The Dog Who Wished He’d Never Heard of Lovecraft, by Anna Tambour

(Download the audio version of this story here — read by Bruce L. Priddy. Story illustration by Galen Dara.)

The Dog Who Wished He’d Never Heard of Lovecraft – illustration by Galen Dara – click to image enlarge

THERE WAS A MAN who had a dog who had–for the good part of every day–never heard of H. P. Lovecraft, though this dog enjoyed his Will Cuppy, always licking his chops over the line, “The nuthatch cannot sing and does not try.”

Now this dog–and since we didn’t catch his name, we’ll just call him Ibsen–was a rough-haired, right-flop-eared bitser of no particular color except for the black patch around his left eye. Being a virile male of middle years whose chin badly needed a shave, one could easily have said he had a morbid cast but one would be wrong.

He could have been a cert in the movies, but if he’d ever wanted to sit at the drugstore counter to be discovered, he’d never have been allowed to, in that town–and besides, he probably would have preferred to work on the stage, though that is a speculation. The town’s Players didn’t tolerate children at performances and eschewed Little Orphan Annie because of Merrilee Fairweather’s purported allergy.

Ibsen didn’t feel the loss, and not because he was blissfully ignorant. He was self-employed, is all. And by that, we don’t mistake busyness for work. He wasn’t one of those dogs who spends his waking hours scratching his ears and falling over backwards after trying to bite the root of his tail, or whining to be noticed, or acting like a butler who never mentions the stench of slippers. And he certainly wasn’t a dog who lives for chasing, or any purposeless expenditure.

Say Ibsen were famous and some dog were cast as him. That dog would have to learn how to sit in a loose-boned slump, tilt his head about 26 degrees, and quarter-close his eyes. As the script would direct, if a dairy farmer were to write it:

IBSEN. [ruminating]

For Ibsen was above all, a thinker. Sure, he read a lot (see ref. to Cuppy above), but in his limited way, he was an observer, and that limitation sometimes roiled. He often, as fall rain merrily ran down the windows, wistfully wondered whether Cuppy had been intentionally hurtful when he wrote “Hasn’t everybody? [been to Ceylon]“. The first time Ibsen read that unthoughtfully hurtful comment, he felt like he’d just swallowed a stone in his dogbowl, thinking he’d bolted a hardboiled egg. Though even with that provocation, Ibsen would most likely have jibed at the globetrotting life of a celebrity–all that interruption. His eyes, under that wild hedge of eyebrow, were deep wells into which his observations dropped. What did he make of all he learned? Who knows? His hairy face was as expressionless as a barber’s floor.

The problem with not knowing his Lovecraft is that his master (we’ll humor the man), Hylam P. Hector, lived and breathed the man he called ‘the Master’.

It might be that Ibsen was, at heart, a contrarian, or possibly the strain of acting faithful when assaulted by the man (the ‘P’ stood for Pituitary, an attempt by Hylam’s father, an internist, to infuse enthusiasm in the fruit of his loins, to take up his own adventurous practice)–the man who is Mr Hector to most of us and Hylam to some but who encouraged Ibsen to think of him as ‘Daddy’, to, where were we?

The strain, yes. Mr Hector had got in the habit, bad, of writing Lovecraft-influenced poetry. If only this disease had progressed silently, but it would out. Every evening, Ibsen was interrupted by a long portentous “Ahhh,” followed by the dread Introduction:

“Daddy’s finished.”

And the poem would come out of Ibsen’s master’s mouth, the poem in all its rambling incoherent imperturbable interminability.

Ibsen didn’t, in all honesty, consider himself capable of critical literary analysis. He would have been the last dog on earth to decry this drivel as mere pastiche. That it was as nonsensically dallying as the man who thoughtlessly tosses a ball in his hand while talking to a friend when his ball-besotted dog is at his feet, waiting, was as clear to Ibsen as the fanatic eyeglow of achievement in Hylam Hector’s eyes upon finishing a reading.

