The Trials of Zkauba: Diligent and Disastrous

Submitted into Contest #103 in response to: Write a story about someone who starts noticing the same object or phrase wherever they go.... view prompt

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Fantasy Friendship Science Fiction

The Trials of Zkauba: Diligent and Disastrous

Can’t Get You Out of My Head

5 December 1932

The Yaddithian wizard Zkauba was beyond tired of sharing his headspace with the Earthman Randolph Carter. The rogue had hijacked his mind back on Yaddith, eons before Earth even existed. Carter caused the downfall of Zkauba’s homeworld, for his presence interfered with the wizard’s abilities in casting spells to keep the Bholes at bay.

Zkauba had been wrestling with the invader for control over his own psyche for countless millennia. Carter gained the upper hand when he discovered a drug that could keep Zkauba dormant. But he had run out of that potion, and Zkauba was more determined than ever to regain control of his body.

Zkauba scuttled down an alley in a rough Boston neighborhood, his bipedal insectoid body covered by a heavy overcoat and his rugose, birdlike, snouted head hidden under a wide-brimmed hat. He gulped down whiskey and nibbled a vegetable roll given to him by Sato Florence, a friendly fellow of Japanese and Italian extraction whose humble restaurant hid a distillery below.

Florence seemed to believe that Zkauba was a Polish immigrant and Zkauba said nothing to correct this impression. He helped Florence in the distillery in exchange for food, alcohol, and a bit of money. Carter did not appreciate these side activities of Zkauba’s, but Zkauba really did not care what Carter thought.

Drinking Sato Florence’s powerful spirits quieted Carter. If only Zkauba could find a way to be permanently rid of the Earthman, he could live out his days in peace, even if it were necessary to remain on Earth.

As Zkauba scuttled and ruminated and quieted Carter with gulps of Sato’s heady nepenthe, he saw an odd bit of graffiti painted on the back wall of one of the tenements.

NYARLATHOTEP IS DILIGENT AND DISASTROUS.

The message so startled Zkauba that he almost became sober. He quickly scurried back to his own apartment and wrote it down, then took one of his many tomes from the shelf. Being a well-versed scholar of arcane magick, he knew full well who and what Nyarlathotep was. He knew that it was unwise to contact Nyarlathotep unless one was prepared to pay a high price.

Zkauba had always been a sensible, cautious, law-abiding fellow until Randolph Carter hijacked his mind. Now he drank strong alcoholic beverages daily and often visited opium dens. He robbed druggists for sleeping pills and powders as well as whatever money he could find.

“It is time for this debauchery to come to an end,” Zkauba declared.

A Bottle of Hope Sat on the Shelf

Zkauba took a draught of dream elixir from his pantry and gulped it down. He shuffled over to the dilapidated mattress in the corner of the main room and lay down, pulling a comforter that he had found in a garbage bin behind some luxury apartments over himself. He was well pleased, for his body was inebriated enough that Carter would have a difficult time controlling it.

Zkauba easily descended the seventy-seven stairs of lighter slumber. He paused for a brief chat with Nasht and Kaman-Thah, the venerable priests who dwelt eternally in the Cavern of Flame. The Yaddithian wizard felt positively exhilarated when he beheld the words among the bas reliefs of Earth deities carved on the cavern walls.

NYARLATHOTEP IS DILIGENT AND DISASTROUS.

Zkauba was well-known to the priests, so there was no reason to detain him as they would a new dreamer. They exchanged pleasantries, then bid him a good journey as he prepared for his descent down the Seven Hundred Stairs of Deeper Slumber.

Zkauba emerged from a door in a great tree in the middle of the Enchanted Wood. He hopped down the main path with great jubilation. He could hear sounds of scurrying in the underbrush to either side of the path, but he kept moving forward. If Zkauba’s race had any songs of celebration, he would have sung one of them.

