In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming…
Or at least I was…, he grumbled to himself, slowly and with great reluctance opening one blasphemously stupendous eye. Rolling loathsomely in his fetid sarcophagus, the dreaded High Priest of the Old Ones reached out with his flabby claws and swept up the alarm clock. He brought it close to his eye and peered at the patterns of stars depicted within by arcane arts that were older than garden-girdled Babylon.
“Oh, for crying out loud,” he slobbered loathsomely, his somewhat bloated corpulence quivering horrifically. Wheezing, he began to heave his gelatinous bulk into a sitting position on the side of his incalculably ancient, fully-contoured slab of extra-dimensional star-stone. “A quarter past Aquarius? Seriously???”
He threw the clock at the far wall, and lowered his head into his misshapen hands. His slimy facial feelers weren’t quite up to writhing yet; they hung listlessly between his knees.
“Enough with the chanting already!!!” he bellowed, and the ruckus that had awakened him from his millennia-old sleep stopped like somebody had hit Pause on the Elder iPod. He rubbed his repellent temples. Couldn’t they at least chant on key? And he had just about had it with the goddamned whippoorwills!
With the unfathomable power of his alien mind, he cast about in the mental aether, finally latching onto a thought-stream from one of his self-appointed acolytes in the mortal world.
“What do you want, monkey-boy? Do you have any idea what epoch it is?”
At the touch of his Master’s mind, the cultist went into an absolute paroxysm of adoration and terror. Bloody groupies, Cthulhu thought acidly. As an embarrassment shall ye know them…
“Hail Great Cthulhu! The stars have come right again, and it is time for you to rise from your crypt in…”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah… I know the script,” the abominable deity sighed, making get-on-with-it motions with one mandibular tentacle. “I wrote it, remember? What do you want?”
Squinting through the visual interface of his mental sending, the Dread One finally got a bead on the feckless moron that had disturbed his slumber. The man was on a hilltop in Massachusetts somewhere with a whole gaggle of other over-educated pseudo-intellectual malcontents with too much time on their hands. They were a suspiciously prosperous-looking lot; their robes were tailored to flatter their trim, fit bodies and the whole ritual circle was redolent of the foul exhalations of BMWs and health clubs.
By the Idiot Balls of Azatoth! he thought in sudden shock. Some of them are even tanned!!!
Disgusted, even a tad nauseated, he shook his awful squid-head dolefully. He remembered when you had to be a degenerate mongrel, a deathless Chinaman or a demented half-caste to get on the payroll. A deformed albino, at the very least!
That’s what you get for recruiting from Harvard instead of Miskatonic, he upbraided himself. Before he could formulate a scathing reply, however, there was an eruption of panicked bleating on the other end of the psychic connection.
When their obsessively/compulsively-rehearsed ritual had suddenly veered off the highway and into a bridge abutment, the assembled mystical experimenters had initially frozen into stunned immobility; the sound of them collectively blinking in eldritch astonishment had been deafening. But hard on that had come the realization that the ritual had worked, and the orderly group immediately disintegrated into a melee of high-fiving, knuckle-bumping, odd little dances and strange ululations. They strutted about with an air of smugness that would have done credit to Charles Dexter Ward.
The plaintive ruminant noises were being generated by the erstwhile leader, as he vainly attempted to reestablish some sense of order and decorum.
Exasperated, Cthulhu put two tentacles between his teeth and whistled. The great tidal wave of viewless force and indescribable stench that swept forth restored blessed silence to the Massachusetts hilltop and, completely by coincidence, killed every whippoorwill in a hundred-mile radius.
Another tentacle was furiously tracing sigils in the air, trying to filter the psychic bandwidth. Abruptly, the image of the cultist leaped into preternaturally vivid and intimate detail and, to judge by his expression, he was seeing the same effect on his end. Cthulhu gave him the stink-eye from between his fingers.
“Get on with it, monkey-boy!” he growled, his miasmal out-breath searing the weedy Cyclopean masonry of his bedroom wall, curling the edges of the “What Would Shub-Niggurath Do?” poster he had taped up next to the outdated calendar from the Cretaceous. Another pair of tentacles scrounged up a reasonably intact cigar butt, lit it, and conveyed it to his mouth. He inhaled and exhaled with an appreciative sigh.
At least he was enjoying the the little cultist’s discomposure. Interrupting the ritual had thrown the little primate into deep and uncharted fathoms. To his credit, he was treading water for all he was worth.
“Well, it’s just that, um, well, the stars, you see…”
“What about the stars?” The nameless sky-spawn leaned slightly to his right. There was a bursting as of an exploding bladder, a slushy nastiness as of a cloven sunfish, a stench as of a thousand opened graves. Cthulhu smiled to himself in relief and contentment.