So Ibsen humored the man, his master. But, like ‘Pituitary’, Hylam Hector’s zealotic enthusiasm was inadvertently the One Surefire Method to turn Ibsen from anything Lovecraftian.

Indeed, these readings set Ibsen upon a new short course of learning, one clipped for  purely pragmatic ends: Ibsen’s Method of Self-hypnosis that Really Really Works, which he used to flush his mind after every reading, to convince himself that he’d never heard of Lovecraft. It worked until the next dread Introduction.

So the tragedy is set. On the left side of the stage, clutching a sheaf of pages, paces Hylam P. Hector, eyes bright, head thrown back in post-declamatorious rapture–a man who looks like the kind of bachelor to live in one of those dark-eyed apartments over the town’s drugstore (but who in fact lives in a house too featureless to notice in one of those streets named after numbers).

Center-stage is the dog you know as ‘Ibsen’. Luckily for Mr. Hector, the pallid sea of light flowing from the green-shaded lamp laps not upon the shores of Ibsen’s eyeballs. Yet if some foul fiend should, in a trice too quick for Ibsen to react, wipe from the dog’s brow that rampant brush and shine upon the eyes of the hound, the unswerving gaze of a hundred-watt fluorescent bulb–if Hylam P. Hector had looked into his dog’s eyes then, he would have been struck dumb.

For on that particular damp and gloomy evening indoors, Mr. Hector’s poem, Moon Something-or-other Someplace-else, must have had a dozen lines that in their hysterically romance-tinged paranoia, their frustrating inexactitude, made Ibsen itch as bad as if he’d been licked by a thousand fleas. But he was used to that from ‘Daddy’.

No, what finally raised the hair on his spine and made him loll his tongue to keep himself from raising his lip and letting his canines glow, was, not that invidious use of the word that should only be heard in another context, the casually friendly ‘hi’. Ibsen’s sensitive hearing was bruised every time Hylam Hector read out hie (and two hies made Ibsen want to bite). But that wasn’t the snap of tragedy’s jaw.

An observant master would have noticed the growing furrow under that hedge of brow, but Hylam P. Hector noticed nothing.

And Ibsen, never a demonstrative dog, showed as little emotion as the palace guard with heat rash. The hound was long inured to too many moons, hideouses, not to mention the abomination shewed; Ibsen, toughened by countless lurks, suffered silently also through too many exotic places celebrated (especially galling coming from this man who wouldn’t even walk his dog); and still, Ibsen soldiered on, carrying out his duty, evening after evening after evening, and always interrupted, at that.

Ibsen, on the evening of evenings just ebbing into night, had managed dogfully to maintain composure, forgive his master’s interruption (Ibsen had felt that evening, a whisker away from answering the age-old conundrum: Why, when you dig a hole, is the earth you toss out never enough to fill it?).

Anyone really observing Ibsen then would have known that if he were a human, the only interruption he might possibly appreciate: a stealthy refill of his tobacco pouch.

His eyebrows threw deep shadows, but they were twitching with deeper thought when, “Listen to this, Rover!” (We sense a deep sense of outrage that Ibsen might feel at this common tag, but since he is middle-aged, and a dog at that, this tragedy is a burden that he must have borne so long that he hardly winces.) “Daddy’s most luscious poem of all!”

And forthwith, Hylam Pituitary Hector commenced to read.

While poetising, his eyes were always either fixed on his sheaf of pages or closed, so he never saw the moment when his dog’s faithfulness turned from the tolerance of proprietal deference, to bitterly apathetic scorn.

It’s a terrible thing to see in a dog, but ask yourself: Could YOU have withstood as much?–the one-and-ten-thousandth “O!“!

But for an ‘h’ . . .

And isn’t that par for all our tragedies? If those two had shared a toothpaste tube, the rift would sundered them e’en before Ibsen was old enough to shave.

