The Song Inside the Star

Creative Works, Fiction

Appears in: Weird Mask (Issue 18 – Cthulhu)

Release Date: May/2019

Summary: A journalist covering a flighty pop star is unnerved by her embrace of an ancient, esoteric religion in this riff on Lovecraft.

You can read the full story below; if you like it, you can order the zine here.


The Song Inside the Star

By Madison McSweeney (C) 


The enclosed files endeavour to shed light on the strange events at the Springfield Bowlerdome on Saturday, May 20th, 2019.

The documents in question are related to a feature article on nineteen-year-old recording artist Caroline Benzen (stage name “Cara”), written by journalist Jim McKibben for SoundHound Magazine. They include Mr. McKibben’s notes and drafts for his article, as well as entries from his personal journal and correspondence between himself, Ms. Benzen, and SoundHound editor Robert (Bob) Holt.

The raw transcripts from the interviews performed by the late Mr. McKibben have yet to be recovered, and the original recordings of said interviews appear to be distorted beyond comprehension.

Email correspondence from Mr. J. McKibben to Mr. R. Holt:



Hey Bob

Sorry for late update. Landed in LA this morning. Flight was okay. Met with Cara over lunch this afternoon, talked to her for about an hour before she had to head to a rehearsal. It wasn’t great but we’re meeting up again tomorrow. Interviewed the mother afterwards, boyfriend tomorrow as well. Getting the stuff transcribed this afternoon.


Excerpt: “Close encounter with Cara” by J. McKibbon – rough draft pt. 1:


Suggested Title: Close encounter with Cara

Suggested sub-title: The teen star enters a new world.

By the time Caroline Benzen, better known to her legions of fans as Cara, arrives fifteen minutes late to one of L.A.’s trendiest eateries, her lunch – a rainbow-coloured dragon roll as long as my hand – is already on the table. It’s a move that could come off as diva-ish. But by the time she flashes that disarming child-star-turned-pop-star smile at you, all is forgiven. This is Cara’s world, after all, and time works differently here.

This celebrity sushi stop, located down the road from Tamaland Studios and a fifteen-minute drive from Cara’s beachside mansion, has been one of the few constants in her whirlwind of a life. The “Sweet Candy” songstress has had a standing reservation here since her time as a pint-sized sitcom standout; the staff are the only people left outside her immediate family who still call her Caroline.

[Insert context – who is Cara? How big is she right now?]

Lunch is idle chit-chat (“Cara doesn’t like to talk business at mealtimes,” the hostess informs me confidentially), but by the time we pile into Cara’s Barbie-pink BMW, she’s waxing poetic about her new album, which she says will mark a new phase in her musical evolution.

“The powers-that-be won’t like it,” she muses, shooting side-eye at her manager in the front seat. “But who’s to say they’ll be in power forever?”

She plays me a sample of “We Are All Her Children,” a new song which she says the label is pushing back on. The cut is rough but intriguing, a startling departure from her bubblegummy (sic?) previous work. Ambient synths are filled out by screeching strings, sounding like a cross between house music and a sixth-grade violin recital, her thin voice quavering overtop. Bubbly lyrics about high school romances and accounts of barely-legal clubbing have been replaced by proggy ramblings on black holes and mysterious beings from other dimensions.

(Note: is “intriguing” really the right word?)

“The label doesn’t get it,” she says earnestly. “I’m telling the truth for the first time in my whole career.”

It’s a statement that sounds absurd until you realize how long the nineteen-year-old has been in the business.

A model since she was in diapers, Cara started auditioning for Disney at the age of eight, and landed a small role on rival network Tamaland’s tween sitcom Trading Tracy two years later. She rose to prominence (really??) in her role as bratty sister Holly Hickock, who became the series’s breakout character and eventually earned her own spinoff, Holly and Ivy.

Even in those days, her family says, Cara’s passion was music.

(Can an eleven-year-old have a passion? Sub out later).

Her mother recalls a young Caroline spending hours behind the family piano, trying to translate hummed compositions into fulsome songs. “She was always hearing music in her head – it was like they pumped melodies from another world straight into her little brain.”

Cara first showed off her pipes on a few episodes of Holly and Ivy, and appeared on the soundtrack album during the show’s third season. The next year saw her true debut, Overshadowed, which sought to remake Benzen as a pop-rocker. Unfortunately, the album’s mix of neon-hued power-chords and Avril-wannabe yelping sounded dated, and it wasn’t until the release of her follow-up (2016’s more dancefloor-friendly Hooks) that Cara truly took off.

Looking back, Cara says that neither of these two albums were “really me,” nor was her 2018 chart-topper Sweet Candy (which she is currently touring in support of). “Those albums were fun and great learning experiences, but they weren’t saying anything that was really important. I think they ended up giving me a reputation for being someone who’s not really paying attention to what goes on outside – which isn’t true, because I’m very informed. I know things a lot of people don’t.”

