Time travel has become standard operating procedure for us at Dwarf+Giant, whether using our secret yerba mate technique or using the many time/space portals we’ve found in the nooks and crannies of The Last Bookstore. But sometimes you have to reach a little further back and down. Sometimes the old ways are best.
For his 126th birthday, Howard Phillips Lovecraft had to be reanimated. He’d been dead for nearly twice as long as he’d been alive, but Dr. West said it wouldn’t make any difference. The real trick was how to do it without giving away our surprise birthday party. Obviously, one of the first things someone would think upon reanimation was, “Why have I been reanimated?” and you can’t just stand there avoiding eye contact. At first we thought we’d pretend we did it to ask what “the other side” was like. Klinger and Joshi immediately quashed that idea, “Howie doesn’t even believe in the other side.” A few of us argued that that didn’t matter. Someone else suggested we simply reenact “The Outsider”, arranging for Howie to awaken alone, and somehow just stumble along a path of “clues” to find his way to the party. This seemed cruel. At last we decided to pretend it was 1937, and he was being embalmed for his funeral and then we just kind of act amazed – Whoa! Guess you’re not really dead! This all presumed dead people had no sense of the passage of time. The story was a gamble, the risk of which was a spoilt surprise – but with a solid poker face, a modicum of acting skill, and a lot of teamwork you’d be surprised what you can get away with.
Then came the question of how to steal his body from its resting place in Swan Pointe Cemetery, Providence, Rhode Island. We assembled there at midnight with no plan. Most of us hung our heads in shame. How could any true Lovecraft fan find themselves unable and unequipped to rob a grave? Thankfully, Stephen and Joe stepped right up without hesitation. They knew exactly how it was done, and they’d even brought shovels. It was pretty neat to watch them work. It turned into a father/son bonding thing, and it got me thinking: when you go out of your way to show one person love, that love just spreads and all kinda magic happens.
We road-tripped Howie’s dessicated husk all the way back to LA (fun trip, saw that big ball of yarn). As soon as we started making an invitation list though, it occurred to us that every single one of Howard’s friends and heroes were dead, too. This changed everything. Everyone hates going to a party where you literally don’t know a single person – especially an introvert like Howard. All our attempts to show him a good time would be for naught if he ended up sitting in a corner reading a coffee table book or playing with the dog. We divided up into 3 groups: 1 homebase group to focus on prep and 2 grave-robbing teams. King would take Barker, Moore, Houellebecq, and the entire Lovecraft eZine crew. Hill – with a much longer list of names to exhume (youth!) – would lead Mignola, Brite, Campbell, Jones and Graham-Jones, Tremblay, Wong, Lansdale and a contingent from the Esoteric Order of Dagon. (Apparently, the Dagonites insisted on performing “rites” at each grave, and it took the collective effort of the rest of the team to keep them on track.)
A week later, we had a stack of beloved corpses ready for reanimation and a shit-ton of red plastic cups thirsty for some egg nog (maybe spiked with a little something rhymes with Rass Runkey).
We were saving Howard for last, obviously, but we had a lot of folks to reanimate, more than could be done one at a time. Not a prob for Dr. West: he had a swimming pool filled with 14,000 gallons of his green “special recipe fluid”. One thing we couldn’t wait for was resurrecting Edgar, so we just did that right away, using the more conventional method. Everyone wanted to meet him: founder of the feast, as it were. It was obvious he wasn’t gonna be much fun at the party; he kept disappearing into his thoughts. But perhaps we were just overwhelming him with all the attention. Koontz wisely took him into the kitchen, and put him to work frosting the cupcakes. After that, he was fine (and pretty good at frosting cupcakes). Then we just started easing the corpses into the pool. And waited.
We stood around, nervously snacking, watching the thick, emerald liquid. West was confident. Over an hour went by. We started to think that all we’d done is fucked over the pool guy.
Then we saw the very crown of her head emerge. Slowly, she moved towards us, creating a little wake behind herself… her eyes…- her face! Mary Shelley! We scrambled, “Someone give her a hand! Get a towel! Over here, Mrs. Shelley – there are steps!” and so on. What a moment. She was a little confused at first, but so nice. Don’t you love it when your heroes turn out to be really cool? Once she was toweled down, we started explaining what was happening – then they started popping up in waves. Robert Bloch. Bram Stoker. Ann Radcliffe. M.R. James. All making slow progress from the deep to the shallow end of the pool, with quizzical glances at their surroundings and us. And they just kept coming: Smith. Le Fanu. Blackwood. Howard. Long. Rosemary Timperley. Chambers. Hodgson. Derleth. Jackson. Matheson. Christine Campbell Thomson. Machen. Harlan Ellison came out as well, which shocked us, since we hadn’t realized he was dead. Turns out he hadn’t been dead, but had jumped in the pool of reanimation fluid when no one was looking, just to see what would happen. They kept coming, and we ran out of towels. You can’t think of everything.
