The Return of Rhan-Tegoth by Laurence J. Cornford

Does a god really need to have worshippers?


A summons was waiting on the door mat when Daniel Sykes got home. He ripped open the envelope and read the note with mild interest. This time Philip Goodwin had obtained a masterpiece and he wished to show it off, so Sykes was summoned to his studio. This was a doubtful judgment in Daniel Sykes' opinion, for despite the large collection of object d'art that Goodwin had assembled, none would warrant the term "masterpiece."

Goodwin had taken residence in an old warehouse just off The Wicker, beside the steep concrete riverbed which channeled the River Don through the centre of Sheffield. He had converted the disused warehouse into a suitable studio and here he had worked since he had graduated from Art College. The rent was low at this time, although later such converted buildings would become fashionable. The repair work he put into the building constituted the bulk of the rent, and for his pains he lived in relative insecurity. If the building was sold he would have no claim to tenancy. Sykes knew the building well. Originally Sykes and Goodwin had planned to share the building and the work, but Phil had proven too temperamental to live with and Sykes had reluctantly quit, moving to a smaller studio in Healy. They remained friends in their own peculiar way, and Sykes regularly visited, either by summons or of his own accord. There were invariably large gaps between visits, since Phil had the habit of locking himself away for weeks whilst he indefatigably worked out his latest idea. Sykes' own work also lengthened the times between visits and Sykes was often pleased to receive long overdue epistles from Phil.

Arriving at the heavy double doors, Sykes stepped through the small door cut into them. The lower level of the warehouse had poor lighting and so it was used as a storeroom and "museum" for Goodwin's collection of macabre objects. The guillotine, a cage, a chopping block, were arranged to utilise space without losing the bizarre effect. Waxworks of Cripin, a fanciful cloaked Jack the Ripper, and others stood menacingly in the tangle of objects. Good prints of Bosch, Goya, Smith, Carradyne and other unpleasant or weird paintings crammed the walls like windows to a thousand hells. Sykes passed several of Phil's own statues on the way to the stairs and passed paintings whose undeniable power had been dulled only by his familiarity with them. On the second level, the warehouse had been divided into several large studio apartments. Sykes looked along the landing at the top of the stairs to the door to his studio. The studio Sykes had once occupied was used by Phil as a "3-D room," but he still did most of his large work in the larger studio at the front. Sykes entered this room.

It was a large white room, which stretched out. The white was tainted with splatters of multiple colour, streaks of paint carelessly loosened from flicked brushes. Off-white canvas drapes hung in the corner, defusing and reflecting the sun which streamed through the skylights. One object dominated the room, seeming to soak up the sunlight and make the studio seem smaller than normal. It loomed over a solitary figure as he worked at an easel. The object was wrapped in tarpaulin, but it was clear that even without the covering it would stand fifteen feet tall and almost as wide.

The man at the easel turned dramatically.

"Come in Daniel, I've got to show you this," he said, pointing proudly at the wrapped statue.

Philip Goodwin's gaunt frame looked even thinner than when Sykes had last seen him, but he usually did not eat well when working. His clothes were simple and practical, shirt and jeans, but showed a degree of extravagance in his choice of colour and combination. His hair was light brown, tangled and streaked with drying paint, yet he was clean and dignified in his posture and his pleasant, slightly mocking smile rarely left his face.

"What is it?" Sykes asked, his attention held by the massive tarpaulined shape.

"Ha! It's the masterpiece I mentioned. I was incredibly lucky to get hold of it. It only cost a fraction of what it's worth in materials, and if I'm careful it could be valued as the piece of art in itself."

"Where did you get it?"

"Oh, at one of those auctions you're always saying I waste my time at."

"No, I mean where does it come from originally?"