The only song that Zkauba could think of was “All of Me,” so he sang it to himself as he hopped along. To his delight, a group of Zoogs began following him, singing in harmony.

Yes, all of me, why not take all of me, baby?

Yes, can't you see, I'm no good without you?

Take my arms, I'll never use them.

Take my lips, I want to lose them.

Zkauba chuckled, thinking that humans were dreadfully silly with their obsession with romantic involvement. His people were a long-lived, oviparous race who seldom mated, and when they did, the pairing was selected on a pragmatic basis. The offspring were primarily raised in a communal setting by specialized instructors.

“Do you know, my friends, that my race was at war for eons, and everything we did was centered around defense?” Zkauba inquired of the Zoogs. “You are fortunate that you are able to raise your families here in this splendid wood. Now, Old Zkauba has not forgotten that you enjoy a good treat for your services. See here, I managed to obtain one of the long, yellow fruits that you so enjoy. A Nabana is yours, whether or not you can point me in the direction of Nyarlathotep.”

“When last I saw him, he said he was on his way to the Doom Tavern in Dylath Leen,” reported Qwinwan Cherryglide, extending a sharp claw to peel the banana. “Best of luck, Friend!”

Splitting Wood and Honking Geese

As he hopped down the path to Dylath Leen, Zkauba came to the bridge over the River Skai near the villages of Nir and Ulthar. He felt sure that he was on the right track when he saw the words painted on the bridge.

NYARLATHOTEP IS DILIGENT AND DISASTROUS.

“It is my fate to meet Nyarlathotep tonight,” Zkauba mused as he listened to the sounds of splitting wood and honking geese from the nearby farms. “I would never summon him, save for the direst of emergencies. Truly it feels less like I am summoning him than it does like he is summoning me. Surely it must be himself or one of his agents leaving this graffiti. Do I fear what the Cosmic Trickster has in store for me? There is a modicum of trepidation, but anything is better than being stuck with that fool Carter in my head for the remainder of eternity!”

“Hi-ho, Friend! May I join you?”

Zkauba looked behind him to see a middle-aged man of Middle Eastern extraction clad in a snappy, broad-shouldered indigo suit with a wide-brimmed hat.

“Certainly,” Zkauba replied agreeably. “I am on my way to Dylath Leen. I would offer you a Nabana, but I gave mine to the Zoogs back in the enchanted wood.”

“A wise choice. A well-treated Zoog will treat you well, I always say. Would you care for a lemon drop? It isn’t quite as filling as a Nabana, but it is a treat for the palate. I am Egumonar Enorune, by the way. Some of my friends call me The Yaro Plant.”

“An interesting name. I would suppose from your heritage that this must be a hardy plant of the desert. You must be resilient, like me. I am Zkauba, the last survivor of Yaddith.”

“A difficult position to find oneself in. Alas, there is always such guilt that accompanies those who survive. We wonder, why us? Do not let it trouble you, Friend Zkauba. Surely the Cosmos must have a great purpose for you. Now, unless your mission is a secret one, perhaps I can help, if you care to tell me any part of your tale.”

“I sense that you are a wizard.”

“It takes one to know one,” Egumonar Enorune replied with a grin. “We are wizards together, and we shall stick together for as long as the Fates intend us to. I sense that you are meeting someone in Dylath Leen, for you move with purpose in that direction.”

“I am indeed. Have you perchance heard of Nyarlathotep?”

“The Cosmic Trickster. Ah, yes. It is a useless wizard that I’d be if I had not. What business have you with the Son of Azathoth?”

“I’d prefer to have no business with him, but my situation is dire. My mind must remain my own!”

Villages and Voyagers

As they traveled the path along the River Skai, Zkauba and Egumonar passed several nameless villages that faded so quickly into the shadows that one wondered if they were perhaps shadows themselves. When they approached the second bridge, they saw that it had been marked by the now-familiar phrase.

NYARLATHOTEP IS DILIGENT AND DISASTROUS.

