At a junction of Aylesbury Pike, just beyond Dean’s Corners, Peter Post slowed his car to a stop. His onboard navigation system had gone dead about a quarter of an hour before.
So dependent had he been on the technology that he did not even have a roadmap in the glove box. He wondered why there were no road signs.
Well, he could go back to Dean’s Corners and ask directions at the Shell station at which he had filled the tank of his PT Cruiser, or he could do the guy thing and eschew asking directions. He could, instead, simply select either right or left. If he chose incorrectly, he would lose nothing more than about half an hour of his life, and the cost of some petrol.
Peter chose left. After about twenty minutes of driving, he was vindicated when he passed a sign reading NOW ENTERING DUNWICH. POP. 2,345.
“Give or take,” he muttered to himself. “Things happen.” He had always wondered if small towns changed the population given on those signs when things did, in fact, happen.
The countryside surrounding Dunwich, Massachusetts, was lonely and curious. The land was prolific with dense natural growth—bushes and brambles and knotty, malformed trees. There was a lot of poison ivy and poison oak.
The fields, however, which should have been alive with cranberry crops, maturing and awaiting an autumn harvest, seemed nearly barren.
Near the outskirts of town, Peter passed a Red Roof Inn, with a sign promising VACANCY. He would soon come to realize that that motel was one of Dunwich’s few specimens of relatively recent construction.
As the highway turned into Main Street, Peter slowed to a speed slower than the posted 25 mph. Near the far end of town, Peter found the building he sought, a weather-beaten and nearly illegible sign declaring it to be the UNITED STATES POST OFFICE for DUNWICH, MA.
Inside the post office was one customer service window. Peter walked up to the elderly man at the window, extended his hand, and said, “I’m Peter Post, your new boss. I’m the new postmaster for Dunwich, Massachusetts.”
Peter had charge of three employees. The man he had mistaken for elderly was Stevens, the postal clerk. A man of fifty years, he looked easily two decades older. Elam Hutchins III was a mail carrier. His wife and second cousin, Patricia Hutchins, delivered mail part-time, and worked the counter when Stevens didn’t.
Before going to Dunwich, Peter had been assistant manager of the Back Bay Postal Station in Boston. Tiring of the frenetic pace of Boston, not to mention the inconsiderate if not downright homicidal drivers, he had put in for a transfer to “any small town in New England.” When the assignment came up for Dunwich, he had taken it, sight unseen.
Whatever he had been expecting, it had not been Dunwich. Dunwich was an odd place in many ways. In many ways, it was worse than merely odd.
Wireless Internet connectivity was simply not physically possible in or around Dunwich, and Peter had to set aside his Mac Book Pro in favor of an older HP capable of accommodating dial-up technology. The Dunwich area was also a cell phone “dead zone.”
There were very few structures built after the 1920s. The vast majority of houses were squalid, aged, and dilapidated. On the main street, and at the edges of town, near the regions of dense growth, there would occasionally be a faint, unidentifiable, malign odor with no apparent source.
Peter was not a churchgoer, himself, though he had been raised Lutheran (Missouri Synod). Nevertheless, he took comfort in the idea that some people went to church. Before becoming familiar with Dunwich, Peter could not have imagined that there would be a town of that size with no church.
There was a building that had been constructed as a church in the late eighteenth century, but had not served as one since 1902.
Between 1902 and 1931, the building housed what was, during that period, the town’s only mercantile establishment, an unusual sort of general store that accepted both cash and barter. Sometime in 1903, someone had broken off the building’s steeple. In 1932, a grocery store named Sawyer’s replaced the mercantile establishment. The church was never replaced. It came to be Peter’s understanding that the last pastor of the Congregationalist Church had committed suicide.
Mayor Habakkuk Whately, talking to Peter on his first full day in Dunwich, spoke thusly: “We in Dunwich have nothing against Christianity. Nor do we have any problems with Judaism or Islam. Conventional religions are simply irrelevant to us, as meaningless as the concept of patriotism would be to an asteroid.”
Peter refrained from enquiring of the mayor as to why Old Testament first names were so popular in a town with no interest in religion.
He purchased one of the newer houses in Dunwich. Built in 1980 — the year he had graduated from elementary school — the house featured two bedrooms, a wraparound porch, and a finished basement with a washer and a dryer. He got the house for $19,995; a measure, the realtor said, of how much people did not want to live in Dunwich. Since he had sold his condominium in Boston for $130,000, he had come out quite a bit ahead in the matter. There were no banks in Dunwich, so he opened an account in Dean’s Corners.
On the end of town opposite that by which Peter had originally entered Dunwich were some hills, which seemed unnatural. The unnatural aspect was the perfect, rounded regularity of their shapes, as though they were lime Jell-O molds. On many of the hills were stone columns, perhaps twenty feet in height. He would have thought of them as pillars, except that they did not support anything. On a couple of the hills were some oblong stones, placed horizontally, like simple altars.
When he asked locals about all of that, they told him that the structures had been there when the town was founded. The structures dated back to the aboriginal population, the Miskaton Indians. Peter had not thought that any northeastern Native American cultures had engaged in stonework. Then again, he knew very little about Native American cultures.
Within a week of relocating to Dunwich, Peter drove out to see the stones up close. The altar stones (as Peter thought of them) had words on them, engraved into the stone.
This made him doubt even more the idea that Native Americans were responsible for the stones. He was reasonably certain that Native Americans had no written language until European settlers and missionaries decided that the “Indians” needed the Bible translated into their own languages.
Peter did not know the words carved into the stones, but he was reasonably certain that they were not Native American.
