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Please note: This is a long, 10,000 word story. If you'd prefer to read a printable copy.please click here
Faded Roses and Cthulhu
© 1999 Bobette Bryan
Water. The first thing I heard was the slosh of water. A light spray touched my face, and I gasped. The substance dampened my dark hair and my white silk gown. I suddenly felt cold--the kind of cold that seeps through the flesh and nips at the soul. Darkness surrounded me--so unyielding and impenetrable that I was unable to see where I was or where I was going. I could do nothing but wait for the nightmare to end while I continued to hear the slosh, the gurgle, the bubble, the drip of water.
My panic grew, giving rise to feathery palpitations and a feeling that I was slowly suffocating. I tried to flee; I tried to escape, but the effort helped me not at all. And I remained a prisoner of a bitter dark world…until slowly…slowly…I felt myself being lifted, as if carried on the fragile wings of a bird, to emerge into a groundless world of heavy white mist that smelled of ozone and fresh cut grass. Strange for there was no grass, only unending clouds.
It was a peaceful place and much preferable to the forbidding depths that had imprisoned me only moments ago…still the horror that had settled into my heart and soul remained, for I sensed at once that I was not alone.
The presence was strong. I could neither see nor hear it, for it remained concealed by the clouds and mist, but somehow I could feel its strength and power radiate through me; just as I could feel its eyes upon me in the same peculiar way that one knows someone is staring at them.
I was about to call out, to ask who was there, but when red penetrated the mist in the form of a freshly cut long-stemmed rose, my breath stuck in my chest, and I could no more utter a word than I could fly away to safety.
My anxiety waned, and I swallowed hard when I realized that the rose was being offered to me by the invisible being.
From a distance the flower had looked perfect, the way a rose might look in a florist's brochure, bright and velvety with drops of dew on the petals, but as the being brought it closer, the delicate blossom transformed from a blazing red to a wrinkled, faded pink.
I reached out to grasp it, hoping that the flower would magically offer me a means of escape the way that Dorothy's red slippers had taken her back home to Kansas. The thought was illogical, but dreams often defied logic, and the rose, though somewhat repellent to me for reasons I failed to understand, was the only thing I had to draw hope from. But as I touched the stem, a shocking, horrific yet beautiful ocean-blue face, peered back at me through the thick mist and shadows…a face vaguely like that of a squid, yet similar to that of a man. Its eyes were dark and unfathomable, penetrating and knowing. I could see little of its body, because the mist kept it partially concealed.
All I could see was the face…
And the rose.
Suddenly, I could contain my horror no more, and I released a long, shattering scream. The sound rent the air like an alarm and seemed to make the offended clouds fall back. The rose fell from the being's grasp, drifting off slowly as if weightless. I shut my eyes and opened them only to find myself safely in my bedroom, in my bed, my husband sitting up and staring at me through narrow, sleep-encrusted eyes.
"What is it, Maddie?"
Still too shaken to answer, I swallowed hard, trying to will my heartbeat to slow as I told myself that it was just a dream.
But it was the kind of dream that seemed real--too real, the kind of dream that I'd probably think about for some time to come.
The kind of dream that I'd never forget.
Still, I could see no reason to tell Ted the particulars. He'd probably just scoff and think me silly.
"I'm…I'm okay, Ted. I just had a nightmare. That's all."
"Are you sure you're okay, hon?"
"Want me to get you a drink of water?"
I shook my head. "No. No! I'm all right. But thanks."
But I knew even then that I was far from all right. Somehow I knew that I'd never be the same again. Still, Ted needed to sleep so that he could get up for work, and I needed to sleep so that I could see Ted off to work; so I turned over in an attempt to surrender body and soul to Morpheus again. Soon, Ted's soft snores filled the room. I, however, stared at the ceiling for more than an hour before I finally succumbed to a troubled slumber.
* * *
The next day I tried to forget the nightmare as I trudged through the early morning hours. From the moment I awoke at six o'clock, I was tormented by a deep depression that had seeped through my entire body and given rise to an unbreakable lethargy. But as I prepared eggs and bacon for breakfast, I told myself that this curious physical and mental slump was simply due to a lack of sleep.
I'd read somewhere that a lack of deep sleep can have innumerable bad affects on the functioning of the mind and body; nevertheless, I had my coffee with Ted as usual and forced myself to stay awake after he'd left for the office. I was determined to make this day as normal as any other--though I still had that lingering sense that my life had changed.
After completing some household chores, I took myself off to the second floor studio around 8 o'clock, eager to begin my own day of work.
Yet to my frustration, I stood before the easel for several minutes, perhaps as long as an hour, just staring at the empty white canvas in front of me and hoping that it would be a productive day, that I would create something great, something that would make me proud. At the same time, I had the sinking feeling that I'd be unable to create anything of artistic value.
Writers aren't the only ones who suffer bouts of creative block. I'd had monumental success during the past five years with my artwork. My paintings appeared in galleries all across the world and decked many a millionaire's home. Yet, for the past six months, I'd been unsuccessful at creating anything that even remotely approached the skill and talent evident in my previous work. Most often my days were spent staring at the canvas and praying that my career wasn't in the terminal stage. Most of all, I wondered what I'd do with the rest of my life if my creative well had permanently run dry.
I thought that maybe my problem was a lack of inspiration. It seemed that anymore the days of my life could congeal into one long and boring primetime docu-drama. Rarely did I vary my schedule or do anything different or spontaneous. Aside from an occasional appearance at a showing, most of my days consisted of my getting up, tackling household chores, coming upstairs to work, going downstairs to get dinner on, and exchanging a few words with Ted before we were off to bed to repeat the same cycle come the first rays of dawn. I'd become a recluse, locked in my own creative world, while Ted was so caught up in running his newly founded financial consultation service that he could barely see beyond it.
Frustrated, I laid my brush aside and stared out the large picture window at the Austin city lights, which were even bright this early in the day, but Austin was far from the most important thing on my mind. I was remembering the face, I'd seen in my dreams.
The face was new…unusual...impressive.
At once, I knew that I had to recreate the image on canvas.
I reclaimed my brush and dabbed it into black paint, blending in a bit of gray, and I began, thin strokes and lines quickly conquering what had been intimidating white space and beginning to reveal a faintly recognizable visage. I was so enthralled with my work, with creating, that I barely heard the doorbell ring a few hours later.
Giving a sigh, I laid my brush down again and hurried downstairs to find a stranger wearing an FTD cap at the front door. Beneath his arm was a long, white box. In his hand was a clipboard.
