… has been with us for thousands of years, suppressed, living underground on the scraps of society and civilization. Now, with the rise of violent fundamentalist sects everywhere on Earth, it sees an opening. A crack in the windshield of democracy, if you will. Ignored, this crack will widen
and the windshield will blow apart, letting every evil thing you can imagine to come rushing in.”
“There is no such religion, no such cult. I should know. I’ve been studying religion and religious movements for decades. That’s David Icke territory. Alex Jones. An alternate reality created to entertain the economically and culturally dispossessed. You’ll be talking to me about the Reptilians next, or the Illuminati.”
“Have you ever considered that maybe the world’s religions share a common mythos, an underlying set of facts that have been interpreted according to individual custom and context but which were always there, waiting to be understood? Missing only a key, a way to decode the original message?”
Angell was shaking his head. This was a philosophical discussion, at best. There couldn’t be anything real behind it. Philosophy was a work of the imagination. It wasn’t science.
“What if there is a key to this code …” “Assuming it exists.”
“Oh, it exists. What if there is a text, something in writing, that has been hidden or suppressed for centuries? More than centuries. For thousands of years, since writing first began? And if we had it, it would suddenly clarify everything because it would demonstrate once and for all the very origins of what we call religion? You know the drama over the Dead Sea Scrolls? The Nag Hammadi texts?”
“Yes, and nothing ever came of it. The Church didn’t collapse.” “Because they were too recent. They didn’t reveal the origin of thoughts
about God itself.”
The two men were walking in the direction of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, speaking in low tones, Angell desperately trying to regain his composure as he realized he was talking to a master at manipulation. His head was spinning, and he just wanted time to think. To be left alone to think.
“I’m a professor of religious studies and Asian languages. I’m a member of most of the academic societies that deal with this sort of thing. I’ve been doing this a long time. If there was anything to this theory of yours, I would have heard about it by now. It’s a small, incestuous little circle of specialists and we all know each other and are current on each other’s
work. What you’re saying sounds like the kind of stuff paranoid schizophrenics write on subway walls.” When he realized what he just said, he stopped himself. Walls. The flashback to Mosul was short, but intense.
“Yet, that same paranoid theory is what got your ancestor killed. And it’s why you’re carrying a gun today.”
Angell was silent a moment. In his mind’s eye, a row of Yezidis being lined up against a wall.
“Paranoia kills. It always has. That doesn’t mean it has a basis in reality. People kill and die every day because of delusions. That doesn’t mean we have to take them at face value.”
“Fair enough. But if there was a way to defuse a particular delusion before it could grow and consume an entire generation, wouldn’t you want to contribute? The weapon you are carrying can only defend you, and even then not for long. Not against a numerically superior force. But there is a weapon that can protect millions, or just as easily destroy them. You should appreciate the fact that it is a book. Your life’s work is based on books, and books talking to books. This may very well be the ur-book, the original text that engendered all other texts. If you don’t want what happened in Mosul to happen again, this time with a cast of millions, this is your chance.”
As they approached the Promenade, a car pulled up slowly alongside them. A black SUV. Angell didn’t know cars, but he thought it was a Ford Explorer. In the distance could be seen the new World Trade Center going up. A little further on, the Statue of Liberty.
Aubrey stopped next to the car.
“The Middle East is falling apart. We both know that. But the implications for the rest of the world are dire, and not because of the oil or even because of Al Qaeda or the Islamic State or any of the other violent factions out there intent on slaughtering each other. This has ramifications far beyond the borders of North Africa and the Levant. The same … religion … that was sacrificing human beings in the bayous and slaughtering on a massive scale in Iraq is operating in Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia, South America, and beyond. They were just waiting for a signal to rise up, all at once. And that signal is coming through, loud and strong. It’s only a matter of time.”
They stood facing each other. Around them swirled shoppers and dog walkers and tired investment bankers returning home from their jobs across the Brooklyn Bridge. There were baby strollers and mesh shopping bags and smartphones. A different world.
“We need you, Professor Angell. And we need you now. I wish it could be another way, a different person. Someone with a different background. But we don’t have time to vet a dozen other men or women with your qualifications. It has to be you, and it has to be today.”
“You said something about a weapon, something that could save or destroy millions…”
“Are you with us?”
The setting sun ignited the New York skyline aglow in reds and yellows. The site where the World Trade Center had stood—the site where an Angell had died on September 11—was conspicuous now, another massive construction in its place that would open in a few months. A gesture of defiance and a testament of survival.
How long would it stand?
If Angell didn’t do the right thing now—whatever that was—how long would it stand?
The rear door of the SUV opened and before he could second-guess himself Professor Gregory Angell stepped inside and surrendered himself to his destiny.
Brooklyn Heights/Red Hook 1926
A short walk in space from where Aubrey and Gregory Angell were talking, but 88 years earlier in time, Howard Phillips Lovecraft closed the door to his tiny apartment on Clinton Street with a grateful sigh.
The peace and silence were luxurious. He was alone. Alone! No mother, no aunts, and most of all no wife.
His mother died in 1921, in the same hospital in Providence that had claimed his father’s life, her husband. He married one Sonia Greene in 1924 after a rather lukewarm courtship that had begun shortly after his mother’s death, but financial difficulties drove her to the Midwest in search of a job, leaving Lovecraft alone in Brooklyn. He was never able to tell her, not in so many words, but their separation gave him room to breathe.
If it wasn’t for the fact that he was in New York—a center of pestilence and depravity if he ever saw one—he would be as close as he had ever been to happy. He had some friends in the Kalem Klub—an informal group of writers that included his friends Frank Belknap Long and Samuel Loveman—and that served to pass the time and offered him a sense of collegiality, but the inspiration to write seemed elusive until he was left alone on Clinton Street.
