We live trapped in four beautiful dimensions, each curved so infinitesimally that they appear straight, and our physical laws seem constant. There are many more dimensions, so tightly curved in on themselves that they cannot interact with anything outside–no light can escape; nothing can enter or leave, only dreams.
The Old Ones predate not just our world, but our universe. The big bang was the moment when our dimensions expanded and sapped the energy from all the others, leaving them as tiny snail-shells of memory. If the Old Ones exist still in some form in those infinite spirals of nothing, how sane can they be after ten billion years. What does time even mean in that place?
And if the only way they can re-enter this place is to expand those dimensions again, that will spell the end of everything, not just for us, or Earth, but for everything the universe has ever been. It will be a glorious end, and we may even glimpse the Old Ones’ return before our world starts to crumble!
Forum post from forums.wooo.org
It always starts like this. I’m an actor on a film set, filming on location in the middle of the desert, next to this huge crater.
I’m the hero, because obviously every film needs a lanky, foul-mouthed, Glaswegian builder in it, and the director has made me do a lot of running away from vampire girls, and a lot of standing looking into the hole. I never see the vampires; in fact I never see anybody, no other actors, or crew, and no equipment. But I know I’m on a set, the way you know these things, and I know my lines and what I have to do.
The last scene of the day is of me at dusk, standing at the edge of the pit, staring in and looking scared. It’s completely black inside, and I’ve to be afraid to go too near the edge. Then the scene’s finished and I realise the rest of the crew has gone home without me, and I have to stay by the black pit all night.
So I stand and watch the darkness in the pit get deeper until it looks like a huge black pupil in a sandy eye made red by the last rays of the setting sun. Then the knowledge creeps into my mind that something is rising from the depths of that chasm, and when that something reaches ground level we’re all in deep shit, especially me. I have an image in my mind of something big and black, made mainly of tentacles and toothy mouths, and big enough to swallow the world. And I can feel its age, the chains of millennia that it drags with it. I stand and watch as it climbs, closer and closer, just below my line of sight, and finally I turn and try to run.
I used to wake up before actually seeing anything. Those were the good old days.
The first time the dream came was the day me and Jessie split up, so the flat was empty, and the dream was scary enough to wake me up in the night. I swear I’ve never been that scared of a dream in my life, not even when I was a wee boy. There’s a thing that happens in the movies when someone has a nightmare, and they wake up suddenly and sit up straight, all out of breath as if they’ve actually been running through treacle instead of just dreaming about it. Then they calm down and act all relieved–“Oh, it was all a dream”. And they lie down again and go back to sleep all snuggled up to their co-star. Well that’s pish. Here’s what actually happens.
I realise I’m awake and it was a dream, but that doesn’t mean I’m all relieved and fine–I’m still fucking terrified. I pretend I’m still asleep and listen to all the tiny sounds of the flat and the street. I can feel the monster right behind me–it might be as big as a city but it’s in my bedroom, just out of sight, and if I even move it will pluck me out of bed with one tentacle and pop me into its nearest mouth. And I’m pretty certain that being eaten won’t be the end and that even death won’t stop the agony.
Fuck sake–I’m shaking just writing this down. I’m nervous as fuck right now, but I’ve got good reason. The whole world has good reason; most of you just don’t know it yet.
Anyway, the dream was well fucked up. But apart from going to work on half a night’s sleep I was fine that first time. Till it came back. Almost exactly the same but this time I was on the other side of the hole so I could see the sun setting behind it. I knew that when the last of the daylight vanished it would be all over, and I think that at the last moment the darkness in the hole started to bulge like a giant bubble just before I woke up.
A few days after that it came again, and again. Not every night but often enough, and every time I stayed awake for the rest of the night like some fucking daft wee wean. I started getting scared to go to sleep, so I would sit up till two or three, sometimes on the net, sometimes watching some old crap on the telly, putting off the moment when I would have to face The Dream. If it did come on one of those nights I might only get an hour of sleep.
