Ever heard of American Weird Fiction? Yeah, neither had I until I took a literature class at my old alma mater Clarkson University. I think I explained the genre best in this blog post I wrote during an internship I participated in during the same semester:
"Have you ever read a story that just wasn't right? Like, thinking about it before going to bed will make you turn on a light and text your mom to make sure all of your family members are okay? And it's not necessarily a feeling of terror. The feeling that this story produces is something closer to confusion or uneasiness. Or maybe this story produces a sensation of the unknown which I for one get uncomfortable feeling. That is what gets us in the end. And authors like H.P Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe produced this exact feeling in their readers. We define this feeling as cognitive dissonance and an entire genre named Weird Fiction was created for those stories which weren't quite horror and weren't quite science fiction. They were just so creepy."
For more information on the genre, go here.
Now I know that this post looks long. But I invite you to read 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 fan fiction piece because it dives into H.P. Lovecraft's mythos surrounding the elder god Cthulhu. I wrote deap into the realm over the course of 12 hours and ended up winning the contest with my piece. This is part one of two in my short story, "The Cavern". Enjoy!
A cab flies around the corner in front of my apartment, nearly running me down as I rifle through my purse for a cigarette. I hold my middle finger in the air, placing my menthol vice between my lips with my other hand. This night is already off to a good start. My friend Howard wants me to meet him at Footsies for a couple drinks. He really wants me there to make face with this girl he likes who’s performing at their Open Mic Night. Whatever. When it doesn’t work and he creeps her out too much, we can score some Molly out back and roam the city like we usually do.
I hate this city. Los Angeles is founded on what I consider to be the worst part of humanity: vanity, excessive consumption, false diversity, and stolen land. After my attempted doctorate in Literature – I know, what a great idea – I stranded myself in one of the worst cities in the world. I guess I’m part of the problem. I’m going to a hipster bar called Footsie’s for God’s sake.
I walk down my street towards the bus stop, puffing along to the beat coming out of my headphones. I check the schedule and sit down next to an old woman who coughs purposefully, glancing at my cigarette. I blow smoke in her general direction. Today was not a good day. I woke up on my futon, clearly having relocated in the night after drinking the bottle of wine my aunt sent me for my birthday. Sleepwalking has kind of been my thing since I was a kid. I also vaguely remember seeing tentacles coming out from under my bed, reaching for my ankles. Maybe that’s why I relocated.
The bus pulls up, pulling a gust of smog into the cavity of the bus stop. I watch the smog mingle with my cigarette smoke, swirling in the dank light of the street lamp.
The bus driver yells, “Do you want to get on or not?”
I scowl at him and ascend the stairs, swiping my bus pass with a flourish. I trudge to the back of the bus and sit near the window, fumes still flourishing from the tip of my cigarette. No one dares make eye contact with me. That lady doesn’t even cough again as she leans forward wearily, the weight from my gaze hunching her shoulders. I avert my eyes and glance out the window, watching the decrepit nightlife unfold on the streets of my neighborhood.
Arriving at Footsie’s, my phone buzzes as Howard spams my phone with a bunch of emojis. I contemplate throwing my phone on the ground, but I need the number for my dealer for tonight to be fun. I pull out my ID as the bouncer looks me up and down. I’d say I’m an attractive female being, though the number of tattoos and piercings obscure what some call “natural beauty”. Many men tell me my hair is like a bed of thick, black tendrils, whatever the hell that means. I also wore a particularly form-fitting pair of black jeans under my flowing crimson blouse. He seems satisfied, though my ID was haphazardly manufactured to replace my driver’s license after my last DUI. He lifts the tattered velvet rope.
I’m engulfed in a crowd of bearded flannel-clad men who instantly puff their chests out when they see a suitable hipster chick they can attempt to impress with their latest indie screenplay idea. I saunter past them. Howard is at the brass bar, licking beer foam from his mustache and gazing at the stage. I hop onto the stool next to him, gesturing for the bartender to grab the bottle of tequila they have reserved for their regulars. The bartender lays two shots in front of us.
“I hope this is from organic cacti.” Howard mumbles before downing his shot. I punch him in the shoulder.
