Authors: Alan K Baker
Tags: #9781782068877, #SF / Fantasy
LOVECRAFT & FORT
ALAN K. BAKER
Proudly Published by Snowbooks in 2015
Copyright © 2015 Alan K. Baker
Alan K. Baker asserts the moral right to
be identified as the author of this work.
All rights reserved.
Tel: 0207 837 6482
email: [email protected]
Paperback ISBN 9781909679481
Ebook ISBN 9781782068877
Dedicated to the memories of
Richard S. Shaver and Raymond Palmer,
creators of the Dero and other perils
of the Inner Earth
There were gods who were old when Mars was a green planet…
– C. L. Moore, ‘Dust of Gods’
From the New York Times
23rd June, 1925
MARTIAN FALCON STOLEN
PRICELESS ARTEFACT SEIZED FROM
METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART
TWO SECURITY GUARDS DEAD,
ANOTHER SERIOUSLY INJURED
POLICE SUSPECT ZOMBIE MOB INVOLVEMENT
The ancient artefact known as the Martian Falcon was stolen last night from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in a raid which police have condemned as ‘violent’ and ‘outrageous.’
According to a security guard who survived the raid, at about 10.30pm he and two colleagues heard suspicious sounds coming from the Martian Exhibit Hall and went to investigate, whereupon they were attacked by three zombies.
Two of the guards were killed and partially eaten, and the third badly injured; however, from his hospital bed the survivor was able to give police a description of his attackers, which has left them in no doubt that the Martian Falcon was stolen by the walking dead.
Lieutenant John Carter of the New York Police Department, who is leading the investigation, told reporters: ‘We are unsure of the reason for the theft, since the perpetrators would be unable to sell the Falcon on the open art market. However, we cannot rule out the possibility that they were commissioned by an unknown collector who will keep his new acquisition secret.’
When asked why the zombies would have left one of their victims alive, Lieutenant Carter replied: ‘No comment.’
A Hell of a Town
Coming to New York had been a bad mistake.
Howard Phillips Lovecraft reflected on this sad fact as he walked along Clinton Street from his apartment to the small drugstore on the corner with Atlantic Avenue, where he could procure a small but satisfying breakfast of sausage, biscuits and coffee for small change.
Which was convenient, since small change was all he ever had in his pocket.
What was less convenient – although equally sad – was that his financial circumstances were in such a parlous state that this would be his only meal of the day.
The haze of diesel fumes which usually obscured the sky and watered down the sunlight, even in summer, had cleared thanks to a strong easterly wind from the Atlantic, but as Lovecraft looked up into the bright blue firmament, he felt there was precious little to be cheerful about. Even the multitudes of diesel-engined skycrawlers, which had so enthralled him on his arrival six months ago, had lost their technological allure. The aircraft, some of which were merely the size of buses, while the cargo carriers were like floating freight trains, had taken on the aspect of huge, ungainly thrumming insects in his imagination; he briefly contemplated the notion that there were no human beings onboard, that the skycrawlers were independent creatures from some distant world that had descended upon Earth for dark and incomprehensible purposes…
Lovecraft chuckled to himself.
There’s a story in there somewhere
, he thought, and his step quickened as he reached the corner of Atlantic. The traffic was brisk against a backdrop of steel, glass and concrete skyscrapers which rose like an alien forest into the cloudless sky, and Lovecraft hesitated for a moment as the realisation came to him that this was not Earth – at least, not the Earth he knew and loved. The floating mechanical beasts had not left their world at all:
was their world, and Howard Phillips Lovecraft was the alien visitor.
, he thought.
Oh Providence! Why did I leave you?
He walked along the sidewalk, passed noisily by growling heaps of steel and chrome which honked angrily at each other, and lamented the lost peace and tranquillity of his hometown, where the gentility of the eighteenth century could still be felt in the elegant colonial architecture and gently winding streets.
How long must I linger here in this frightful city,
before common sense overcomes pride, and I can return to my beloved Providence?
He paused before entering the drugstore to buy a copy of the
New York Times
from a street vendor. The machine stirred to life at his approach, and when he asked for the paper, a mechanical arm, whining on exposed servos, dipped into a steel basket, selected the correct title and held it out to him.
Lovecraft fished a dime from the pocket of his embarrassingly threadbare trousers and dropped it into the slot on the front of the vendor. ‘Thank you,’ he said, as the mechanical hand released the paper.
Two young men who were passing glanced at him in surprise and burst out laughing. ‘He’s talkin’ to the vendor!’ said one to the other. ‘What a chump!’
Lovecraft briefly considered remonstrating with them, reminding them that politeness cost nothing, and for some people it was a habit which could not be broken, no matter who or what one was addressing. Their bearing, however, not to mention the size of the muscles bulging beneath their shirts, suggested that this would not be the wisest course of action.
