“My old man’s gonna kill me.”
I tried to keep a straight face, not crack wise, not ruffle feathers or behave unprofessionally. I leaned back in my chair and stretched my legs. I considered putting my feet up on the desk, but altered course mid extension and drew my right foot back to rest on my left knee. I felt another chuckle bubble up and tickle my teeth as I looked again at the odd creature sitting primly in the client’s chair across the cluttered desk from me. Too-small suit for his oaf-child’s body, mismatched countenance-to-situation demeanor, seemingly forced consternation on his baby-fat face; all these pointed to ulterior motives and hidden agendas. But, the chuckle was climbing up my throat, getting a finger hold on my bottom lip.
To forestall the inevitable I quickly studied my shoe for signs of recent shine and spent a controlling breath concluding that a slap or two from the shoeshine kit wouldn’t be amiss. When I thought I had myself under full control and there was no chance of my embarrassing either a paying client or my agency, I looked once more into his eyes. All of them. Then, at the cthu-lick in the middle of his mantle—that one errant tentacle that just wouldn’t lay flat.
A huge roaring, eye watering belly laugh filled my mouth and I gave into it. Not something I wanted to do; not something to cement a contract with a valued client, but something entirely necessary on that particular ribbon of time. I coughed and snorted myself under control in a moment or two, choked back a last chuckle, and wiped my handkerchief across my brow, cheeks, pressing my aching smile down into a semblance of a straight face.
“Easy fer you to laugh Dunwich; yeah yuck it up. Have a ball.”
He did seem scared. A scummy sheen dampened his translucent flesh, beading and adhering to the puckered nodes surrounding his near-chinless maw. His six eyes were overcast with that hellhound, hang dog look and his mantle sagged like a cephalopod in a sauna. I said,
“Okay, Hlu, (pronounced Lou) why don’t you start at the beginning and walk me through the whole thing. I’ll tell you if I can do anything for you kids when I know what you’re up against.”
He relaxed, audibly, with an exhalation of foetid breath in my direction, and his posture became less prim; amorphous, actually if you want the truth. Young, Great Old Ones don’t fully develop until their second aeon between space. They sort of squelch through dimensions in a semi solid state until they acquire the substance of the shattered worlds and the galaxies they absorb on their way to adulthood. So, when they do make a stop on a world like ours, they have a hard time sustaining their assumed shapes for long periods. But the kid was getting the hang of it.
“It’s the Necronomicon,” he sighed. “My father’s gonna have a cataclysm. We lost it!”
“Wait,” I said, bolting up in my chair, “you kids haven’t been fooling around with your old man’s books have you? You know the rules. How did you get your claws on it? And how in the Unnamable did you lose it?”
You can be damn sure his old man would have a cataclysm if he found out. Universes would scatter and time would buckle if that tome turned up missing. Young Hlu-ap-Cthulhu was the youngest male offspring of the one and only Great Cthulhu of the Deeps. He and his dopey friends, Yig ‘an Sothoth, daughter of Yog, herself, Nog and Jeb, offspring of Nug and Yeb, Tsathoggualena, (the Sleeper of N'kai’s niece) and Mongo, malformed, half-mad bastard son of Azathoth, had been running together since before the fall of Unknown Kaddath, and a more rowdy bunch of hooligans you’d be hard-pressed to find this side of R'lyeh.
Like kids everywhere, but so much more dangerous, they had a mean side to them and never hesitated in feeding into it for the sheer joy of tormenting subterranean godling, cosmic Elder or human soul alike. Theirs was the form of energy unbounded, and largely unshaped while in the spaces between stars, and when that energy combined to find a direction, Hermes help the poor target of their collective glee! They could be insatiable in their thirst for new outlets for eons of bored contemplation. Then, like a big bang, another universe of diversions emerged from their collected, celestial epiphanies, expanding just ahead of them as they chased down their latest dreamscape.
I, like a few rare humans who are tasked to walk between realities, was at the time filling space as a surrogate truant officer for the children of the Great Old Ones. Hired by the absent parents to keep tabs on their offspring and keep them from harm—more like protect unwary humanity from them. In any case, a Dunwich has been in the position of protector and tender of the Great Old Ones’ brats for hundreds of generations. We have been shaman, alchemists, astrologers, knights, barons, sheriffs, police and now, in my case, private detectives, with the one occulted constant of holding responsibility for the well being of creatures so utterly alien to our world that complicated cover stories and certain arcane powers are required to do the job safely and quietly.