"Delivery for Madeline Akers," he said.
"That's me!" I replied. I couldn't have been more surprised had he pulled out a gun and told me that this was a robbery.
"Sign here, mam." He held out the clipboard, and, with shaking hands, I managed to scratch my signature onto the narrow space.
After he handed me the box and walked away, I stood in the doorway for several minutes wondering who could have sent me flowers.
I shut the door and returned to the hall, where I pried the box lid off. I gasped when I saw the roses. There were three dozen of them, bright red, velvety, and fragrant. They were absolutely magnificent.
I extracted one and held it to my nose, savoring the scent, but I remained baffled about the identity of the sender.
Ted was a good husband, hardworking, honest, and faithful as far as I knew. Though it's true that he was a bit of a workaholic, he was, nevertheless, the type of man who was always there when I needed him most. He was my strength--my very own mountain.
But he rarely expended the time or effort to do those little special and romantic things that many husbands or lovers do. In the seventeen years we'd been married, he'd never sent me flowers. Occasionally, he'd offer me a single rose that he'd purchased from a street vendor on the way home from work, but, more often that not, a rose meant that he wanted to get laid. He was always so much nicer and attentive when he got "the itch."
Even then, he'd never send me a dozen roses! Despite our sizeable income and the seven digit nest-egg stashed away in numerous savings accounts, purchasing roses just seemed like an unnecessary extravagance to a simple Midwestern farm-boy like Ted, but I loved him no less for it.
I fumbled around inside the box for a card, pricking my finger on a thorn and drawing blood, but the wound was insignificant in comparison to my curiosity, and I merely stuck my finger in my mouth as I continued my search.
But there was no Card.
On the bottom of the box, in golden print was: Beaumont Floral, the friendliest florist in town. So I decided to call this "friendly" establishment and see if I could persuade them to part with the sender's name.
They must have been busy, because no one answered until the phone had rang at least ten times.
"Beaumont Floral," came a cheery voice.
"Yes, ah, I was wondering if you could help me? My name is Madeline Akers. I live at 1212 Turtle Dove Lane, and I just received some roses--" I was fumbling. I felt silly, though I could think of no reason why. "Could you tell me who sent them? There's no card."
"What's your name again?" The voice sounded less friendly now, because the clerk knew I was a beggar, not a buyer.
"Akers. Madeline Akers."
"Just a minute."
There was a pause. I heard pecks on a keyboard.
"We have no record of a delivery to a Madeline Akers."
"But…I've only just received them."
"Well, mam, I'm sorry. Apparently it's not in our computers. They must have come from another florist."
"No. It says Beaumont Floral on the bottom of the box! There has to be some record."
"Sorry," the woman said, "I have no record of such a delivery. Perhaps the order was placed with one of our affiliates." Then the line went dead. The cashier had hung up on me.
So much for friendly!
Annoyed, I hung up and sat the box aside. I had no urge to put the roses in water. Something about them disturbed me--perhaps because I hated being interrupted while I was working. Interruptions always made it difficult to start again.
That's probably why I sought the kitchen rather than my studio afterward, wolfing down a chicken salad sandwich and glass of milk, and even cleaning out a cabinet before I returned to work around noon. But even then, I made no progress, because thoughts of the roses interrupted my best efforts at concentration.
Who could have sent them?
* * *
When Ted came home shortly after five o'clock, we sat down to supper, and he started in on the usual run-of-the-mill small talk--the weather, the news, office politics, problems with a new client he was dealing with. He even mentioned a Cadillac that he was thinking about buying, and at that, I could only shake my head.
Unlike Ted, I didn't need yachts, trips to Europe, country club memberships, or a big black Mercedes to make me happy. I was perfectly content to spend my days in the studio of our ultra-modern circular home that sat at the summit of a steep hill near downtown Austin. The windows all around gave it the look of a circa 1950s spaceship from a bad sci-fi film, but the house made up in comfort for what it lacked in exterior beauty, and besides, I loved all the glass. The windows offered an excellent view of the city, making the Texas hill country seem surreal, unreachable--all the better so that I might strive to touch and taste it through my brush.
"Maddie, I keep getting the distinct feeling that you're not listening to me."
"No, I heard every word you said. I'm just a bit distracted. Please continue."
He did, recounting the events at the office this afternoon, but after a while, he must have sensed that something was bothering me, because he started to query me again about my uncharacteristic silence.
"Maddie, is something wrong?"
"Not a thing." I said between mouthfuls of beef stroganoff.
Ted stabbed a spear of broccoli with his fork. "Don't give me that! I've been married to you long enough to know when there's something on your mind. Not only are those gears grinding, but the metal is drawing sparks."
I forced a smile. I might have laughed had my mood not been so black.
"Really, Ted. I'm fine. Nothing is wrong." I had waited all day to talk to him, but now that the time was at hand, my tongue was suddenly uncooperative. It would sound ludicrous for me to tell "serious Ted" that a nightmare I'd had last night was still bothering me.
"Did you get any work done today?"
"As a matter of fact I did. I started a new painting." I wanted to sound happy, but I failed to pull it off. I had never been good at acting.
"Great!" He said, giving me a smile and a pat on the hand. "What's the painting of?"
I was about to reply, but the data my mind was urgently seeking refused to be retrieved. What was the painting of? Even I didn't know. The creature had no name. I'd never seen anything of it's like in my thirty-four years. I simply had no idea how to reply other than to say: "A monster."
Ted chuckled, but I couldn't blame him. Who'd have thought that an artist like me who created earthy yet gritty scenes of the old west--cowboys, Indians, trailblazers, and prospectors in action--could possibly have an inclination to create a monster?
"I'm serious, Ted. I'm painting a monster--which is what I suppose people would call it. To me, however, it's much more than that--an intelligent being like a human, but…far superior in every conceivable way."
His dark brows knotted into a camel-like hump then seemed to coalesce into one. At once I thought that his frown said more than words possibly could. He was unimpressed and possibly unpleased by the idea, but if I knew Ted, he'd make every effort to remain open-minded.
And as much as his lack of enthusiasm had wounded me, I reminded myself that he was different from me…much different. An ex-Wall Street broker, who'd retired before he was thirty, he thought in numbers whereas I thought in images. I knew nothing about business or finances, nor was there a hair's weight of business aptitude in my artistic brain. Doubtlessly I'd be victim to a financial wasteland if not for Ted and my agent who saw to my financial affairs and kept me from starving.
