The man in the gerry chair interrupted him.
“We have a guest.”
The reading man put down the book, which I saw was
The Secret of the Great Pyramid.
He looked at me with a great deal of anger. “Is there just going to be a parade of you guys?”
“I don’t know what you mean.” I said. “I am just a book dealer.”
“Did you come to make an offer on this fabulous collection?” He asked, motioning at the small shelf. “How would you like that, Grandpa? I could sell your books and you would have no connection anymore at all, would you?”
The man in the gerry chair looked scared. He tried to reach his walking-stick, and the other man moved it a few inches away. The man in the gerry chair made a high sad noise like a kitten wanting food.
“I am not here to buy anything. I am a fan of Mr. Carter and I wanted him to sign a magazine if he would like.”
“Now that would be pretty unlikely, wouldn’t it? How old is Grandpa supposed to be in his official biographies?” He looked at the frontmatter of the book he had been reading. “Why, he would be one hundred and seven! One-hundred-and-seven-year-olds don’t sign things. I am sure you have wasted your time, Mr. er?”
“Reynman,” I said “John Reynman.”
“Lovely name, ‘Reynman’—Norwegian, right? Seeker-man. As in ‘Reyn Til Runa!’ Seek the mysteries. Is my family a mystery to you, to you and Mr. Steele?”
“I know my friend died here. And I can see that the restrained man is younger than you. So, yes, there are some mysteries here. The man in the chair is clearly not one hundred and seven.”
“You are right about that. He is much older. He is actually my great-grandfather. My name is Roderick Carter, and I will bet you all the money that you’re carrying, Mr. Bookseller, that you can’t guess my age either.”
“Can I come in? I have had a long day and I’m not up to standing in doorways and exchanging cryptic remarks.”
Roderick nodded. I crossed to the other bed and sat down, rehearsing in my mind how I could draw the .45 from underneath my blue windbreaker if I needed to.
I asked, “Does Amos talk?”
“What about it Grandpa, do you talk tonight?”
Amos stared at me with his dead eyes. “I know you. You are Mr. Price from New Orleans. I was managing one of the sugar plants when you and Mr. Lovecraft came calling.”
Roderick said, “Now isn’t that nice? He remembers you.”
I scanned my Lovecraft trivia. I can’t believe that a grown man knows so much of this junk. “Lovecraft and Price met in 1932.”
“Well, that’s just yesterday, isn’t it, Grandpa?”
Amos tried to grab the walking-stick again. Roderick smiled at his failed lunge.
“Can I ask him to sign the fanzine?” I asked.
“Can I ask him to sign the fanzine?” Roderick replied
“I don’t know, can you?”
“Mr. Carter, I enjoyed your story in
The Moon Lily.
Could you sign it for me?”
Amos said, “You should have told me that Lovecraft couldn’t handle it. I’d read his stories. I thought he would understand. A transfusion would have fixed him.”
Roderick was enjoying this. He got up and closed the door.
“Now that we are getting to the good part let’s not share it with the minds of the unwashed masses,” he said.
“What does he mean, a transfusion?”
Roderick said, “His blood has a lot of green in it. The emerald ichors of the Prolonged of Age. He could live forever theoretically.”
“I am one hundred. The ichor thins with each generation. Do you want some? We could cut a vein open, borrow some rubber tubing from Kassandra. It doesn’t do much else, does it, you old bastard? Doesn’t make you smart or talented or even keep your mind going. So I read to him every night to keep his soul from drifting off to the spaces haunted by
I read the crappy paperbacks he wrote fifty years ago like that movie
“You care for him then?”
“No, I fucking hate him. I didn’t ask for this long a life. I outlived three wives. I have made and lost fortunes. I have to learn terrible things to stay alive, black tricks of the soul from the old books he owned. I am tired, but I don’t want to die.”
“What does that have to do with him?”
“When his soul drifts off to angled space I don’t know if the Bond will hold. I don’t want to go there. He showed me once I was back from the Second World War. He opened a Gate and showed me the Sounds that you can See, the Hounds that rip the Soul. All the things he showed Lovecraft. I don’t want to go there.”
