Friday, March 24, 2017

Arkham '88

Arkham '88
by
Bobby Derie


"Now your Pickman Democrats - that's what they called them in Boston - were very progressive for their time. Thought everyone was equal. 'We all feed the same worms.' Thing is, they meant that literally. They'd hold meetings at funeral homes, picnic fundraisers in cemeteries, thousand-dollar-a-plate dinners in these dark cellars, all raw or fermented meat courses. Very trendy, but politicians ate it up with a smile on their face. They were easy votes and had deep pockets. And the more the politicos ate, the wider the smiles got...but they didn't like Kennedy. His father - the bootlegger - had ties with Innsmouth before '27, and even after that they had kin all up and down the coast. Very conservative, but they all voted for Kennedy. I've always wondered what he promised them for that, because they were all very conservative, especially after the federal raid on Innsmouth; liked small government, self-sufficiency, property rights...really odd fellows to rub elbows at the polls."


Perched on the end of the bar, with the big bay windows on either side, O'Donnell's off of College Street gave a fair view of the Miskatonic campus. Mack had planted himself there just as the Young Republicans were putting up the bunting on the platform, and secured his position by opening a tab with a twenty dollar deposit. The vice president was due in at about 2 o'clock, to give his speech.


I checked the film for the sixth time, and nursed another sip of the local special, which I couldn't pronounce but was a mix of rums and tropical fruit juices with a sour, almost butter aftertaste. It was tiki in a glass and I would have had another one if I didn't have to shoot that afternoon. Mack stuck to shaken martinis, keeping one hand on the satchel with the Dictaphone. We were, despite it all, here to work.


Local color was supplied by the staff of the Arkham Advertiser and Aylesbury Transcript; a couple of genial fellows named Gene Gillman and John Peabody, respectively. Lifers in small-town papers, Mack had made their acquaintance on the campaign trail back in '72, and ever since they had made a point of getting together whenever they were all in the Valley. They made a point of sticking to beer - a cream-colored bock that made Michelob look like horse piss.


"Arkham - college town." Mack went on. "Education generally means liberal, means Democrat. Probably a lot of pinkos in the Department of Medieval Metaphysics."


"Less than you'd think." Gene's stubby fingers, webbed a little near the joints, dug into a packet of saltines. "Arkham is old money, and Miskatonic is still private - not like a land-grant university. Lot of trust-fund kids, and the rest came in on the G. I. Bill after the War." - he meant World War II; both Gene and John were navy veterans, and had done their stint and got out before Korea, much less Vietnam. "Not a lot of hippies or leftists, except for the union-types, and they're all right."


"The Valley went for Dukakis." Mack said, playing with an olive. A police horse clopped past the bar, and for an instant I saw the whole thing neatly framed off - window, doorway, window - horse and rider in each shot. Then I shook my head and asked for some water and coffee. O'Donnell grunted and put on a fresh pot.


"Kingsport went for Dukakis; not Arkham." Peabody interjected. "Down in Dunwich," he pronounced it 'Dunnich', like the natives, "the old men at the cracker barrel still bitch about it. Dukakis loved all the high-tech stuff happening in Boston, ignored half the rest of the state. You know how much farming and fishing have fallen off in the Valley, and the kids all want to move to the towns for the union jobs..."


"...and the union wages drive the business out-of-state, so the kids move away, the banks foreclose, the old houses and barns just go to pot." Gene finished for him. "Whole damn Valley's going down the shitter." He punctuated the statement by slamming his empty glass on the bar. O'Donnell shot him a reproachful look as he took the glass from the journalist's unresisting hand, and started filling a new one from the tap.


"But what does the Valley think about Bush?" Mack said, staring down at the Miskatonic quad. The open doorway nicely framed the podium where the vice-president would be speaking; the press box was already set up a little ways below it, and a lanky grad student in bellbottoms and spectacles was spooling out the cables for the microphones. You couldn't say a word these days without it being recorded. Some said Kingsport News would send a television van, but they hadn't shown up yet. Probably took the wrong turn on the Pike.