The only thing I really knew about was creating. For some unknown reason, I had an unquenchable desire to transfer the vivid images that arose, unbidden, in my mind to canvas, and would remain in a state of torment until I accomplished that to my satisfaction. At times, this artistic mania might be difficult for a number man like Ted to understand.
"What kind of monster?"
"Well…a bluish, squid-like monster that inhabits water."
His eyes narrowed, yet he continued to study me with such bewilderment that a prickly weed might have sprouted from my nose. "Madeline, do you think painting monsters would be wise--from a professional standpoint that is? Monster pictures certainly aren't in vogue and such a painting probably wouldn't do too well on the market. And what about your fans who've grown to expect--"
Money. Everything always came back to Money with Ted! I'd been born and raised in poverty, and during the early years of my career I'd eaten a lot of pork and beans and hotdogs during the lean times. Yet even now, money represented only a means of obtaining shelter, food, and a way to pay the utility bills--things I never wanted to worry about again.
To Ted, money meant success.
"Sometimes, Ted, we have to live a little and go where our passion takes us. That's what being an artist is all about. And if my passion takes me away from the Old West to the world of horror, so be it!"
I felt guilty, because I'd sounded harsh. I hadn't meant to sound so harsh!
"I wouldn't know a thing about it."
"I know you wouldn't. That's why you're a businessman, and I'm an artist. You're better off that way. Your head is never stuck in the clouds. You never see beyond products, figures and dollar signs. Your entire world is real. Being an artist can be a painful roller coaster ride at best!"
He tossed his napkin aside and brought a fist down upon the table. "Okay, I know something's bothering you. When you get down on being an artist there's always something bothering you. Out with it, Madeline!"
I held up a hand then I arose to collect the box of roses that I'd left in the hall. When I returned to the kitchen, I presented them to him.
He removed the lid and said simply: "It's roses."
Duh, I thought. "The problem is that I don't know who sent them."
"It wasn't me." he said.
He merely reclaimed his seat and stared at me quizzically for a minute before he spoke.
"This is what's troubling you?"
That and so much more, I thought, but I merely nodded.
"Oh, honey! A fan probably sent them. That's all."
"A fan has never sent me roses before!"
"But your work is more popular now than ever."
"I--I don't know."
"Oh, come on, Madeline. You've received a few strange things in the mail from fans. Remember the piece of rice with your name engraved on it?"
"Yes," I said, then looked away, pondering what he'd said as I leaned on the counter top.
"And remember the fan who sent you pictures of his penis?"
I nodded again, but didn't laugh; though I normally did when this subject came up.
"Then why do you doubt that a fan sent the roses?"
"I don't know. It's just…I've never received roses before!"
"Well, consider it a mere mark of someone's appreciation for your work."
I remained silent. Unconvinced. Yet he continued to peruse me. Sometimes it seemed like I could hide nothing from Ted. He always seemed to know my innermost secrets and feelings. I knew that I might as well confess all--well, almost all.
"Okay…there's more. I'm still a bit troubled about a nightmare--"
"Oh, Madeline. You artistic types can get yourselves so worked up over trivialities."
"The nightmare may seem trivial to you, Ted, but to me it was so real--and it involved a red rose!"
"I suppose this nightmare was what inspired the monster painting?"
I nodded, not a bit surprised that he'd figured it out.
"Well then chuck it all up to inspiration. Nothing more. The roses are just a coincidence. Surely you don't think monsters lurk in the darkness?"
"Of course not! I got over the monster-under-the-bed syndrome when I was a twelve-years old."
He laughed again, coming to my side and dropping a big, protective hand over my shoulder.
I tried to remain serious, but it didn't last long. It all did seem rather ridiculous the more I thought about it, and before long, I found myself chuckling too.
Still, after the dishes had been washed and returned to their proper place in the cupboard and the sun had drifted off into a scalding magenta void, I found myself thinking about the dream and the roses again. Before the night was over, I would convince myself that there just had to be something more to these strange events than nightmares and overzealous fans.
* * *
I had to be smothering. My chest was so heavy that my lungs might have been filled with sand, and I fought for air. Again, I felt the cold claw it's way through my sodden flesh. There were roses all around me. Thousands of roses. The fragrance was intoxicating and nauseating at the same time. I sensed the being's nearness. It had to be near. The chill in the air had intensified as the being moved toward me with a strange swoosh.
"Who are you?" I asked. "Who are you?"
There was no reply. The creature merely stood back in the shadows of whatever hell it had hailed from and studied me. I knew it did, because I could feel its eyes on me.
Fear gripped me anew. Strange how I could be so horrified and fascinated at the same time. Strange how I felt like everything was at a pause, as if time had been suspended. Or could it be that time didn't exist in this being's world?
It wanted something from me; I was sure of it. But the answer to the puzzle eluded me. In the being's presence I was capable of only illogical thought and faulty reasoning, a state that I attributed to fear. It seemed as if my mind was fading from gray to black, ever moving toward madness from which I'd not be able to find my way back.
Still the being continued to peruse me. It stepped out of the shadows, and I saw no warmth or mercy in those all-knowing eyes. Rather, I sensed intense pain and sadness, but whether it came from the being, the misty atmosphere, or from the depths of my own troubled soul, I was uncertain. It was almost as if we'd become one, part of a single entity that thought with one mind and acted with one will.
And I could feel its awesome presence acutely, the way that someone might feel vibrations from a blaring stereo.
Only the creature said nothing. It made not a sound.
The feeling was not unpleasant; yet the being held all the coolness and life of a tomb and inspired such sadness in me that a hot rush of tears threatened to stream my cheeks. Yet I refused to shed them. To do so would mean having to release the tides of pent-up emotion I'd harbored inside for years, and I didn't want to deal with that.
Again I awoke, covered with a cold sheen of sweat that had drenched the blankets; nevertheless, I rejoiced at the turn of events that had allowed me to see and learn more about my mysterious nighttime visitor.
* * *
Green. The creature had been green. At first I'd thought it was blue, but the second time I'd seen it, I realized it was green--not Christmas green, not grass green, not Irish green, but the green of algae floating in the Colorado River on an August day.
I swirled my brush into the paint and started to fill in the outline I'd painted the day before. I worked diligently, an hour, maybe two, but afterward, I remained dissatisfied.
This feeling wasn't something new. During the past couple of weeks, I'd started painting the creature numerous times, but had abandoned each effort, generally by ripping the canvas to shreds when my frustration became unbearable.
I simply failed to capture the essence of the being I'd seen in my dream. The image in my paintings looked downright silly. Juvenile. Like something you'd see in a comic book. The creature was something more, much more, than a fiend who wanted to challenge the latest caped crusader.