“So you keep him here in this shitty little resthome. Don’t you know he hates it?” I waved my copy of
The Moon Lily
at him. Amos had begun to make gestures with his left hand, maybe some senile twitch. I wasn’t sure how much of this if any to believe. Cosmic horror and senior abuse seemed an unlikely mix at best.
“I hate him. Why should I make him happy? I had a great life. Forty years ago I was a famous chef in New York. People used to make jokes about how I never aged. Then they became too curious. So I’m here in the back of beyond. I am here during hurricanes. I am here listening to fifty thousand Cajuns scream for the Tigers, I am here smelling the green smells of the bayou. Now I re-read cheap paperbacks so an old hack writer doesn’t lead my soul to a hell you couldn’t even begin to imagine.”
“How did my friend die?”
“Grandpa killed him. Used to be quiet, the sorcerer Grandpa did. Your friend came while Alfred was helping him to the restroom. Who knows what he said or did? That’s why we keep him restrained.”
“But you don’t keep him restrained all the time. I saw him out by the bayou this morning talking to the butterflies.”
Roderick stood up. His face was white with anger. “You are a lying son-of-a-bitch. Why are you lying to me? He never leaves this room.”
I looked over at Amos. The dirty white bonds lay on either side of the chair. He was leaning forward, carefully inching toward the walking-stick.
I said, “Mr. Carter, why would I lie to you? I think you’re just a backwoods lunatic.”
Roderick Carter moved toward me, and his great-grandfather grabbed the stick and swung it at Roderick’s neck. He said one word. I think it would be better if I don’t write it down. Purple fire sparked in an irregular star pattern behind Roderick’s neck. A cold rotten meat smell poured into the room as a black space simply opened behind Roderick’s head. Something barked or rang behind him, and I could see some glow in a color I could not name moving toward him. Roderick spun around and the black hole in space lunged at his head and closed, cutting him off in mid-scream. His body with some of the head still on
side collapsed. Blood was running everywhere.
I drew my .45.
Amos was back in his chair. His bonds were in place. The walking stick was lying across the bed. He looked at me. Kassandra and another nurse were throwing the door open. I put the gun away. Kassandra knocked the walking stick back on the bed.
She told the other nurse, “Go calm them down. Call the Parish morgue, tell Alexander we got another one. Don’t tell anybody else. Call my house and tell Alfred to come.”
The other nurse left. Kassandra went to Amos and patted his head. “You finally got rid of him. I know you love your family, but he was a bad ’un. I’d have done it years ago.” For the briefest moment his eyes looked like the eyes of a living human.
She turned to me.
“I don’t know why you came, but I want you to go now. I think it’s clear that we can deal with things. I am sorry about your friend. There have been a few who visited over the years and nothing like that had ever happened. It was Roderick’s fault.”
I got up.
“You can take his books if you want. He doesn’t want to hang around here. There’s not much human left in him anymore. I don’t think he can sign them for you.”
“What about you? Why do you care about him?”
“I am a nurse. I care, besides I know how to do transfusions.”
“But aren’t you afraid?”
“Of the other place? Amos told me years ago, the other place is just Knowledge. If you are a bad man like Mr. Roderick, Knoweldge is Hell. Close the door as you leave the room, this could scare people.”
I did as I was told. It was going to be a long drive back. I had been on the road for two hundred miles when I realized I hadn’t picked up the books.The Megalith Plague
There had been a little controversy when my great-grandfather died shortly after the Civil War. He had asked that two large stones be set at his feet and his head in the “manner of the Druids.” Because of his medical service to the community of Flapjack, Texas, and (ironically) his preeminence in the local Masonic Lodge, this heathen custom had been observed. Last night they drug them off for another model Stonehenge.
According to the
there are now four hundred and eighteen models of Stonehenge in this county.
For me it began with the cockroaches. . . .
