“The place was a genuine maze—a labyrinth deliberately built by these hellish beings whose craft and mentality I had so badly underestimated.”
– H.P. Lovecraft, ‘In the Walls of Eryx’ (1936)
From the journal of Peter Andre Chlamydia Mann, Esq:
I woke with a start and found myself on the floor of a strange, unlit chamber without so much as a bathrobe or a breath mint. The darkness here was absolute and impenetrable, as though the stars had been extinguished from the firmament of night by some vast, black cloak that had been painted black with several coats of black emulsion. I was gripped by a most ravenous hunger, one that put me in mind of a verse by that notoriously greedy English occultist, Aleister Crowley:
“Our wickedest pal, Uncle Al
Had appetites unusual
He once stole some candy
From Mahatma Gandhi
Then blamed it on Steven Seagal”
Why was I so damnably famished? Only last night I’d dined with my darling fiancée Penelope, and neither of us had skipped dessert. I later retired to bed alone in my tastefully decorated dorm bunk at Miskatonic U, with its coin-operated lava lamp and south-facing view of the local roller derby. How, then, did I get from there to here? Where was this place, what happened to my bathrobe and would it be properly laundered this time? So many questions. Proper questions, too – not just rhetorical questions. Who even cares about rhetorical questions?
Penelope’s father was used car magnate Mitch Carmichael of Mitch’s Car City in Carson City, Michigan. It was no secret that he despised me – he wanted Penelope to marry into an old money family, but my family’s money was merely retro. “He’d even settle for nouveau riche,“ said Penelope, “so long as they weren’t French.” When I first met the man he shook my hand with such violent force I had to be rushed to a physiotherapist.
Was Carmichael responsible for my current predicament? Penelope said he was powerful and dangerous, and kept certificates to prove it. She told me not to underestimate her father, but – at the same time – not to overestimate him, either. “Just avoid estimates,” she said, “they infuriate him.”
Perhaps there was a supernatural explanation. Like many unathletic freshmen I briefly dabbled in Crowlean ceremonial magick (Crowley added the ‘k’ to differentiate himself from Dickensian magician David Copperfield). During my first semester I joined the Ordo Templi Orinoco Flow, a group of Enya-themed occultists that held Clannadestine meetings. We gathered in hushed secrecy every other Tuesday night at Miskatonic U’s Ernest Borgnine bar, right between the bowling alley and the mechanical bucking bronco. Was I paying the price for meddling with dark, forbidden forces and regularly browsing the most embarrassing section of the bookstore? Possibly. You’d have to ask my Ouija board.
That’s how I met Penelope. She’d joined a co-ed wiccan coven to earn extra course credits and vex her parents. Or was it to hex her parents? I’m not sure, I wasn’t really listening.
Penelope’s coven also gathered in secret and at the exact same meeting spot, but on the alternate Tuesdays that weren’t our designated Tuesdays. Eventually, our two groups merged to save on catering, candles and Tuesdays. On our first date she gave me a Tarot reading as we shared a romantic bucking bronco ride. Such a lovely experience, but it ended abruptly when the bronco suddenly bucked and sent us flying across the bar. It was as if fate had, quite literally, thrown us together.
Would I ever see her again? We’d argued last night, between pudding and dessert, when I asked her to pass me a serviette after accidentally dipping my neck in gravy. Penelope refused, objecting to my use of the word ‘serviette’ (she thought ‘napkins’ were less problematic). I said that napkins were bourgeois serviettes, and our row soon escalated to cover a wide range of politicised tableware. We spent the night in separate accommodation blocks after I’d spitefully refused to spoon her.
My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of strange, creepy organ music that would not be out of place in an evil lair, a baseball park, or an unholy combination of the two. There was a sudden flash of light as two walls of blue neon formed at either side of me, making me look like a sort of incandescent sandwich filling. It reminded me of a disturbing passage from the dreaded Necronomicon of Abdul Alhazred describing a stag weekend in Amsterdam.
Dazzle-induced dots cleared slowly from my eyes, although a few stubbornly remained like old Irish ladies after a Daniel O’Donnell concert. No, not dots: upon closer examination I could see they were appetizer plates arranged in single file along the polished black floor, each containing a rather large Swedish meatball. This was not something you commonly see after a Daniel O’Donnell concert.
The meat balls were cooked and adequately seasoned so I quickly wolfed one down, and then another. As I chomped my way along the neon-framed corridor I could see it formed part of a vast maze of unimaginable scale, not unlike an Ikea showroom. That would explain the meatballs. During my gluttonous reconnaissance I encountered a giant cherry that temporarily blocked my passage (reader, I ate it), and later chanced upon what looked like an exit, but this perverse doorway just led me back to rugs and lighting.
