Heart of a God by Sam Carter
Of all the flatmates with whom I’ve shared a house, I have to admit that the ancient alien God Dread Cthulhu, despite being an unspeakable, cephalopoid horror from the darkest abysses of the ocean, was not the worst. Not by quite a long way, in fact.
Oh, I’m not making any extravagant claims for the guy – well, not “guy” exactly, but … in fact, maybe we should leave it at “guy”. I’m not saying he brought me breakfast in bed every morning or saved us from a fire or anything like that, but the fact remains that he was tidy, and pretty quiet most of the time; he kept himself to himself, didn’t hog the bathroom and always paid his rent on the nail. Basically, I’ve lived with a lot worse.
People sometimes wonder how me and Ned got Cthulhu as a roommate; the answer is, of course, Craigslist. After Martin moved out to his girlfriend’s there was space for a new roomie, and neither of us really knew anyone we actually wanted to live with – we were in that kind of crowd: “nice place to visit” people. Besides, we were both lazy, and, at the time, single, which meant that Ned wanted a girl to move in and I wanted a guy. So Ned put the apartment on Craigslist and by noon the next day we had a dozen replies. “Let Fate decide,” he said. We weeded out the obvious crazies, felons and students, and that left us with the non-obvious ones: five of them.
After Candidate (and also, coincidentally, Beer) Number Four we were both getting pretty worried. “Just call me Jimmy” wore shades throughout the interview, and didn’t seem to want to tell us what he did for a living, or even his last name. He was twitchy and smelled like a butcher’s shop. He was the best so far. Ned turned and looked at me in despair as the door slammed behind Jimmy, his sinister sign-off “Look forward to hearing from you, yeah?” echoing in our ears.
“What about the woman in the onesie?” Ned asked desperately.
I raised my eyebrows in disbelief. “The onesie and the wig, you mean?”
“Yes. Not even a nice expensive one. It was a nylon Wal-Mart wig, couldn’t you tell?”
He yawned. “I’m not wearing my contact lenses.”
I wished I’d thought of that. “Yeah, well, trust me: she’s either the most extreme hipster I’ve ever seen or just plain insane. So she’s a no from me.”
Ned frowned. “Don’t judge a book by its … onesie.”
“What else have we got to go on?”
He leaned over and peered at my list. “Oh well, last one. How do you pronounce that name?”
“Ker-thoo-loo, I think?”
Ned shrugged. “Sounds European,” he said. “At least he won’t mind me watching the soccer.”
There were some initial misunderstandings: Cthulhu doesn’t exactly speak English, you just sort of hear the meaning of his strangled sounds in your head, which can be confusing at first. When he said he came from “R’lyeh” I thought he meant Raleigh, North Carolina, and started talking about my aunt who lived there. Cthulhu explained politely that R’lyeh was a nightmare corpse-city drowned beneath the South Pacific Ocean. He added that it had been built in measureless eons behind history by the vast, loathsome shapes that seeped down from the dark stars, but the time comes when you just have to move to New York.
Ned and I nodded understandingly. “Feel you, bro,” said Ned, “I’m from Idaho myself.”
Cthulhu asked if it was OK to have cultists and worshippers over occasionally, and we said that was fine, but any mess would have to be cleared up by morning. He bowed his dripping, tentacled head as if to say “that’s reasonable”.
Long story short, Cthulhu was the best person (or thing) we’d seen by far, and we got a good vibe off him, so we offered him the room. He was quite reserved and a little gruff, but he had the deposit and no criminal record and could move in next week, and that was all we needed, really.
We all got along pretty well together until Ned’s birthday party, a few months after Cthulhu moved in. The cultists weren’t a problem at all: in fact, they were delightful. They made themselves useful handing out drinks at the party, and Cthulhu just wedged himself into a corner of the kitchen chanting under his breath and exuding a dark, fishy reek as usual – all our friends were used to him by now.
No, it was Susie who caused the real trouble. Susie, Ned’s ex-girlfriend and now self-styled “friend”, who saw me and Ned making out on the balcony and completely lost her shit, even though she had both cheated on and then dumped Ned. Beautiful, horrible Susie.
