The young man sat in silence. He gazed into the fireplace at the dancing flames and thought how much like a living entity they appeared to be. Beads of perspiration stood out on the pale youth's forehead, a natural consequence of his being so near the blazing hearth.
The boy's name was Robert and he was alone in the house, perhaps the world. His mother and father were dead, perishing shortly before the cataclysmic events that had recently occurred and which seemed to be ongoing. Robert shed no tears at the thought of their demise. He might possess many character flaws, but hypocrisy was not one of them. Robert's parents had viewed him as an unwanted inconvenience and were ever quick to hammer this point home. Robert, on the other hand, viewed them as nothing more than hated authority figures. It had been an unpleasant relationship, but at least it had been an honest one.
Robert, for most of his life, had been out of favor with his parents, who were able to have only the one child. His mother, upon learning she was pregnant, had desperately wanted a girl while his father felt equally strong about having a son. They were both disappointed in the long run. Few years passed before it was quite evident that Robert was not the kind of son that his father had expected. He had been a frail and sickly child who showed no interest or aptitude in the various athletic endeavors that his father had thrust upon him. Eventually his father accepted the reality of Robert's non-athleticism, and instead determined that he would mold him into a successful banker, attorney or doctor. Only a few short years of school attendance had dashed this dream as well.
Robert's time in school was marked by poor performance both academically and socially. His grades were pathetic and he was a continual discipline problem. He made no real friends and the few acquaintances he had asked over to his house were forbidden a return visit by his parents. Robert eventually dropped out of school and worked at a variety of menial jobs, but never managed to save enough money to move out of his parents' home.
Robert arose from the footstool on which he sat and walked to the coffee table where he had left the stereo remote. Wiping oily strands of long, dark hair from his forehead, he pointed the electronic device at an expensive entertainment center and pressed play. Suddenly waves of sound filled the den with Ozzy Osbourne music, trash according to his late father. He sat for a few minutes on the sofa before returning to his place in front of the fire. Robert continued to peer intently at the flames as Ozzy sang:
Robert smiled at this last line and wondered if the singer still believed the lyrics. The thin, unkempt youth had always admired the rock star's music and truly hoped that he was deemed worthy to remain. He doubted the likelihood of such an occurrence but knew that one could never be certain of such things. Too many people had been too certain of too many things. Now some might venture to say that too many were dead. Robert did not share this opinion. Too many had lived in blindness for too long. They deserved whatever fate the dawning of truth might bring.
Walking to a large, front window, Robert opened the drapes and viewed the scene of carnage that existed within sight of his house. Fires continued to burn, but no explosions or sirens had been heard for quite some time. Even the sound of screams had become fewer in number.
The residential area in which Robert lived looked as if some gigantic creature had strode through the area leaving a tremendous path of destruction in its wake. Perhaps this had been the case. Robert knew of many things that could cause such damage. Miraculously the street lamp near his house still cast an eerie glow, enabling him to view in wonder, the dark, crimson snowflakes that thickly fell onto the nightmare tableaux.
Robert again smiled. The Christian fundamentalists had finally experienced the rapture. True, it was not at all like the one anticipated, but few things really lived up to one's expectations. A god, or gods, had indeed come "like a thief in the night" raising the dead from their graves and levitating men and women to meet them in the clouds. Now, this crimson snow was the end result. Millions of people were lifted from the earth only to be pureed in the dark, cosmic blender that was the Dark Gods' wrath. Their bodily fluids had mixed with the winter storm clouds only to fall to earth in the form of crimson snowflakes. Robert could not help wondering if each flake was unique in the manner of the more traditional variety.
Robert had watched the unfolding of the horrific scenes on television news reports until the stations had ceased broadcasting. He had no idea how many people had avoided this fate, but knew from occasional screams and fleeting glimpses of panic-stricken drivers careening into the night that at least some were spared to perhaps suffer a more terrible end.
"They were wrong about their god," said Robert to himself with a smile. "I always told them but they only hated me for it."