"Willie Horton won't play in Arkham," Gene said stubbornly. "Too many folks had kin in Innsmouth. You know how long it took for them to get released? I had cousins that died in that godforsaken camp."


Peabody nodded, adding in: "The whole psychiatry angle won't play either, not with the Sanitarium. You know," he grinned and slid back on his stool at such an angle I didn't know he kept his balance, "they used to let some of them out, in the afternoons? Not the dangerous cases, but the lifers, the ones on work-release programs or whatever. Old-fashioned kooks. Let them wander down into the village, do their shopping, check out books from the library, then back by dinner. College kids loved it. One of them would read weird books like Tolkien out on the lawn, just where the podium is set up. Teenagers would skip class to sit out there and listen as he read."


"A cult?" I asked. Somehow, the coffee had appeared in front of me, and I started sipping it.


Gene blew me a raspberry. "Worse. Young Democrats. Pickman Democrats."


###

Friday, March 17, 2017

Channels

Channels
by
Bobby Derie

"What is your best idea of the day?" Jenny cast out the line as a moonstruck lover might drop a penny into a well.

"The Uprighter." Savita tuned in, eyes the color of television. "He's a turtle god that you pray to when you're stuck on your back, legs flailing in the air. His church teaches you to help others who are on their back by setting them upright again. There was a great schism between those and the Rockers Cult, who felt that the best was to upright themselves was by rocking, reasoning that the Uprighter helps those who help themselves. The schism was eventually healed by the United Creed, who allow that any method to get back upright, be it by yourself or with help, is acceptable, since the important thing is that everyone is upright."

Jenny took Savita's hand, and dragged her out of the house. The girl's swollen head wobbled on her neck, eyes not fixed on this reality, but her little voice buzzed and then rattled on.

"Underground is magic. There is no logical reason why this should be, yet there you are. Children know this. They clutch your arm tighter as they descend. The air is different in your lungs, on your tongue. You become aware of being bounded, of knowing where the walls and ceiling are, and instinctively you keep track of the light sources, and the shadows that lurk in the corners, just beyond their reach..."

Savita's voice faded out, little clicking sounds issuing from her throat, but Jenny held her hand tighter as they came near the playground.

"Bellam's Giraffe followed a divergent evolutionary path. Where we normally associate giraffoids with longer necks, the better to feed from tall trees, Bellam's Giraffe evolved heavier ossicones, a thicker skull and spine, and extreme musculature. It's general feeding strategy is to knock the tree down by head-butting it, and then feeding off the fallen leaves." The sightless eyes were wide as Jenny locked her into the swing, static flickering across the irises. "The art of bartending has little to do with mixing drinks, but in saying the right thing that makes the customer look within themselves for a moment and then order another drink. A skilled bartender doesn't even need to speak. They can raise a thirst with a look."

Jenny liked the swings. She figured that Savita liked the swings too. When the younger girl got excited the channels changed more quickly. Like skipping swiftly through a playlist, catching snippets. Savita went up, and came back down.

"May all your gods be small ones, may all your devils be beaten back by the ringing of bells and snapping of fingers and spilling of earth; may all your stars be blind and all your winds dumb; let the little spirits of the earth and wood look on you as one of your own, and all the spirits of air and fire look you by; place not your hand in the trap, nor your feet in the flame; see the path before you and to either side, see the path behind you and remember why you took it; drink only what you can keep down and eat only what you can pass. So be blessed."

Up, and down.

"The horror host was your personal psychopomp, the dweller on the threshold of the page or the silver screen, who prepared you for the wonders and terrors you were about to experience...and, perhaps more than that, who took delight in the macabre, the gruesome, and the sadistic. They put a smile on horror, they showed you it was okay to smile at all the things that crawled in darkness beneath the rocks they lifted for your inspection."

Up, and down.

