CHAPTER ONE - The Hut on the Marsh
To comprehend a Shoggoth, you must sit with three images.
The first image is of a young child, alone on a stone beach.
As they examine the impromptu ecosystem that inhabits this rock pool, they lose their balance and fall. Their tender flesh is split open on a jagged rock and their blood merges with the salty water and forever transforms the biome for the newts, shrimps and crustaceans lying within.
The child knows a new kind of pain for the first time, clambering to their feet and grasping at slimy stone. But more resoundingly, they know fear too, as they realise their parents are not on the beach and quite possibly never were.
The child cries out.
The second image is of a dying sun, far out in the recesses of space.
The star itself is smaller than the moon that orbits planet Earth, but it is no less essential to the crystal denizens of the nearest planet than their sun is to them. As the star contorts and turns supernova, the citizens in the glass citadels splinter and shatter into pieces, though they do not fear.
Change is the only constant in the universe. They know this and are grateful for the time they had without feeling the need to grasp for more.
Their empire ends. We continue.
The third image is of a caterpillar crystallised in its cocoon.
Cycles repeat in the smallest of kingdoms as they do on the vastest of planets - and the insect readies itself for transformation.
The process is natural and instinctive. The Caterpillar is never consciously aware that to complete its metamorphosis it must completely dissolve and return to the primordial ooze from whence it came.
Its body splits open and the insect would feel immense pain and terror had its nerve endings not already become something else.
The caterpillar changes. We have finished.
Consider these three images, as if one were placed over another like slides in a cosmic projector screen. This way, an understanding can begin to be discerned of what exactly it was that was hiding in the hut on the marsh that one Autumn in the island city of Kingsport.
The people in Kingsport knew the hut quite well. It was only slightly off the beaten trail so many passed it on their weekend excursions to the marshes or taking a shortcut home from school. However, while many claimed to know people who had explored the hut and stepped inside its old walls, none would in all seriousness claim they had been brave enough themselves – those who did were often met with ridicule. Perhaps because of this, the Hut was fertile ground to serve as the subject of ghost stories and dark rumours, passed down and mutated across one generation to the next.
This was where Mad Bess killed herself, one of the stories said. You can still hear her ghost cry in the area surrounding it. While it was true that the hut was where young Elizabeth Cassidy took her own life, the cries from that building which are often attributed to her do not come from her ghost, despite the insistence stories. The actuality was much stranger and far more sinister.
Ghosts, monsters and demons. Each time a story was told, it would warp slightly further from the truth, had there been any truth there to begin with.
It was notable then, that as the arrival of Rae Armitage and the powers behind her came closer, the stories ceased being told. Those legends were no longer told proudly in changing rooms or mocked in pubs - the stories simply stopped, perhaps because somehow the people knew a novel tale was imminent.
It’s not that there was a change in the air, but a change in the psyche of the town. While it had always been troubled by the presence of the uncanny, the increase in shared nightmares and unease that permeated the streets had left the locals tired and irksome, though no one would quite be able to tell you why.
Jackson Moore could though.
He had been waiting near the newsagents for nearly fifteen minutes now and not a single grown-up had come past whom he could ask to buy him cigarettes. He’d nearly jumped out to attract the attention of an adult on the other side of the street but at the last second had recognised him as a friend of his fathers who wouldn’t think twice about giving him a clip round the ear for bunking off school.
It’s not that he didn’t like school. The truth was that it could be quite fun. What none of his other classmates realised was that there were millions of different ways to get out of doing the classwork, and then you had all the time in the world left to have a laugh with your boys. For Jackson, it was the fact he was fundamentally, morally opposed to it. It was a failing of society that it was deemed acceptable, let alone essential, to contain kids in a building all day and to only allow them to play footie for forty minutes - thirty by the time you had eaten lunch. It was the principle of the thing.
Besides, no one seemed into laughing much these days.
“Oi, miss!” Jackson jumped out, waving to grab the attention of the woman about to enter the newsagents. She stopped with a hand on the door and looked over to him, raising one eyebrow at the sight of a scruffy, chubby fourteen-year-old climbing out from behind a bush.