There we all stood together – what a crowd – some with tears of joy, some dripping with green resurrection juice. A couple folks busted out the cell phones for photos, but the instant reaction from the rest of us was, “Hey man – can’t we just enjoy this moment?” No arguments – we did one of those stack-the-cellphone things for the rest of the party. There were hugs and introductions and many happy reunions. It was an orgy of mutual admiration. A lot of our new arrivals had to be lead around, as their eyeballs had long ago dessicated, and a few needed their jaws tied up, Jacob Marley-style (Ligotti and Straub did this nifty thing with sweatbands – plenty of jaw-support, but also comfort and just the right amount of springiness). Again, it was tough on Edgar, because everyone wanted to meet him, but he was a champ and only needed about 30 minutes in the bathroom alone to recharge afterwards.
Once everyone was dry and had a beverage in hand – or a snack, a few of these folks hadn’t eaten in decades – we explained why they’d been revived. Some, of course, understood right away, for others – those who’d passed before the era of Lovecraft – it had to be explained who Howie was and that he had been a great admirer of theirs. They were, of course, flattered and happy to partake in the celebration. Folks mingled while Dean, Peter and Thomas finished up all the food prep. McCammon and his crew were putting the final touches on all the balloons, crepe paper tentacles and other decorations.
Finally, it was time to reanimate Howie. Wanting to temper the shock of waking up in “the future”, we’d set up West’s lab with some period touches: Life magazines, someone had a fedora – and a few things that might make it look like an embalming room. You’d think of any group of people, we wouldn’t have to guess, but we had no idea: a bunch of towels, some random bottles of liquid with the labels turned to the wall, a turkey baster, a metronome and so on. We even brought a few of his closest confederates into the room, friendly faces for him to see upon awakening: Derleth, Bloch and Wandrei. We left them and Dr West to do their thing and waited nervously out in the party area.
We waited for so long, we started to forget why we were there. Hill was showing some of the gang from the 19th century how to bowl on the Nintendo Wii; they typically just stood and stared at the screen. A few more guests showed up: Oingo Boingo (started their load-in) with Siouxsie (filling in for Elfman, of course), some local writers, actors and filmmakers. We turned away a few cultists. (I’m not even sure how they knew.) I was showing Arthur Machen how to turn two regular Oreos into one double-stuff and what to do with the extra halves when a familiar figure took a tentative peek around the hall corner.
“Oh shit – it’s him! He’s here! guys guys come on – surprise! SURPRISE! Hap-py Birthday, Howard!”
There he was, half-rotted but absolutely him – with that dear, horse-face and those thin lips. Lip, actually (the upper one was pretty shriveled). He was trying to take it all in, and Derleth and the others were close behind, reassuring him. We all pressed in, shouting “Happy Birthday” and laughing and gawking at the poor man. He seemed to understand that he was the center of attention, and it was indeed… his birthday. He blushed with a sort of green hue, since he didn’t have any of his own blood anymore, and smiled like a bashful debutante. We’d totally pulled off the surprise! Then the crowd parted, and Edgar was ushered forward. Howie froze, shattered.
“Hello. I am Edgar Allan Poe.” He offered his hand in greeting.
“Oh…. Oh – oh I know who you are, sir! I, uh… I am… ” Howie stammered, then lowered his head in a sort of half bow, reached out and broke Edgar’s arm off with one enthusiastic shake. “Ohhh oh no…”
Howie was mortified, but we all laughed and laughed. King jumped in and quickly wired the arm back. Edgar was quite gracious and gave him a nice side-hug and popped a goofy “Birthday Boy” hat on him.
Then it was just joy joy joy. The Siouxsie-helmed Boingo was crushing it, but nearly half the room was baffled, never having heard rock music before. They just stood back against the walls with their eyes wide. Brilliantly, the band decided to segué into some soft jazz, early show tunes and so forth. From then on, Siouxsie had’em all in the palm of her hand. Mary looped her arm thru Howie’s arm and lead him around, introducing him to everyone. (By this point, she’d become the unofficial “Hostess with the Mostess”). He kept asking about Ambrose, and was pretty shocked when we explained he’d still not been found. We also had to admit we forgot to exhume Lord Dunsany. His disappointment was palpable.
When Anne Rice showed up, there was a collective blush as we realized we’d forgotten to invite her. Maybe it’s understandable, since she hadn’t run in these circles for awhile. In any case, she is not one to hold a grudge, and she jumped in for a couple duets with Siouxsie. At one point, we formed a conga line that lasted about 40 minutes! By the end of it, the dance floor was littered with body parts that had been jarred loose. That became a whole “Who’s arm is this?” game, which was a great way to break up the little cliques that had formed.
