It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks that were working were striking thirteen. Peabody trudged across London Bridge with the cold wind skirling around his legs. Over to his left was Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, the Phillips Institute. He passed them by in the unseeing way of those who live in cities that other people travel to see. The last peal of Big Ben rang out and the large, untidily winged figures flapped irritably back to their nesting boxes. The greasy waters of the Thames flopped against the docks, recently disturbed by the passage of the R'lyeh Ferry. If you climbed to the top of the Phillips Institute, where the inventors of the gates into Lovecraft-space counted their unimaginable fortunes, and looked east on a clear day, you could sometimes see an unnamable horror flopping and floundering in the frigid North Sea. Peabody had never got around to making the trip.
Maybe they should never have opened the Lovecraft-gates. Peabody could sympathise with people who said that now, but of course now it was too late. There was no way things could ever be changed back to the way they were. They had trade agreements, defense pacts, sister city agreements between Bournemouth and Kadath in the Cold Waste. Only this morning three
dholes had arrived as exchange students, and he'd been on the tv welcoming them. No, there was no going back. The post-Elgate world was here to stay.
He bent his back as a sudden gust of rain whipped out of the clear blue sky. He hurried the last few metres to the underground railway entrance. And the cthulhoids got a lot of bad press from the weather alterations, too. What was a little black rain on a Sunday morning? He stood against the wall and stared appreciatively at a young woman in miniskirt, with red hair and a pale, smooth face. Not bad, he thought. She turned and looked at him with dark, shining eyes, and he lifted his hat and smiled. She smiled uncertainly back, but just then her train arrived and she turned and slithered past him. He was startled to see how quietly and gracefully she walked, and he glanced down and saw her footsteps were limned in a softly sticky mucus. Gods, a Shuggoth. He hoped they weren't as psychic as they'd appeared to be. He wondered if a charge of psychic sexual harrassment would stand up in court.
He pushed his way into the crowd of bowler-hatted, overcoated men, all clutching identical black umbrellas. Even with all the adjustments of the last few years, London was still the financial capital of the world, much to the American's chagrin. He remembered the hubbub when the Phillips Institute had decided to place the head office and embassy here, rather than in New York, or Boston, or, God forbid, San Francisco. Lovecraft may have been born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island, but in his heart he had been the most English of them all. And in the end, the financial muscle of the Derleth Foundation, coupled with Lovecraft's casual references to friends in high places and in Ye Outer Darkness and in Ye Spaces that Must Not Be, had swung the issue. The Phillips Embassy now operated entirely out of London, and the benefits were considereable.
The train pulled up, a hiss of brakes and the single headlight shining like a cyclopean eye, and Peabody stepped inside. He stood clutching a handstrap and swayed gently as the train moved on. The interior of the carriage was warm and sticky, with that faint not-right smell: dholes,
perhaps, or Deep Ones travelling to the coast. He eyed the fading posters that decorated the carriage: Invest with Gorgo, Mormo, and Offspring: Guaranteed Returns. An exclusive table setting, handblown goblets and china from Leng. Experience the true beauty of the frozen North with Ithaqua Tours, see the Windwalker. Brown Jenkin dolls, batteries not included. Five nights in Cthulhuworld in the Pacific.
Peabody shook his head. The economic advantages were undeniable. The incredible wealth of the Deep Ones, for example, coupled with their disinterested attitude to gold, silver and other, unnamable metals, meant that hospitals were stocked with modern technology, universities were experiencing a renaissance and the British cradle-to-grave social security system was the envy of the world. Since the Deep Ones had agreed to help solve the problem of overcrowded prisons and social unrest by sponsoring the annual "Murderers, Rapists and Thugs Swim-For-Your-Life Spectacular," crime was at an all-time low and women were safe to walk the streets at night.
Safe from men, anyhow. Peabody sighed again. The tube stopped at Whitechapel and someone got off, Peabody took the unoccupied seat with gratitude. If only the story was that rosy. For a moment he was acutely concious of the futility of his job, the unwinnable nature of the task that
he set himself. He and his entire department worked tirelessly to smooth relations between the cthulhans and the humans, to play up the advantages of cooperation and the futility of continued hostilities. The invention of the Lovecraft-gates was the greatest advance in human history since the discovery of fire, he had said on BBC2 today. But like all spin-doctors, he had to make sure that while he told the truth, he did not tell the whole truth, and never nothing but the truth.