"Now that's a story in its self. From what I can gather from the catalogue and what I overheard, it was made in London in the Nineteen Twenties. Originally it was in a waxworks museum exhibition displayed briefly in London. There were some complaints about it and it was removed from view. The fact that it was too advanced for the public of the time meant that the Lord Chancellor stuck his oar in. If it had been shown in Paris or Rome there might have been some hope for it. Thankfully the whole stock, including the restricted items were shipped out of London during the Second World War. The museum itself was hit during the Blitz, and the owners killed. The exhibits were stored in a theatrical props warehouse. They were meant to be shipped back, but with the owners dead and the museum destroyed no-one came to claim them and the warehouse owners took possession of them in lieu of payment.

"There was not much call for so specialised a selection of waxworks, so mostly they sat and collected dust. They even tried to interest one of the film companies in them, but without success. When the warehouse needed to clear space they were among the items to go. They were put on auction, which I attended.

"All the exhibits were wonderful. The range of displays was diverse, but centred on a group of imaginary beings, given practically unpronounceable names. I could have spent a fortune if I had had it, but in the end I regretfully opted to buy only this one. A piece so lifelike that I just had to own it no matter what I had to pay." Then, almost hesitantly he added, " It spoke to me."

Sykes took that ironically. Goodwin moved to the edge of the tarpaulin and positioned himself to unveil it.

"I hope it will serve as inspiration for other works, so I can recoup my investment while I try to discover more about the artist. But even if I don't, I will not regret buying this."

And with a theatrical flurry he pulled the tarpaulin from the statue.

Goodwin's speech had ill prepared Sykes for the object, nor had his knowledge of his friend's bizarre tastes. It was indeed a masterpiece, a masterpiece of madness and corruption.

The statue was of a beast, but unlike any creature of common folklore. It was no mere amalgam of horrid animals, it was a thing which seeped horror from every giddying orifice. It was a large spheroid supported by four claws on prehensile tubes running to the perimeter of the top of the body. The thing was covered in layers of thin strands, that at first Sykes thought to be fur, but on closer examination appeared to be hollow orifices of some kind. Above this was a smaller sphere equally covered in the stands, but which possessed three fish-like eyes set in a triangular formation. The eyes glistened with an unnerving quality and quickly Sykes moved on to study the proboscis of rubbery tubular construction that hung below them. The thing seemed to sway in the light breeze of the skylight. One could almost expect the puffy gills to flex and pulse. Gripped in the two remaining claws was the horribly flattened body of a man. The man's look of utter agony was convincingly created despite the hundreds of disfiguring puncture marks that covered the body. This figure was marred by the clumsy handling of the figure's hair, which was a badly rendered conglomeration of wax scraped to make it superficially resemble hair.

The whole image was quite repellent, yet Sykes also felt a seeping chill of dread deeper than the mere disgust of so horrendous and lifelike a waxwork. He stood before the monstrosity in stunned silence. Phil shuffled his feet, seeing his look of horror. He gathered up the tarpaulin and threw it over the beast. Sykes audibly heaved a sigh of relief as the morbid spell of the statue was broken.

"I expected better of you," Phil chided, as if Dan was a foolish child. "You're frightened of it!"

"It's hideous and incredibly lifelike, if such things could live, that is. These things are very often unconvincing because we have no standard to judge them by."

"Could live?" Phil's voice trailed off as if he was running through something in his head.

"I'm impressed!" Dan mollified. But Phil was in his own thoughts. "It's beautifully crafted. I've not seen wax produce such a delicate and complex form before. It must have taken days just to produce these well, what do you call them, hair or tubes?" Dan looked back at Phil to learn that his monologue had not interested him. He had crossed to a stack of canvasses which leaned against the partition wall.

"Yes," he said absently, "the form is beautiful. But I don't think it's all wax."

"Well, you're probably right. It looks like someone's stuck some strands of hair in among the wax on the head of the victim. Shame he went to all the bother and then spoiled it with that figure?"

"I think it was a later addition," Phil spoke in a strange monotone.

"Well, whatever, you'd better watch it under these studio lights. You don't want to come back and find a puddle of wax."

"You'd like that, wouldn't you? I don't think it will melt, though."