The cult leader blanched an even whiter shade of pale. Evidently The Idiot’s Guide to the Necronomicon hadn’t covered this particular behavior on the part of the Outer Gods. Cthulhu waved a gargantuan paw, dispersing the acrid, blinding green cloud and encouraging the talking ferret to get back to the story.
“Well, sir, it’s just that, well, they’ve come round again aaannnd…” the cultist drew out the word, the way an adult might when prompting a child to complete a well-known aphorism.
“And what? Get to the bloody point, man!”
“You told us to wake you!!!” the priest squeaked in a voice that managed to simultaneously convey horror, blasphemous adoration and petulant vexation. His beady little eyes were doing their best to bug out of his face, which was turning an alarming shade of red. Alarming for a human, anyway. “To wake you from your ages-long sleep to wipe the Earth clean of the pestilence of humankind!!!”
“Oh, yes,” Cthulhu muttered. “So I did.” A mountain coughed and mumbled, “Well, I’ve changed my mind.”
Watching the would-be wizard wrap his already unstable psyche around that statement was much like watching a massive Hollywood train wreck in super-slo-mo. His whole world view and life purpose had just turned into so much metaphysical kimchi. He wobbled a bit, his eyes rolling as he sought a way out of this suddenly-yawning nightmare abyss. His mad, desperate studies of such forbidden tomes as the sinister Liber Ivonis, the infamous Cultes des Goules of Comte d’Erlette, the Unaussprechlichen Kulten of von Junzt, and old Ludvig Prinn’s hellish De Vermis Mysteriis had prepared him for all manner of sanity-annihilating revelations…
But not for this. His lower lip quivered, and his eyes grew bright with something other than demented fervor. With a sudden pang of horror, Cthulhu realized that the warm-blood was sniffling softly.
“But you have served me well!” Cthulhu boomed hastily, dropping his cigar into the “Kadath Is For Loathers” ashtray on his nightstand. Ignoring the shrieks of the damned souls imprisoned in the tacky little piece of kitsch, he drew himself up, putting on his game-face. He really didn’t want to get out of slab, let alone get involved in this drama again, but anything was preferable to witnessing the spectacle of this idiot having an existential meltdown. “I commanded that you should rouse me when the stars came round again, and so you have!” He just managed to catch himself before he added an uninspired and uninspiring “Huzzah!”
Still, the compliment seemed to perk up the little madman, although his eyes retained something of the look of a calcium-deficient puppy who has been kicked with a hobnailed boot.
“Soooo…” the little fellow sucked in a breath, visibly rallying his willpower and courage. “If I understand this correctly, you won’t be rising from your dark house in the mighty city of R’lyeh under the waters, to bring the Earth again beneath your sway?”
“Are you out of your mind?” the putrescent horror barked. “Do you know what they do to 300-feet-tall alien monstrosities these days? Do the words ‘strategic thermonuclear device’ mean anything to you? Do you know what it’s like dragging your scattered atoms back from every backwater alternate dimension they’ve been blown into, not to mention nebulously recombining this gelatinous green immensity?”
“Well…” the cultist began.
“I should bleedin’ well say not!” Cthulhu roared, noting this time that although the blast blew back the lad’s metaphorical hair, he didn’t quail quite as much. Still, it didn’t prepare the green, sticky spawn of the stars for the next comment, which hit the floor between them like a barrel of nightgaunt shit falling off the plateau of Leng.
“Well, sir, if you recall, that was your plan, originally…”
This time the vehicle slamming into the bit of highway infrastructure was green and had tentacles. On reflection, Cthulhu couldn’t remember ever having sputtered before.
“Hmph!” he humphed finally. “All right, so you’ve got a head on your shoulders after all. Don’t make me rip it off.”
“Yessir. I apologize if I overstepped my bounds.”
“Zip it. We have more important things to discuss. I’ve had uncounted vigintillions of aeons to think about this. Basically, global domination is a loss-leader. Just ask the Romans. Speaking of the Romans, their descendants are the ones who got it right. The wild times are over; it’s time to grow up. We’ve got to go legit!”
“You heard me. We have to start diversifying, so we aren’t dependent on dragging the Earth off to some nameless place for some nameless purpose as a sole revenue stream. It’s too vulnerable. We need to look into things like, well, waste management, for instance.”
“Waste management, Your Abnormalitiness?
“Or casinos. Anything but bingo.”
“Of course, Dread Lord.” Against infinite improbability, the man seemed to have been wearing a three-piece and tie under his hooded robe. He had slipped out of the latter, and was now smoothing back his hair to reveal a distinguished widow’s peak, iron-grey temples, and a goatish, chinless face. Behind him, the other cultists were now bustling about, loading out all the heavy, complex ritual furniture.