So

HYLAM P HECTOR. [triumphantly brushing his fingertips over his chin that he tries in vain to unrecede]  What a treat that was for you, tonight, Rover. [exits left. sounds of water running,  tooth brushing as Mr Hector prepares for bed.]

IBSEN. [stands and shakes himself as vigorously as if he'd just been washed. walks off stage left. His steps down the wooden hall are abundantly clear. This dog doesn't get enough walking and has never had his nails clipped. Thuds and scrabble in the kitchen, as Ibsen opens the door and takes himself out, as usual,  for his evening constitutional.]

A nearby sash window opens with a creak, and an inarticulate but musical cry of pleasure is thrown from it by what sounds like a tiny bird, so must be a little old lady. In all modern theaters at this juncture, audiences are wafted with the Pavlovian  smell of roast chicken.

ACT II

Outdoors, under the stars, on the lawn at the base of the neighbor’s kitchen steps.

Ibsen is eating chicken out of the neighbor’s right hand. She looks exactly like the little old lady who Tweetie Pie owns. Like all ladies of this type, she wears orthopaedic shoes that look as comfortable as a muzzle.

With her left hand she gives Ibsen’s floppy ear a respectful fondle, so briefly that he almost nestles his head in her palm.She talks quietly to him of many things, but is either ignorant of H.P. Lovecraft or unusually sensitive to Ibsen’s sensitivities. He knows she reads, because he of course, has checked out her house, though she wouldn’t have dreamed of asking him to stay and he wouldn’t have done so, partly for ignoble reasons (sometimes he wishes that his master and her could marry so that she might end Hylam P Hector’s poetising days with real romance, and their two libraries would, in combining, vanquish her collection of Readers’ Digest Condensed books. Ibsen always thought the person who condenses a book to be quite as much a fiend as a person who clips a tail).

Tonight she talks of honeydew, how pretty the word it is, how extraordinarily ill-chosen by the ignorant compared to harsh reality, the black blight of aphids on roses. Ibsen understands her sentiments, if not the technicalities. He has always been a fine digger, but doesn’t have a green thumb. He gives her fingernails  a final wash and issues a complementary tail-wag. She stands with many creaks, but as many complaints as an old chair when someone sits in it. They part wordlessly and without looking back. He’s off to explore the base of a birch tree or two before walking around the block pretending it’s around the world, toward home.

ACT III

If only this were merely a play, but life is unfortunately, life. So the mundane must be reported along with the extraordinary abdication of Ibsen’s responsibility for parting  speeches, or at least a quip.

Ibsen lies asleep on an overstuffed chair in that same room that his master uttered the fatal O!–the room a real estate agent would call ‘the living room’, but Mr Hector calls ‘the library’.

A large gasp, like that of a hot water bottle sucking down fluid, comes from the bedroom down the hall. This is followed by an annoyingly pendant silence. Then that gasp with perhaps a hint of shudder and a muffled scream, followed monotonously, by more silence.

Ibsen hears them all, and doesn’t raise an eyebrow–all the sounds of normality to him who knows naught else but that all humans sleep as fitfully.

And now that we’ve ploughed our scene for action, we shall slip into the past-tense, the tense that dresses best bad memories.

Some things you should know about Hylam P Hector

In addition to his father wanting him to be an odontologist or something like that, or possibly because of that wish, little Hylam suffered from attacks of pavor nocturnus (night terror) so extreme that he used to sneak into his parents’ bedroom when they went to sleep, simply to stay awake. He sat on the bare wood floor in his thin nightshirt, listening to them snore.

Never bold enough to wake them up, he ended this practice one night at age ten when he heard a team of robbers clean out his father’s ‘rooms’ at the back of the house. The robbers had a horse with severe allergies to the flowers in the garden. It never stopped sneezing, and a horse who sneezes could wake a cemetery. But neither of his parents so much as turned over in bed.

He never told his parents about this incident, but it was only one of many that haunted him, before he met Lovecraft’s works just after a failed love attempt in his first year of college.