Email correspondence from J. McKibben to R. Holt


Hey Bob

Complication: I’ve got an interview booked with the boyfriend today, but I’m told they broke up literally yesterday. He hasn’t cancelled on me and I’m tempted to show up anyways. Might get some good quotes out of him.

Let me know if you have any objections.



Some updates –

The boyfriend called. He’s a bit squirrelly but still into the interview, although he may get cold feet. I’ll let you know if I do talk to him.



Bob –

Boyfriend called me back. Doesn’t want to talk anymore. Just said that he and Cara parted over “differences in religion and values.” He wishes her the best, supposedly.

Oh well.

Meeting Cara again over dinner – longer meeting booked, which is good, didn’t get a lot out of her last time.


Excerpt: “Close encounter with Cara” by J. McKibbon – rough draft pt. 2:

Pop stars embracing fad religions is not a new phenomenon. (CITE EXAMPLES) But Cara’s newfound faith seems out-there even by those lofty standards.

Over a lunch of almond beet salad, braised scallops, and, for Cara, a chicken breast that seemed to drip blood (“I’m on a raw foods diet,” she says), Cara regaled me with accounts of incestuous deities, keys to other worlds, goats with a thousand young, and ancient beings asleep in parts of the sea so deep and dark they’ve yet to be mapped by human instruments.

“They used to rule over us,” she asserts. “Well, some of them did, before they went to sleep. But they’re coming back very soon. That’s what the album’s about.”

Beside her, her manager shakes his head. “She’d have a number one album already if she wasn’t so obsessed with this mystic shit,” he tells me as we leave.

Notes: Look up “The Keeper of the Keys”; “Yogg Sotthoth (sp?); “Goat with 1000 Young.”

Email correspondence from J. McKibben to R. Holt:


Hey Bob

Do you have any contacts with expertise in esoteric religions? Cara was saying some far-out shit at dinner today and I want to make sure she’s not in some litigious cult.

Thx, J.

Entry from the private journal of J. McKibben:


I can’t get Cara’s song out of my head. Don’t ask me why – it’s not catchy, and the lyrics are unintelligible. But I’ve been catching myself humming it all night – and even when my mind’s elsewhere, it’s like it’s buzzing in my ears. Maybe she’s got a hit on her hands after all. Probably not, though. She’s not nearly as talented as she thinks she is – and the thing is, she’s too young and naïve to realize that her new groundbreaking persona is just the standard teen idol descent-into-weirdness.

That’s why this article is going to be shit, I can just tell. I have one more chance to get something out of her that isn’t self-promotion or New Age bullshit, but I don’t have high hopes.

Email correspondence from J. McKibben to R. Holt:


Bob –

Wrapped final interview with Cara today. My fucking tape recorder went crazy half-way through and everything after a certain point is garbled, which is annoying. Her manager seemed to have been recording for his own records – going to reach out to him and see if he’ll send me what he has. No problem if not – I have enough.

That said, I may have to go on the road again – she’s apparently convinced her management to let her debut one of her new songs during her next show at the Bowlerdome, and she wants me to be there – insists I have to “witness it” for the feature.

So, article may be a few days past deadline – or we can just go to press with what we have. I don’t feel too strongly about it either way – Cara’s a nice girl and all, but I’m not exactly itching to pretend to enjoy her concert.


Excerpt: “Close encounter with Cara” by J. McKibbon – rough draft pt. 3:


The writing for Cara’s experimental new album started midway through her Sweet Candy tour, currently selling out arenas across North America. It’s a standard pop star show: Cara’s trademark (at least for now) mix of glittery earworms and syrupy electro-ballads, augmented by a constantly shifting stage, dozens of dancers, and enough confetti to choke a horse.

Cara, however, is itching to show off some of her new material on-stage. So far, her management has dissuaded her from that (there’s no telling how teeny bopper audiences will react to ten-minute EDM tracks about goats), but their client has only grown more insistent with time.

“I’m not stupid,” she says, tears welling in her impossibly blue eyes. “They don’t want me to play the songs on this tour – next they’ll say they don’t want me to play them, ever. Just like they’ve been …” [Tape recorder went wonky at this point. Can’t recall what she said exactly. Will see if manager has tape.]

Entry from the private journal of J. McKibben:


I’ve got Cara on the brain, I guess; I’m even dreaming about her. Well, not her specifically.

In the dream, I had front row seats at her concert (for some reason my ex-wife Marli was there, too). The opening act was a shouting gibberish, and there was some guy in a black robe handing out flyers during the intermission, raving.

After what felt like an hour, the house lights came back on, and red-and-orange spotlights converged on a trapdoor at the centre of the stage, which opened to reveal a rising platform. To my surprise, it wasn’t Cara standing on the platform, but a goat, heavily pregnant, which fell over on its side and began to convulse. The crowd cheered, and something started to emerge from the goat’s womb – something awful. I can’t remember what it was, but it was so disgusting that I doubled over and threw up on Marli’s shoes. At that point, I woke up.

Of course, the puke-on-Marli’s-shoes dream is fairly standard for me. Not so much the rest of it.

Text message exchange between J. McKibben and C. Benzen:


BENZEN (14:23):

Heyyyy Jimmy!

I’ve got some good news for ya!

MCKIBBEN (14:26):

Hi Cara

What’s that?

BENZEN (14:26):

Just swung you tix for my show in Springfield! Can you make it? I really want you to see this show!!

MCKIBBEN (14:27):

I’ll have to move some things around but will definitely be there. Will tickets be at will-call?

BENZEN (14:30):


I’m so happy you can come. You’ll looove the seats, too. Front row.

MCKIBBEN (14:31):

BENZEN (14:31):

I insisted. I want you to have the best seats possible to witness the return.

MCKIBBEN (14:33):

Thanks, Cara.

Although I must say, I wouldn’t call it a return – you haven’t gone anywhere!

BENZEN (14:34):

Silly! I don’t mean my return.

Email correspondence from J. McKibben to R. Holt:


Well I guess someone has to book me a flight to Springfield for the 20th. I get to go to a Cara concert.

Can we make it first-class, haha? I think I’ll need a few drinks in me to get through this.


Entry from the private journal of J. McKibben:


Another fucking dream. I was in Cara’s dressing room this time, and there was something weird about her. She said she had something very important to tell me – I told her to wait while I got my tape recorder, but the thing wouldn’t turn on. In the meantime, Cara was becoming increasingly hysterical, and from outside, something started banging on the door, trying to get in. I awoke just as it did.

I will be happy when I’m done this article. There’s something about Cara’s combination of vapidity and strangeness that’s really fucking with my head for some reason.

Email correspondence from J. McKibben to R. Holt:


Morning Bob –

Boarding flight in half an hour.

Wasn’t sure if I should tell you this, but Cara’s ex called me last night. He sounded like a lunatic. Somehow he knew I was going to her show today and was freaking out – screaming that I was walking into to my own doom, how I wouldn’t be leaving the arena alive, etc. Very fucked up. I hope I don’t have to worry about being assassinated by a jealous pop star boyfriend.

Anyway, I reported the threat to the police – they’ve taken him in for questioning but confirmed that he’s still safe and harmless in LA, so I suspect I’ll be walking out of this Cara concert in one piece. Fingers crossed.



Landed in Springfield. Heading to the hotel to get some sleep before the show at 7.


Notebook of J. McKibben – rough notes taken during “Cara” concert:


–          Green laser light show – looks like Pink Floyd

–          Dancers, glow in the dark paint, writhing around the stage

–          Snakes – real? Cool.

–          Cara ascends from trapdoor

–          *undecipherable*

–          Technical issues

–          Terrible noise from speakers – screeching metal/thunder

–          Red light

Text message exchange between J. McKibben and C. Benzen:


MCKIBBEN (21:26):

Bob please pick up, I don’t have long.


MCKIBBEN (21:26):

You won’t believe what happened

MCKIBBEN (21:27):

Pick up pick up

MCKIBBEN (21:27):

Please before it comes into the bathroom
The whole arena’s gouhg

MCKIBBEN (21:27):


MCKIBBEN (21:28):
I have suckled from the teat of the goat with 1000 young

MCKIBBEN (21:29):

I think this is it, I hear it growling

MCKIBBEN (21:30):
Okay, sorry that was just another level of roof caving in. Something’s coming.

MCKIBBEN (21:33):
Cara was right, it’s the old ones. I dont understand but it all makes sense now, she’s released them – it’s the song. You can’t let her release it can’t let it hit the airwaves, it would deatrou

MCKIBBEN (21:33):

*destroy everything

MCKIBBEN (21:35):
Bob its coming

Its coming

MCKIBBEN (21:35):
Oh its horrible and its pregnant

MCKIBBEN (21:35):
The babies

HOLT (21:40):

Jim, what’s going on?

HOLT (21:41):

Jim, are you okay?

Call me right now.

HOLT (21:44):


MCKIBBEN (21:45):

HOLT (21:46):
Jim, what the fuck is happening??


MCKIBBEN (21:46):
Don’t listen C it loves me
We are all it’s children

MCKIBBEN (21:46):
It is my mother your mother and it just wants its children with it ahgcccjhdxlfjlhfndjsfkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk

At approximately 21:50 (9:50 PM) the Springfield Bowlerdome collapsed on itself. There were no survivors.

Jim McKibben’s body was found crushed underneath the fallen walls of a men’s bathroom stall, still clutching his cellular phone and notepad. His condition was unremarkable for the circumstances, except for two details: the coroner noted that his lips appeared to be frozen into a very wide grin or grimace, and that his shirt, face, and tongue were stained with a viscous white liquid, later found to be curdled milk.


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