Today I finally saw the city in the pit–it was a place of infinite immensity and impossible angles, where everything could be a different size and shape depending on one’s perspective. I saw what I knew to be a dwelling, but it had too many walls–they were at right-angles to each other, but it took more than four to complete the circuit. The precise number changed as I watched.
And I saw something like a cathedral, in the city but bigger than the world, at the centre but encompassing everything. That too had too many walls, and more than one roof, and I knew that there was a God inside, and if I could find the perfect angle I would be able to look inside and see Him.
I circled the building until I was certain that just round the next corner would be the vantage point I needed, when I woke. I have been that close to an Old One.
Forum post from forums.wooo.org
I tried medication, you know–alcohol, weed, Horlicks, sometimes in combination. Not only didn’t it make any difference, but those things make it harder to wake up, so I got scared I’d be stuck in the dream and have to watch when the thing emerged from the pit. Just thinking about it makes me sweat, now that I’ve seen.
And you might say I should just have faced my fears–I should have sat up in bed at night and looked round the room, no matter how scared I was, and I would have seen that there was nothing there. I thought that too, loads of times, but only in the daylight. I went to bed full of courage and determination, but when it came to it, I couldn’t have moved if Hannibal Lecter had crawled into bed with me and shoved a rattlesnake down my shorts. It’s the way a monkey feels when it sees a tiger walking by just a few feet away–visceral, subconscious, uncontrollable terror, and all your higher brain functions just go bye-bye.
Anyway, round about that time, I got fired off the site. If you know any Glasgow builders this won’t come as a shock–there’s quite a high turnover among site staff, mainly because they’re a bunch of alky arseholes. It was never unusual for guys to turn up a bit drunk after lunch, or disappear halfway through a Friday and start drinking their wages. That was kind of accepted, and I don’t think anyone was ever bumped for that. If someone didn’t show up on a Monday it was likely to mean they were still in jail, or reporting to the magistrate for whatever they’d got up to at the weekend. Sometimes somebody’s mum or girlfriend would phone, but usually they’d just show up on Tuesday, laugh it off and lose a day’s wages.
The annoying thing is–I was never like that. I’m a fucking crane operator so if I turn up even once smelling like a jakey I could lose my licence and go back to a labourer’s wage–about a hundred quid a week less than what I get now–so I never take the chance. It helps that I’m a bit of a miserable cunt anyway; spending hours in a pub with half a dozen ugly morons really isn’t my cup of tea.
So that day I was in the cockpit and I was tired; four hours sleep in three days will do that to you. But I was managing–running on chocolate and cans of Red Bull. I was lifting a palletload of gyproc up to the fourth floor and some guys were to take it in through the scaffolding–the kind of thing I do a dozen times a day and nobody ever gets hurt–and I was doing fine, taking it steady, the standard 4m distance.
But as I watched, the building in front of me, the scaffolding, the dark sheeting and the men, all seemed to melt and morph into a monster. The loose flaps of cladding became waving tentacles; the window gaps ten-foot wide eyes staring back at me. All the terror of the dream came back in a gut-freezing moment. I could tell that the men were still men, but they seemed to be clambering on the beast to service it, the way those wee birds pick fleas off rhinos. The monster was roaring and the men were shouting their adulation in some language I didn’t know.
It only lasted a few seconds then I heard my name among the shouts and realised it was coming from the walkie-talkie.
“Gerry. You fucking dozy cunt. What the fuck are you doing?”
In a moment I was back in reality–the roaring was my own crane, the shouts in English, or as close as the knuckle-draggers could manage, and it was just a building again. My load, though, was about twenty feet too high and in a panic I let the lever go and stopped it dead. You’re not meant to do that because of precisely what happened next–the load’s own momentum made it swing away from the crane, and back, then in a circle until it inevitably bumped into a bit of the scaffolding. The strut it hit buckled and a whole section collapsed in on itself. The shouts got louder, higher and considerably more profane–I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word fuck so many times in a ten-second period.