Phil returned to sorting used canvasses from the prepared ones. Dan looked across at him, slightly surprised at his statement, but he became uncomfortably aware that he had his back to the statue and so uneasily shuffled over to Phil's side.

"What are you going to do with it?"

"Paint it."

"Yes, but after you've painted it?"

"Put it in my collection."

"Do you think it's worth hanging on to?"

"Worth? It's value is beyond anything, any money. Tell me, have you ever seen anything that possessed that power? It's unique!"

"Steady," Dan said raising his hands defensively. Phil had tensed and glowered at him. "I only meant that it will take up a lot of room and might get damaged. Couldn't you lend it to some museum or gallery, where it could be stored safely?"

"Do you think they would want it? It could not be shown at this time, people are too entrenched in backward moral values to allow it." He smiled to himself. "Mary Whitehouse would have apoplexy! I must make it be recognised as a work of art before I can trust the academics not to break it up. It has fallen to me to keep it alive."

Phil had become erratic. He handed Dan a canvas, who returned to the easel next to the thing. He got a second easel out of the washing-up room and set it up at the other side of the thing from Dan. He had calmed down now and was back to sketching the canvas with a charcoal stick.

"Who did you say it was by?" Dan asked after some minutes of silence.

"I didn't, but it will probably say in the catalogue." He left the room to fetch it. Dan felt nervous and twitchy to be left alone with the abominable statue. After what seemed like too long Phil reappeared with the glossy brochure. He handed it to Dan, open at the relevant page.

Lot 92. "The Sacrifice to Rhan-Tegoth" by George Rogers.

"He was one of the owners of the waxwork museum in London. He made most of the exhibits," Phil stated, then set about pulling the tarpaulin completely off the thing and rolling it up and stowing it in one corner.

In almost silence the two set to work on their canvases.


That night Sykes dreamed of Rhan-Tegoth, and of other strange things. The dreams started slowly. He was aware of being in a dark place surrounded by pressure, but he felt no pain or fear, instead he felt only a great exhilaration. He became aware of a dark bottle green landscape, of great sharply pointed mountains, at the foot of which lay a strange dark city. In the city pin pricks of light shone from oddly shaped windows or portals, and dim shapes flickered as they moved in the light. He felt himself sinking down toward the city, and other shadowy forms sank also. A strange "chatter" filled his head as his stomach yawned with the descent.

The dream faded into obscurity as he neared the portals of the city and he next found himself in a white landscape, the mountains and crags were more broken and ragged this time, smeared with white. He was looking down on a band of people who seemed to be crossing an icy expanse, although Sykes felt no cold. The figures looked about cautiously and although they must have been perhaps a mile away Sykes could see them in remarkable detail, as if he were using binoculars, although he had no such. A kind of baying cry echoed out, and Sykes found himself running out of his hiding place and across the white plain. His pawed feet moved so quickly that it felt almost like flying. Other shapes also moved from the corner of the plain -- large and pale with many limbs and muscular bear-like bodies, things with black faces from which twinkling eyes surrounding a great central horn. When Sykes looked down he saw that he too had clawed and white-haired legs -- more legs than a man should have.

His heart pounded in exhilaration as they closed in on those animals. The man-animals saw them closing, ran in panic, crying out "nofka." Some held their ground and forced out their spears as barricades, but Sykes' sinuous hide withstood the spear-points and the spear hafts broke before they could pierce his skin. With great excitement he fell among these animals, snapping and tearing with his mighty jaws. Feeling warm hot blood come steaming into the air and onto the ice.

Then he was again under water. Perhaps it was a return to his first dream, for he was now within a stone city, surrounded by strange, dark bladder-like entities. Voices filled Sykes' head with words he didn't understand, but he gathered that the bladder-things called themselves the Pirrak. He and another were to be brought before Rhan-Tegoth as it sat upon its intricately carved throne. A bizarre ceremony was performed in which they were to trust their lives to the ravenous thing. They were guided within reach so that it could attach its tentacles to them. If they had done wrong in its sight, it would drain them of their lives. If they had served Rhan-Tegoth to its satisfaction it would implant some of its godly matter into their bodies. Sykes watched his fellow Pirrak sway and gesticulate in a complex and highly intelligent ritual and although he did not understand it at all he knew it was important. Just as the ceremony reached its climax he felt a sharp stinging all over his body and awoke.