His father was by this time, dead, and Hylam frittered away the rest of his inheritance on magazines that contained Lovecraft, notebooks in which to attempt to write stories like Lovecraft, and blank books with leather covers, in which he wrote his Lovecraftian poetry.

The problem with his taking up with Lovecraft, however, was not just that Hylam became a writer of insufferably frightful verse. He became an undocumented statistic in one of the most dreadful pandemics ever to hit humanity (and as a side-effect, other species).

He could have been the poster child for the disaster that until now has been nameless, but we shall break that code of silence and speak up. In that little upstate college  in Horsenail, New York, Hylam P Hector caught ApnoeaPavorlovcraftis, an anti-social disease.

Alone in his bed with his eyes tightly closed and his face turning purple from the effects of held breath, he’d inevitably break, issuing those antimacassar-shaking explosions of heretofore pent-up breath.

Every night come beddy-bye, he was so exhausted that he literally fell upon his gaping sheets, having barely had time to don his most beige pajamas. His eyes would close autonomically, and he would instantly be plunged into his first abyssal nightmare. And as everyone knows, now that we’ve revealed his disease, those nightmares were filled with grasping tentacled monsters and other women who were dangerously beautiful, strange gods with too many consonants to their names, things that lurk, hidden just out of view, more tentacles–and all the while he spent his sleep trying to hold his breath, so that he could not be seen (especially by the unseen). Then the air would blast out of his mouth and all those tentacles would reach out towards him till he made a pillbug of himself in the middle of his bed, holding his breath again . . . and so on, till his saviour, that he called affectionately and inaccurately, his ‘alarum clock’ rang at 8 o’clock a.m.

He never felt that he had slept a wink, yet he had nightmared loud as the Front all through the night.

Such a contrast to his day job. In his waking life, he was a writer, see–and not only that, but the celebrated enough never to reveal himself to his doctor: ‘Augusta J. E. Wilson’, author of AT THE MERCY OF TIBERIUS (New.), INFELICE; or, the Deserted Wife, ST. ELMO; or, Saved at Last, MACARIA; or, Altars of Sacrifice, VASHTI; or, Until Death us do Part, and INEZ: A Tale of the Alamo. (in cloth and paper covers at all good booksellers) “Who has not read with delight the Works of AUGUSTA WILSON? Her strange wonderful and fascinating style; the profoundest depths to which she sinks the probe into human nature toughing the most sacred chords and springs; the intense interest thrown around her characters, and the very marked peculiarities of her principal figures, conspire to give an unusual interest to the Works of this eminent Southern Authoress.” asks a back flyleaf of the “Intensely interesting” PRICE FIFTY CENTS D.M. Canright’s THE MINISTRATION OF ANGELS, and the Origin, History, and Destiny of Satan.

So not only was he a secret Southern Authoress of intense 25-cent mysteries, but he wrote them without a single O!, and even at their most terrifying junctures, he bashed away at them with the coldness of a butcher tenderising steak. All day he wrote commercially, but something happened when the lights outside were low, or maybe it was that green-shaded lamp.

Luckily for him, after that failed one-sided love affair the week before he discovered Lovecraft, passion for another woman had been something he didn’t feel the need of any more. Nor, fortunately for him, did he wish to have a dog in his bedroom at night. Ibsen had excellent hearing, but no wont to have his night disturbed by his master’s commotions, since there was no cure he knew of for the disease.

Ibsen was able and quite ready to tear robbers to shredded meat, should they venture into the house. And Ibsen being a dog who was faithful to his master, was always ready to defend his master against anything a dog can sink teeth into. But short of peeing on his master’s face, Ibsen couldn’t think of what to do to break the nightmare/breath-hold/gasp explosion cycle.