Flapjack, Texas, is on the road between Austin and Dallas. Stagecoaches used to stop here for food and water for man and beast, hence its high-carb name. With the coming of Mr. Ford’s affordable device, Flapjack and its sister communities of Comesee and Doublesign were doomed not to grow very large. If you live in central Texas you have driven through these towns hundreds of times, probably never even noticing them as separate entries in the blur outside your window. By the time I practiced medicine in Flapjack, there wasn’t even a place to buy—well, you know.
But there were cockroaches. Not your little-bitty German cockroaches, not your more urban African cockroaches. There were
cockroaches. Locals call them “palmetto bugs.”
These suckers were three inches long. They could fly. Sometimes you had to step on them twice to kill them. They weren’t scared of light, so they didn’t even have the good taste to scurry away when you pulled the string dangling from your kitchen light at two in the morning, after delivering a baby at some godforsaken farm. Sometimes they would fly right on you and make you wish that you weren’t such a lousy doctor that you had to practice in a region where nobody thought about suing their doctors for incompetence. I didn’t practice here because great-granddad did; I practiced here because they would have me. I was staring thirty-five in the face and knew I had to leave Las Vegas before lawsuits caught up with me.
I bought the two-bedroom stucco house with the thousand coats of white paint and fifty thousand cockroaches. No one would know that I graduated last in my class. They would know me as a descendant of a healer. They were glad I didn’t have an accent.
At night they ran over me. Not the Flapjackers, the cockroaches. The palmetto bugs. They loved my ears and nose, no doubt thinking of them as sexual organs of an even bigger member of their species. My return to the ancestral homeland had not prepared me for the notion of an insect copulating with my nostril, so I went to the Home Depot in Doublesign and purchased four times the recommended amount of insect fogger. In the checkout line I met Richard Scott.
A short man, I would guess five foot two, his gray beetle brows and the lines of grime across his forehead were not inviting. His bloodshot slate-blue eyes were a little too wet. He smelled of welding, but he was buying thirty or so precut 2 × 4s. He glared at me, clearly angry. Was he a friend of the roaches?
“So you are the new Doc,” he said.
“I took over Dr. Hawthorne’s practice. My great-grandfather . . .” I began.
“Is dead,” he finished. “I need some meds. I have to renew.”
“What do you need?”
He rattled off a list of anti-psychotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers, anti-depressants, typical and atypical neurolyptics—and frankly some stuff I had never heard of.
“I’ll need you to come by my office. Perhaps tomorrow morning,” I said.
“Good, then you can see I’m crazy, and you’ll leave me the fuck alone. I am, you know. Crazy. Bug-fuck crazy. Ask anyone about Scott.”
I saw no reason to doubt his statement.
I intended to set off my foggers the next morning and drive the mile or so to my office. I would look over Dr. Hawthorne’s records and check on Mr. Scott’s bug-fuck status. However, the invitation to ask anyone was a strong one. I had not made friends with anyone in Flapjack, and perhaps giving them a chance to tell me about their village idiot would endear me to their bosom. I dined that night at the Cobra, which offered a free meal after you had dined there eleven times. Such bounty, I thought, was to be patronized. So while enjoying my chicken-fried steak I asked the waitress if she knew a Mr. Scott.
“Why, he’s just crazy, hon. But I, well, don’t you . . . I’m sure he’ll give you a lot of business.”
It seemed that Mr. Scott had committed three sorts of offenses. The first is that he was the unmarried son of a very wealthy family, which was a severe offense. The waitress looked at me strangely while giving me that news. I wondered if she thought I was gay. His second crime was sculpting. He produced an ugly sort of high modernist sculptures out of I-beams and T-beams, the sort of sculptures that banks display to prove that they are cultured. These two social crimes, however, did not condemn Mr. Richard Scott. They merely made him odd. He also beat people with wrenches and burnt them with acetylene torches. His violence broke out every few years. His trust fund covered it pretty well, and heck, most people knew enough to get away from him, and when things got bad old Doc Hawthorne would add a new anti-convulsant or a new anti-psychotic. Scott would calm down for a spell.
I heard all this over sweet coconut meringue pie and bitter black coffee.
The stars at night were big and bright as I drove home and the moon a full cantaloupe. The moon even put to rest my cynicism, which shows how powerful the central Texas moon can be.