She flounced round at nine the next morning to “collect the rest of my stuff” (i.e. catch us in bed) and yes, OK, we shouldn’t have ignored the doorbell and left Cthulhu to deal with her, but in our defence we were hungover and naked. We felt guilty relief when we heard his slow, shuffling squelch in the hall, and the creak of the front door opening. This was followed by the sound of CDs clattering into a bag, coffee being made, and lots of muffled sobbing and whining from Susie, with the odd growl or rumble of sympathy from our roommate. Susie followed this with gushing references to Cthulhu being “an amazing listener” and “so much nicer than Ned”. She knew perfectly well that Ned’s bedroom shared a wall with the kitchen.
Basically, poor Cthulhu (who as a chthonic Elder God should have known better, and despite possessing all the eldritch powers of a Great Old One) fell for Susie, hard. She started to come round a lot, which was pretty awkward; not just for Ned and me, but for the cultists too. Of course Cthulhu had had girls round before – sacrificial votaries mostly – but they were never there in the morning and it was never anyone we knew. This was different. For one thing, instead of letting his worshippers slaughter Susie and offer him up her steaming corpse, which frankly would have been preferable, he sent them home and stayed up till all hours playing Ben Folds Five and talking to her about … well, I have no idea. About Susie, presumably; Ned, possibly, and “feelings”, definitely. She wasso obviously leading him on and using him as a shoulder to cry on and trying to get back at Ned and me at the same time! But Cthulhu, poor innocent dupe that he was, just couldn’t see that she was totally using him.
He really had it bad. Gone was the usual talk of necrophagous sea-beasts and misshapen, darkling sleepers in the restless earth; it was all Susie, Susie, Susie, now. Ned tried to warn him, man to thing, you know, that she was a real heartbreaker, but Cthulhu insisted that Ned just hadn’t been meeting her emotional needs. He started grooming his stubby, malformed wings and rinsing his tentacles after every meal. The day Susie bought him some Cool Water aftershave by Davidoff was the happiest of his life. He said she’d said it reminded her of him. I thought Dead Octopus would have been more like it, but I zipped my lip; if he was happy, who was I to rain on his parade. So I kept schtum. At least, until he decided to ask her out on Valentine’s Day.
We could have told him it would end badly: in fact, we did, several times. But it was as if he had his tentacles in his ears. All those aeons of dreadful slumber, and he finally thought he’d met The One. It was pretty bad for me and Ned, having to listen to Susie make lame excuses through the wall, as both of them sat at the kitchen table stirring unwanted cups of coffee. “I’m just not in a relationship place right now, honey …” Ned grimaced in recognition when he heard that one. She’d evidently guessed something was going on when she smelled the overpowering stench of Cool Water, and had wisely refused to go into Cthulhu’s room.
But the worst thing was listening to what sounded like Cthulhu devouring her whole, with lots of burbling and slavering, only to hear Susie shut the front door and realise that this hideous, ravening cacophony was the sound of a Deep One crying.
He left the next day. We were genuinely sorry to see him go, me and Ned, though to be honest it probably was time we got an apartment of our own – Cthulhu had been a third wheel for a while. He didn’t even ask for his deposit back: he said we could keep it to cover his share of the cable bills: apparently he’d been homesick, and watching a lot of Blue Planet.
I caught at one of his scaly limbs as he hesitated on the doorstep, managing something between a handshake and a hug.
“She didn’t deserve you anyway,” I said, awkwardly. “You’re a great … guy, Cthulhu. Way too good for Susie.” It was kind of a cliché, but like a lot of clichés it had the virtue of being true.
“Where will you go now, dude?” asked Ned, his arm round me.
Cthulhu shrugged his drooping grey-green wings. Home to R’lyeh, he supposed. Maybe visit some friends in Innsmouth on the way.
“Good plan,” said Ned, clapping what was probably a shoulder, “Get some surfing in. Bros before hos, right?”
I slapped him to shut him up. “Safe journey, OK? See you around.”
Cthulhu reckoned that was unlikely, but he did ask us to pass on a Valentine’s card he hadn’t managed to give Susie that night. He made us promise to get it to her, and there was a definite psychic threat-image of being torn limb from limb by giant squid if we didn’t, so of course we agreed.
I have to admit I peeked inside to see what it said: "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn". This didn’t mean much to me until I ran it through GoogleTranslate:
"In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming"
Which I think is really sweet.
© Sam Carter 2013
Sam Carter is a reviewer and long-term student who has lived all round the world (currently in London, UK). Sam has had stories performed at Liars' League London, and other work has appeared or is forthcoming in anthologies from Leicester University and Arachne Press.
Heart of a God was read by Alexandra Gray for the Heroes & Villains Show on 1st May 2013