And that’s when I heard them. Slithering in the distance – unseen, but unmistakably ancient and terrible in its purpose – like a bingo team in search of its dentures. I surreptitiously glanced around a corner and saw a quartet, but not of the barber shop variety – unless it was a salon owned by Satan himself and staffed by slime-spewing, diabolical junior stylists. They were flickering, glitchy, semi-corporeal entities draped in brightly coloured cloaks that made them look like an uncharacteristically LGBTQA-friendly chapter of the Klan.
These creatures were familiar to scholars of the occult, even those who study online. Known by many different names, they were the ‘Shoggoths’ described in the ghastly, grisly and gruesome Necronomicon of Abdul Alhazred (which later spawned the hit Broadway musical, ‘Lulu and Cthulhu Go Wild in Honolulu’) and the electrical ghosts that German exorcists called ‘voltergeists’. In Irish mythology, they were the loathsome ‘Quare Fellas’ immortalised in Yeats’s biting couplet:
“Four gobshites descend on Tralee
With bedsheets where bodies should be”
Gazing at them now I was gripped by fear as hackles rose at the back of my wide neck, beads of sweat erupted across my ample forehead, and I let off a nervous fart. The creatures turned and glared at me, although it’s tricky gauging emotion from a resting glitch face. I apologised for the terrible odour, pointed at the pork and tried to explain my irritable bowel condition, but they were in no mood to listen. This was possibly due to their conspicuous lack of ears.
They slithered towards me as I ran like cheap mascara, pausing only to lick the occasional dropped crumb from the polished floor (though terror-stricken, I was still feeling peckish). I ran along a corridor, took a sharp left, a right, another left, but the creatures pursued me with a ferocious resolve and single-minded determination not witnessed since Aston Villa’s surprise victory in the 1982 European Cup.
After much running, eating and narrowly evading capture, I was about to collapse from exhaustion when I chanced upon a most tantalising sight: a large bowl containing a double helping of meatballs served with mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam. I gazed upon this glorious thing, transfixed by its otherworldly beauty, then gobbled it down with gusto.
My body surged with energy. Suddenly, I had muscles – big, shapely, well-defined muscles – along with tremendous upper body strength, a positive self-image and a torso that wouldn’t look out of place in Men’s Health magazine. I finally understood why people bothered with gyms.
At the same time, my ghostly tormentors seemed to shrink and become enfeebled, their malevolent, multi-coloured demeanour replaced by a cowardly shade of blue. Instinctively, I lurched towards the nearest creature and – before my very eyes – his cloaked, corporeal form dissolved into nothingness as his ghastly eyes scuttled off like a pair of golf ball fugitives. O, sweet respite! The hors d’oeuvres had become the hors d’oeuvres chef! Such joy I would find in snacking on my foes!
Alas, this turnabout would be short-lived. After catching hold of another ghost – who dissolved in my grip like a big, blue Alka Seltzer – I noticed my first conquest had returned to the fray, restored now to its factory settings and making haste towards me. His companions followed suit so I ran, gripped with terror and an irrational craving for dessert, but my retreat had become more sluggish due to a sudden muscle loss and poor dietary choices.
With the red ghost in hot pursuit I took a sharp left, only to find my path ahead blocked by a three-ghost defensive wall in front of the goal mouth. What had I done to deserve such hostility from this ungodly squad, besides trespassing in their maze, stealing their food and then trying to eat them? Then it dawned on me. Though I craved for dessert, I was actually getting my just desserts. It was just like that Alanis Morissette song, the one about a privileged student who get his come-uppance after antagonising local residents with selfish acts of gluttony and flatulence.
The creatures closed in on me. That’s it, I thought. Game over.
I awoke, as harsh sunlight and fresh air wrenched me from my stupor. Did this mean that my ghostly persecution and maze-based binge was just a nightmare? And if it was, could I still get the recipe for those meatballs?
Then I noticed something strange. I was not on my bunk at Miskatonic U, but on a long, steel girder posited on a steep incline that formed part of a vast and crooked construction site some seven storeys or so in height. There was no coin-operated lava lamp here, and no south-facing view of the local roller derby.
I heard a scream from above and leapt to my feet. It was my darling Penelope, and her cry originated from the very summit of this ill-aligned structure! Next to her, eclipsing the midday sun, was a gigantic and terrible beast that seemed to defy anthropological classification. At first glance it resembled a massive ape, and yet – from my vantage point directly below – I could plainly see that the creature was equipped with a lengthy, bulbous attribute more commonly associated with a donkey.
It was, without doubt, one of the beastly “Old Ones” described in the harrowing, hideous, horrendous, horrible, horrid and horrifying Necronomicon of Abdul Alhazred, and for some inexplicable reason it was throwing fiery barrels at me…
How was I going to explain this to her father?