“So where is this lady friend of yours?” I say, half laughing as Howard winces both from the alcohol and my surprisingly strong fist.
“She’s backstage. They’re doing a set based on her grandfather’s science fiction or something. Sounds like a cult, but she has an ass that just won’t quit. I’d join a cult for that.” Howard’s already too many drinks in to notice my fist aiming for the same spot on his shoulder.
“Hey, hey!” He crumbles a bit after that second punch. I wiggle my eyebrows at him.
“Ow! Just because you’re asexual doesn’t mean everyone else has to suffer through it.” Howard raises two fingers and the bartender brings another round of shots.
“I don’t care about how bodacious this girl’s hindquarters are. I just don’t like how you’re talking about her.” I raise my shot in a sign of truce. Howard sighs and raises his shot with his good arm. We both hiss as the tequila sizzles down our throats, better than the first taste that touched our tongues.
“So who is this chick’s grandfather?” I ask as the stage lights dim. Howard ignores my question, nearly falling off of his seat to walk towards the stage.
“Breeders.” I mumble as the crowd draws in towards the stage, obscuring Howard from my vision. This all doesn’t make sense to me. Not just because I have no inclination to have sex, but the drive to please another person. While I take care of my own, I have no drive to meet new people. I have me and a couple select friends. I can honestly say I hate everyone and everything else.
I point to the cheapest beer on tap as the bartender makes his rounds. As I take the first sip of the IPA (“Bitter, like your Soul” written on the coaster advertising the brand), the band struts out with instruments on hand. I immediately notice the owner of the behind Howard worships, a tall red head who approaches the microphone at the front of the stage. A flannel-bearing guitarist tunes his Les Paul condescendingly, trying to look deeply fascinated by the frets of his instrument. The bassist has a shiny bald head and surprisingly beardless face, a jet black bass guitar resting against his Modest Mouse T-shirt. The drummer is hidden somewhere behind the enormous bass drum, seemingly untangling a mess of wires extending behind the curtain. They writhe with his efforts, convulsing like a living being. A C chord erupts from the Les Paul as the guitarist tests the sound. The drummer finally peaks up over his drum set, resting on his stool and summoning his sticks from a green hoodie he’s wearing. Clicking them together, the red head begins vocalizing a soft wail. Their first song begins.
The notes are melancholy in tone. The guitar is unusually high-pitched, thrumming along like the heartbeat of a humming bird. The bass’s notes reverberate slowly, circling the room in cycles and penetrating each set of ears following their path. The singer articulates no words, just weeping vocal choruses that sound like they’re coming from more than a single vocalist. The song begins to speed up, other instruments trying to catch up to the drum beat suddenly bursting from the back of the stage.
This drum beat sounds familiar. Not particularly attention-grabbing or memorable, I wonder where I’ve heard this pattern of notes. It’s definitely not on the radio. No self-respecting hipster in this bar would contribute to anything mainstream. But it brings me back to a place of anxiousness in my head, making me sweat and my hands lose warmth. I feel like I’m descending below the earth’s crust to a place both terrifyingly unknown and familiar. My breath catches as the vocalist’s tone changes.
“Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn.” The vocalist sings, swaying with her eyes closed. I feel a chill go down my spine. Where have I heard this before? I look around suddenly, feeling the weight of someone’s stare attach itself to my body. Patrons of the bar are looking at the stage either trying to seem nonchalantly impressed or are outwardly confused and displeased with the composition unfolding before them. Of course they wouldn’t get this song. I glance at the singer again, noticing her movements flowing out of her in large gestures; her arms curl outward independently like a belly dancer’s snake arms. The weight of the gaze still pressing on me, I move my view to the back of the stage where the drummer is producing his beat. I find the source of the gaze.
The drummer’s eyes breach my body’s defenses, infiltrating my senses. His irises look on fire, an amber flame eliciting the same anxious energy I feel building up inside of me. The long black tendrils of his black bear grab my attention. The mass of black hair stirs, forming long tentacles. The tentacles mingle together and reach away from his face, searching for something out of their reach. They’re reaching for me.The stage goes black and I feel myself falling.
Tune in next week for the second installment of "The Cavern". Thank you for reading! And remember to text your family tonight... Just to make sure that they're okay.