The walkie-talkie shouted at me again in the foreman’s voice. “Gerry. Get a fucking grip. Are you fucking dead or what?”
I pushed the button and spoke into the handset. “Sorry man; I’m on it.”
“You’re not fucking on it; you’re fucking in it. Get the load down then shift your fucking useless arse down here so I can fire you to your face. Fucking arse cunt shite bastard!” A few seconds later it crackled into life again. “Try not to fucking kill anybody on the way down.”
Last night was different. The cave was inside me, even though it was just as big, and I could still see it.
But because it was so close I could reach down inside and feel about. I closed my hand round buildings as big as moons; I felt the pull of gravity in every direction at once. Eventually I managed to pull myself inside out, then I woke up. That was freaky.
Forum post from forums.wooo.org
Nobody died, but big Pikey the plasterer got his arm broken by a falling steel pole–I think we all got off light, considering. So an hour later I was in Tod’s Bar, unemployed and already half drunk. I don’t remember getting home, or much else about that day, but I remember the dream from that night. I won’t ever forget it, because it was the first time the movie had sound.
I was looking at the pit from further away, up on a rocky rise with the sun off to my left, and I heard it for the first time.
The noise was both a high-pitched whine and a deep hum, with something like the buzz of every buzzing insect on Earth, all coming from deep inside the hole. As the sun got fainter the sound crept nearer, and I began to make out a voice among the other sounds. It was not exactly talking, but kind of mumbling to itself in not quite English. I got the feeling that I would understand the words if I could just concentrate, or remember, but I desperately didn’t want to know. As the noise grew something flickered and moved in the darkness, black on black, then I swear it looked at me!
I wasn’t in bed when I woke up and I panicked before I realised I’d fallen asleep in front of the telly. It was some Open University pish, but for a few horrible seconds I thought it was the sounds from my dream, that they had followed me back. And even though I was on my settee right against the wall, and the lights were on, I could still feel something huge behind me. My head and bladder were both bursting, but I didn’t move a fucking inch till dawn.
Unemployment worked out pretty well for me actually. My stamp was all up to date so I got dole money, and I got to sleep during the day. So for weeks, as long as I stayed awake till dawn every night, I never had the dream. So once I was thinking straight I tried to work it out. I pulled myself together, thought about it sensibly and looked up some stuff about dreams on the net.
It’s all so logical when you look into it. Apparently, a deep dark hole represents your own subconscious mind, and if you’re afraid of it, it’s because you’re scared of some aspect of your psyche that’s repressed or hidden, perhaps some violent or perverse sexual urge that your conscious mind won’t accept because it would clash too much with your self-image, or maybe a secret fear of failure or feeling of inadequacy.
The desert represents isolation and loneliness, or the fear of those things. The setting sun is a major change or a new beginning. And–get this–anything with tentacles is a vaginal symbol. This isn’t metaphysical nonsense from the mind-body-witchcrap section of the bookshop; this is proper psychology. I got it on Wikipedia.
So perhaps I’m afraid that my new life is going to be lonely and friendless (and probably sexless) because deep down I’m a bit of a cunt. That’s kind of true, but I looked for a deeper meaning as well. Apparently our dreams talk to us in layers of metaphors. So, interpretation number 2:
It’s not coincidence that I had the first dream the night Jessie left me. She was my longest relationship ever but it still only lasted as long as it took her to get to know me properly. Once people see past this jolly persona and meet the real me, they run like fuck. I’m frightened that the monster that’s inside me cannot change and eventually it will drive everyone away and leave me to die alone in a social desert. I’m not sure about the big tentacly thing–if anyone was afraid of sex in the relationship it was Jessie. That was partly why we broke up, though mainly it was because I’m a cunt.