Back to the Action

On this penultimate evening, the one in which Hylam Hector tried too far, the affections of his audience, Ibsen, as we have seen, had settled himself on the soft overstuffed chair in the library, as usual of an evening. We thought that he was asleep, and indeed, his eyebrows twitched as if he were dreaming, and his paws lightly pawed. A careful observer would have noticed, however, that only Ibsen’s front paws pawed. His back legs were extended, and held quite rigid.

He was thinking out that problem of the hole, and being a dog who didn’t believe solely in theory, was acting the problem out.

From the bedroom came a sound like the hot water heater blowing up. Then silence. Then another sound, like that of a giant eggbeater trying to turn a bedspread into butter. Then silence. The normal night noises. Ibsen pondered on.

In the contrast between the imitative heckle that Hylam P. Hector wrote and the professionally paced artificial hyde turned out by ”Augusta J. E. Wilson’, we have forgotten to tell how fertile the man’s imagination was, somewhere in his crowded brain.

On this particular night, that imagination had caught fire, perhaps lit by that one-and-ten thousandth O!.

Whatever, by the time he’d brushed his teeth, gargled, counted the hairs on his head, and done his chin exercises, his mind was still full of moon and exotic shores. He didn’t fall into his gaping sheets, but lifted them up and inserted himself between them. And by this time, his thinking had spread to shadows. He laid his head on the pillow and glanced out through the diaphanous curtain, at the pale bright moon. He still wasn’t sleepy. The curtain fluttered, and he thought to close the window, but the bed felt as delicious as the arms of a beautiful woman who is coming through the window now, her long hair flowing, and a tentacle reaching from behind her toward the bed.

His lungs closed, mid-suck.

The tentacle ran its tip over his left ear, then caressed his chin, what there was of it. And it seemed to find him good. Whether it was a part of her or some limb from another monster of polypous perversion, this diabolic limb was followed by a horde of silent others.

He knew the eyes of the beasts were upon him–beaks ready, maws opening, bodies smelling of reek from the farthest eaons–and with each new horror that inched forward, his lungs contracted and his throat clutched harder . . . then released enough to let him scream–that fine high wail of a boiling lobster.

And all that slink and drop and terror was just the first assault and reaction. That first woman and the tentacles, just the first of many creatures, gods, horrors–each freshly risen, driven, called from the unspeakable reaches of hauntingness, that visited him that night.

He held his breath, exploded, screamed, writhed till his sheets turned to cream cheese and his pillow to aged Parmesan–and still the dog we know as Ibsen but who Hylam Pituitary Hector called Rover when he called him a name at all, never lifted more than his floppy right ear in the bedroom’s direction–and that, merely in a wishful surmise.

If only that fain poet had restrained, just one ‘O!’–(or even drafted just the ‘O’ without also throwing in that perpendicular projectile strapped to its back) think what would have happened. Ibsen would have gone forth to grab and dispatch with a shake of his head, each and every thing that had flown, crept, emanated, and oozed in over that window-sill, even the Tentacled One. And who knows? He might have succeeded. His strong jaws might have made hamburger of even the most dread overconsonanted god.

For after all, he was a brave dog; and faithful to his duty–before the fall-out.

By 3:40 am, however, Ibsen was a changed beast. He felt he was on the cusp of solving the problem of the hole, and just needed to sleep on it.

At 8:04, Ibsen woke groggily. He had always hated that alarum. It was still ringing, an untoward that had never occurred.

Ibsen marched to the bedroom door, wrenched it open, and beheld what was left of his master–perhaps a spleen, and his pipe. Telltale sucker prints led out the window.

[Ibsen walks down the hall, trying not to wag his tail, but the observant can see it sway slightly before he exits stage right, in the direction of the kitchen.]

ACT, THE CLIMAX

In the next-door rose garden, sun shining brightly upon.

LITTLE OLD LADY. [Her wrinkles look character-filled. She wears a pair of garden gloves and is throwing oaths at something we aren't privy to see on those gorgeous, big-headed blooms.] Damn you to asphalt! [She hears something coming up behind, puts a hand to her ear, and her face lights up. Suddenly she turns as if she forgets that she is not a young college girl. The object of her affections is the dog we know as Ibsen.]