So I repeated, “Tell me about it.”
“It was Yig’s idea. She said it would be a laugh. I was against it from the get go, trust me Dunny I was, but you know what she can be like.”
“Did you ever mispronounce her name,” I asked as an aside?
“Once,” he said.
“Bet that hurt.”
“Tell me about it. Man, that chick’s nuts!”
“What about the Necronomicon? Let’s have it. All of it.”
“Well,” he began, “it was like this. There’s this stiff we been tormenting for a few years named Lovecraft...”
The tale that followed was one of atypical juvenile delinquency extrapolated geometrically to cubic proportions. The kids had stumbled upon this queer bird, Lovecraft, during one of their endless games of cosmic tag. He was very young at the time, as were they—well younger at least than now—and he was speeding through a local graveyard they were seeding with random demons and salting with opposing race memories in preparation for an autumnal mêlée. Sort of a game of war with real blood and bodies. This unfortunate kid, Howie Lovecraft, was cutting through the cemetery to make his hockey practice on time, skates and jersey sailing behind as he ran headlong past gnarled trees, spectral stones and rimed vaults, to be suddenly swallowed up in the cataclysmic caravan of cosmic cacophony these kids called fun.
It must have hit young Lovecraft like a compressed big bang between his ears. Centuries of disjointed memories from thousands of dead races, terror tales and arcane legends of conquest and slaughter, spells, magicks, grimoires and rituals; all washed into the molecules of the boy’s body, adhering to his very spirit; his soul. Young Lovecraft dropped his skates and his hockey jersey and with an exhalation of shattered innocence, he fainted.
Hlu-ap-Cthulhu, Yig ‘an, Nog, Jeb, Tsathoggualena and Mongo, realizing they’d broken a cardinal rule by getting a human involved in their existence, decided to high tail it back between the spaces before anyone’s parents found out what they’d done. But the unconscious human boy at the foot of a tomb was too tempting a target for their juvenile impishness to resist. One of them, (and I bet it was Hlu), decided to have a little fun with their conveniently unconscious volunteer. They could be in big trouble, chained to the bottom of the seas for millennia trouble, for even contemplating such a rash act, but hey, they were kids.
“Let’s have some fun with this git,” suggested one of them. “Let’s give him a show. Scare the shantaks out of him.”
So they circled the body and hunkered down, assuming various forms from various worlds, until Howie began to stir. Something elemental changed in young Lovecraft when he opened his eyes and saw the ring of alien star-spawn poised and salivating over his bony chest. Close enough for him to smell the reek of their noisome exhalations, each devil-drawn demon faded into nothingness, one by one, as Howard, no longer Howie, as Howard Phillips Lovecraft came to full wakefulness. As the last creature, (and again I’ll put money on it’s being Hlu) vanished, grinning razor fangs into his eyes, HP Lovecraft was no longer a thirteen year old boy rushing to join his team mates in the sport he loved, he was a haunted old man in a child’s body.
Over the next twenty years they were hooked on tormenting Lovecraft, simply because he was such an easy mark. Poke him and he reacted with such exquisite predictability—no matter what they did by way of variation on the theme—he always fainted dead away. Show him a glimpse of glowing eyes in the dark—he fainted. Whisper from his closet in guttural voices of the horrors of the tomb—he dropped like a stone. Buzz him overhead in the dark on one of his frequent nightly strolls through that very same cemetery, leathery wings barely touching his Brilliantined, blond hair—and he crumpled like a cheap folding chair on a slippery poolside deck. Display the hint of a gelatinous elbow when he’s out digging in his garden—poof, gone like a grilled cheese sandwich in an orphanage.
The kids just couldn’t help themselves. Lovecraft was a gift; a real time-filler, a pet project to while away those long afternoons when tormenting worlds of amorphous creations was just not fulfilling. HP Lovecraft was more than a worm squirming on a hook; he was slowly becoming a key player in the games. As he grew older, Lovecraft began writing about his perceived fever dreams and his encounters with those dream-demons who tormented his imagination with near-glimpsed faces of alien evil or nearly heard susurrations from some far away and long dead realm. And when they put the thought of the Necronomicon in his head, his fate was sealed.
