. I wait there trembling for a couple of minutes, my eyes permanently fixed on the entrance of the alleyway.
I nearly shriek as a figure emerges from the direction of the entrance. He runs to the fence, frantically glancing around. My ragged breath alerts him of my position.
“What the hell, man? I told him that I wasn’t turning you in.” Howard tries to help me up, but my legs won’t unbend from their crouch.
“Where is he? The drummer?” Howard tries to grab my hands, but they remain balled up in fists pressed against the ground.
“He bolted after you. I thought he came looking for you, but I guess he flew the coop. C’mon, will you just get up?” I force my limbs to stand. Howard brushes the grime off of my jeans. “We should probably take you home.”
“No, I… I think I’m okay.” My shoulders lose some of their tension as I exhale a large breath. Thinking of the tentacle I severed, I glance at my shoes for signs of the struggle. No green blood clings to my shoes. It’s just Howard and I in the alleyway, no drummer trying to wrap me in his hoodie. Or his tentacles. I shudder. Did I mix my medicines today? It wouldn’t be the first time. Perhaps Howard was right. I should just walk this off.
“But did you see that dude’s eyes?” Howard mistakes my question as a compliment, relieved laughter filling the space between us.
“What, you think he’s dreamy?” I force out a couple of sarcastic laughs, then real laughs when I imagine how I must look right now.
“Well, this isn’t the first time I’ve bolted out of a bar.” I stretch my arms above my head. “But probably one of the weirdest trips I’ve had.”
“Yeah, you seemed to be seeing stuff.” Howard grows quiet, ringing his fingers together. “That drummer guy picked you up and moved you onto the couch after you passed out. You kept mumbling this weird gibberish. But the dude just put his jacket on you because you kept shivering and whispered sweet nothings in your ear to calm you down. It was only when he stopped when you woke up and went rogue.” Some of the same worry enters Howard’s face again, creasing the lines feathering from his eyes. “But dude, you have to be careful next time.”
I sigh. “I know, I know. I’m too old for this crap.” I reach out and put on hand on Howard’s shoulder. Seeing the conversation getting too serious, I mutter, “Well sorry for ruining your chances with that red head.” Howard laughs as we shuffle out of the alleyway towards the bus stop. He doesn’t bring it up again on the ride home.
I’m walking down my street, still rolling from a rave Howard’s friend invited us to. I begin to take my hair out of the buns I arranged them in earlier that evening. This is my first time in a couple of months taking Molly again. I just found out that I got back into my Literature program. Tonight was sort of a celebration before I go back on the straight and narrow. But damn, aren’t those street lights pretty? I dance to music still traveling through my body.
I get into my apartment after fumbling with my keys for a while, bursting into the entrance with a grand flourish and stumble. Throwing my bag and keys onto the kitchen counter, I plow through my living space into my bedroom. I spend a couple of hours browsing the internet, hyped about the classes the school’s website listed online for the Literature Ph.D. candidates. Opening one of the syllabi, I find the list of books for a Weird Fiction class I plan to enroll in. First on this list is The Necronomicon. I giggle at the name, thinking it’s a book about grave robbing. Exhaustion hits me like a wall.
I turn off the lights and flop into bed still fully clothed. Feeling relaxation envelop me, I nearly fall asleep when I hear a thump under my bed. I wonder if I left another book in my bed when a slithering noise echoes against the walls of my bedroom.
“There isn’t any way out of this, Cyäegha.” Tentacles wrap around my body, pulling me down through my bed and through the earth. Darkness fills my senses as I fall through the chasm into my cavern again.
Now remember to leave your hallway light on tonight. I hope you enjoyed my own brand of cognitive dissonance. Here are some resources I consulted for my fan fiction:
“The Dunwich Horror” by H.P Lovecraft in The Weird edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer.