The Parsnip Of Cthulhu
"It's a parsnip," said Bob.
He prodded it with his fore-finger. There was no doubt as to his assessment. This was a parsnip, freshly dug, soil still clinging to it.
"You have no sense of perspective," said his flat-mate, Jim. "This is not just any parsnip, it's an inhuman monster!"
"Well, obviously it's inhuman. It's a bleeding parsnip. But look at it - it's forking everywhere. You probably let the soil get too dry."
"How would you know?"
"My old man used to grow 'em for shows. Used to spend half the weekend filling plastic pipes with soil he'd sieved five times. All in the hopes of getting a cup in a show. Not that he ever won a sausage."
Jim digested this for a moment, and said, "OK, maybe I did let the soil get a bit dry, but there was a drought. That's not the point. It's got to weigh five pounds."
"Maybe, but by the time you've peeled it, you'll be lucky to get half that."
"Look, I'm going to get it cleaned up. I reckon once it's clean, it'll look a whole lot different."
Bob shrugged and slumped in front of the TV, while Jim took the parsnip to the sink. It was a lot of work getting rid of the clay soil, as he didn't want to break off any of the precious tangle of roots. Twenty minutes and ten gallons of water later, he finished the task.
He regarded the result. His initial weight estimate had proved rather optimistic, but it was still a beast. It didn't have the idealised carrot shape of the parsnips in Asda; instead there was a short, stubby globe sprouting myriad rootlets, like white tentacles, still glistening with water.
"Yep, well forked," he said to himself.
He turned it upside-down. Now it really did look like a monster. He held it in front of his face, crown towards his mouth, and looked at his reflection in the window, and grinned.
Parsnip still held in front of his mouth, he jumped between Bob and the telly. Crouching and gurning, he cried, "In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming!"
"Get out the way, you pillock," said Bob.
"Oh, come on!"
"Well, if you enter it in the local show, you might win a tenner. For the ugliest vegetable."
Jim lowered the parsnip, and spread his arms. "You think I have no ambition?"
"What do you expect? Yeah, it's big, but that's all you can say for it."
"This is not just any parsnip - this is the Parsnip of Cthulhu!"
"Look, there's only two reasons to grow parsnips. You either eat them, or you show them. That one's no good for either." Bob flicked the remote at the TV, turning it off. "And, if you want to eat parsnips, it's a sight easier and cheaper to get them from the shop."
"So you're saying I should bin it? Just toss one of the Great Old Ones in the trash?"
"Stick it on the great, sunken continent of Mu, if you like. It won't make it any better."
"Didn't know you'd read Lovecraft."
Bob raised an eyebrow.
"Anyway," continued Jim, "People will worship this parsnip!"
"I tell you, with this parsnip, I could start a temple, and people would come and worship it. They would see it, and be amazed, those who kept their sanity."
"If they worshipped that, they'd have already lost their sanity."
"Then it will be even easier to persuade them to part with some cash."
"I'm going to start a cult. The cult of the Parsnip of Cthulhu. People will come from far and wide to worship it, and swear never to eat parsnips again. Grocers will have to take the parsnips from their shelves to avoid the wrath of Cthulhu. Those who grow parsnips will never again be allowed to grow them in tubes, but instead let them fork, according to the unnatural whims of the Great Dreamer!"
Bob twisted onto one hip, so he could shove a hand into the pocket of his jeans. Pulling out a fiver, he slapped it on the arm of the chair.
"This fiver says you'll never get any bugger to shell out so much as a penny for Cthulhu’s parsnip."
Jim pulled out a fiver of his own, and laid it besides Bob's.
"Ok, I'm impressed," said Bob. He was standing in what had once been a garage, long since disused, that faced onto one of the less reputable streets of Bradford. "How'd you get hold of this place?"
"It belongs to my Uncle. He said I could use it as long as I wanted."
"Does he know what you're doing with it?"
"Oh, yes. I told him the whole story. He's the joker of the family, and a devout atheist. As far as he's concerned, this is pulling a prank on the weak-minded, gullible believers. He loved the idea."
Bob nodded and looked around. It seemed that Jim had gone overboard for the sake of winning a fiver. On close inspection, dirt had been swept into the corners rather than removed, but that wasn't obvious in the low lighting. Rough benches had been fashioned from scaffolding planks set on breeze blocks, four on one side, and five on the other, leaving a crude aisle. At the far end of the aisle, behind a sheet of glass was the Parsnip of Cthulhu. It was upside-down, so the forked and twisted roots stuck in the air, on a sheet of thin ply. The roots glistened and twisted, moving by themselves in random patterns.
"How'd you make the roots move?" asked Bob.
"Put a speaker from my Hi-fi underneath."
"Is that what the sound is?"
"Yeah. You remember that curry we had a couple of days ago? I recorded my guts afterwards. It's playing that at quarter speed."
"And why is it shiny?"
"It seemed to fit. Dunno. Just ideas came into my head."
"No one will come."
"I've put posters up."
"No one will come."
At the end of the night, Bob solemnly placed a fiver in Jim's hand.
"I am amazed," he said.
And it was the truth.