He would return to the core experience of his life, the one he dared tell no one but which had been festering in his mind for years now. The distance from Providence was giving him the mental space he needed to create what would become his most famous tale, even as that distance was driving him slowly insane.
From the rooms next door in the apartment house he could hear the Syrians at it again, playing some indescribable alien melody on an instrument he could not identify. It put him in a foul mood, and he was fearful that the arcane chants of the diseased Levant would somehow act upon his mind the way the unheard music of her dreams drove his mother insane. Indeed, he had been having strange nightmares for weeks now which he attributed to the darkly hypnotic quality of the flute and the oud. He had written a story—“The Horror at Red Hook”—in a white heat, driven nearly mad by the nasal, atonal droning of the primitive harmonium and the arrhythmic thumping doumbek of the Yezidi family upstairs.
He sat on his narrow bed, little more than a cot, and reached under it for the box he had brought with him from Providence.
There, in among the notes for a dozen stories and some cherished correspondence, was the file he had stolen from Professor George Angell’s office, the one marked CTHULHU CULT.
It was time to get down to business.
Providence April, 1925
He had taken the Cthulhu file from Angell’s desk and, not waiting for the professor to return he made his excuses and carried the folder back to the house his aunts were living in. He didn’t know why he took the file, only that the name on the file brought back those early memories of dreams he had when he was a child, dreams of nameless cities with cyclopean
architecture, and of a dead priest asleep in his sarcophagus beneath the seas. A priest dead, but dreaming.
There was a connection! There was an iron thread running between his mother’s madness, Wilcox’s psychopathy, and his own nightmares. The young artist had seen what Lovecraft saw in his dreams; and whatever that was, whatever was meant by Cthulhu, was somehow at the root of his mother’s illness and his family’s insanity. His father, his mother … both driven insane. Lovecraft knew that there was no way to outrun whatever hereditary strain there was that he inherited from both his parents. So, instead of outrunning it, he would have to stand and fight it. The key was buried somewhere in the Cthulhu file.
So he had taken it.
There was a lot in it he didn’t understand. References to cults around the world, strange phenomena, riots, surrealist art exhibits that seemed to hint at other dimensions and the beings—the entities—that dwelled there. Lovecraft prided himself on his pragmatic, scientific approach to the world. Science had replaced religion for him a long time ago. It had been his bulwark against his mother’s hysteria. But as she descended slowly down a maelstrom of fevered hallucinations, getting worse and worse to the point that science could not help her, could not make sense out of the shuddering images that persecuted her every waking moment, he began to sense a dim outline of another reality beneath or behind the comfortable science of straight lines and chemical compounds. Insanity defied science. Maybe it also informed religion. Maybe there was even a kind of science that masqueraded as religion, a science so old and alien to this planet that it could stand right in front of us and we wouldn’t even know it was there until it was too late. Didn’t Einstein speak of strange geometries, non- Euclidean lines and angles that hinted at the vastness of space and time? Weren’t we on the verge of discovering something—some power, some destructive force—that had existed all around us since the worlds began?
Buried in the file from the professor’s office were references to Louisiana and a cult that practiced orgiastic rites in the bayous, including a report by an Inspector Legrasse and a statement from a witness called Castro. The site was raided by the police in 1907, and strange artifacts were recovered. Professor Angell was consulted on the case in 1908, and it was this initial consult that led to Angell making the connection between the bayou cult and the soul-bled dreams of young Henry Wilcox.
1908? The year had enormous significance for Lovecraft, for it was the year that he suffered a nervous breakdown and was forced to leave school for good.
“Oh, God,” he said aloud in the silence of his small room. “The same year the devotees were calling upon Cthulhu in the swamps I was descending into my own pit of madness. Soon thereafter, my mother went insane. It’s not … it’s not possible. How can this be?”
He swiftly went through page after page of the professor’s notes, some of it in a scrawl that was impossible to read as if the writer were in a desperate rush to get the words down on paper before something terrible happened. It was only by reading the professor’s file and plugging in his own life story—the dates and sometimes even the places that seemed to match up so well—that he was able to see that what he and his family had suffered was only part of a much larger picture.
So Professor Angell was not trying to discover a cure for Wilcox’s psychopathology but instead was investigating the extent to which a bizarre gaggle of devil worshippers in Louisiana could affect the consciousness of an art student in Rhode Island seventeen years later, and from there to a series of cult activities around the world.
He would try to digest the information in Angell’s file and then perhaps pay a visit to the old man to get as much more from him as possible. This was suddenly no longer just about Lovecraft’s mother but about something that was happening on a global scale. He didn’t believe in astrology or any of the pseudo-sciences, but what if an alignment of the stars acted as a kind of cosmic clock, affecting gravity and electricity and the mysterious dark forces the ruminations of Einstein had only hinted at? A clock that was counting down to a date only the ancients would have known? How else to explain a worldwide increase in cultic activity that was directed towards one end only: the awakening of the Thing that had been drawn by Wilcox, worshipped in Louisiana, and haunted the dreams of Lovecraft himself?
The dead priest Cthulhu.
For the next several months in New York City Lovecraft spent hours in the Public Library’s Main Branch on Forty-Second Street. He called for book after book from the deep stacks below street level, books that no one had looked at in decades. There was the Rare Book Room, and he lingered for days over ancient texts in Latin, Greek and Arabic with their elaborate
designs of pentacles, magic squares, and drawings of demonic forces. He taught himself some basic Arabic, enough to learn that his childhood persona of Abdul Alhazred was not true Arabic, but that Abdul Hazred might be: the “Servant of the Forbidden,” or so it was told to him by one of the room’s curators.
“Is that me?” he asked himself when no one was around to notice his distress. “Am I the Servant of the Forbidden?”