A NOTE TO THE NEURASTHENIC READER.
The volume which you hold with your pale, sensitive, artistic, long-fingered hands is not for all audiences. If you suffer or believe strongly that you may suffer from any of the following reactions to insalubrious literature:
- Onnayance at Onanism
- Frumpiness at Rumpy-Pumpiness
- Peevity at Perversity
- Paroxysm at Cynicism
- So Far He’s Choking at Low-Tarry Smoking
you may need to give this away as a gift (but definitely buy it, obviously) or donate it to a prison or school library, if one can tell the difference anymore. BUT YOU SHOULD NOT READ IT. It has … sex stuff.
Think of the children, for God’s sake!
Get ahold of yourself please, madam.The first amusement in the present collection is “Mud Men,” a cross of television’s MadMen and H.P. Lovecraft’s Dagon tales, which looks at what would happen if the town of Innsmouth, Massachusetts was looking for an ad firm to run its new PR campaign. You might want to read this one a couple of times to catch all the Easter eggs.
Next is “Cold Air,” a story that has nothing to do with Lovecraft until it has everything to do with Lovecraft. A lovely stranger entices our hero to sleep with her … but only after he fulfills a very morbid request.
Hoade’s Penny Dreadfuls
A PENNY DREADFUL AMUSEMENT.
Dan inhaled deeply on his High Point. Tastes sweet, like a cigarette treat! Not the most grammatical sentence in the world, but the slogan was good enough to keep the brand from collapse just after its launch in 1954, when those limey scientists told the world that smoking—a popular and perfectly legal act linked to good digestion and happy families back to the goddamn redskins—caused cancer and other fatal diseases. Fine, no more health claims, but it was undeniably a sweet-tasting smoke and who didn’t like a treat? People appreciated that, and what’s more, people liked to hear it from Bob Hope and Jackie Gleason on their Philco radios and Predicta television sets.
High Point Cigarette Co. was saved. From that grand slam, to his 1957 What, do you LIKE leprosy? campaign to rescue thalidomide from low sales overseas, to the previous year’s rush job to assure everyone that the Beech Bonanza was one of the safest small aircraft on the market after that unfortunate pilot error tragedy that killed those rock and roll “musicians.” Over the years, Dan White had become known throughout the company as “The Repairer of Reputations.”
He was the go-to creative director when you needed to protect asbestos from legislation proposed by those against the construction industry’s use of that flexible, durable, affordable, safe material. What was the hidden agenda of those who wanted asbestos banned? Dan never made it explicit in any of the ads he created, but showing the red menace of fire stopped only by heat-absorbent asbestos made in the U.S. … well, real Americans got the point. Sales rebounded after he got his hands on the account. Another reputation repaired.
Today Dan, along with the senior partner of Harmon-Peeples, Hank Harmon, were about to take a meeting with Gilman & Marsh, a firm representing some backwater burg in Massachusetts that Dan, who had spent more than one summer at Martha’s Vineyard at Jack and Bobby’s, had never even heard of. No matter, though—depending on what sort of scandal or environmental disaster this town of Innsmouth had been taken to task for in the media, Dan and his team would land them on every northeast vacationer’s itinerary for the next year.
Along for the ride was a new copywriter, Randy Moore, who had been in charge of creative at a much smaller agency specializing in tourist spots around the country. Places like San Antonio: “Culture Clash? ¡No comprende!” And Detroit: “White Flight Makes Closer-Knit Communities!” Not to mention St. Louis: “Our Population Goes Down In Numbers, But Up In Quality!” Each city saw a boost in tourism and average police salary following the kid’s ad campaign. His experience, Dan hoped, would come in handy with the Innsmouth account.
Dan’s new secretary, Fanny Holden, buzzed him. “The, um, men from Gilman & Marsh are here, sir.”
“Excellent,” he answered as he held down the intercom button. “Show them in.”
His office’s wide door swung inward, Fanny holding it open for the clients, a short man who walked in like his feet hurt and a very tall man who stepped very slowly and did not show any pain—or anything else, really—in his countenance.
