Halloween 2020 was to be the best Halloween in the last few decades. October of 2020 had five Fridays and five Saturdays! Halloween itself fell on a Saturday, and with a full moon no less! That hasn’t happened since 1944! On top of all that, Halloween was also daylight savings, giving the holiday an extra hour of night! Yes, Halloween 2020 was going to be the best Halloween of all of our lives.
It was…until the Global Pandemic of 2020 shut large public gatherings down. In 2020, things like attending costume parties at bars or clubs, going to the movies to watch the latest horror movie, and trick or treating were dangerous activities. Many industries which relied on the holiday were hard hit, but none worse than the Haunts.
It was late on Christmas Eve, and I was staying in the town of Cowbridge, when the strange knock came to the quaint rented house. When I answered it a chill wind filled the air around me, colder than the December night air. There it was, a phantom in a white shroud with a horse skull head, glowing eyes, and a crown of holly on its head. Before I could scream or shut the door it started singing. My Welsh was terrible, after so many years living in New York, but I could just make out the lyrics…it wanted something to eat? It wanted to come in? Then I remembered tales my grandmother told me…this could be only one thing…a Mari Lwyd! When it was finished singing, I licked my lips, cleared my throat, and started to sing an answer….
“Where is Doctor Norris? I heard he didn’t make it.” “He’s in the refrigerated trailer outside, there wasn’t any more room in the morgue.” “No one was out there when I checked.” Just then the alarm went off, and screams could be heard from the COVID-19 isolation ward. Police were called, but none of them dared enter without protective gear. A nurse came running out and explained what was going on…. Dr. Norris had returned for his Tuesday 18-hour shift.
These tragic undead have appeared countless times in history. In ancient Rome, there are accounts of them appearing during the Antonine Plague; they appeared several times across Europe during the various waves of the Black Plague; they appeared in the Americas and Caribbean during the waves of Yellow Fever; then again during the Spanish Flu pandemic. Unfortunately, with the rise of COVID-19 in 2020, they are appearing once more.
“Stop or I’ll shoot! Don’t take one step closer!” I called out, leveling my revolver, but it had no effect. As the shambling form came closer it started moving faster, raising its arms and making a choking, chortling noise. When it stepped into the moonlight I could see that it was, it had been, Truman Nalfree, the missing scientist we’d traced here. He had to have been dead for a week maybe, judging by the level of decomposition. I fired three times, hitting twice, both through the torso, but it seemed to have no effect. It was almost on top of me so I took a deep breath, aimed for the head and fired. The creature’s skull exploded, but with much more forces than expected, showering me and my companions in gore. That’s when things got really horrifying….
“We’ll go this way, you take that passage,” he said, “we’ll cover more ground this way. I don’t want to be here any longer than necessary.” “You sure?” Helen replied. “Splitting up seems like a bad idea. Like, a really bad idea.” But Hank snorted and rolled his eyes as he and Beth took the right turn, while we took the left. We’d gone maybe 50 yards down the passageway when we heard the screams, the desperate calls for help and anguished shrieks of pain. We turned and ran back towards them as fast as we could. By the time we got to the intersection, everything was quiet other than our desperate calls and the pounding of our hearts. We started walking slowly, cautiously and quietly now. Soon, our flashlights caught the sight of Hank’s hat and one of Beth’s shoes lying in the middle of the tunnel. I moved to get closer but Helen gasped and grabbed me, pulling me backward. “Back away…slowly…I saw something…inin the floor…” she said, shaking with fear. “What?” I asked, as I backed away, smart enough to obey my partner even if I didn’t understand. “What did you see?” “An eye!”
These shoggoths have specialized in a specialized form of hunting, using their bodies to form traps and waiting for prey to wander into them. They commonly dig a deep hole or pit in an underground place humans frequent, like a mine, a lonely forest trail, or in half-forgotten catacombs. They then occupy the pit, shaping their forms into hollow bowl-like shapes lining the pit, and create a well-camouflaged cover for the pit with their bodies.