If only I could see its face more clearly. If only I could bear to study it the way it had studied me. I disliked looking at it. Something about the being bothered me. I felt certain that the creature was capable of reading my mind--it knew my fears and was feeding on them.
The being was trying to terrorize me and was doing a good job of it.
Or was there some other purpose for the nightly visits?
Ted was growing increasingly worried about me. More than once, he'd hinted that I'd become obsessed and had begged me to reconsider painting the creature. Rarely did I leave my studio or get a full night's sleep. I didn't even bother to fix dinner anymore, and during the past week we'd ordered out more often than not. Sparing that, we'd be forced to eat cold sandwiches or canned pasta, since Ted knew about as much about cooking as I knew about stock options. It almost seemed as if I was going through the lean period of my early career days again, but I didn't care. The only thing that mattered to me was recreating the creature. There was something about the entity that I was struggling to understand. There was something about it that I wanted to know, but didn't want to know.
And there was something about the creature that terrified and fascinated me all at once.
"Oh God! You scared the hell out of me!" I said as Ted closed the door and strolled into the studio. Rarely did he bother me while I was at work. He knew how important an artist's concentration was. One interruption could spell disaster as ideas disappeared into the irrevocable artistic void.
"Madeline. I want you to put on your dancing shoes. I'm going to take you out tonight. We can have dinner at the August Moon and maybe go to Big Willie's afterward. We haven't done that in a long time, hon."
"I'm just too busy--"
"Honey, I'm worried about you. All you do is stay in this room day and night!"
I knew he was worried. I could tell by the black circles under his eyes. Had a doctor seen him, he would have ordered some tests. Part of Ted's problem was a lack of sleep, which stemmed not so much from missing me, but because he was the type of person who liked life to proceed along a normal routine. Anything that upset the norm brought on a bout of anxiety that was nearly debilitating.
Before I'd met him, I was more of a free spirit, taking life one day at a time and letting it lead me wherever it deigned. It hadn't been unusual for me to act on the slightest whim. Ted had brought stability, if not occasional boredom, to my life. Still it was this stability that had helped me succeed as an artist. An artist must produce in order to be successful. That's something most "wannabes" I'd met over the years failed to comprehend. Success meant hard work and plenty of it, which was why I was so determined to finish the painting. Afterward there would be plenty of time to lay in the sun and bask in the joy of my latest contribution to that peculiar entity called art.
"There's no need to worry about me! I'm fine! I just want to finish the painting."
"Madeline, you need to take a break! Now, I've never said this to you before, but I think you've become so obsessed with this…this monster. You seem to care about little else. That's not good for you! For God's sake, it was just a dream!"
"And the others?"
"The other dreams. I have them every night, you know."
"Every night, he returns to me. He's watching me. Always studying me. He's trying to tell me something. I'm sure of it!"
Ted forced me to face him, then his hands fell heavily upon my shoulders as if to hold me in place. "He's not real! Do you understand me? He's not real! Dreams mean different things, honey. The monster represents something else to you, something you fear."
"I don't know. I'm not an expert at dream interpretation--but could it be that you're worried about your career?"
"I'm not at all worried about my career. I confess that I was for a while, but not anymore."
"Are you sure? Think about it. It has been a while since you've seriously created something you've been happy with. Maybe the monster is merely a projection of what you see as your own failure."
"That's preposterous! And even if it were true, what about the roses?"
"There's roses in the dream."
"I don't know, but I'm sure they mean nothing sinister. There's nothing overly dire about roses."
I took a deep breath. I knew of no conceivable way to make him understand what or how strongly I felt.
"Maddie, you haven't been…depressed lately?"
I sighed. Of all things, I didn't want to discuss that! Some memories are so painful that we choose to lock them away and pretend they never happened, and this is how I felt about the insufferable mental plague that had visited me since childhood. Even so, I could attribute most of my more recent spells of depression and mania to alcohol, the Devil's substance if ever there was one, and something I'd not touched a drop of in years.
"A bit, but nothing to be worried about."
"No, I haven't been manic, if that's what you're thinking! Nor have I been drinking!"
"Look, I wasn't accusing you. I know you haven't had an ounce of liquor since…"
"Since my last manic episode. It's not so dire that I can't speak of it!"
"I'm sorry. It seems that no matter what I try to say, it comes out all wrong. The truth is that I think you've just been working too hard, hon. Let's get away...go to the beach for a couple of weeks. What do you say?"
"Why not? Is your agent cracking the whip?"
"No. I haven't heard from him in a couple of weeks. I just want to finish this painting."
"The painting can wait, and you can take a couple of weeks off. You're your own boss for heaven's sake. And maybe once you get your mind on other things, your monster friend will quit haunting you--at least for a while."
On the verge of tears, I shook my head. I didn't want to go; I wanted to paint the "monster." But Ted would refuse to be dissuaded. He simply had no idea what it was like to be an artist, feeling an unrelenting desire to create. Even before we'd packed up the Caravan and set off for the sunny beaches of Padre Island, I knew that I'd be miserable the whole time we were away.
* * *
"See, Maddie, I told you it wouldn't be so bad. You seem more like yourself already. These past few days, I've noticed a big improvement in you," Ted said as he leaned over the deck rail.
I gave him a wooden smile. I hated having to feign an emotion. I'd always despised artificial people, and being honest, even if that meant being blunt, was part of my nature.
Sketch pad in hand, I sat on the steps a few feet away, watching the crystal blue waves crash against the sun-bleached sand. The multitude of bathing suit clad beachers in the distance painted a picture of happiness, but the scene only served to remind me of my own unhappiness. I barely noticed when Ted sat beside me and took my hand in his.
I disliked worrying him, and I knew that he'd suffered a lot of sleepless nights during the past three weeks.
But as much as he was there for me, by my side just like he'd always been, I felt alone. There was a terrible and unrelenting ache in my heart. I knew no way to make him understand what I was feeling or thinking. How could I when even I was baffled by this sudden change that had come over me?
My confusion stemmed not from a lack of soul-searching. Lord knows, I'd done enough of that during the past few weeks. The only startling revelation that had resulted from this period of introspection concerned my marriage. I'd come to the shocking conclusion that I'd be hard pressed to call my marriage a happy one. More often than not, I got the impression that Ted barely wanted to talk to me, could barely stand to be alone with me. I could probably count on one hand the number of times during the past year that he'd actually just sat down and talked to me like he used to. It hadn't been that way before. He'd seemed to thrill at my every word.