Robert had prayed to the Dark Gods for several months now, just as some of his ancestors had done during early colonial times. In Arkham, many had been tortured and eventually executed as witches and devil worshippers. Men and women were put to death because they knew the truth and would not bow to the childish myths of their puritan brothers and sisters. Robert fully expected to soon meet these kin. After all, he had been in communication with them for months.
Seven months earlier Robert had stumbled across an old book while rummaging in the attic. Only extreme boredom had prompted him to such action. The book had been in his family for ages though apparently forgotten by more recent generations. It was in an old trunk, among a crumbling collection of classics and school primers. The untitled tome had made him laugh at the time. However, he soon became fascinated as he leafed through the book's fragile pages, written in an archaic style of English and illustrated with woodcuts of some truly terrible looking creatures.
Robert decided to show the book to his parents who were extremely unimpressed. They scoffed at the book and called it "a bunch of rubbish." It was evidence only of the fact that far too much junk had accumulated in the attic. They were so lacking in imagination that they could not even see its potential value as an antique or collectible. His father had tossed the crumbling book to Robert and told him, "Have a ball! It'll go well in your room with all that heavy metal crap you surround yourself with."
Robert had gladly taken the book and before long was reading it constantly. He had difficulty with the archaic style, but at least it was written in English, thus allowing him to muddle his way through in an attempt to understand its meaning. The old book told of ancient gods that had existed for millions of years when the world was yet young. It described a cosmic conflict between two vying factions of entities for supremacy. These beings had incredibly bizarre names that were all but unpronounceable. The book told of how one faction was banished to far-flung places both in time and in other dimensions. Apparently the unnamed author of the book believed it was inevitable that these entities would one day be freed "when the stars are right."
Robert experienced very odd dreams shortly after his fascination with the book had begun. These dreams were vehicles for communication with his long dead and persecuted ancestors. He became familiar with a woman named Mattie Stiles who had suffered the flames of justice very late in her life. He also learned that he was a descendent of the infamous warlock, Joseph Curwen, through an illicit relationship with a young farm girl who once lived on the outskirts of Arkham.
Curwen, Stiles and others as well had taught him the truth of the world's masters and warned him that the planet was entering a phase "where the stars are right." They indicated, with great emphasis that it was imperative he be prepared for what Curwen called "The Black Rapture," an event that would herald the arrival of the cosmic beings written of in the old crumbling book.
It was Curwen who was most explicit concerning what steps must be taken in preparation for the return of the dark gods. The steps described would cause most people to blanch in horror and disgust, but not Robert. Curwen seemed genuinely surprised at Robert's calm reaction to the necessary actions described. He was obviously unaware of how mores and attitudes had changed since the time of his death. However, he did seem to know much about what was to come and it was these things that mattered most.
Robert continued to look out the window and suppressed a shudder as three of the recently revived dead lurched and shambled into the area illuminated by the street light. It was not the first such group of walking corpses that he had seen nor would it be the last if Curwen's words were true. The group he was watching appeared pretty far gone and were having a hellishly difficult time maintaining their balance on the frozen streets. The one most worse for wear slipped on a patch of ice, snapping his thigh bone with a loud crack that could be heard within the confines of Robert's house. The corpse's apparently mindless companions staggered and jerked onward into the darkness, leaving their fellow traveler to make its way alone as best it might. Then, out of the darkness oozed a large, black mass, continuously changing form as if uncertain of how it should appear. Robert had seen something similar in the old book. He believed the thing was called a shoggoth. It flowed over the walking dead, incorporating the corpse's substance into its own.
Robert had indeed made preparations and none too soon. He had casually murdered and dismembered his mother and father a scant couple of hours before the dark god's arrival. He ignored the pools of blood on the white carpet and giggled as their twitching, unattached limbs attempted to reassemble themselves into a facsimile of what they had once been. Now that the Black Rapture had occurred they and the millions of other dead would blindly serve the Dark Gods and their cosmic brethren.