Jackson faltered as he brushed off some branches his shirt and forgot what he was going to ask. The lady had tired eyes and though her black facemask and tangle of shoulder-length dark hair hid most of her features she was obviously going to be fit.
Jackson hadn’t expected her to be bit.
“Hello,” the lady began, placing her well-travelled hold-all bag on the step and moving towards him. “Do all the kids hide in bushes here, or just the ones skipping school?”
Jackson was indignant. He knew how to be indignant. He was excellent at being indignant.
“How do you know I’m bunking?” He made sure his mouth hung open and feigned an offended expression, as if the mere suggestion of misdemeanour was inconceivable to him. The lady pulled her facemask down under her chin and offered a sly grin at his expense.
Jackson knew it; she was fit.
“Because you’re in school uniform.” She answered, patiently. “And it’s eleven o’clock on a Tuesday.”
His mouth bobbed open for a moment, a fish catching air. He wasn’t an idiot, he wanted to tell her. He was mature for his age and he knew how things worked. Jackson pointed to her facemask.
“You know you don’t have to wear those anymore.”
With one last smile, she pulled the mask back over her face and Jackson felt his heart break, just a little.
“I was wearing these before it was cool. What do you want?”
“Cigarettes.” Jackson said quickly, then making a point to make his voice sound a bit gruffer added, “I left my ID at home.”
The lady’s eyebrow arched again, and she glanced around. No one was about.
“You got cash?” She asked him. Jackson pulled out a crumpled five-pound note from his pocket and held it out to her. She paused, considering for one more moment and took it from him.
“I just got here. Do you know this place?” Jackson nodded. She nodded and turned to the shop, picking up her bag. “Gold. I’m gonna need your help with something.”
“Anything.” Jackson replied, confidently and gave her a thumbs up which he was immediately grateful she didn’t see. He calmed himself down. Sure, everyone else in this city might be getting gloomier and gloomier, but things were looking up for Jackson Moore.
On the other side of the road, he saw the friend of his dad’s striding back towards the newsagents so he dived behind the bush.
“If you were a girl, I could call you Holly.” The lady was looking down at him as Jackson pulled himself to his feet. He cringed as he noticed a prickle-caused tear in his shirt.
She crouched down to search her bag but looked up to give him a quick smile through the mask. Jackson stumbled slightly.
“Hello Jackson, I’m -” she froze for a half second, gaze locked on her bag, “I’m Rae. Nice to meet you.”
“Why did you stop like that?” Jackson asked.
“Like what?” Rae replied - but before he could press, she stood up and thrust a folded-up photo into his hands. “Do you know where this is?”
Jackson took it from her, unfolded it and went cold.
He swallowed, and turned away from her, trying to convey the image of a man in deep thought. Rae crouched back down, exploring her bag.
Of course, he knew where it was. Everyone in Kingsport knew where it was.
He told her this, his voice cracking slightly.
“Brilliant.” Rae stood up, unfolding a large, browned map and showing it to Jackson. It showed Kingsport island, with its surrounding areas - though they had names Jackson didn’t recognise.
“How old is this map?” Jackson asked.
“Not sure,” Rae murmured. “I just found it in the bag.”
Jackson laughed, though he hadn’t got the joke. With a biro he had in his pocket, Jackson drew out a route for Rae - telling her about buses she could catch, being very careful to describe how she could get there.
“You’re a star, Jackson.” Rae said, looking over his directions and rustled his hair. He bat her hand away, more aggressively than he was planning and watched her pack up the map and the photo into her bag. “You should get back to school.” She told him as she turned away.
Dumbfounded, Jackson nodded and watched her walk out of his life as easily as she had walked into it. Then he blinked.
“Hey!” He called. “What about my cigarettes?” and he chased after her.
The thing waiting in the hut stirred and writhed as things like it were often to do.
Notions, images, ideas reverberated through its mind, its mind spread out in fragments across its gelatinous mass.
Though mercifully no one was in the vicinity to hear it, the Shoggoth let out a groan of satisfaction as it flailed.
It had been alone for so long.
Finally, something was coming.