What had happened? What had I done to lose his respect? Was it the twenty pounds I'd put on during the past couple of years? Was it the flecks of gray in my once jet-black hair? The faint lines about my eyes and forehead?
Or was I simply imagining it all?
As remarkable as it might seem, in many ways, he was more distant than me, shut-off from the world and locked into his own thoughts. I told myself this was probably because of the new company. He always seemed distracted when he was deep into his work. I couldn't blame him; I was the same way...and still, I thought there was something more to his coolness than that.
Again, I reminded myself of our differences, him with his ledgers, me with my paint brushes; though at first our differences might have seemed interesting--even mysterious--now they were giving way to a certain boredom that neither of us could deny. I cared as much about the going rate of stock in Texaco as he cared about the best brand of oil paints.
But none of this had anything to do with the creature who tormented my slumber.
"Why don't we go for a swim?" Ted asked.
He was trying to change the subject, because he knew conversation about the being disturbed me. As a result he'd avoided the subject entirely until today.
"No, that's okay. Go on without me."
"Oh come on. We've been here for more than a week and you haven't tested the water yet. I know how much you love to swim."
But you don't know about the water. I haven't told you about the water.
"I really don't want to, Ted. I have a bit of a headache," I lied.
"If this has anything to do with that monster…"
I stood, about to retreat to the bedroom where I could lie down and wallow in the muck of my own despair, but Ted was up in a flash and coming after me. He snagged my arm and ordered me to halt before I reached the sliding doors.
"This is about that monster, isn't it?"
"It's not here, Madeline. I swear it's not. Look at all the people on the beach. No monster is attacking them."
"I never said it wants to attack me."
"Okay. I'll swim, if you'll drop it. Let me get my suit on."
* * *
The Gulf was colder than I'd expected. I entered the water slowly, taking baby steps while the water swallowed me inch-by-inch. Ted laughed at my antics. He was a jump-in-and-get-the-shock-of-the- cold-over-with type of guy. Not me. I always preferred to take things slowly and cautiously.
But pretty soon, Ted's voice trailed away, and my thoughts returned to the nightmares. Having been haunted by a seemingly water borne creature, at first I was afraid that the ocean would bother me. Yet, oddly, it only served to soothe me…at least until I was submerged to the neck, yet continuing toward the depths.
Even when the water tickled my nose, I refused to swim and merely stood there, feeling the sandy bottom beneath my feet as I stared out into the horizon through narrow eyes. I had no idea where Ted was and figured that he was probably satisfied that I'd succumbed to his demand yet again. According to Ted's mode of thinking, if I were acting "normal,"I had to be feeling "normal." As a result, he'd probably relaxed enough to enjoy himself and was swimming nearby.
No sooner had the thought entered my mind when I felt a strange tug…not of my physical body, but of my soul. It was a very odd feeling, almost as if an invisible force was trying to wrench me out my body with a magnet. Telling myself that I was imagining it, I stood there staring at the reflection of the sun on the water as I thought about the infinity of the ocean and the blue skies above and about how odd the world I lived in was.
Then terror shook me through and through as the being drew near.
I always sensed it before I saw it; the only difference was that I was wide-awake this time. But soon the fear crept away with the tide and relief washed over me, because I realized that I'd be able to study the being while I was in command of my thoughts and feelings this time. I wanted to see it more fully; I wanted to stare into its eyes and dedicate its likeness to memory; I wanted to get inside its mind and read its thoughts the way it had mine.
I was only vaguely aware that I was fully submerged by the water, because the only thing that mattered was finding the creature. My mind became fuzzy…I felt the familiar heaviness in my chest that I so abhorred…then I entered the dream-like place of clouds and roses.
The clouds fell back, and I found myself strolling along misty green earth, to which I attributed the serene and peaceful feeling that filled me. The feeling was so strong that I could have lied down and stayed there for all eternity. There were many oak and cypress trees. Squirrels, blue birds, yellow butterflies and flowers of all varieties abounded.
Then the vision soured, because I descended a hill only to find that I was in an old cemetery. There were many tombstones of a prosperous Victorian past, the gray black remnants eerily rising up in eternal memorial of the poor souls lying beneath, smothered by the earth, hidden from sight, bloating, foul and grotesque, fading into bone and white dust.
I wandered about for what seemed like forever until I came upon a fresh grave, the pasty brown rectangle of which was a noticeable clash against the surrounding tangle of weeds and grass.
I drew closer. Atop the grave was a bouquet of flowers of various types entwined with a lace of delicate baby breath and wrapped in lavender foil.
And there were roses.
Lots of red roses.
Only they were bleached, withered and faded as if they'd been left out in the sun for several days. They were dead and rapidly rotting and shrinking like the body in the fresh grave.
I screamed, suddenly overwhelmed by fear though there seemed to be no reason for it. I ran blindly, wanting only to escape, but only succeeded in striking my leg on a jagged tombstone, and I found myself falling…falling…falling ever deeper into some seemingly dark abyss…and then I felt the being's presence. For a second, I saw its face. It smiled at me, taking me into its loving embrace and comforting me.
* * *
"Madeline? Madeline! Talk to me, damn it!"
I opened my eyes. The bright sunlight stabbed my pupils like red-hot needles, and I attempted to shield my eyes with shaking hands. The ground beneath me was firm yet soft and I realized that I was lying on the beach. Ted was standing over me, a paramedic on either side of him.
"I--I'm fine." I replied…amazed by the weakness of my voice.
Ted closed his eyes for a moment and breathed a deep sigh of relief, then he laid his head upon my chest, listening to my heartbeat as he cried: "Oh, God, Maddie. I'm so glad you're all right."
There was clapping. I raised my head enough to see a sizeable crowd of spectators around us. When comprehension of what had happened sunk in, I was embarrassed and relieved all at once.
I had nearly drowned.
But how could that be so? I had merely stood in the water, thinking about the sky and the ocean. I had started to swim…but then I'd drifted into a twilight world where dreams and reality freely intermixed.
As I lie there, however, I realized that I didn't want to think about what had almost happened! Instead, I wanted to go back home. I wanted to paint!
Even though I was lying on the beach before a crowd of spectators…even though I knew that I'd almost died…I still wanted to paint. Such is the mind of the artist.
* * *
For most of the four-hour drive home, Ted was so quiet that at first I'd thought he was mad at me. Only the static on the radio interspersed with an occasional song as Ted searched for a station, broke the maddening silence. When we were about an hour from Austin, it dawned on me that he wasn't mad at me, but at himself.
