The Return

TheReturnby Ruthanna Gordon

 

Shub Niggurath looked around the city, tapping a tentacle in irritation. The last time she and her friends had been here, towers had stretched toward the sky, walls swooping in intricate and highly symbolic curves to guide the paths of the inhabitants. And those inhabitants! Not the most aesthetic or well-formed creation, by any means, but the ugly little creatures had devoted their lives to creating and worshipping the images of their masters. They had been the seed of a glorious civilization, ready to spread the holy names across their world (and win the bearers of those names a rather substantial bet).

They all appeared to have stepped out to lunch.

“Where are they?” whined Cthulhu.

Azathoth glared. The smartest of the threesome, he had spent the last few millennia telling the other two that these get-rich-quick schemes never panned out.

It had seemed simple enough. The Elders and the Great Old Ones had been in friendly competition for some time, and a group of their rivals had made an offer. Each party to have a thousand years to start a religion on a world, and the worlds then to be left alone for… well, a not-unreasonable length of time. Whichever religion had spread the farthest at the end of that time, its creators would win both planets, plus… well, other considerations. Two planets, and more, practically overnight. In a moment, Shub Niggurath knew, Azathoth was going to say, “I told you so,” and she was going to scream, and that was always a bad thing.

Instead, Azathoth took a deep breath (or at least, the eldritch equivalent—you really don’t want to think too hard about what he actually did).

“If you all will just shut up for moment, I’ll check where they’ve gone.” Azathoth was telepathic. He closed his eyes (or at least, the eldritch… never mind—you get the idea). After a moment, his face darkened in anger.

“They have forgotten all about us… no, wait…” The air crackled, and several objects fell to the ground in front of the trio. Shub Niggurath sat down to take a look, pushing aside the remains of a crumbling edifice to make room. There were several tomes (small, cheaply made, and written in the most vulgar of tongues) and a stuffed cloth figure. She picked up the doll to examine it more closely. It had a bulbous head and a nearly reasonable number of tentacles. It was also plaid. Aside from that…

“Hey,” she said. “Look who I found.” Azathoth looked over her shoulder, and then at the remaining member of their party.

Cthulhu glared. “It does not look like me!” The other two kept smirking. “It does not! It does not, it does not, it does not!” His howl took out a few more of the ancient ruins.

“Aside from your pride,” rumbled Azathoth, when the echoes had died down, “we have a problem.”

“Yeah,” said Shub Niggurath. “If this is all that remains of our worship, not only are the Old Guys going to win the bet, they are going to laugh.” She bit the head off of the plaid Cthulhu. “Ugh. This tastes awful, too.”

Azathoth began to smile. “I believe you may just have hit on a solution. You’ll recall the eschatological section of our mythos…”

Light dawned slowly in Cthulhu’s eyes. “Oh, no,” he said. “That part was your idea. You know I get stomach cramps.”

“So we eat them,” said Shub Niggurath. “Not only don’t they worship us, but they’re all dead. What good is that?”

“Who’s to say who they worshiped while they lived?” said Azathoth. “Only we saw. A few well-placed statues before the Old Guys come by to check, and they were so delighted and awe-struck at our return that every last one sacrificed itself on our altar. How could they top that?”

“And at least we’d still have one planet to work with,” said Shub Niggurath. “It’s so crazy, it just might—”

“Don’t say it,” said Azathoth. He looked out over the world, thinking that he hadn’t eaten since they passed Altair. They could pull this off yet.

Cthulhu swallowed. “All right,” he said, looking a bit queasy. “Let’s do lunch.”

 

This story was awarded first place in a Quick Write competition at JerseyDevilCon in April 2003. The judges were Edward Carmien, Tony DiGerolamo, Michael D. Pederson, Tony Ruggiero, and Susan C. Stone.

 

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