The organism appears unrelated to previously discovered species, therefore we named it Halofractal cthulhu.
—Inkeri Kontro, “Cthulhu of the Dead Sea” in She Walks In Shadows (2015) 205
In 1994, a species of spider was dubbed Pimoa cthulhu; in 2005 a moth was given the scientific name Speiredonia cthulhui. A pair of microorganisms in wood termites were named Cthulhu macrofasciculumque and Cthylla microfasciculumque in 2013, and just recently in 2019, an extinct echinoderm was declared Sollasina cthulhu.
Scientists are horror fans too.
While the impetus of Inkeri Kontro’s “Cthulhu of the Dead Sea” is a tongue-in-cheek rip from the headlines, the story as it develops is much more serious. Hardcore science fiction, all the Lovecraftian jokes slowly disappearing against a much more monstrously plausible reality.
Fans used to pastiche and supernatural explanations might be a little put-off by the lack of Necronomicons and old familiar names, but that is the essential appeal of the story: this isn’t about “What if Cthulhu was real?” in the traditional sense of “What if Lovecraft’s fiction were real history?”
Instead, we are left to contemplate simpler facts and their implications. Halofractal cthulhu is a microorganism, not a mountain that walked or stumbled. Yet the conclusions are mountainous, and monstrous….even as the outcome is tragic. It is a rare story that attempts something like that, much less succeeds. Yet “Cthulhu of the Dead Sea” certainly achieves everything it aims for.
Inkeri Kontro is a postdoctoral researcher in material physics at the University of Helsinki. Every character and detail of the story reflects true; even the muttered perkele when the Finnish Anna, visiting with her Danish colleagues in Copenhagen, feels honest. These are the people you meet at these conferences, this is how these honest Scandinavian nerds would feel and react to such a person, to such a discovery.
In another writer’s hands, more attention might be placed on Anna. We don’t get her full background, even her full name. Hints of a personality—parents watching her cat back home, trouble sleeping in this foreign country where everyone speaks Danish and has to remember to speak English when she appears—but the lack of detail works here. Ambiguity remains, long into the story, especially with Anna’s dreams. The initiated reader is left always wondering when the turn is going to come, when is Cthulhu, the big C, going to step on the page…
They won’t be disappointed when cthulhu finally makes its big splash instead.
“Cthulhu and the Dead Sea” was first published in She Walks In Shadows (2015) and its American paperback release Cthulhu’s Daughters (2016). It has not been reprinted.
Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).