"There is no more a sense of movement in America; the frontiers have all been lost, the culture exists in a timeless now, generations grown up in blue jeans, which have persevered and evolved, specialized into a thousand shades and designs, some with eye-catching rivets or artful tears, ripped knees and camouflage fades, and yet all the same, always the same, for a pair of jeans is a pair of jeans on either side of the great millennial line. Now is the era of decay; it is no country for young men and women, come into their own to find only they are too educated or too ignorant, the jobs taken by those who cannot afford to retire, and the shiny places are too expensive for them to be where the action is. Bright young things are used up and burned out at a furious pace, but thanks to modern medicine more and more of them will live to regret their mistakes; the 27 Club never looked so inviting as when you look back from the wrong side of that milestone, and realize how you have already peaked and never known it, yet there is still the long, long decline ahead, and there is nothing to do but resign ourselves to the culture that has lost all momentum, it is not profitable enough to move forward, we bite and claw if they try to move back, and so we are stuck in the eternal limbo bequeathed by the tasteless Nineties to their children, refining the same flavors over and over again, and we too tired of religion to even say 'Amen.'"

"Amen," Jenny whispered, as Savita sat there in the swing, smiling. Jenny sat there for a while and hugged her tight, wondering how much of her was tuned in to this time and place.

###

Friday, March 10, 2017

Privilege

Privilege
by
Bobby Derie

Reddit reflected eerily in her glasses as she angrily pounded at the keyboard. "You realize your bitching and whining is just an expression of your white male privilege, right?" She spoke loud enough to be heard over the cubicle wall.

"Yes, very probably." His answer floated back. She paused, rubbing her wrists.

"You're not going to stop, are you?"

There was an audible sigh, and then a series of subaudible grunts, the creak of a desk, and a shudder that shook the fabric-covered wall between them. A hairy head peered over the wall, cheeks fuzzy with about three weeks half-assed effort of beard. "I wasn't planning on it."

"Do you know the shit I would get if I posted like you do?"

"No," he said amiably. "Although I reckon it would be pretty bad. Lot of assholes out there attack folks for being different."

"You're not helping." She deliberately turned back to her screen.

"I know," The head dipped out of sight as the mountain began climbing back down. "I don't know how."

###

Monday, March 6, 2017

Supplication of the Old Ones

Supplication of the Old Ones
by
Bobby Derie


The whip cracked, and was answered not with a scream but a moaning whimper.


"You know your place." A latex hand clawed idly on his back. He could not see her with the blinders on, but he could feel her moving around him, the click of her heels on the bare cement, the vibration resonating up through his knees.


The whip cracked again, and he shuddered.


"It is good to know your place. It makes people comfortable to know that there is an order to things, and that they have their position within that order. To be pecked, and to do the pecking."


A rubber toe caressed him, not ungently.


"So much of our thinking of religion is shaped by Christian doctrine, we hardly think of it. In our daily lives we swim in a culture that is permeated by not just their values, but their ideas of how things are. Even those who have never darkened the door of a church in their lives think they understand worship and faith, they think that those are...universal. That all religions are like that, with their fanatics and their laws, their holy books and institutions."


He gagged, momentarily, on the silicone rod in his throat. Like an attentive owner, she went over and checked on him as saliva oozed out of the corners of his mouth, eyes tearing up.


"There, there pet." She went over to the rack, replaced the whip and then carefully stepped into a harness, buckling the hardness in place.


"The old gods - and I do not just mean Rome and Greece, although those are the ones we are most familiar with - the were no worshipped in the same sense as the pale Christ. The relationship was much more transactional. They were forces of the universe to be mollified, hungry invisibles to be satisfied...and yet, there was often an exchange."


Click click click of her heels as she left his sight again. He felt the warmth of her hand through the later as it lay on his tender buttocks. Then the sudden pull and emptiness...and a fullness again. A slow, long creep that only ended when her hips rested against him. She leaned down, pressing herself into his bare back.


"You can even see echoes of it in the Old Testament, the covenant between God and his chosen people. Why should God be bound by a promise, a contract? That is an older style of religious thinking, from a more primitive monolatrialism poking through."


She withdrew, and he shivered in anticipation of her return, feeling the bridge between them like a living thing. Wondering how wet she was, if she was getting anything out of this.


The thrust, when it came, made him yelp.