“Where is your meeting to take place?” Egumonar inquired.

“The Doom Tavern, I believe,” Zkauba replied. “At least that’s where one of the Zoogs believed that Nyarlathotep was heading. It’s as good a place to start as any, I suppose.”

“Agreed. Do you mind if I accompany you?”

“Not at all. You know, when I started this journey, I thought that I would be perfectly happy never to encounter another soul along the way. Having Carter usurp my consciousness for millennium upon millennium has been torture. He is an insufferable ass, quite convinced of his own superiority. He believed that he would be able to outwit even the mighty Yog-Sothoth. Why he ended up in my head, I know not. I am no-one remarkable. I was but a common rank and file wizard crafting spells to defend my world from the Bholes. Alas, the Bholes are all that is left of Yaddith, and I am one of the few surviving representatives of my people.”

“I understand your pain. My daughter is all that is left of Zaïs. I was not native to that delightful world, but it became my one true home. Alas, when you have a history such as mine, you are bound to have enemies, including your own relatives.”

“I had no particular enemies until Carter came along,” Zkauba lamented. “I had no offspring, for I am not a top-tier specimen. I am a rather ordinary representative of my species. If I may pay you a compliment, you are quite a fine example of humanoid excellence.”

“Your praise is appreciated,” Egumonar said with a deferential smile and a slight tip of his wide-brimmed hat. “Zkauba, I believe that you are too self-deprecating. You may not have stood out, but many excellent individuals do not. You have a bright, inquisitive mind. You wanted more for yourself and your world than fighting the aggressive worm-like creatures that tunneled through the planet. Had you been but the dullard that you believe yourself to be, Carter never would have been drawn to you. Being charismatic has its downsides. Not having been taught to repel psychic invaders, you were swimming against the tide when it came to staving off the likes of Carter.”

“I found the dreams he brought with him interesting at first,” Zkauba confessed. “They were a diversion from the routine I had been following ever since I became an adept. But all too soon, the dreams became nightmares, disrupting my ability to defend my world. Alas, I fear I caused the downfall of Yaddith. Perhaps I deserve to be stuck with Carter for eternity as punishment.”

“Nonsense, my friend, you must not give up hope!” Egumonar admonished.

Gibberish Gents and Dog-Eared Doohickies

When the pair arrived in Dylath Leen, one of the first things they beheld was graffiti on the filthy wall of an ill-reputed flophouse.

NYARLATHOTEP IS DILIGENT AND DISASTROUS.

Beneath the words lay an unconscious Man from Leng, who had evidently been beaten and robbed. Zkauba shuddered as he and Egumonar approached the man.

“Should we summon a constable?” Zkauba wondered.

Zkauba hopped to the side, startled by the touch of a barefoot beggar in tattered clothing.

“Ain’t no constable can constantly be alert to crime in a city where crime never sleeps, me golden dove,” the filthy fellow tittered. “Ye’ll find no finer place than Dylath Leen for sights unseen. I’d sell ye dog-eared doohickies aplenty if I had me any.”

Egumonar tossed the fellow a coin and he scurried away, to Zkauba’s relief.

“This city is filled with gibberish gents and dog-eared doohickies,” Egumonar remarked. He touched his hand to the face of the Man from Leng. Warm golden light emanated from his palms. As the man’s eyes fluttered open, he smiled reverently at his rescuer.

“Good Master, I am filled with joy to see you,” the Man from Leng proclaimed. “When those ruffians attacked me and stole my purse and my wares, I was sure I was done. I have had an epiphany, Sir. Would you like to hear?”

“I am all ears, as they say,” Egumonar replied.

“Nay, Sirrah, on the scale of things, you have rather small ears,” the Man from Leng chuckled, pushing back Egumonar’s long black hair to reveal his ears. “Me, I am blessed with large lobes. I shall have to craft new earrings with which to adorn them. Ah, yes, my epiphany. As I slid beneath the dark waves of unconsciousness, I realized the error of my ways. I shall no longer trade slaves to the loathsome moon-beasts. It is you that I have to thank for this revelation, truly.”