In characteristic fashion, he shouldered the blame for what had almost happened.
How to make him understand that the accident was my fault alone eluded me. I should never have gone searching for imaginary monsters. And the being was merely a figment of my imagination or a delusion borne of my disease. How could such a creature exist in the real world?
But whether the being existed beyond the realm of my mind was unimportant now. All I knew was that I had to paint it. If I could capture its full magnificence on canvas, I'd be satisfied. Only then would I feel that I'd truly accomplished something as an artist.
The being said so much more than mere landscapes and jackrabbits. Its eyes seemed the gateway to a whole new world that harbored great secrets unknown to man. The being seemed all powerful, all knowing. It was awesome, wondrous and terrifying all at once, somehow much more awe-inspiring than a mere human being.
I nearly jumped when Ted suddenly spoke. "I think you need to get some help, Madeline."
"I want you to see someone when we get back."
"By that, I assume, you mean a psychiatrist?" I was aghast, and when he failed to reply, I took his silence for a "yes."
"I'm not crazy!"
"I didn't say you are, but you're definitely having some emotional problems right now, and I'm concerned about you."
"You assume I'm troubled because I want to work. You're a workaholic too. Does that make you crazy?"
"Stop it!" he yelled, pounding the steering wheel with a fist. "Stop making light of this. You need help, and you damn well know it!"
With a screech of the tires, Ted rammed the steering wheel to the left, and the Caravan veered haphazardly to the side of the road and came to an abrupt stop on the shoulder of the highway.
"Ted, what are you—"
"Madeline, you tried to kill yourself!"
I gasped. "What?"
The hysterical laughter of denial rose in my throat, and I had a difficult time fighting it back.
"You tried to kill yourself, damn it all!"
"That's a lie!"
"I saw you!"
"But you told the paramedics that I'd accidentally drifted out too far--"
"I lied. I didn't want you committed! Now I wish I would have told them the truth! At least you would have gotten the help you needed."
"I don't care what you think you saw! It's not true. You--you're mistaken!"
"Then how do you explain what happened? You walked into the ocean and you kept walking. I called for you to stop. No, I begged you to stop, but you wouldn't listen to my pleas. I searched frantically for you. I thought I'd lost you--"
His statement had started harsh, but it ended softly. Painfully. And for the first time, I realized the full depth of his grief.
This was all much more serious than I'd thought.
"I don't want to kill myself. I swear I don't. I don't know what happened back there. I just kept walking and started drifting as if I were sleepwalking."
"Then you need help. Maybe there's a physical reason for all of this."
"By God, Madeline, you're getting help and that's that!"
I was silent, submissive, so he continued, putting his hand in mine. "I don't want to lose you!"
Suddenly, hot tears flooded my cheeks, then danced off onto my lap with a splash, and Ted tightened his grip on my hand, letting me know in his own way that he was there for me.
Through it all, one word repeated in my mind--"Cthulhu," the name of the being who stalked me.
* * *
"Did this depression precede the nightmares, Mrs. Akers?" Doctor Elbert asked as he primed his ballpoint pen for action.
I felt as stiff as iron poker as I searched my weary mind for an answer. I was just glad that Elbert who peeked out at me over the rim of his glasses didn't ask me lie on the couch. I hated speaking to someone when I was unable to gauge their facial expressions.
"No. The nightmares came first, the depression seems to be a part of them...and...and the depression gets worse each time I have a nightmare." I shifted uncomfortably. It was far from easy to tell a stranger such private information, especially when he was scratching out a detailed record of it. I had to keep reminding myself that he was a doctor, trained to listen and help. He'd probably heard a little bit of everything in his day; this certainly couldn't be the worst.
"Have you seriously thought about killing yourself?"
"No!" I lied. I didn't want him to know about my near drowning, at least not yet. The reason was quite simple; I was afraid he'd hospitalize me, and I didn't have time for that right now. The painting was almost finished, and afterward, I could rest and get whatever treatment I required.
"You mentioned a history of manic depression--"
"I was diagnosed with that when I was thirteen, but I haven't had a manic episode in years--"
"When was the last time you received treatment for this condition?"
"Um, it has been over five years."
"You've also suffered from alcoholism?"
"Yes. No! Well, not alcoholism in the true sense. It's just that sometimes I drink when the mania or depression gets difficult to cope with. But that was many years ago. I haven't touched alcohol in over three years."
"That's very wise. And how is your marriage going?"
"Fine." I lied again without a qualm of guilt. In my experience I've found that psychiatrists and psychologists always ask about, and usually blame, the marriage on a woman's every emotional upset. Yes, the marriage had problems, but nothing major. And I'd come to the conclusion that most of this was my fault. In fact, since Ted and I had returned from Padre Island a week ago, I'd been berating myself often about the piteous mental and physical decline I'd allowed myself to fall in over the past few years. Had I taken better care of myself, Ted would have a woman by his side that he'd be proud of like in the early days. Then, I'd berate myself again for thinking that he could be so small, petty and narrow-minded as to allow such things to affect our relationship.
But as bad as any of this seemed, my marriage wasn't to blame for either my unrelenting depression or the visions of Cthulhu, and, most of all, the clock was ticking and I wanted to focus on what mattered the most instead of getting sidetracked by matrimonial innuendo.
"Are you sleeping well?"
"Two to three hours a night."
"Are you eating well?"
"Have you lost weight?"
"About thirty pounds."
"Did you need to lose thirty pounds?"
"Yes." What's the use in denying it? It never seemed to be a major concern to doctors until the weight loss became significant anyway.
"I see. Now tell me more about this monster. Is there any reason why you would dream of such a creature?"
"I don't understand."
"Had you recently seen any drawings, comic books, pictures or movies about monsters before the dreams started?"
His reference to "monsters" was irritating me. "No. But he's not really a monster in the true sense, but a superior alien being."
"And how do you know that?"
"It communicates with me."
"How? If it's an alien being, I think this would be quite difficult for it to do, since it wouldn't speak your language."
"No, it thinks to me. We read each others thoughts…except it has only revealed a little bit of itself to me at a time, probably out of fear that I'll be overwhelmed."
"Overwhelmed by what?"
Disbelief washed across his face. "Then I take it that you believe it's real?"
"Okay, let's assume that this alien being is real and is contacting you--what does it want from you?"
You smug little jerk--why are you asking me these questions? You would never believe that it's real, even if it visited you.
"He wants me to be with him."