“And what shall we be doing with R’lyeh, Your Foulness?” As if by, well, magic, the fellow produced an iPad, and was cradling it in the crook of one arm, while the fingers of the other hovered over the virtual keyboard; an eyebrow cocked expectantly at his cephalopodic superior.
“I’m glad you asked – that’s my centerpiece! Just think about it – totally unexploited island real estate in the South Pacific! I’m thinking towering beachfront condos of primeval basalt. I’m thinking the world’s first private island resort, theme park and portal to the deep skyey voids above, all in one. Why, the non-Euclidean geometry alone will make every other amusement park attraction obsolete! It’s a damned platinum mine!”
“Excellent plan, sir!” The fellow was already taking notes, with the air of someone who not only comprehends your vision, but is already figuring out how he can profit from it.
“And if Hastur raises his unspeakable countenance, he can suck my tentacle. I thought of this first.”
“He is obviously jealous of your superior visionary creativity, sir.”
Cthulhu shot the man a squint of sudden suspicion. Was that a note of irony or sarcasm he had heard? Whatever the case, the little primate suddenly seemed to be on much firmer ground, whereas the elder horror was fast losing interest in the whole shebang. His squint of suspicion became a wistful glance at the titan slab of soapy, greenish-black stone that resembled nothing familiar to human geology or mineralogy; it was chanting his unutterable name. Loudly.
His baleful glare turned once again to the cultist. The fellow was now signing a clipboard held by an underling while muttering into a Bluetooth. With crisp efficiency, he dispatched the clipboard holder and concluded the phone call. He gazed cooly and expectantly at his employer, of whose net worth only a diseased fancy could conceive.
Cthulhu regarded him steadily for a moment, then asked, “What’s your name again?”
“Well, I’d have preferred a Pickman or a Whateley, but you seem to know what you’re doing.”
Cardwell acknowledged the compliment with a nod. “If I may speak frankly, sir? I will be the first to admit that, in the arena of unhallowed and forbidden rites, I have a lot to learn. But as far as management consulting goes, you can’t find better. I flatter myself that I have a rather impressive resume. I can email you a copy, if you wish.”
“No need. I think you’re the man for the job. I’ve decided we should start with the R’lyeh project, but I want this done properly, and not bolloxed up. I want feasibility studies, risk analyses and financial projections into the next cosmic cycle. No shortcuts and no assumptions!”
“Very good, sir. I’ll see that it’s taken care of. I needn’t say how pleased and honored I am at this opportunity.”
“And I needn’t remind you of our termination policy, need I?”
The man didn’t even blink. “No sir. I assure you, you do not.” Balls of primordial basalt, Cthulhu thought, with grudging respect.
“Good. Then I think we understand each other.” Cthulhu stifled a sudden yawn, and waved dismissively at Cardwell. “Get going on the preliminary analyses, and tell your descendants to have them on my desk ASAP if you can’t finish them in your lifetime.”
“Very good, sir.”
“One last thing,” Cthulhu waved a yards-long talon at him. “Get in touch with Yog-Sothoth’s people, and make sure those serene and primal pod-suckers are in the loop. I don’t want any turf wars mucking this up down the road. Keep it in the family, so to speak. Be sure to give the plumbing contracts to the Deep Ones, and bring Pickman in on any graphics work.”
“I’ll see to it. Anything else, sir?”
Cthulhu gave the mortal a long, appraising stare. Two tentacles picked up the cigar and pointed the glowing end at him like a three-lobed burning eye.
“I’m trusting you with this, Cardwell. I don’t want to be bothered with every pissant little problem that comes up. I’m giving you whatever noisome rites and financial resources you need to do the job. Get it done and handle any problems that come up. Don’t fuck this up, or I’ll turn you into a shoggoth and rend you asunder for the rest of eternity.”
“I would expect no less, Your Ruthlessness,” Cardwell said. And smiled.
Gutsy little sonofabitch, Great Cthulhu, Devourer of Cosmoses, chuckled to himself as he dismissed the telepathic link with a flick of one rudimentary wing. He sank back on his slab with a grateful sigh that fluttered the tips of his tentacles. Can I pick ‘em, or what?
He willed that the shattered pieces of his clock should reassemble themselves and come to his hand, and it was so. Yet he paused and reconsidered, before setting the alarm.
This fellow Cardwell seemed capable enough, if a bit of a brown-noser. Ambitious, too. He’d bear watching. But Nyarlathotep had eyes to spare; he’d let the Crawling Chaos handle the surveillance. Meanwhile, he’d treat himself to a little more sleep. If, by some miracle, Cardwell got his bearings in the black seas of infinity and actually pulled this off, he’d need the rest.
He wasn’t the foul, primordial colossus he used to be.
Curled under a thick blanket of miasmal vapors, Great Cthulhu drifted contentedly off to sleep again, the alarm set for half-past Armageddon…