Daniel snapped awake, sweaty and confused. As he caught his breath and struggled to understand the dream, a ghostly image of the statue swam into the darkness of his bedroom, floating effortlessly and with the curious luminosity of an amoeba under a microscope, its proboscis flexing and its gills rhythmically gaped. Its body covering of tubes shifted like seaweed washed by the waves and the dead phantom fish eyes stared down at Sykes.

He carefully reached over for the bedside lamp and snapped it on. At once the apparition vanished.

The remainder of that night Sykes got no rest. Over breakfast he swore to return to Goodwin. But events interfered and he was unable to do so for some days. Yet Rhan-Tegoth and its inhuman worshippers did not leave Sykes' mind. Whenever there was a quiet moment their images returned to him. He could not fathom why he had dreamed of being one of the hairy things, but he felt that this was some deep racial memory which the sight of the waxwork had triggered in him.


Sykes took the steps up to the studio two at a time. It looked like Goodwin was in one of his obsessed moods. When he had opened the outer door several day's post lay untouched in a pile. The light was out on the top landing and he worked his way along to the front studio.

Goodwin did not even notice his entrance, so engrossed was he in his canvases. He was at work on an oil portrait of the thing, which obscenely darkened the room with its massive bulk. Obsession indeed seemed to be the case, for propped around the room were a large number of paintings of the monster, in various degrees of abstraction. He was in a decrepit state -- clearly he had not washed or changed his clothing in days. It was doubtful that he had eaten for as long, and the dark rings under his eyes spoke of sleep deprivation. His movements were jerky and quick, almost hysterical.

"Phil." Dan's voice sounded like a sudden thunderclap.

"So, you came back," Phil said. "I thought you felt it, too. I thought you had guessed the truth."

"What truth? What have you been doing to yourself?"

"You haven't quite acknowledged it yet," he said slyly. "But you will know soon. The dreams must have told you something. Once it has its energies renewed. Then it will awaken and begin great glories."

Sykes looked around at the general mess. "You can't go on like this."

Goodwin laughed. "Things will change very soon, in ways you can't guess at. It is the key to the Great Awakening."

"What are you talking about?"

"I've been feeding it. Oh, its not strong enough to take large things, but it has revived long enough to take small meals. I'll show you."

With these strange words Goodwin left the studio. Sykes instantly began to feel uneasy at being left alone with the thing. He looked defiantly up at it and as he watched he thought that maybe it swayed slightly. And had Phil been tampering with it, for it seemed be in a slightly different place than it had been last time he had seen it. Maybe that was just the light. As he studied it he spotted a pile of furs lying near the base of the waxwork which had not been there before.

He was about to move closer when Goodwin returned carrying a patterned tin tea-tray. On the tray lay the bodies of three cats and a small long-haired dog.

"Its hardly food fit for a god, but I can move on to larger prey as it becomes more active," Phil was saying and he held the tray up before Sykes. Sykes' mind reeled. This was not real.

"You're mad!" Sykes muttered. "Are you mad?!"

"Ah! Am I mad! No! I am the sanest man in the world. They are coming back and only those who aid them will stand a chance of joining with them. I think you've had the dream, too. We are of their blood. They are our makers. Now we can live side by side with the gods. Think of that, Dan, think of talking to god! Of becoming a god! Do you think I care for a few stray cats and dogs when that is on offer? And do you think they think of us more highly that they would a cat or a dog? We are cattle to them, but we can become more than cattle if we aid them. An ape into a man, and a man into . . . I can't wait to find out what, but I can feel it coming!"

Sykes stepped forward, disgust rising in him at this sad insanity, and took hold of the tray.