"Then tell me, Mrs. Akers, Why? Why would this alien pick you? There are billions of people in the world. Why not a scientist who could use this alien's technology for the good of the world? Why not a government leader--"
Why do you assume that because it's superior to man that it's incapable of being selfish?
"Because he's lonely! He's all alone, and he wants me to be with him. I know it sounds bizarre, but I swear that I'm not delusional, doctor. I can think very rationally. It's different from before--"
"Okay, but let's focus on your thoughts about the monster right now. Then this monster wants--"
"He's not a monster. He has a name. His name is Cthulhu."
The psychiatrist stared hard at me, and I stirred restlessly in my seat, his dark eyes so big that they might have grown from acorns to buckeyes…then a Texas smile washed over his face. He laid his pen down and clasped his chubby hands together on the desk in front of him. "Mrs. Akers. I'm so glad you told me that. I have the solution to at least part of your problem."
"You do?" I had to be saucer-eyed. I'd thought all psychiatrists were worthless. Years ago when I'd suffered severe bouts of depression intermixed with mania, none of the doctors had done anything other than put me in a mental institution and tranquilize me until the episode passed. None of the medications had worked, except to put me in a perpetual state of lethargy. Nor had countless hours of psychotherapy expelled my inner demons. The only thing that had helped was the passage of time, truly the healer of all woes. As a result, I was somewhat bitter about this field of medicine and highly skeptical that treatment would help me now.
But Ted, who spent his Sunday afternoon's golfing with two of Austin's renown psychiatrists, had insisted that psychiatry had changed since then, had changed during the past few years. And maybe he was right. I listened with such fascination as the doctor continued that I might have been hearing Mozart's Requiem Mass.
"Yes, I can say with certainty that I understand your visions and their origin. This Cthulhu you speak of is a fictional character. He was created around 1920 by a very talented writer named H.P. Lovecraft."
Disappointment filled me. Perhaps psychiatrists were the same after all. "But—"
"Please, hear me out, Mrs. Akers! I promise that you'll understand this afterward."
I nodded, but already I was having trouble with what he was telling me, because a part of me wanted to believe that Cthulhu was real.
"Between office hours and hospital rounds, I'm not exactly up on my classic literature, but Lovecraft wrote a novella called The Call of Cthulhu, and another which I believe was called Spawn of Cthulhu. Cthulhu is a God-like mystical creature who has found a watery dream-like death in the Pacific Ocean. When the time is right, he's suppose to emerge with the aid of those who worship him. As for physical appearances, this creature looked much like the being you described, a squid or octopus-like head, scaly flesh and small dragon-like wings jutting from its back. Do you agree that this sounds like your Cthulhu?"
"Yes, except for the scales and wings...I mean, I don't know, I've been unable to bear staring at Cthulhu for long."
Elbert grinned. "All the better, for those who see Cthulhu are supposed to go mad."
"But how does this fictional character relate to my nightly visions?"
"It sounds complicated, but it's quite simple. At some time during your life, you either read about Cthulhu--perhaps in a literature class at high school, or someone told you about it, it's very possible since Cthulhu has a bit of a cult following. At any rate, the story and the image of Cthulhu remained in your subconscious memory, though you may indeed believe, and would even swear, that you'd never heard of it before.
"Now, this stress you were feeling about creating a new masterpiece combined with your latest episode of depression, somehow caused this memory that had been locked away to reemerge with such intensity that it seemed real. From your previous bouts with manic depression, you must remember that delusions often worked that way."
I nodded. I remembered having delusions all right, and remarkable creativity, but they were nothing like this! Still, I had no choice but to hear the doctor out.
"The fact that you started seeing the creature in a dream gives credence to the fact that he evolved from your subconscious mind. After he'd became incorporated into your conscious mind once again, you started sensing and seeing him when you were awake as well, because by then, you'd convinced yourself that he was real."
The doctor had remarkable deductive skills. He could have been Sherlock Holmes. Too bad he was wrong.
"What I suggest, Mrs. Akers, is that when you leave here, you drop by the bookstore and pick up Lovecraft's stories. Not only will this give you greater insight into this creature, but as the story refreshes your memory, hopefully 'Cthulhu' will move completely from your subconscious to your conscious thoughts. Only then will the nightmares stop. I believe the delusions will stop as well, and before long, you'll be able to expel this image from your mind entirely as you move on to new things. I'm also going to prescribe you some medication to take twice daily, but first you'll need to get some blood drawn--"
I was in a state of shock. I could barely discern what the doctor was saying, his voice a distant echo.
He removed a blue pad from his desk and wrote a prescription, which he tore off and handed to me. Though I had no intention of getting the prescription filled, I accepted it and stashed it in my purse, my mind in a quandary.
"And I want you to make an appointment to see me in four weeks. But, we have a few more minutes; do you have any questions?" he asked.
"No...I...I'm just amazed by what you said...I mean, about Cthulhu."
The doctor leaned back in his chair, hands clasped together on his chest. "Yes. The play between the subconscious and conscious memory can be quite startling. It's almost as if we possess two completely separate minds. There's a continuity between them, but sometimes trauma can have a strange affect on certain areas of the mind and their interaction with each other. When something is disturbing you, most people get warning signals, but sometimes these memories arise in the form of delusions instead, making the patient feel a sense of utter annihilation. I'm sure you feel this way during your sojourns with the monster.
"Yes, but at the same time, Cthulhu fascinates me."
"And I assure you that you aren't the only one. Like I said, it has been a long time, but I do know that several well-known horror writers have written stories on Cthulhu, which are known collectively as the 'Cthulhu Mythos.' Um, Robert Bloch, Frank Belknap Long, Duane W. Rimel, Richard F.Vernon Shea, and Clark Ashton Smith...to name a few. I have a close friend who's quite a successful horror writer, and he once told me that even now, all horror writers of note have contributed to the Cthulhu mythos..."
Panic rose in my chest again, reminding me of the evening tide. Still, I listened, fascinated as the doctor continued.
"The rock group, Metallica, also has a fascination with the Cthulhu mythos, and dubbed one of their songs, The Call of Ktulu--" My friend listens to it every time he writes--says it helps him concentrate."
When the doctor had finished, I arose, a grin on my face. I didn't mean to be unkind; sarcasm was not in my nature, but I felt I had something important to say and would say it nevertheless. "Doctor, I hate to tell you this, but your theory is wrong."
His crimson face didn't surprise me. Rarely did anyone tell a doctor they were wrong. That's why most of them thought of themselves Gods and refused to listen to what their patients told them. Being so, I knew he probably wouldn't believe me, but would chuck all my thoughts up to mental illness, but I'd try anyway.