As he continued his exposition, Hlu gave no indication of contrition, no hint of future atonement for his clearly cruel and dangerous pranks, no trace of a demure moue across his puckered maw. In fact, by the way he squirmed and shifted, sat eagerly forward, tentacles bent across the desktop when he explained some of Lovecraft’s reactions to the sundry skewering at the hands of these terrible teens, I got the distinct message that had they not lost the Necronomicon through whatever miscalculation, Lovecraft would have been in store for unending torment until he either went mad or simply didn’t recover from the last big faint. Poor sap was a prize butterfly pinned to the corkboard of ill fate.
“You’re saying a lot of words, Hlu, but you’re not telling me anything.” I took a travel brochure out of my top drawer and began thumbing through it. “As much as I like you, because your old man pays me to, I don’t want to spend my whole morning watching you gloat. If you have a point anywhere, now’s the time to get to it.”
He sat back in the chair and huffed, deflated, a sour look coming over his fishy face. “Fine, Dunwich. I see you got places to go, things to see. Man in your tax bracket can afford to piss off my father, right? Keep yer skin on, biped, I’m gettin’ to the point right now.”
He dove in and got to his elusive point all right. One of the gelatinous geniuses thought it would be a gas to start teasing Lovecraft with glimpses into worlds he could hardly comprehend; dangle blasphemy in his face and watch how he squealed; open the possibility of vari-dimensional multi-planes of co-existence, in short give him a slightly revisionist history lesson into the districts of the worlds of men and monsters. And they left the book lying around in a hastily manufactured antiquary booke shoppe thrown up in Lovecraft’s path one dismal Sunday afternoon. Naturally, Lovecraft entered the shop in search of genealogical data and found the Necronomicon on a dusty back room shelf and paid the enormous sum of $7.00 and slunk out with the volume discretely wrapped in brown butcher’s paper and headed immediately home. The shoppe dissolved behind his retreating footsteps, nevermore to return.
Of course it wasn’t the real Necronomicon; but close enough to be dangerous. So, HP Lovecraft began studying the secrets of the book, tracing its heritage back to the mad Arab, Abdul Alhazred, and writing snippets from the tome into his silly short stories. But some parts of the book did have the ring of verisimilitude, like some of the names of the Old Ones and the Elder Gods. The kids didn’t want it to be too thin, as rabid as Lovecraft was becoming to devour anything occult, even he wouldn’t buy the book’s veracity without a couple of nuggets hidden in the dross.
The long and short is—without really knowing it; the kids were mixing too much reality into the porridge. Hlu one day would put in mention of De Vermis Mysteriis, or Yig drop a hint to the Book of Eibon in the margins, one night, half-mad bastard son, Mongo slipped into Lovecraft’s attic and scratched in a convoluted passage about Unaussprechlichen Kulten. The twisted twins Nog and Jeb even got into the act by letting slip the existence of the Nameless City. Pretty soon the actual book was in Lovecraft’s possession. And that’s where the panic began.
“So,” I said, “I don’t see a problem. I can’t understand why you need me to get the book for you. Why not just slip in one night and steal it? Or just make it vanish the way you made it appear?”
“Easy for you to say, Dunny, you don’t understand how this all works.” He sat forward and locked his eyes on mine. “Once a thing is real in any world we inhabit, it stays real. No matter how it got that way, it’s just as powerful, just as valid, just as dangerous as anything naturally occuring in that world. What we did was create the book so perfectly that it drew the true copy to inhabit its space and volume. Ignore the pun, Dunwich; it ain’t a good time to throw it in.”
(Volume—book, oh I get it.)
“So the Necronomicon that should be in my old man’s library, under mounds of skin and skulls, is sitting on HP Lovecraft’s night table, beside his Parker fountain pen and his warm glass of Ovaltine. And you gotta get it back,” he finished and sat back in his chair.
“But that still doesn’t explain why you kids can’t go back and get it yourselves,” I said.
“Because, dammit Dunny, he’s read the damn book cover to cover and now he knows things.”