"What we call magic today - the invocation of older entities, of the old covenants, to provide the quid for the quo - it is not worship in the sense of offering up empty prayers. No, those who worship the Old Ones are superstitious, they allow awe and terror to overcome them."


She began to pick up the pace.


"The Old Ones do not need our prayers, and seldom heed them unless there is something in it for them. That is what so many forget, or have never known. It is about want, and you have to find out what they want and how to give it to them. In the olden days they tried sacrifices of flesh and blood, but there is a limit to physical hungers. No, sometimes they want something rarer...an emotion, a need, a call that echoes something of what they themselves feel...a true supplication..."


He burned. The schlup schlup schlup mounted as her hips slammed into him, and he felt it like a pile driver into his guts. Once again, he began to choke. Quick as a flash, she grabbed his neck from behind and unbuckled the gag, ripping it from his throat like a squirming fish yanked out of the water. He breathed deep, retching dryly, and she never once stopped pounding.


"Say it. Say it now."


"Sh-shub..." he breathed and then screamed "SHUB-NIGGURATH!"


All went white, and then dark. He collapsed onto the concrete, into the puddle of wetness below him. The whole atmosphere had changed, it felt warm and smelled of wet fur and sweat. Limply, he felt her withdraw, his hole felt ragged, turned out. There was snuffling, the feel of a heavy presence in the room, the tread separate and distinct from the dainty click of her heels.


"He's all warmed up for you," his mistress said, in a reverent tone. "Just the way you like it."




###

Friday, February 24, 2017

Beyond Shadows

Beyond Shadows
by
Bobby Derie


Coins clinked in the tin cup. The eager young woman knelt in the dirt of the alley. Rain had worn at the works of man like mountains. The floor of the alley was a muddy channel, bearing away pieces of crumbling brick and concrete, a miniature dream of a river, and her dress soaked up the foul water.


"Father, what lesson for today?"


The dirt-stained hobo lifted veiled eyes at his pupil. He raised one broken hand, covered with scabs and long filthy nails, and made a gesture; the light in the alley dimmed, the noise of the city was far off, and though she felt the vibration of traffic through her knees, it seemed for that moment that there were only the two of them there.


"Daughter, you see this, and wonder. Yet I tell you that this is the smallest of things, and that beyond shadows there is mastery."


He drew himself up, bones visible beneath the tanned and spotted skin, one hand clutching at his beard.


"Aye, beyond shadows. For a shadow is cast by that which comes between us and the light, and we all dwell in the shadow of things that hide us from the light of truth. Well and carefully did the old ones build those edifices, so that we may dwell in the comfortable darkness! Many labor still to shore them up, with the bricks and mortar of politics, and religion, and philosophy. Yet even they have not glimpsed the truth, they merely know they fear it. They are creatures of the night, fearful of a sun they have never seen."


With both hands before him, he cupped his palms as though to accept an offering. Pale liquid seeped from his palms, a spreading pool in his cupped fingers, filmed with a rainbow sheen in which specks of black dirt floated listlessly.


"Oh daughter, if you would see beyond shadows, then take this sacrament and enter communion with me."


Eagerness warred with hesitation, and she bent forward to sup from his fingers, gagging the burning liquor down. She began to choke. He opened his hands, letting the pale fluid to burn and bubble on the pavement as he clasped his smoking hands to either side of her head, those black thumbnails digging in to the skin of her forehead above each eyebrow. With convulsive motions she vomited, grasping his wrists with her own hands, struggling to free herself of his grip, but he was as immobile as a statue.


She vomited for a long time - first liquid and bile, and then blood. She shuddered and stretched her whole body, seeking to use every ounce of weight and strength and leverage against him, but he sat as a rock and cooed as he looked into her eyes.


Then the blackness came. Steaming, foul sludge dripped from her slack lips, left its coating on her teeth, formed a pile of filth before him like a profane offering. It came convulsively, in spasmodic shudders, and each time there was more but it was...thinner. More and more the blackness became less solid, more liquid. It flowed around his feet and trickled down the path the water had worn in the alleyway, tainting the dream of the river, poisoning the tiny green mosses that grew along it.