IBSEN. [Drops bone at her feet. He gives her a wag-tail.]

LITTLE OLD LADY. [clasping hands in glee, and regarding the dog with upholsterer's eyes] I wonder. How soft do you like your bed? [She takes off her gloves and throws them and her secateurs into a trug, which she forgets as she trips up her kitchen stairs with Ibsen at her heel. They enter the kitchen triumphantly, and the door slams behind them, unattended.]

[A sound like a small bird singing in a shower wafts from the kitchen window.]

LITTLE OLD LADY. [still offstage, singing the words] I’ll put on the roast, but I never asked. Do you like stuffing?

IBSEN. [also still offstage] Tail-wag [uttered with a slight dip of sadness. He already misses the library next door.]

THE PLAY’S END

But that is why dogs don’t appreciate plays.

Ibsen, being a dog, didn’t waste time in Regret. He walked at the heels of the little old lady, through the kitchen and down the hall.

Ibsen’s nose twitched. He realised that he’d never been in this part of the house, and a strange, exciting smell emanated from the closed door. The floor boards groaned and grizzled under the LOL’s heels. It was that old a house. She reached out and tried to turn the china doorknob, but it didn’t budge.

She gripped her hand, grimacing, and inadvertently looked down at Ibsen. He understood completely, suffering from a touch of lumbago himself. Up he leapt, and that doorknob didn’t dare give his jaws trouble, not while the door itself was subject to his claws.

He’d looked back at the LOL, forgetting not to wag his tail. She went into the room ahead of him and . . . he didn’t know what to think.

The walls and ceiling were hairy and scaled with many thought-provoking artefacts, and two walls were lined with bookcases so filled to bursting that Ibsen’s tongue lolled. The LOL pulled out one oversize book, opened it and laid it on the floor beside Ibsen.

He’d never known a hole so wide and deep could exist.

Her laugh was a bit embarrassed. “I don’t know why I’m showing you a tourist shot. But Frank took it the day we started that trip.”

Ibsen nosed the book closed and read the words: Tectonic Geomorphies of the World’s  Five Grandest Canyons; an Introduction  [and the author] Franklin G. Orpington.

A small thin book was placed briefly on the floor unopened and then snatched up again with an embarrassed giggle. But not before Ibsen had had a chance to read, “The Cavnericolous Fauna of the Dambool Region in Ceylon” and author: V. Patchoulevsky.

Then a large ball the size of a watermelon was lowered in her arms for Ibsen’s inspection.  It smelled like a mouse dipped in shaving soap.

“I picked up this in Trinkamalee. That’s in Ceylon, you know.”

She actually watched Ibsen when she talked, though he would have said that the strange ball was far more interesting than him.

“It was just upcountry from Trinkamalee that I was laid up with beriberi. I didn’t want us to leave. After all, we were finding species of bats that no one had thought possible.”

Ibsen was entranced. But why did she kept these treasures here? Of course! he blinked. They’re  much too precious to expose to the unworthy. Without realising it, he sat up straight. His right ear slightly rose.

“Oh!” the LOL said (Ibsen’s eyes were misty by then, but not so much that he didn’t surmise from a print of a young beautiful woman and a handsome man with a full chin, that her name was Violeta Patchoulevsky, Dr. Patchoulevsky.)

“You must be suffering terribly!”

Ibsen hadn’t noticed, but now that she had said so, he felt like a feather had been shoved up his nose, as the full effect of the camphor hit him.

His head wagged back and forth without him having the faintest control, and in shame and embarrassment, his nose shrunk till it was all wrinkles, and he stopped breathing and his eyes grew big enough that his eyebrow hedge parted . . . and he sneezed–all over the cover of that magnificent book that he had opened again and had been greedily reading surreptitiously.

“How thoughtless of me!” she cried. “If you’re to live here, we must get rid of these.”