I shrugged a question and shook my head—so?
“He can see us now! In our true forms, he can see us! And what he can see he can control. With the book. He can control us with the book! Ya friggin moron, don’t you get it? He’s in control now! He’s been payin’ us back for years of taunts and torture. Marvin Milquetoast is a monster! He makes us do things, horrible things. Dance with each other and do math. Go for the paper and pick up his mail. He’s even got Yig writin’ his stories fer him, an you know how crazy that chick is! Stories are gettin’ longer every time—friggin’ novels. And we all have to sit there an listen to him read them out loud.”
“Well Hlu,” I said swinging my feet up onto the desk and turning to look out the window at the steady fall of ash. (It was another hot, dark day.) “I hate to say it, but payback’s a witch, ain’t it? I took the liberty of having Lenore call all your parents just after you arrived in the office. See, Mr. Lovecraft phoned me last week—got my number from the Necronomicon, you know; ‘In case of emergency, call...’—and he laid out the story of what you kids’ve been doing these past decades. So I thought it would be good to have your parents drop by and see if we can straighten things between you and HP.”
He paled into camouflage, disappearing to the untrained eye. Viscous beads formed and dripped from every pore, his vibratory level increased to the point of a high-pitched whine and his chair began to judder across the floor towards the door.
“Not so fast, young man!” The words boomed off the walls and ceiling as the office melted away to reveal the library of the great Cthulhu himself. He slouched in a carved granite alcove, head nearly touching the library’s vaulted beams, surrounded by the parents of the other kids—all dour and stern of eye and fang, and magically (for it can be no other way with this crowd) the other delinquents were assembled in a semi-circle on the ancient Sarnath carpet, trembling in fear.
“Just get in here and stand with your friends. There’s somebody here wants to have a word with you.”
With that, in through a parting haze strode a tall, gaunt, pinch-nosed man with a look of total disdain on his sallow face. Fastidious to an irritating degree, he paced methodically to the very edge of the ancient carpet and came to a rigid halt; hands folded before him, across a metal-clasped, skin-bound volume clutched tightly to his bony chest.
“I think you know Mr. Lovecraft, Junior?”
The children said nothing, simply trembled before the gaunt figure with the flitching nostrils. For his part, Lovecraft looked down his equine nose at the entire company, Old Gods and Child Demons alike, seemingly unimpressed and unafraid. I glanced over at Cthulhu for a clue, but he just shifted his eyes and shook his tentacles slightly in the negative. “Later, Dunwich,” I heard echo around my teeth and crush my ears.
“Go on, you kids, let’s hear it.”
Shakily at first, and in unison, the timid, mumbled sorry’s dribbled out of puckered maws, fanged gapers and festering slits alike. But weakly and without real contrition.
“IAEY ye’Iahhh-- M'Nagalah-- Bugg-Shash...” Cried Yog Sothoth!
And together the children loudly said, “We’re sorry Mister. Can we have our book back?”
And surprisingly, Lovecraft demurely handed the book over into Hlu’s outstretched tentacles, turned and glided out of the library as if he were off on a Sunday jaunt through the back streets of Providence.
“Never spare the rod, Mr. Dunwich, when you can insert it sideways to drive home your point,” he grated, and grinned a frightening grin.
“I hope you kids learned your lesson,” rumbled Cthulhu.
“Yes sir,” they timidly avowed.
“Okay now, go out and play—and stay out of mischief!”
With the children exploding out into the haze, relieved that nothing further was asked of them in repentance, I climbed up the mound of skulls to stand at Cthulhu’s knee.
“What gives,” I asked?
“A little positive parenting, Mr. Dunwich.”
“You gonna let them off like that? No ‘Off to bed with no supper?’ No, ‘Grounded for a millennium on some barren planet?’
They’ll suffer, never fear,” he rumbled.
“Lovecraft still has the book, he still has the binding spells to work on those little bastards, and he’s got another seven years in him. They’ll suffer all right.”
“What was that, that just walked in and handed you a Necronomicon, I asked?
“A simulacrum, Mr. Dunwich. The old man still has a few tricks.”
And the gathered Elder Gods and Great Old Ones nodded to each other and giggled like a pack of Girl Scouts from hell.