But then there’s the other stuff I found on the net. There’s a whole mythology, about this stuff. If you start googling things like tentacle, pit, monster and dream these things crop up fairly soon, and if you dig a bit deeper it all gets creepy as hell.
They’re a proper religion, the Worshippers of the Old Ones, and they meet up at night and do weird shit. They don’t have a website as such, and they certainly don’t publish whatever it is they do, but there are forums, groups and chatrooms about it. I’ve started hanging around these sites and some of the posts describe exactly what’s happened to me: the nightmares, the terror, the certainty that the creature has followed you out of the dream and just needs to given the right signal for it to eat everything on the planet.
Their take on it is a bit different. According to the Worshippers of the Old Ones (one of the main forum sites is called wooo.org–I thought that was funny) the tentacly things are ancient gods, and we the dreamers are the chosen and should be honoured. I didn’t feel fucking honoured; I thought there were lots of sad gits in the world who can’t hold down relationships and have metaphorical dreams, and I’m one of them.
So I signed up anyway (with a fake name and a newly created webmail address–I’m not totally brainless), and started posting some of my experiences. It was quite therapeutic just to tell someone else, and I got some sympathetic replies, as well as a couple of abusive ones. But I stuck with it and started getting into it a bit. It was almost like having friends again.
Most of the users were guys like me, and we kind of sympathised with each other, but some were proper weirdoes and their posts took it all so seriously. There are guys who drug themselves up so they’ve got no chance of waking no matter what happens in the dream, then they post what they see, as well as tips on what combinations of tranquillisers to use. And there are theorists and guys who talk like high priests of weirdshitology.
I have seen the cities as they existed before our world was even formed, and as they still exist, as close as a blink, or the width of a scalpel blade.
Nothing we humans can ever achieve will come close. We are trapped in our straight dimensions, only perceiving even these with such pathetic senses that we are barely alive at all.
If mankind’s greatest achievement is to bring about its own destruction in the service of the Old Ones, then we will have our place in history, for eternity. We are to them as the tiniest of crawling creatures seem to us; we would end a billion such little wriggling lives to enhance the happiness and comfort of one human being, so why should we balk at out own relative transience and insignificance?
If our extinction were necessary to restore the Old Ones to this reality, we must accept our fate with humility, and for the honour that it is.
Forum post from forums.wooo.org
It’s easy to get drawn into this shit. I was still freaked out by the dreams, although my new nocturnal lifestyle meant they didn’t come as often, but I started to feel like I was a part of something. I’m beginning to understand why people go to church. It’s not all the God shite–it’s just a place go where you can be one of a group, and be accepted. In a way it was comforting to think I wasn’t nuts. That must be the ultimate selfishness–it’s easier to accept that there are ancient monsters about to destroy the world than doubt my own sanity.
I might have got really into it more, but an altercation with some former colleagues changed everything.
I wasn’t going out much, but I had to go and buy food, sign on once a fortnight and fuck up a job interview every so often so it looked as though I was trying–otherwise they’d stop my money. So I was coming out the Jobcentre Plus one day when I spied Fat Shug from the site standing across the road. He spotted me too and I saw him get his phone out and call somebody. I knew exactly what was coming–these cunts can bear grudges for decades. Shug had been one of the guys on the scaffolding and he was best pals with Pikey, the guy whose arm got broken the day I lost it. Pikey is the kind of wankstain who could seethe forever if he thinks he owes somebody a doing. I acted cool, pretended I hadn’t seen Shug, walked round the corner, then sprinted. I’m not a coward but I’ve got a lot of experience running away from trouble. The trick is not to run fast, but to get out of sight as soon as you can. Run up alleys and turn corners and get on a bus if you can do it without getting spotted. I thought I was on top of this, but I hadn’t counted on Pikey being about half a mile away and having a car. I ran along Broomielaw, up Oswald Street and ducked into Waterloo Lane, where I stopped and looked behind me. As I expected, there was no sign of Shug, so I relaxed a bit and walked through the alley and out onto Wellington Street, where Pikey and a wee weedy guy I didn’t recognise were just getting out of a battered Vauxhall Corsa as if they’d been waiting for me. I nodded and smiled and said, “Alright, Pikey?” Then I turned and ran back the way I’d come. I could hear the heavy footsteps behind me but I knew I was faster. I almost made it to the end of the alley when Shug lumbered into view right in front of me. I ran right into the fat bastard, cannoned off him into the rough alley wall and sprawled on the ground.