"Give it to me," he said, hoping he sounded calm.

"I wont let you stop me!" shouted Goodwin, pulling at the tray, it tilted and the contents dropped to the floor between them.

At once the two struggled violently, pulling and pushing at the tray. Then with a gasp Goodwin pulled it free of Sykes' hands and swung the tray back behind his head. Then with all the power he could muster, he brought it crashing against Sykes' head. There was a flash of pain in Sykes' head, then blackness enfolded him and he felt his legs give under him.

Above him the three fisheyes looked coldly on.


Consciousness slipped imperceptibly back among the white noise. His head was as thick and grey as lead, and he supported it with his hand as he climbed unsteadily to his feet. His nose hurt. Clearly he had landed on it. He gingerly tested to see if it was broken. Gradually he realised that the darkness before him was external -- night had come on, and the faint purple of the last of sunset tinted the skylight. The orange of the street lamps was beginning to take over. He stood a moment, breathing deeply and fighting the urge to vomit.

At last he felt sure enough to look around. He picked out ultramarine shapes among the shadows. He was familiar enough with the room from the days of his tenancy to register something wrong. Maybe it was the blow, but it took a long time for the anomaly to dawn on him. He had expected a large dark obstruction in the middle of the room, and had unconsciously avoided it, but now he realised that the room was empty -- the statue was gone! Its space was still circled by a ring of easels, but half of them had been knocked over and were lying on the tarpaulin. Sykes struggled to understand how Goodwin had got the statue out. It was too big to fit through the door and he knew Goodwin had had it craned in through the skylights, but surely he would not have had it removed the same way with an unconscious body lying on the floor among the carcasses of pets.

The thought reminded Sykes of something and, looking around, he noticed a pile of animal skins. Goodwin had certainly lost it. But where was Goodwin? Had he cleared out before Sykes could awake and summon the police? That could explain it if it wasn't for the paintings. Goodwin always became attached to his latest work; he would not have left so many canvases here. Here, in fact, were several canvases which Sykes had not seen before and must have been painted during those hours Sykes had lain on the floor.

The moon cleared a bank of cloud, and a silver light spilled into the room. It lit on a canvas about seven feet tall and three feet wide of curious power. It was a mad, agonised self portrait, with the Rhan-Tegoth thing lurking in the background, almost as if Goodwin was inside the creature.

Sykes' attention was instantly pulled from the painting as his mind registered the sound of running water. He looked over toward the washroom. The sound must have been going on all the time, but his dulled senses had missed it just as they had missed the more obvious statue's absence. A thin ribbon of yellow light spilled from under the door. Sykes walked decisively to the door and banged his fist upon it. It gave a dull noise, as if some weight was pressed against it.

"Phil, is that you?"

No reply.

"Come out Phil, I know you're in there."

Still nothing. He tried the handle but found it fast. He pressed his ear to the door. He could hear the muffled sound of running water, and the rattle of water hitting linoleum.

"What's going on in there?"

A shifting sound, almost the rustle of a person in a McIntosh rubbing against the door, came from within. Next a gargle, like water running down a plug-hole, or maybe the overflow, although the rattle of falling water continued. A bulky weight moved about, clumsily knocking over items which clattered to the floor. There was the sound of slurping or gulping or gargling large quantities of water. Sykes called out again, and could have sworn that a gargled reply came. Sykes kneeled down by the keyhole, and as he kneeled his trousers became wet. Water was leaking in a widening pool from under the door and in the neon of the electric light Sykes saw the swirling pink threads of blood among the water which was leaking from under the door.

Quickly he pressed his eye to the keyhole. Clearly Goodwin was injured. But the keyhole was dark, blocked by the weight on the door.

"Phil, can you hear me? I know you are injured. If you can open the door please try. I'm going to get help!"

There was a loud thud from within, and the rustling. Maybe he was trying to open the door. Sykes wondered how he had wounded himself. Maybe it was while he was cutting up those animals? The first aid box was in there, so clearly he had gone in for that reason. He must have started washing the wound and passed out, falling against the door and blocking it. Yet the amount of light coming under the door suggested that the occupant was standing.