The riots in Ireland, for example. Ex-Minister for the Exterior Whateley's approach had been needlessly heavy handed, as well as dangerously close to nepotism. Northern Ireland was at peace, admittedly, but that was because most of those who had been present at the 2,000 strong Orange Street riots were dead. The remainder were missing, hoped dead, or were gibbering in the already overcrowded asylums that drained most of the health budget nowadays. Yog-Sothoth had brought the warring parties together, as requested, but coroners had paled and turned away from the task of separating the fused mass of flesh that was what remained of the victims, and in the end a mass grave had been the only option.
And the anti-Shuggoth prejudice. The National Front had been right, Peabody admitted. Would you want your daughter to marry one? Most of them made fairly good livings as Elvis impersonators and Hollywood stuntmen, their ability to adopt almost any shape making them very popular in certain industrial applications, but the slime and the weird smell and the eyes gave people the creeps.
Then there was the trouble with the Deep Ones and the surfing tournaments in Australia, the Mi-Go letting their enthusiasm get away with them and eating more than their allowed quota of skiers, the confrontation between farmers spraying fungicides to control ergot and black smut, and placard-waving crowds of Fungi from Yuggoth, and the council noise laws regarding thin, monotonous piping on flutes.
Peabody groaned aloud, causing a pink-haired girl with a stud in her tongue to shift to a seat further away. The flutes! The accursed, atonal, whining flutes! That was ninety percent of the problem. People who didn't mind virgin sacrifices, as long as it was done tastefully, and who roared with laughter when contestants in the Race around Risen R'lyeh slipped and fell into angles that should not be there or were dragged beneath the waves by monstrous tentacles, would go barmy when they heard the flutes. The flutes were the heart of the problem.
He'd tried. Peabody and his entire department had tried. And the cthulhans had tried, too. But the mindless fluteplayers had been too mindless even to learn Spice Girl songs, or maybe not quite mindless enough, so massed choruses were out. Attempts to persuade the dark worshippers to use less irritating instruments had failed. Great Cthulhu had been welcomed once by nervous initiates with accordian and banjo, and the frozen bodies of the players had been found months later, dropped from a great height onto a moor in the wilds of Scotland. Peabody shivered as he recalled that the banjo seemed to have certain strange alterations . . .
And when Yog Sothoth himself, the Key and the Gate, the Gibberer in the insane Space Outside Space and the Time That Was Not Time had coalesced in front of "Everything I Do," a Brian Adams cover band from Glasgow, the carnage had defied description. Thousands were reduced to drooling parodies of human beings, a fetid smoke had filled the air and stung the lungs and teared the eyes, and now Glasgow was a dead city in a blasted wasteland where nothing grew, the sun never shone, and hope and faith and light were dead.
Yes, it could have been much worse, admitted Peaboy. It could have happened in a city where somebody would have noticed. But the flutes had had to be brought back, and as long as the Great Old Ones demanded flute-players, there was never going to be harmony in post-Lovecraft Britain.
It was his stop. He shook his head: he'd nearly missed his station. Too many worries. He shouldn't let things get to him. That was what Kathy said. For a moment he smiled a smile of pure happiness: Kathy, the boys, his house by the sea, his supportive and close-knit community. Whatever the worries were, it was all worth it. For all its trials and tribulations, post-Lovecraftian Britain was a better place than anywhere else he could imagine. He walked down the road and could see the lights of his house burning, and hear the soft murmuring of the sea and the squeals of his children playing. Kathy would be cooking him something delicious, they'd eat, he'd play with the children, then they'd put the kids to bed and sneak off to bed themselves. He opened the door and inhaled deeply: rainbow trout, by the smell of it, in garlic, with a butter sauce. Life was good.
"Kyathhyasshakithisshallyth, darling, I'm home!"
Created: October 5, 1998; Updated: August 9, 2004