“Doesn’t this seem odd to you?” I asked. My partner looked at me, tilting his head in confusion. We’d been hiking for six hours with no sign of the missing campers yet. Their last GPS signature from their cellphone put them in this area. “I mean, what is a vending machine doing way out here? This ranger station doesn’t look like anyones been posted here since the 90s. Who’s coming up here to stock it?” “Dude!” Doug replied, “stop pissing in my lemonade. It’s here, who cares why. I’m getting a nice cold Moxie; you want one?” “Sure…whatever…” “The coins won’t go in…what the….” Suddenly the vending machine changed color and shape, as eyes and mouths appeared all along its surface and pseudopods sprung from its body to grab Doug. It grabbed him and pulled him close, tearing him apart with bites, dissolving his flesh with its digestive fluids. I tried to run, but a feeling of vertigo overwhelmed me and I blacked out. I don’t know for how long I lay there, but when I opened my eyes the night sky was above me and all was still. The vending machine was gone. The only trace of Doug was his backpack.
These small, solitary, and rather cunning shoggoths are usually found in remote places that humans venture into. Places just close enough to civilization that the creatures can remain hidden, but close enough to ensure a ready supply of prey. Humans are these creatures primary source of food. They can go almost a year between needing to hunt. They are content to kill a single human and then return to their underground lairs, where they while away their time until it comes time to feed once more. They kill by luring a human close enough to strike, and then kill their prey quickly before it has a chance to escape or defend itself. This technique of camouflaged ambush predation is common in the animal kingdom, especially in insects, arachnids, and fish.
Janet was a lot different after the procedure. Those first few months were tough, and I hate to say that. You’re torn between being overjoyed that they survived, but the side effects are really troubling. The memory gaps, that odd feeling of detachment, that blank stare and lack of facial expressions. It’s like, “congratulations, your wife beat stage IV pancreatic cancer and now here she is, except she barely remembers who you are, who anyone is, and cognitively most of her brain has gone into reset mode.” Sorry. Yeah, it was hard, but she learned to walk again, learned to read again, remembered more and more about her life, remembered me. Is she the same woman I married? No. Oddly in a lot of ways she’s better. To be honest, but I’m not the same man she married either. Life, in general, changes you, and something like this, being so close to death and then saved by this miracle treatment, yeah, expect some big changes.
Actually a form of proto-shoggoth, symbiotic shoggoths are the creations of experimentation. They are a hybridization of shoggoth protoplasmic matter and human tissue, originally designed to seek out cancer cells in a human body and destroy them. After countless failures, a variety of these specialized cells (named Recaptive-28) were created that did, in fact, remove all traces of cancer from a human body. What no one, not even the scientists who created this treatment understand, is that what most consider “side effects” are actually a new state of being.
We’d been chasing reports of a condor for over week when we saw it, soaring high above us on the thermals rising out of these canyons. It looked massive from here, and our photographer struggled to track it. We needed pictures to see if it was banded, part of a breeding program, or a wild born animal we hadn’t yet identified in our conservation efforts. Suddenly our photographer screamed and dropped his camera. He curled into a ball and started babbling about blinking eyes and slavering mouths. He said it wasn’t a condor. He said a lot of things, but we didn’t believe him then. I wish we had.
According to Tao Jiucheng in his Chuogenglu, in the lands of the Arabs there are men 70 or 80 years old who are willing to give their bodies to save others. Such a one takes no more food or drink, only bathing and eating a little honey, till after a month his excreta are nothing but honey; then death ensues. His compatriots place the body to macerate in a stone coffin full of honey, with an inscription giving the year and month of burial. After a hundred years the seals are removed and the confection so formed used for the treatment of wounds and fractures of the body and limbs—only a small amount taken internally is needed for cure. Although it is scarce in those parts the common people call it “mellified man” or, in their foreign speech, “mu-nai-i”. Thus Mr. [Tao], but I myself do not know whether the tale is true or not. In any case I append it for the consideration of the learned.
“Here, in this desert, there live amid the sand great ants, in size somewhat less than dogs, but bigger than foxes. The Persian king has a number of them, which have been caught by the hunters in the land whereof we are speaking. Those ants make their dwellings underground, and like the Greek ants, which they very much resemble in shape, throw up sand heaps as they burrow.”
Herodotus, The Third book of Histories
Despite their name these terrors of the desert are found in many places. They are said to be similar in form to the ants of Greece, aside from their size, which is reported to be larger than a fox but smaller than a dog. They are very territorial and attack any living thing approaching one of their mounds. As many as fifty of these creatures come swarming out of their mounds at the first sign of intrusion.