When things had settled down into a nice rhythm, I stood back and surveyed the scene: a ping pong tournament with Bram & Sheridan crushing all comers; a lively scene in the kitchen, as Shirley was taking Dean through a virtual clinic on snack-makery; Edgar and Ann off to the side, having a quiet conversation about death. I wanted it to last forever. As I had the thought, “Actually, that’s not a bad idea…” I looked towards our pool full of Dr. West’s secret formula revive-a-body fluid. I noticed it was ringed by hooded Dagonites with their arms upraised. I grabbed Machen and Blackwood and went out there.
“Hey, what are you guys doing?”
“- the fuc– why would you do that?!”
“Because he is our lord.”
“He’s the destroyer you morons!”
“…well, yes… but he’s our destroyer-”
Art, Algie and I started hosing down the patio, which they’d marked up with chalk: magick symbols and all kinda arcane foolery.
It was too late.
Sick, juicy bubbles appeared on the surface of the pool. When they popped, a slightly visible miasma spread through the air. One monstrous clawed hand erupted from the deep end and scattered the cultists as it crashed down on the far cement edge. Another hand did the same on this side, and we narrowly dodged it. By now our fellow partygoers had started to gather outside.
“Oh my god… those clawed hands must be 8 feet wide.”
“I make it… 12 feet at a minimum.”
“Pool’s only 11 feet deep.”
“Was this planned?”
The giant claws tensed and, it seemed, struggled. Then a terrible shoulder burst upwards and a terrific sound – as of pain – rumbled in the liquid.
“What’s it doing?”
“It’s emerging, fool.”
“Shouldn’t we try to stop it?”
On the side closest to us, there was now an entirely massive arm, hand to shoulder, visible. It flexed and then flared out in a wild arc, knocking the outdoor tables and chairs in all directions. Spicy wings and celery went flying just as Dean was bringing out a fresh tray of pumpkin macarons, “Well, god damn.” There was more churning of the water and groaning from beneath the surface. The arm seemed to struggle for purchase on the cement walkway. Both clawed hands shifted around a lot.
“What’s it doing?”
“Oh, I see – yes, the head’s too big for the pool.”
“Non-euclidean my ass.”
“Should we try to help it?”
We watched this for about 10 minutes. Two or three times, the tip of a grotesque wing would appear through the froth and then disappear. Harlan tried to jump in again, and we had to wrestle him to the ground. The vocalizations from Cthulhu – though muffled through the liquid – seemed more and more desperate. Eventually, there was an extra large bubble and the shoulder and two arms disappeared below the green eddies, which eventually stilled. Howard and Edgar began clapping each other on the backs, howling with laughter. Tension broken, the rest of us followed suit, except for the Dagonites, who became kinda mopey. Shirley gave them a little talking to, and got them to work, “No one asked you to summon that Old One. Now help me clean up these wasted hors d’oeuvres.”
The rest of the party passed uneventfully, with most folks just talking shop over Monkey nog and Cheese Duds. The Lovecraft eZine gang pushed our culinary heroes out of the kitchen – we gave Dean, Pete, Thomas and Shirley a long, appreciative thank you clap – and took over the cleanup. We realized we had no sleeping arrangements for our guests. We scrounged for pillows and blankets and managed to find a soft surface for each and every one of our reanimated friends. A few wanted to sleep outdoors. From inside, we took a deeply satisfying few moments to watch Edgar Allan Poe and Howard Phillips Lovecraft gazing up at the night sky, side by side in their lounge chairs. It was just the greatest night ever.
I was gently woken in the morning by Joe, “You gotta come out here, man.”
As I walked down the hall and through the house, I saw my downcast contemporaries and piles of fine dust where our revived friends had slept. Dr. West was sitting alone, gazing into space. Thank god Anne had stuck around to explain what had happened.
“They are not gone, but they are not here. A spirit cannot stay inside a pile of dust. This is why vampires must feed regularly; without the flow of life, the rest of the body disintegrates. The green goo was a temporary solution at best, and none of our friends would willingly vampirize a living person.”
We went out to the pool, and it had drained completely through the massive hole created by the frustrated Cthulhu. Not that it mattered; who knew if throwing dust into the fluid would have resulted in anything but an army of homunculi? We stood around the two patio recliners where Howie and Edgar had slept, now dusty and empty.
Stephen said a few words, “We showed Howie how much we loved him, and, in so doing, we showed love to a lot of other folks, including each other. It’s okay to be sad, and to miss them, but that’s the way of things. What is best for us to do now, is to try to get this stuff down on paper. That’s how we give back. Good job, gang. I love you guys.”
Lots of hugging; lots of clean up, mostly vacuuming. Then we all went our separate ways, and friended each other on Facebook.
Happy birthday, Howard. We love you, man.