Robert felt euphoric to be playing a role, albeit small, in such an earth-shattering event. However, he was unsure of how he fit into this new world scheme, Curwen being rather vague on this subject. Still, his life would certainly be more significant than it had prior to this change.
Suddenly the lighting in the den began to dim and flicker causing Robert to jump in surprise. He quickly found and lit some candles he had set aside in anticipation of such a power outage. He was rather "gung-ho" at the beginning of his hellish endeavor, but now began to feel a creeping sense of unease as the reality of his actions, coupled with the waiting for events to unfold, began to wreak havoc on his nerves. He had last communicated with Curwen in his dreams of the previous evening and now felt lost without his counsel. He and the others would surely appear soon and instruct Robert on what was to follow.
"Hopefully soon," thought Robert, becoming ever more nervous as he watched the quivering limbs of his dead parents. They seemed to grow increasingly more restless and agitated with each passing minute since the beginning of The Black Rapture. Robert did not at all like the aura of menace that seemed to permeate the house with the cessation of electric power. The flickering candle flames distorted objects and created dark, dancing shadows that were not pleasant to behold.
Robert briefly returned to the window in time to glimpse a shoggoth in the dim glow of the street light just before it too was extinguished. Had it appeared that the oozing, flowing monstrosity was moving toward the front walkway?
"Surely not," thought Robert, fervently hoping that Curwen and Stiles would soon make their presence known. Everything occurring became a strain to endure without their encouragement. Robert peered intently through the front window, but could no longer see the creature in the absence of any outside illumination. All he could see was the flickering, guttering candle flames and his own perspiration-covered, pasty face reflected in the fogged-up window pane.
The voices from behind him sent a shock wave of fear through Robert's body. His look of horror and sudden panic was reflected in the window pane through which he was peering. He somehow forced his body to react, dreading what he might find as he turned toward the unexpected sound.
"Hello Robert," spoke the hollow-timbered voices in unison.
Robert froze as he stared in dismay and wide-eyed horror at the gruesome sight of his mother and father's reanimated and partially reassembled cadavers. He tried, but was unable to speak as his eyes drank in the grotesque figure before him. The nightmare creature was a hellish amalgamation of both his mother and father.
The head of his father had somehow attached itself to his mother's bloody torso while her head had fused onto the ragged stump that remained of her right arm. The horror possessed a leg from each corpse and two arms though his father's arm now extended from the gaping wound of his mother's knife-slashed belly.
"Oh my god . . .," stammered Robert in disbelief.
"Your god?" croaked his father. "Don't you mean gods?"
The monstrous figure took one faltering step forward.
"Stay away from me," screamed Robert in terror. "I'm under Curwen's protection."
"Curwen?" gurgled the voice of his mother.
"Yes," blurted Robert. "Curwen and Stiles."
"Oh you poor, silly fool," replied his mother. "Curwen and Stiles have been nothing but dust for many, many years."
"No! That's not right," moaned Robert. "They've spoken to me . . . in dreams. It was they who told me what must be done in preparation for the Black Rapture."
"Oh, what a naive fool," laughed his father. "We knew you would be drawn to the book. In fact we planned it all long in advance of tonight. Had you truly read and understood the book you would know of the sacrifice it demands. We knew, like our ancestors, that to be worthy of the dark lords we must first sacrifice ourselves and then one other. It was so easy to manipulate you into carrying out the first part. You're an idiot, you always have been."
"No," whispered Robert. "I don't believe you."
"Believe what you will," hissed the head of his mother, a hideous grin spreading across her blood-splattered face.
"Now," interjected his father, "we will complete the final sacrifice."
Robert's mind was reeling. He screamed in mindless terror as the gore-encrusted creature lurched toward him. Racing to the front door he frantically turned the deadbolt and flung open the door. Too late did he see the black, ever-changing mass of the shoggoth that slowly engulfed him in a writhing mass of tentacles and teeth. Above the sound of his own unending screams Robert could hear the laughter of the creature that had once been his mother and father.
Created: October 5, 1998; Updated: August 9, 2004