Moments later I was curled up being kicked from all directions. Someone was shouting and swearing but the details have gone. I heard and felt ribs crack, and I remember a kick to my face that flattened my nose and snapped my head back so hard I thought my neck must be broken. After that it’s kind of fuzzy.
We have our greatest opportunity to hasten the Old Ones’ return in just a few days. The alignment of stars and the state of our consciousness will be perfect on — — — at 22.30 Greenwich Mean Time.
We, the Priests and Officers of The Worshippers, will be at our sacred location to perform the ceremony, and with your help we will triumph. The power of your dreams can penetrate the darkness, and we shall be opening a channel through which your power can finally invite the first of the Old Ones through. From 22.00 on that night you must all repeat this mantra and keep repeating until you sleep. If we succeed you will all awake to the glorious return of the Universe as it was meant to be. If for any reason we should fail this time the stars will not be so favourable for another two thousand years.
Memorise these words and say them aloud at the right time and we shall see what mankind in all its frailty is capable of!
These are the words that will make the universe whole again. Say them aloud! Incant! Feel your own power!
Phnglui mgnaf ganagl phtan
Phnglui mgnaf ganagl phtan
Nyarlathotep Yuggoth k’nyan Yoth
Samaan DiRosa, Samiins Hikar Dan Sdi Rosa
Khandar Khandar Khandar ganagl phtan
Forum post from forums.wooo.org
The dream came so suddenly and vividly that it was more like waking up. I stood with the sun behind me so my shadow stretched out like an accusing finger, pointing directly at the hole, perhaps a hundred yards away.
I looked round and saw gently undulating sand dunes with rocky outcrops here and there, everything red in the refracted sunlight. It all seemed more detailed than before, completely real. I bent down and picked up a handful of sand, so fine and dry that it flowed almost like liquid. It was the colour of skin, and I felt its texture and heard the whisper of it hitting the ground as it ran through my fingers. Then, presumably because it was in the script, I stood and faced the pit and strode off towards it.
I stopped at the edge, closer than ever before, and stared in. The blackness was absolute, with no variation or shadow, an apparently airless space, made of nothing. I stood and dared it to do its worst. Then the sounds came. Up to then, I had forgotten about being afraid, but at that first dusty breath in my ear the terror returned in all its ferocity. My legs felt like they were made of sand, and would crumble beneath me if I moved. My mind lost all reason and spun in my skull like a trapped bird. I was completely immobilised and had to stand, barely breathing as the sun vanished behind me. With a massive act of courage I shut my eyes tight and I swear I never opened them again, but in the way of dreams I could still see what was happening, and, horribly, I could still hear.
The air carried an idea of words that needled into my brain, wanting to be heard and understood, and then the buzzing joined in. It was like a swarm of bees but with a deep undertone like the slower beating of much larger wings. The sounds grew, changed, mingled, with a rhythm like the worst music you’ve ever heard, or something like language. I sensed that I knew how to understand if I just opened my mind, but that the understanding would destroy me. I stood like a blind sapling in a hurricane as the sounds whirled and raged and tried to push into my mind.
And finally the darkness in the pit began to expand, inflating like a giant bubble, as slow and inexorable as the hour hand on a clock. As the sun was swallowed I was engulfed. What I saw there I can’t write down. There are no words, and my senses were confused. I tasted the darkness, felt the sounds, heard the flavour of my own despair, and everything was just wrong.