Sykes looked around the studio for some device with which he could force open the door. Maybe there was a fire axe. Certainly there was a fire extinguisher somewhere. He might be able to smash a panel out with that. Putting his ear to the door once more to confirm that Goodwin was still alive, Sykes heard a curious bubbling noise and saw new plumes of blood erupt under the door. Quickly he moved off across the studio in search of the fire extinguisher. He felt himself treading on tubes of paint and heard something wooden crack under his feet, but soon he felt his way into the dark corner where the fire extinguisher was kept. He pulled it from its hook and started back.

Coming out of the shadow of the wall, into the pool of moonlight from the windows, a glint of wet paint caught his attention, and he looked down. He was standing over the hideous self portrait which must have been Goodwin's last work before his injury. Sykes was again struck by the strangeness and artistry of the grotesque image, and now that he was closer he could see that the central figure, the frail self-portrait, was a montage. Made of crumpled brown paper, or some cream tissue paper was a figure of Goodwin, naked, apparently life sized and perfect in most details. It was only its crumpled, depthless quality which prevented it from being perfect and the fact that the open, agonised mouth had no teeth and the dead, wide oyster-like eyes -- probably gum Arabic, he thought. Goodwin, no doubt was viewing humanity as being as disposable as a chocolate wrapper. He peered closer thinking of those naturally mummified cadavers with twisted paper-bag flesh -- then he noticed that the figure had hair punched into the scalp. A remarkable detail for a few hours work.

He reached out a finger and ran it along the paper of the arm, and stirred the hairs of the folded arm! This couldn't be! He could never have put each hair into every pore in the body! But they were there, and the surface had the waxy quality of vellum. The hands had fingerprints!

With a finger he flicked at the edge of the empty skin and it came away from the wet paint in which it had been pressed by a great weight -- and if this was Goodwin's skin, sucked empty, who was in the bathroom?!

Sykes started to shudder and he hoped his mind would give out completely, but slowly the locked muscles relaxed and he turned his head slowly towards the washroom and its splashing, gurgling occupant.

"Goodwin!" he called.

At his summons the door split and shattered outwards. Through the ragged gap pushed the living form of Rhan-Tegoth, its scintilla palpitating. In an instant it was through the door and barreling across the studio towards the man. Without thinking Sykes started the extinguisher and a stream of icy foam spurted from the nozzle, but Rhan-Tegoth, living and breathing, bubbles bursting at the edges of his damp maw, took no notice. Sykes held the still spurting extinguisher above his head and threw it at the three monstrous eyes. It struck ineffectually and in the next instant Sykes was scooped up and carried across the room.

The breath left him and he was pounded into the back wall. Pain leapt along his spine and then it started raining bricks about him. He was off balance, still in the pincers of the thing. He realised that he was falling from the warehouse to the courtyard below.

He tried to speak, to scream, but his limbs had lost all power and his voice had deserted him. Madness and pain swamped him and all he felt was the night breeze on his face as the monster-god raised itself on its legs and mounted the concrete wall and leapt again, this time into the basin of the River Don.

The water swallowed them, throwing up a plume of water. Ripples lapped the side for some minutes before the fast flowing river wiped them away and continued on its course towards the sea.

The night became silent again.

Rhan-Tegoth would return to the depths.

* * *

On the beach, near the estuary of the River Don an empty skin wrapped in a bundle of cloths rolled and flapped in the washing tide like dislocated seaweed. Its empty, frightened face stared skyward with dead filmy eyes.

Send your comments to Laurence J. Cornford


© 1998 Edward P. Berglund
"The Return of Rhan-Tegoth": © 1998 Laurence J. Cornford. All rights reserved.
Graphics © 1998 Old Arkham Graphics Design. All rights reserved. Email to: Corey T. Whitworth.

Created: April 10, 1998