This was all too much for Ibsen.

With every ounce of passion in him, the dog who was inexpressive as a barber’s floor and as silent as the tomb, rested one paw on the edge of the book, the other paw in the Dr’s lap, lifted his head, and howled.

Dr. Patchoulevsky was not only not a dog, but was a zoologist. Even so, she understood.

At six o’clock she served dinner. Since the night was cold outside and sopping, she made him lamb shank stew and noodle pudding with raisins; and she had a bowl of tomato soup over crackers.

After an hour’s silent companionable digesting, she put on her coat and a souwester hat, and picked up a large disorderly handbag, and they went for a walk. Not just around the block, no. This walk was a dog‘s walk. She waited at every tree that he needed to inspect, didn’t cluck when he squatted and took his time, and they walked past all the streets with houses till they got to the end of town and just past that, to a field.

Then she rummaged in her handbag and found a fresh bone that she gave to Ibsen.

He took it and dropped it solemnly. Then he dug its hole, savouring the pleasure of reaching in with both paws, flinging back the sticky mud, judging depth, slope, width of base. Barking sonarous soundings. By the time he dropped the bone into that hole, he’d never heard such a satisfying thud. And this time, when he filled the hole, he knew exactly why he had to cheat and dig another hole to top up the important one.

All the while, she waited patiently, in the rain. If he had been lesser than a dog, he might have looked back in time and Regretted that his master hadn’t years earlier summoned his murderer.

They walked home in the drizzling rain in states of different but equal bliss. Both thoughtfully, of course.

This thoughtfulness was the reason both were unobservant, or they would have heard following them, something that sounded like the inexorable slink of a rotary carpet sweeper fitted with galoshes.

It was the giant tentacled Thing, the murderer Itself–its eyes big as watermelons, fixed upon them.

The giant tentacled thing was suffering mightily, having followed the Call all the way from the deeps of Chesapeake where the horseshoe crabs are feastly, up through beach towns rife with crab thieves and souvenir shops, out into the terrible wasteland of New England towns crawling with small but proud colleges, insane asylums hiding behind hedges, and poets.

Onwards the thing soldiered, till it reached the Caller. And though it dispatched Hylam Pituitary Hector as fast as it could gulp, the Thing remembered too late, that merely excising the spleen doesn’t go far enough. One must never swallow a fevered brain.

It had suffered all day with dyspepsia. And to kill time till it could decamp, had peeping-tom’d thru the window and espied these now-boon companions, the dog and his mistress. It had watched them all day, traversing the outside of the house silently, its polka-dot sucker-prints washed off by the incorrigibly unsalty rain.

And it shadowed them now.

They reached her house and went in the door, totally wrapped in their world.

Ibsen shook himself in the front room (so violently did he shake off that hot steamy wetness,  that the next day every volume of the Readers Digest Condensed books was nowhere to be found. They’d shrunk so tight that all that was left was a scattering of articles that had popped out onto the braided rug–a‘s, the‘s, and an‘s. Useless as plots, Dr. Patchoulevsky swept them up and boxed them for some purpose that would make itself known some day. About six months later, she wrapped a bow around the box and presented it as a welcome present to her new neighbor, the celebrated fly-tier Buff McInerny. He took them graciously and was touched that she had tried to give him a thoughtful gift, so he didn’t look down on her ignorance. Trouts aren’t smart, granted, but they’re not dull. Clearly the woman didn’t know fishing, or she’d not have thought anything less than a box of peripatetically‘s would do.)

But the Thing with the tentacles was still outside and the woman and dog had now progressed to the room that had enchanted Ibsen. If they had been observant, they would have noticed a low regular squeak like that of windscreen wipers, and if they’d looked over at the window, they’d have seen, staring in upon them, an eye flattened across the expanse.

“I’m at least as intelligent as a dog,” said the observer to itself. “And I’ve been to Ceylon.”