This time I did cry out as I woke. No, that’s not right, I screamed like a girl, so loud it hurt my throat. I tried to sit up and reach for the light switch, but I couldn’t move, as if I was tied to the bed. The lights were too bright, there were needles sticking in me, and when the nurse came she thought I was crying because of the pain, even though there was so much morphine in me that you could have sawed my leg off and I wouldn’t have felt it.
My vision was blurred, I was clammy with sweat and breathing hard, and as I lay helpless, pain blossomed in my head then started exploring, testing parts of my body and looking for good places to settle. None of that mattered, though, because I could still almost see what had been in the darkness, just out of the corner of my eye.
There isn’t one creature, no single god. The darkness in the pit is made of these things, billions of them, each as big as a planet or, looked at differently, the size of a man, the width of a shadow. They swarm round our world like starved predators round a caged zebra, and I think I understand what will happen if they ever manage to force their way in.
I have had a vision, a dream within a dream, and I have seen the day when the Old Ones return.
The first thing to fail will be gravity, which gets weaker when applied to more dimensions, so our solar system will no longer be viable. The gravitational pull of Earth will no longer be strong enough to hold an atmosphere, so our precious air will just spiral off into space and leave everything that breathes to die, gasping and clutching at the last few molecules of life. With no atmospheric pressure the seas will go next, drifting like mist into the void until the Earth is a dry and barren wasteland. The Sun will lose its hold on the planets, which will all start an endless final voyage into the darkness of space. Then the Sun itself will fizzle out, expanding and cooling until all that’s left is a cloud of cold dust, gradually dispersing into space. We will be long gone by then, but the Old Ones will be there, starting to rebuild their own universe among the eternally expanding and cooling remnants of ours.
And there’s that last forum post–the one with the incantation. That’s the scariest thing of all. It gives us a date for the end of the universe, and it’s now.
I’ve been out of hospital for two weeks, and it has appeared every day on every site since, and I’ve read it so many times I have memorised that last passage without meaning to. I keep scanning it for anything I might recognise; I don’t know any of the words, or names, or whatever they are, but the whole thing seems familiar. Somehow that’s worrying, like having an itch you can’t quite find. Since this whole thing began I’ve had the feeling that I almost fully understand what’s happening, but it’s just out of my reach. And now it’s the night. It’s after ten now on the date set for the end of everything, and I have the power to help it along, but no right to veto. I have no idea what to do, but those words keep spinning round my mind, the sense of them still beyond me, but tantalisingly close.
I hear the words coming from a dozen different places within earshot, or maybe it’s just in my mind. And I’ve found myself mumbling them under my breath without realising. I’m going to sleep now, and if nothing happens tonight this will be a funny story for the grandkids. But the words in my head are growing, as if they have an echo. I hear them from a thousand places at once, and some of the voices are impossibly deep, and seem to buzz.
Stewart Horn is a professional musician based on the beautiful Ayrshire coast in Scotland, UK. His fiction has appeared in Screaming Dreams’s Estronomicom magazine, in The Horrorzine and the Horrorzine’s best of anthology Feast of Frights. Further work is due for publication this summer in Crowded magazine and the Tales to Terrify podcast. His poetry has appeared in print too. He is a book reviewer for the British Fantasy Society and a member of the Glasgow Science fiction Writers’ Circle. He one day intends to add some content to his blog at stewartguitar.wordpress.com
Story illustration by Lee Copeland.
This was amazingly terrifying!
Thank you all for your kind words. I’m looking forward to hearing the podcast.
So that is what we can all expect. A lovely story.
That was a wonderfully scary story. It was also nice to get a more general idea of what could happen if the Old Ones returned.
What Lou said.
I had the pleasure of doing the audio reading for this story and hopefully I was able to do it justice. A wonderfully atmospheric tale, that really brought me into the world of the narrator.