“I am pleased to hear it. Tell me, Nak, what do you intend to do with your time?”

“I am done with all things vainglorious, my Lord. From this day forward, I intend to spread cheer. I will trade in interesting memorabilia from various lands to bring joy to those in other lands at a fair price. Knowledge begets kindness shall be my new motto. If it please you, Sir, look in on me from time to time, and I will have splendid gifts for you and your daughter.”

“Your change of heart is gift enough,” Egumonar reassured the smiling chap, handing him a small purse. “Here is coin enough to purchase a meal and a room for the night. On the morrow, head to the stables of Kolgad on Onqrix Lane and purchase a horse and cart. Give the stablemaster this paper to ensure that he will not attempt to overcharge you. This will leave you enough coin to purchase supplies for the journey to Parg, where your discerning eye will surely discover unique treasures and your companionable personality will forge you new friendships. Good luck to you.”

Treading lightly

“Dear Egumonar, that was most kind of you,” Zkauba praised. “I am pleased that you have been with me for this journey. Your warm and giving spirit fills me with the courage I need to complete my quest.”

“The quest to meet Nyarlathotep,” Egumonar reiterated.

“Yes, that. I assume he must be in the Doom Tavern, as foretold by the writing on the wall just behind you.”

“I might assume that he is closer than that. The Doom Tavern is loud and full of louts. We wouldn’t be able to hear ourselves think. Tell me, Zkauba, what gives you such trepidation about meeting Nyarlathotep?”

“Well, as I say, it is written on the wall. Nyarlathotep is diligent and disastrous.”

“He is both of those things,” Egumonar agreed. “However, he was also created as a force of balance and reason.”

“You seem to be well-acquainted with the subject.”

“I know him better than anyone,” the wizard replied with a smile, a shrug, and a cheeky chuckle.

Zkauba dropped to his knees, reverently gripping Nyarlathotep’s graceful, long-fingered hand between his talons.

“Master, I am so gratified that you accompanied me on my quest. I could not have asked for a more pleasant companion. I hope that I have proven worthy of your assistance. I am not asking for wealth or power, or anything save to be restored to the position of master over my own destiny. I beg of you, sever the mind of Randolph Carter permanently from my own, and I will do anything you ask.”

“Good Zkauba, you have proven yourself more than worthy. I think you will not find my request a terribly difficult one to fulfill. Simply allow Carter to enact his plan to attend the reading of his will at the home of the attorney Etienne-Laurent de Marigny in New Orleans in the guise of Swami Chandraputra. Allow him to believe that he has gained the upper hand.

“In the sitting room of Monsieur de Marigny, you will see a unique oblong clock. This clock contains a gate. At the earliest sensible opportunity, enter the gate. At that point, you and Carter will be separated forever. He will be a disembodied entity floating through space and time. Thereafter, you will meet me at the base of the Peaks of Thok and give me the silver key. Is this acceptable?”

“More than,” Zkauba declared exuberantly. “The key will be yours in short order, Master.”

Acknowledgments

The Yaddithian wizard Zkauba is the creation of H.P. Lovecraft and E. Hoffman Price, appearing in their story “Through the Gates of the Silver Key,” first publication Weird Tales, July 1934.

Randolph Carter is the creation of H.P. Lovecraft. He initially appeared in the story “The Statement of Randolph Carter,” first publication The Vagrant, May 1920.

“All of Me” is a jazz standard written by Gerald Marks and Seymour Simons in 1931 and performed by various artists.

Prompts Used

Putting my Feet in the Dirt

http://puttingmyfeetinthedirt.com

Reedsy

https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/

Submitted to the Write a story about someone who starts noticing the same object or phrase wherever they go prompt on 20 July 2021.

July 20, 2021 21:10

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