’ exclaimed the mechanical voice of the vendor.
Lovecraft winced at the ugliness of the sound, shoved the newspaper under his arm, and went into the drugstore.
There were several free seats at the counter. He took one next to a tall, slightly overweight bespectacled man with a large, bushy moustache that formed a shallow inverted V over his mouth. He gave his order to the sad-faced girl who was mopping up some spilled coffee with a cloth that looked like it was no stranger to such duty, and opened the paper to the classified ads section.
‘G’mornin’, Mr Lovecraft!’ shouted the short-order cook, a Bavarian kobold whose name was Hans, through the large serving hatch leading to the kitchen.
‘Good morning to you,’ Lovecraft replied.
Hans leaned through the hatch and gave a smile which appeared to be at least six inches too wide for his pale blue face, revealing teeth that were all fangs, while he regarded Lovecraft with his huge black eyes. His long, slender, pointed ears, which extended horizontally from his round head, twitched and turned like a cat’s.
‘How about I add a side order of meatloaf to your usual, huh? Made a batch fresh this mornin’ – and this is the only day this week I’ll be able to say that without bein’ a liar – not that that’ll stop me,
Lovecraft’s mouth started to water, but his lack of funds forbade such an indulgence, and so he replied: ‘No, thank you. The usual will suffice.’
‘Ach! Have it your own way,’ said Hans. ‘But you’re missin’ a treat, lemme tell you that!’
‘I dare say,’ Lovecraft muttered, as his eyes scanned the ‘Situations Wanted - Male’ category of the classified ads, eventually finding his own.
WRITER AND REVISER, free-lance, desires regular and permanent salaried connection with any responsible enterprise requiring literary services; exceptionally thorough experience in preparing correct and fluent text on subjects assigned, and in meeting the most difficult, intricate and extensive problems of rewriting and constructive revision, prose or verse; would also consider situation dealing with such proofreading as demands rapid and discriminating perception, orthographical accuracy, stylistic fastidiousness and a keenly developed sense of the niceties of English usage; good typist; age 34; has for seven years handled all the prose and verse of a leading American public speaker and editor. Y 2292 Times Annex.
Lovecraft’s friend Frank Long had chuckled when he’d shown him the copy. ‘A bit wordy for a classified ad, isn’t it?’ he’d said. ‘On the contrary,’ Lovecraft had countered. ‘I believe it to be concise, well-structured and to the point. It will convey to any prospective clients the undeniable fact that I am no mere charlatan or
in the field of literary revision, but a genuinely conscientious and knowledgeable practitioner of the English tongue.’
The ad had cost nearly forty dollars, the equivalent of a month’s rent in his shabby one-room apartment on Clinton Street; it had been Sonia’s gift to him before she moved to Cleveland to take up an offer of employment.
In all honesty, Lovecraft could not say that he missed her.
Getting married had been as big a mistake as moving to New York, and both Lovecraft and Sonia had realised it within a few months. So when Sonia’s hat shop on Fifth Avenue was forced to close and the Cleveland job offer appeared, both had seen it as a convenient point at which to part company.
Lovecraft read the ad once again, gave a satisfied ‘hmm’, and then turned to the front page. The main headline was depressing in its reinforcement of his belief that New York was a den of irredeemable iniquity, a stinking cesspool of vice, violence and squalor where all human decency was subsumed in the animalistic desire for dominance over one’s fellows.
‘Martian Falcon stolen,’ he muttered to himself. ‘Oh dear, that’s so sad.’
He had seen the Falcon several times during his frequent visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and had marvelled at its strange beauty; each time he had seen it, standing there aloof and inscrutable in its metal case with a single small window set into the front, he had wondered at the nature of the long-vanished civilisation that had created it. Had they been anything like humans?
Lovecraft hoped not.
His fascinated musings had led him to write several short stories about ancient Mars and its people, only one of which he had managed to sell.
had bought it for a hundred dollars – a king’s ransom to the cash-strapped Lovecraft – although it had not been granted the honour of the cover illustration, as he’d hoped.
Where the Falcon was now was anyone’s guess, although the police theory that it had been stolen to order struck Lovecraft as plausible. It was, in all probability, now in the home of some private collector with more money than morals – or perhaps on its way out of the country…
His thoughts were interrupted by the harsh clatter of breaking crockery. He looked up suddenly, along with everyone else at the counter, towards the serving hatch, where he could see Hans gesticulating wildly before his hotplate, a spatula in one hand and a wooden spoon in the other.
the kobold shouted. ‘Hey you! Get the hell outa here! Go on! No poltergeists allowed! This is a high-class place, you ectoplasmic son of a bitch!’