Finally, it ceased. He released her, and she stumbled back, shoes scrabbling against the bricks to the other side of the alley, as far from him as could be. The old man smiled, a hint of both kindness and nastiness.


"Oh daughter, look at the filth of the world you have poisoned yourself with, which stains the world with your passing. Think of what shadows you may yet cast, if you only have the courage to step out the trappings and face the light; and who may yet dwell in those shadows. Thus ends the lesson."


###


"Oh daughter



Friday, February 17, 2017

Life + Oscar

Life + Oscar
by
Bobby Derie



There was a hole behind and a little above her ear, covered by a flap of skin. It looked like a resting eye. Yanni had lifted her hair up to show me, and then she started to sing, a wordless little croon, and tap at her mastoid bone. I watched as something stirred, beneath the skin. Then it poked its head out, tiny black eyes shining, the antenna swept behind it. The legs emerged and it pulled itself forward, the long brown carapace, smooth and mottled sliding out.




"His name is Georg," Yanni said. "You should think what you will name yours."



*

It - he - crawled across the table top, no bigger than a thumbnail, carapace shaded yellow and green.

"Let him crawl onto your hand." Yanni hovered on the other side of the table. Georg was absently crawling over her forehead.

Mhari obediently stayed still as he found her hand, and began to climb.

"They mostly eat dead skin, the stuff that flakes off and sheds naturally. They don't go after living tissue, shy away from open wounds. What you will need to keep on about is water; they need a couple milliliters a day, or they dry out."

The little bug had climbed the first step of Mt. Mhari, and found her cuticle: a ragged bit of yellow hide she had a tendency to pick at. He began to nibble. It didn't hurt; in fact she could hardly feel it.
*
The gel felt cool as he rubbed it onto Mhari's head, behind the ear. Numbness spread, chasing it away.
"What we are going to do is pinch the skin and fold it over." The doctor said, his warm brown hands encased in blue gloves. "To form a little pocket. Living skin connected to living skin, you see? Then we put a little spacer in there, to give it shape. Like an ear plug. You leave that in there for a week, because we want to give it time to heal. Then we can start stretching it out a little. Your cucaracha," he pointed to Oscar, who was currently crawling on her hand. "will need enough space to get in and out, turn around. Not much; when we are done, the pocket will only be about the size of a quarter. As he grows, he will stretch it out on his own. Pleasure relax your neck."
Mhari realized she was tense, and deliberately tried to relax her muscles. All of her concentration seemed to be focused on the bug on her hand, and the numb spot on her scalp.
"You know, in nature these cucaracha find their own hosts, bite the skin and burrow in. But these pet varieties, they were bred not to do this, you understand? Domestic breeds, they can no longer live in the wild. They lack the pincers for it now. They depend on us to have a place to live."








###

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Book Was Hungry

The Book Was Hungry
by
Bobby Derie

The book growled in her bag. It was hungry.

Julia scoured the library, the book growling all the time. She haunted anthropology and folklore, mostly - looking for scraps of curse tablet inscriptions, examples of cannibalism, necrophilia, vampires. She knew what it liked.

In a quiet corner, she picked through a stack of bound folklore magazines from the 1930s - the last gasp of British vicars, with education but not much else, poking over any ancient legend or ruin in their precinct. Bits and pieces of lore on fairy bottles, witch trials, ghost stories. Good stuff. Making sure no-one else was around, she took out the book and laid it out flat on the study desk.
The pen still had a few feathery scales on it, though the tip was hooked with steel. With a practiced move she rolled up the sleeve on her right arm and pricked at her skin near the elbow, leaving a small red welt next to the other scabs and scars.


To write in the book was more than just dull copying. Julia knew she had to find the right place for it, work the bits and pieces in. The book was still a long way from unfinished, but some pages were dark with ink and drawings, the columns filled with marginalia and fine additions in between the lines, while others were blank. The book's growling ceased as she found a good spot and began writing about the fairy bottle, and the witch with the pipes made from the bones of little children that called up a dark horse... Her arm was almost numb by the time she was done, but Julia was satisfied as she sat back and let the blood dry...


###