"Don't you get it? Don't you understand? The conscious and subconscious is a mere mode of communication for Cthulhu! Cthulhu is real and he's reaching out to artists of all types. First he contacts them via dreams, because it's easier for them to accept him this way. Why? Because, artists are the only ones who truly understand him, and he wants us to tell his story through music, literature, and pictures! Perhaps he's an artist himself, for he knows that artists see things differently from the rest of the world. For us dreams become reality. Images can talk, walk, and have bad breath, they can inspire beauty, love, or horror. We writers, singers, songwriters, and painters are the ones Lovecraft mentioned in his tales...the ones who'll bring about Cthulhu's awakening!"
I picked up my purse and happily breezed from the office, leaving the arrogant jerk open-mouthed and shaking his head.
* * *
On the way home, I dropped by the bookstore as the doctor had suggested and picked up Lovecraft's stories about Cthulhu, and Metallica's, Ride the Lightning. I had no hard feelings for Dr. Elbert. At least he'd cued me in on these works of art and had helped me put the pieces of this puzzle together.
As I played the song on the way home, peace overcame me. Cthulhu was communicating with me still, easing my anxiety and removing all my earthly pains.
I knew exactly what I had to do.
Glad that it was still early in the day, I sat down at the desk in my studio and carefully composed a letter to Ted. I tried to explain my feelings, but I was having a difficult time doing so. It was simply impossible to make someone who'd never experienced Cthulhu understand. It was like trying to show someone what it felt like to have an LSD trip without the lights, sound, color and glaring faces.
Even so, I gave the letter my best shot and sat it on my desk in front of our wedding picture where I knew Ted would see it. Then I packed my overnight bag and only stopped long enough to fax a message to my agent before I sat off for Padre Island.
I arrived at the beach house before dusk, and after I'd unpacked and sat out the tools of my trade along with the unfinished painting of Cthulhu, I lied down and began to read Lovecraft's famed story, savoring each beautiful word. He didn't explain Cthulhu entirely, and I knew why...Cthulhu hadn't revealed himself fully to the talented writer--just as he hadn't explained himself fully to me--at least not yet. I suppose the snippets of information handed to each artist were supposed to be sorted out and stitched together later by historians.
But there was no time to ponder it now. There would be plenty of time to do so later. Now, all that mattered was the painting. The Call of Ktulu roaring from the stereo speakers, I poised my brush and finished my masterpiece at last, the music allowing me to connect to Cthulhu on a higher plane, as if calling him to me.
Afterward, I sat on the foot of the bed for a couple of hours and stared at my work, amazed that I'd created something so intense, something so touching. This was the best piece I'd ever created. At last, I felt like I truly deserved to be called an artist.
I was glad that I'd had the insight to turn the painting's ownership over to my agent, whom I knew would appreciate it. I'd dropped by my lawyer's office before I'd left Austin, making sure that this desire was put in writing.
I knew this action would make Ted mad, might even hurt him, but I feared that he'd hate the painting so much that he'd attempt to destroy it.
I simply couldn't allow that.
But I refused to dwell on the negative. I was ready, so I donned a long, white gown. It was time for a dip.
As I danced along the water's edge, I wondered what they would say about me. But as soon as the tide caressed my toes, I giggled like a schoolgirl, realizing that I knew already. They would say that my genius had driven me mad--had sent me over the edge. But they would be wrong. My genius was a product of my illness, not the cause of it, my art the mere end product of faulty brain chemistry.
But none of that mattered now, because I was about to be with Cthulhu.
* * *
I'm happy now. At peace at last. Sometimes I tire of the swoosh of water, but I'm never bored for I have Cthulhu to keep me company.
I can see Ted standing over my grave, a bouquet of red roses in his big trembling hands. I watch as he lays them next to the faded funeral bouquet that's laced with baby's breath. Yet this will be the only bouquet that Ted ever gave me.
Unshed tears make his dark eyes sparkle like early morning dew, but even now he refuses to let them fall. Men don't cry, or so his anachronistic parents in an anachronistic world had taught him, but a careful inspection would reveal that the emotion shows on his face nevertheless.
I'd been wrong about Ted. He still loved me, or perhaps he'd only just realized how much with my demise. I'm sorry that I hurt him, but that part of my life is over now, and I'll allow no regrets to weigh me down in this existence.
I would be a liar if I said that I felt nothing for Ted, because my feelings for him run deep. He was the only person who was there for me, had believed in me when I was struggling with my career in the early days, seeing me through severe bouts of depression and alcoholism when others would have shunned me. I had nearly drowned in whiskey, and had nearly lost my life and my dreams in the process. But Ted had rescued me, picking me up off the streets and taking me into his life. He's the one who made me believe in myself again, and for all of his kindness I'll be ever grateful.
Yet despite all the time we've shared, good and bad, the passion simply fizzled from a flame to a spark to a distant glow in the night, and it was time to move on because life, even death, is never static, but ever evolving.
And indeed, Ted will find happiness again. He's young, handsome, and successful. Before long someone else will come along to take my place in his home and heart.
Besides, this is where my destiny led me--leads us all eventually--to faded flowers and Cthulhu.
Author's Note: I wrote this story as a result of reader request. Normally, I'm opposed to writing fan fiction and have enough of my own ideas knocking around inside my head that I'll probably never get them on paper during my lifetime. But Lovecraft's Cthulhu is the one exception to this self-imposed rule, and I'm glad that I recently discovered Lovecraft's work. When I first mentioned to my friends and associates that I intended to write a story about Cthulhu, they urged me not to without first reading and studying not only Lovecraft's Call of Cthulhu, but also some of the Cthulhu mythos. Like the psychiatrist mentioned in this story, I was warned that all horror writers of note had contributed to the Cthulhu mythos and that writing a story without previous knowledge about the creature could prove to be injurious to my writing Career.
I disagreed. I didn't feel that I needed to know a lot about Cthulhu or the mythos in order to tell this story, because it focused more on Madeline than on the creature, leaving Cthulhu cloaked in mystery right where "it" belongs. I wanted to know only what I needed to know about Cthulhu so that I could discover this awesome being along with Madeline, improvising when I needed to and checking facts when the situation required it.
Even as I write this note, I've not yet read Lovecraft's "Call of Cthulhu" nor any of the other stories based on Lovecraft's beloved creature. In fact, I've only read "The Tomb" and "The Tree," but in the future I plan to dedicate more time to delving into the world of H.P. Lovecraft, who has certainly earned my respect with his horrific yet wonderful prose.