Randy leaned to Dan and whispered, “Fanny needs to freshen up, man. All of a sudden it smells like pussy in here.”
Dan flinched at the copywriter’s words and hissed, “Do I really have to remind you not to say shit like that in goddamn 1960? In front of clients, at least?”
Randy eased himself back to standing straight, looking chastened for at least the moment. As was his role, Hank met the two men in the middle of the room, introduced his team, and shook their hands warmly, even though Dan could see that his boss almost flinched away from the touch of the taller man’s skin. But, always a professional, Hank swallowed whatever discomfort he had felt and shook the shorter man’s hand as well without any sign of distress.
Then it was Dan’s turn and the second he felt the clammy flesh and the rub of the webs between every finger on the taller man’s hand, he thought he might lose his breakfast of High Points and Swiller’s Whiskey (Strong Enough To Knock Out Dads, Mild Enough To Soothe Crying Babies) right there on the carpet. But he, too, manfully held on and finished greeting the clients.
Randy touched the taller gent’s hand first and recoiled like he had reached into a dirty diaper. “Ewwww!” he cried, more like a 6-year-old girl than a 26-year-old about-to-be-unemployed man.
“Oh, for the love of God—” Hank started to shout, but the shorter man put up his glistening appendage in a conciliatory gesture.
“That is quite all right, Mister Harmon,” the little man said. His voice had a weird garbled quality to it, but he was a dead-ringer for Peter Lorre, the actor who cracked Dan up every time he appeared on The Red Skelton Hour. A smile tried to form on Dan’s face at the memory, but he held it back. Randy had already fucked things up enough without Dan’s adding to it. “This is exactly the kind of thing we have come here about. Close-mindedness. Bigotry against members of our race. Squeamishness over natural human variation.”
Dan didn’t know if all that could even be addressed, what with the short guy looking like J. Edgar Hoover’s uglier brother and the tall one looking like he wandered in straight from the Twilight Zone set. Ugly was hard to sell.
“I’m—I’m terribly sorry,” Randy said, and it showed. “Perhaps I may serve as an example of turning around public perception of your lovely town.”
It was the right thing to say. Both men seemed to accept his apology with gracious bows of their bald heads. Everyone took a seat, Dan behind his desk, Hank and Randy in chairs on opposite ends of the desk, and the two men from Innsmouth facing them in comfortable chairs on the other side of the desk.
“I am Mister Gilman, and this is Mister Marsh,” the shorter man said, and the taller man gave what appeared to be an attempt at a smile. “Mister Marsh is much older than he appears and is, regrettably, unable to speak.”
“Of course,” Hank said. “We’re very sorry to hear it.”
His boss was a smooth talker, but Dan’s only thought about Mister Marsh was Then what the hell did they bring him for?
“Now,” Hank said, “we have, in Dan and Randy, the two top men in the city for rebuilding brands after undeserved and unsubstantiated attacks from so-called ‘scientists,’ showboating media personalities, or a government that seems hell-bent on stifling Americans who are just looking to make a quick buck without worrying about ‘consequences.’ Leave that to the Belgians.”
Dan smiled inwardly. Hank would always use the Belgians as his European scapegoats because nobody was from Belgium and it was hard to think of anywhere more effete and “United Nations” than Belgium. Also, fuck Belgium.
“So what can we do for your brand, Mister Gilman?”
Hank’s little speech seemed to have gone over well with the two men seated before them, their really wide and flat smiles almost bisecting their faces. But in the ad game, a smile was a smile, and don’t take even one of them for granted. Dan added, “I have to admit, I had never heard of Innsmouth, Massachusetts before you gentlemen contacted us for possible representation.”
Marsh nodded in satisfaction, the gill-like flaps of skin on the sides of his neck bulging out a little as he did. Gilman also nodded and said, “Yes, that’s exactly the response that we were hoping for.”
“Ah. No preconceptions, gotcha,” Randy said, unnecessarily.