In response to this entreaty, another stack of plates toppled from a shelf and crashed upon the floor, eliciting a howl of rage from Hans.
What’s your problem,
? Why you botherin’ me like this? What have I done to you, huh?’
The pages of Lovecraft’s paper fluttered in a sudden breeze which seemed to come out of nowhere. He glanced over his shoulder at the door to the drugstore, which remained closed, and then back through the serving hatch in time to see one of the eggs frying on the hotplate lift into the air and hit Hans square in the face. The kobold responded by flailing wildly with his powerful, muscular arms, scything the air with his spatula and spoon.
‘I’d kick your ass if you had one, so help me God I would!’ he screamed. ‘I pay good money for protection from assholes like you! Good money!’
A long link of sausages rose up like an angry cobra from a tray beside the hotplate and flew at Hans, wrapping itself around his neck and then flopping down over his chest. He sighed, threw down his cooking implements and stood with his hands on his hips, like some flapper who had just taken possession of an unusual boa.
‘I’m gonna talk to Johnny about this – ya hear that? I’m gonna go talk to Johnny Sanguine about what you’re doin’! And then you’ll be sorry.’
This threat seemed to have the desired effect, for at that moment a faint, ethereal scream filled the air, the breeze vanished, and the food and crockery in the kitchen lay still. Hans took his none-too-clean cook’s cloth from his belt, wiped the egg yolk from his face and looked around the kitchen, a satisfied smile gradually spreading across his features.
‘That did it,’ he said, winking at Lovecraft. ‘That son of a bitch won’t be back in a hurry!’
Lovecraft was not surprised. If Hans was paying protection money to Johnny Sanguine, the Vampire King of Brooklyn, the poltergeist had made a serious mistake in showing up in the first place.
He shook his head and returned his attention to the paper. ‘Police suspect zombie mob involvement.’ He tutted. ‘Oh, good lord!’
He caught a movement out of the corner of his eye and glanced at the chubby man with the moustache sitting next to him. The man had taken what looked like a library index card from his coat pocket. The card was blank. He took out a fountain pen and began to write, rapidly filling the card with a tiny, precise script.
‘Always takin’ notes, eh, Charlie?’ said Hans as he banged a plate containing Lovecraft’s breakfast on the shelf of the serving hatch and tapped the bell. ‘Order up!’
The chubby man merely nodded and gave a good-natured smile as he blew on the card to dry the ink and placed it back in his pocket.
The sad-faced girl picked up the plate and laid it before Lovecraft. ‘More coffee, hon?’ she said.
‘Yes, please,’ Lovecraft replied as the aroma of sausage and biscuits drifted up from the plate. His stomach grumbled loudly in response, and he dropped his eyes from the girl’s in embarrassment – although she didn’t seem to notice as she slopped coffee which was so weak it looked more like tea into his mug.
‘Yeah, always takin’ notes,’ Hans continued as he flipped a couple of eggs on the hotplate. ‘You workin’ on a case right now, Charlie?’
‘Not right now, Hans,’ the chubby man replied.
‘Ach! Too bad. Whaddya think about that goddamned poltergeist, huh? What a nerve!’
‘Have you ever had a problem with poltergeists before?’ asked the man.
‘Nah. Like I said, I pay good money to keep this place safe. Supernaturals know to stay away.’
‘I think you spoke too soon, Hans,’ said the man, as he jerked a thumb over his shoulder.
Lovecraft turned to see three zombies coming in through the door. Like everyone else at the counter, he felt his heart rate quicken and the hairs on the back of his neck rise. As the zombies approached the counter, Lovecraft looked down at his plate and saw patches of mould appearing on his biscuits, while the smell of the sausages changed from delicious to stomach-churning as the meat went rancid in the space of a few seconds. He glanced at the zombies’ black neckties, noting the symbols of the Enochian alphabet which were stitched into the silk in hair-fine gold thread, and which glowed very faintly.
Their power source
, he thought grimly.
The occult means by which their post-mortem existence is maintained
Hans reappeared at the serving hatch, took one look at the zombies, whose immaculate black suits only served to intensify the decay on their grey, lifeless faces, and threw up his hands in exasperation.
it! First a poltergeist, now zombies! What a way to start the day! Whaddya want, huh? I run a high-class joint, and I pay good money to keep it safe, and you’re makin’ all my food go bad!’
‘Relax, kobold,’ said one of the zombies, in a voice that made Lovecraft want to cough. The creature placed a rotting hand on the chubby man’s shoulder. ‘Mr Fort. Come with us.’
‘Why?’ asked the man, his voice level yet tinged with resignation.
‘Someone wants to talk to you. Someone very important.’
‘And what if I don’t want to talk to them?’