And though it looked to some, as if it were of morbid personality, it was actually an optimist. So the Thing reached up to the second floor, where it found a crack in the bathroom window. It only needed an inch.

And to its delight, the dog and woman were as intelligent as it had hoped. The dog recognised the Thing’s sucker-prints from the Deceased’s bedroom, and welcomed the Tentacled One most heartily into the fold.

And the dog’s mistress rustled up a bucket of clams.

LAST SCENE IN THE MOVIE

(although Ibsen insists he doesn’t wish to play himself)

Full moon over the Grand Canyon silhouettes on its rim: one Winnebago; and the three companions–a paw, hand, and tentacle poised over each respective brow–the Dog, the Woman, and the Thing each gazing infinitely thoughtfully into the abyss.

 

CLOSING CREDITS

Music:

Craft My Lovethrob by the Arrhythmics

Galoshic Riff by Thing

It was a story in Lovecraft Unbound edited by Ellen Datlow that led to the invitation to write this report, though Anna Tambour was recently told by a reader and bookstore owner whose stock includes shrunken novels, “Why do you bother with fiction? Why don’t you write a book about you and R_____ [the dog who taught her syntax].” R_____ shies away from publicity, so this report above was about someone else.

Two upcomings of particular note for those with spectacularly peculiar taste (and what reader here doesn’t fall into that genre?): “King Wolf” in A SEASON IN CARCOSA edited by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr., himself. And CRANDOLIN, a novel, will be released by the singular Chômu Press later this year, for the feasting season.  See annatambour.net for other stories and books, as well as Medlar Comfits, Anna’s other website.

Story illustration by Galen Dara.

If you enjoyed this story, let Anna know by commenting — and please use the Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus buttons below to spread the word.

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13 responses to “The Dog Who Wished He’d Never Heard of Lovecraft, by Anna Tambour

  1. A surprisingly told tale. I am not sure Lovecraft liked dogs that much. Wouldn’t dogs saving Randolf Carter make more sense than a battalion of cats?

  2. Excellent and engaging am quite wholly impressed and will have to re-read one or two more times to absorb, which is no detriment on your part, I just re-read stories I find engaging and thought provoking, but do Love it, thank you!

  3. Sorry, JS, A&J, and JP.
    The writer of the dog story has been so shocked by the good treatment here that she hasn’t known how to respond. A belated thank you very much for your kindness. Anthony & Jessica, I hope the story survives your re-reading. I also like to re-read stories that I enjoy. They always change, don’t they?
    JS, Wodehouse! My muse. I admit that I have hoped that He, in his immortal beingness, would read this story, As for Wodehouse being linked to Lovecraft, I didn’t think of it, so searched and you might want to see Neil Gaiman’s “I Cthulhu” here:http://www.neilgaiman.com/p/Cool_Stuff/Short_Stories/I_Cthulhu
    and Scream for Jeeves: A Parody (1994) by P. H. Cannon, reviewed here:
    http://bullyscomics.blogspot.com.au/2007/10/wodehouse-week-special-scream-for.html
    Although Wodehouse had a special place in his heart for dogs, who feature in many of his tales, he was critically weak on cephalopods. In fact, tentacles feature rarely. See, for instance the all-too-brief mention in “Fore!” – “There the ball lay, half hidden in the grass, while above it waved the straggling tentacle of some tough-looking shrub.” His work was also weak in the unspecified-dread department, though someone could probably base a doctorate on the Lovecraft-invertebrate genre vs. the Wodehouse-spineless same. In the interest of scholarship, I offer my survey, “Wodehouse, snails and dramatic interest” here:
    http://medlarcomfits.blogspot.com.au/2010/12/wodehouse-snails-and-dramatic-interest.html
    Perhaps, however, Wodehouse WAS influenced by Lovecraft but couldn’t equal him, when he wrote (with that typically Wodehousianly weak sense of foreboding): “And the boom is a death-knell. As it rings softly out on the pleasant spring air, another stout slug has made the Great Change.”

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