Gilman’s wide eyes closed to slits as they beheld Randy, then widened again and fixed back on Hank and Dan. “Very few people know about Innsmouth, Mister Harmon. There is one bus per day that comes from Arkham, where some of our … younger … citizens go for work. We have one hotel—my family’s—and we are separated from most of the rest of the inhabited parts of the state by a wide and nearly impassable salt marsh.”
“So that is owned by your family?” Randy said to Mister Marsh, and Dan swore to God that he was going to stand up and throw the fucking idiot out of his very high corner-office window.
Gilman ignored the copywriter completely this time and continued: “Our city was mostly destroyed by an illegal attack from the federal government in 1928. Hundreds were killed, many more were taken into custody but never charged with any crime. In landlocked prisons our brothers remain to this day.”
“Jesus—please excuse me! I just am shocked by this story,” Dan said, and shut his eyes for a moment. Perfect, curse in front of clients. Between me and Randy, this company’s reputation is going to need repairing.
Marsh chuckled, or at least his wide smile and sort of churning sound was closer to chuckling than anything else Dan could think of. Also, Gilman enjoyed a small chuckle himself and said, “No need to apologize to us for taking that name in vain, let me assure you. In fact, that’s part and parcel of the campaign we’d like you to do for us.”
“What, like Innsmouth: City of Acceptance or like that?” Dan said, doing what he frequently did in these meetings and spun mottos and such off the top of his head. Sometimes the act of creation within him was liberated by—
“Not exactly,” Gilman continued. “We are a one-church town. In the same way that Innsmouth relied on its gold refineries for its material prosperity back before the unwarranted attack on our citizenry, now we refine souls. Much like the Mermen in Salt Lake City.”
Dan was confused for a moment, but then said, “Oh! You mean the Mormons! Yes, that is a city built around the Mormon church.”
Gilman looked slightly crestfallen, but only slightly. “I see. I assumed the city was dominated by a salty lake, and they worshiped mermen and mermaids.”
All three admen laughed heartily at this, but swallowed their hilarity when they saw that their prospective client was entirely serious.
“You see, all the remaining souls in our city worship at our church, the Esoteric Order of Dagon.”
“The Order of Dagos?” Randy said, confused. “What is that, Italian?”
Dan put his hands over his eyes. Hank shut his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose to help keep his scream on the inside.
“Dagon,” Gilman repeated firmly. “The Great Dagon is our god and savior. He gives much to the townsfolk, and we return to Him in the sea when we have developed enough to live eternally with Him.”
“I believe I understand,” Hank said with seriousness. “It’s kind of like Buddhism. Or the Hindus. You work on yourself until it’s time to leave this earthly plane for good and dwell with the Holy Ones.”
“That is a misconception we would very much like to eradicate,” Gilman said.
Hank went a bit pale. “My apologies, Mister Gilman.”
“None necessary, Mister Harmon—”
“Please, call me Hank.”
Gilman smiled. “Hank, an apology is not necessary. There is almost no one outside of Innsmouth who understands our … our brand, if you will. We are seeking fresh converts to create and gestate, if you will, a new generation of worshipers, for that is what keeps Dagon strong and able to provide eternal life.”
“Sounds kooky,” Randy said, then seemed to recover his senses. “I mean, in a good way. Like the kids say, groovy.” It was for naught; everyone present knew what “kooky” meant, and it wasn’t complimentary.
“Well, we can certainly come up with a campaign that will bring more people to your town, maybe first as tourists and then as possible members of your Order … of your church, I mean,” Dan said. “I guess the first thing to do would be for my copywriter and myself to pop up there for a look around, see what natural beauty we can focus on, maybe bring the wives, check out what entertainment and leisure activities are available, that kind of thing. Then we can sell folks on the church as part of the whole ‘Innsmouth Experience.’”
Gilman and Marsh exchanged a quick glance and rose from their chairs. “That would be most acceptable. I believe that an advertising effort will enhance the kind of stock that we wish to cultivate in Innsmouth.”
Stock? Dan wondered, but before he knew it he was shaking clammy hands with both men once again and setting up a day for the agency’s visit with Fanny.
“Oh, and please,” Gilman said with a smile, “do bring Randy.”
Read the rest at …