Half a dozen people had attended, while Bob lurked at the back. The people had been a mix of oddballs - a couple of middle aged women in clothing that they probably considered "ethnic"; a wannabe hippy; a mousey-looking girl in a chunky sweater; some old bloke with a wild look in his eye; a business man who appeared to have taken a wrong turn. They had sat there listening to Jim regurgitate Lovecraft, and chanted weird chants that he had made up. All accompanied by the sound of indigestion at quarter speed. Yet they had filled the bowl that had been passed round for the collection.
Jim moved aside his robe - recycled from a fancy dress party he had attended as a Jedi - and stuffed the bet money in his pocket.
"Well, let's see how much there is," he said, turning his attention to the collection bowl.
He counted it up, and, at the bottom of the bowl was a cheque. He showed it to Bob.
"Bloody hell! That's for five hundred quid! What does the rest come to?"
"Fifty-two and some coppers," replied Jim, shaking his head.
"Bet your uncle will be pissing himself over this."
"Oh, yeah. He will."
"So what you going to do now?"
"Same again next week."
"Oh come on, you've won the bet."
"I've got over five hundred quid here!"
"Yeah, and that cheque will be rubber," said Bob, although something in his heart knew that the cheque was good.
"Same again next week, like I said."
The following week, the benches were packed, and the money was doubled.
"Didn't you have the indigestion sounds up a bit high?" asked Bob.
"Nah, same as last week."
"Right at the peak, where you got them all chanting together."
"I didn't change anything. But if this keeps up, I'll need somewhere bigger."
"Come on, there's only so many nutters in Bradford."
A week later, Bob was watching Jim getting ready for another show.
"You know what I said last week? About the indigestion sounds being loud?"
"What? Oh, yeah, that."
"Turns out there was a little earthquake around that time."
"Get them every few years."
"Guess we're starting to wake Cthulhu, then."
"Looks like it's convinced the punters. They're already lining up outside."
Jim peered out the window. "Bloody hell!"
This time, once they had been let in, there were at least ten people standing at the back.
Jim kept to the same routine as last time, but now he was adding to the words Lovecraft had written. It seemed easy, just a formula to follow, and the words appeared in his head as he needed them.
This time, everyone felt the earth move as the chant reached its climax. Enough to make people stagger.
"He's waking! The Great Old One is waking!" screamed someone at the back. Others fell to their knees, and Jim raised his arms, encouraging them to chant louder.
At the end of the show, Bob checked the newsfeed on his phone while Jim counted the cash. This week, Jim had had the foresight to bring an extra bowl for the collection. It was necessary.
"Four point zero", Bob said.
"That earthquake. It was a magnitude four, according to the BBC."
"That's not going to do the numbers any harm."
"How long are you going to keep this up?"
"Until the numbers drop. They will in time. Anyway, sooner or later the Parsnip of Cthulhu is going to start to rot, which will be hard to explain."
"It's looking alright to me. If anything, it looks bigger now."
Jim looked over at the Parsnip of Cthulhu. It did seem bigger. Perhaps that was the secret of great parsnips. Rub them regularly with K-Y jelly.
The old garage was packed, standing room only. Not only were the benches filled, and the space at the back, but all down the sides and the central aisle. At a rough guess, Bob reckoned there were over a hundred people.
"Even Bradford can't have this many weirdoes, surely," he said.
"They've come from Leeds and Halifax as well," said Jim.
"Yeah, I overheard some of them. Anyway, it's show time."
Jim had left plagiarism of Lovecraft behind now. He hadn't prepared what to say; the words tumbled naturally from his lips, as if they had been waiting to be said for many, many years. They were heavy on sibilants, and oozed forth. The air, hot and humid from so many bodies almost seemed solid. Panting slightly, Bob decided that he'd better get outside before he fainted. He wasn't sure why he'd bothered to keep coming to these shows since he'd lost the bet. Perhaps just for the spectacle. He didn't know.
As he slipped out the side door, his vision seemed to flick, with strange shapes visible from the corner of his eye. He turned, but saw nothing. There was a purplish tinge to his sight, and he decided he'd got out just in time. That place wasn't one to faint in. The whackos in there would probable sacrifice him to the parsnip or something. He chuckled as the chanting started, but then stopped.
"I don't believe it," he muttered.
The ground under his feet was trembling. But that was impossible. Earthquakes on successive weeks? At the same time that Jim got his loonies chanting? No way!
But the trembling got stronger as the chant got louder. Across the road, a couple of tiles slid off a roof. Trying to remember what he had heard from the documentary channels on telly, he moved away from the old garage, heading for open space. From here, he could see down into the bowl of Bradford. More tiles fell. A car alarm went off, followed by another and another. He was staggering, barely keeping his feet.
A deep, sub-bass rumble, felt not heard, suffused the trembling. A massive crack, and a continuous roll of thunder began as the centre of Bradford crumbled into dust, yet the noise grew louder. A vile stench filled the air, reeking of sewer gas and rotted fish.
Behind him, the chanting continued.
Then he fell to his hands and knees, gibbering in mindless fear as a tentacle of incomprehensible size wormed its way from the wreck of Millennium Square. It was followed by another, and another. The final thing Bob ever saw, before his neurones collapsed under the psychic assault was the head of Cthulhu rising from the ruins of Bradford.
The Dreamer had awoken.
 Lovecraft, HP. (1928) “The Call of Cthulhu”. Weird Tales Volume XI Number 2.