Ygnailh…ygnaiih…thflthkh’ngha…Yog-Sothoth… And on the words went.
He stopped reading, walked back to his car, and drove home.
He never went back to the stones.
After about a fortnight in Dunwich, Peter realized that he was unlikely to make many friends in that particular peculiar village, and, on a day off, he drove to the nearest animal adoption facility, in Athol.
Since most people in the market for feline companionship adopted kittens, he adopted an eleven-year-old Bengal tomcat named Mr. Kitty Fantastico. He was told that the cat had been named after a feline character on the television series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It had apparently been the pet of characters named Willow Rosenberg and Tara.
The next day, at the post office, Peter mentioned to Patricia Hutchins that he had gotten a cat from an animal shelter.
“Oh, a cat!” said Patricia. “I love cats.”
“It’s only been an afternoon and a night, of course, but Mr. Kitty Fantastico seems to be settling in quite nicely.”
“Settling in?” Patricia asked. “Oh! I see! You’re keeping him, as a pet.”
“Well, of course,” said Peter. “What did you think that I was going to do with him? Cook him and eat him?”
“No, not cook him, no,” said Patricia, blushing crimson. “He’s a pet, of course.”
He decided that Mr. Kitty Fantastico would be strictly an indoor cat.
It did not take Peter long to begin to wonder how most of the residents of Dunwich made their living. The only manufacturing enterprise in town was the Dunwich Screw Company (Motto: “With Dunwich, you’re screwed!”). The plant employed a few hundred people in its one shift. A few score people worked on the sickly-looking cranberry farms. More than a dozen worked at Sawyer’s Supermarket and Pharmacy. Goodness knew what the rest did for money. Perhaps, he thought, they collected Social Security Disability for Ominous Oddness.
Peter was to learn, by way of the lamentations of locals, that youngsters born and raised in Dunwich very seldom stayed past the age of eighteen. They went to Harvard, or to Northeastern, or to Miskatonic University in Arkham, or they simply went to Boston to work, and they never, ever came back, not even for visits.
Few people from outside of Dunwich settled there. Peter was an odd bird in that regard, a statistical anomaly. June Stark was another such statistical anomaly. Hailing from Haverhill, New Hampshire, she had an AA in Hospitality Management, with a BBA from the University of Vermont.
At the age of twenty-eight, she managed the Red Roof Inn, and she lived in the only apartment building in Dunwich.
June first met Peter when she went to the post office to mail something to her parents by Priority Mail. Her parents were both retired and were living in Key West, Florida.
Having Outsider status in common, Peter and June began to spend time together, though there were not a lot of places in and around Dunwich to go on conventional dates.
FedEx, United Parcel Service (UPS), and other private shipping companies did not provide to-door service in Dunwich. Thus it was in many smaller communities. The shipper would deliver to the post office, and the United States Postal Service (USPS), would complete the deliveries.
One day, a couple of months after taking over as Dunwich’s postmaster, Peter saw a brown truck roll to a stop outside of the post office. Soon, a tall, cadaverous man in a brown uniform entered the post office, manhandling a canister or barrel about the size of an oil drum, but made out of gleaming silver metal.
Stevens was paying a visit to the lavatory, so Peter came out from behind the counter in order to greet and assist the delivery driver, whose name, Corey, was stitched onto his cocoa-brown uniform.
“I’ll need your signature, your John Hancock, on this,” Corey said, pulling a folded-up piece of paper from his back pocket.
Peter unfolded the paper.
He scanned it until he saw a line marked with an X. Beneath the blank line were the words, “Authorized USPS Signature.” Peter scrawled his signature on the line, and handed the paper back to Mr. Corey.
“Thank you,” said Mr. Corey. “Have a nice day.”
Peter examined the shipping canister, the likes of which he had never seen. An adhesive label showed the intended recipient as being:
Mr. Hank Wheeler
180 Cold Spring Glen Rd
Dunwich, MA 01072
There was no return address, though there was a sticker bearing the name of the company with which the canister had originated: “DIMENSIONAL DELICACIES, INCORPORATED. Serving the nutritional needs of discerning carnivores since 1692.”
Taped to the canister was an 8 1/2×11-inch piece of paper, folded over twice. Written on the back of the paper in ballpoint pen were the words, “Shipping Instructions.”
Peter took the paper, unfolded it, and read it. The shipping instructions were surprisingly complicated, and inexplicably arcane.
Most strikingly, the delivery was to be made between the hours of 2 am and 4 am.
Later in the day, Peter spoke to both Elam and Patricia Hutchins. Both flatly refused to make the delivery.
Both were apparently untempted by an hour in overtime, at time-and-a-half. It would not take a full hour to make the delivery, of course, but for any fraction of an hour in overtime, Peter would need to authorize a full hour. Peter could not, say, pay Elam for twenty-two minutes.
“Annie thing delivered by CTH Shipping is never boring, I otter dell you that,” Elam said. Elam spoke with what Peter could only assume was an idiolect. It was like no Massachusetts dialect Peter had ever heard, though goodness knew that rustics from the central and western parts of the state did not sound like the Kennedys.
“CT what?” asked Peter. “That was UPS.”
“Withal doo respect, sir,” said Elam, “doo yew thing that ever tom yew see a drown ban it is yew pee us?”
In fact, Peter did associate brown trucks, at least brown trucks of a certain size, exclusively with UPS. If author Harlan Ellison could register his name as a trademark, or whatever it was that he had done, then UPS should have no difficulty in laying claim to the color brown, at least as far as shipping service trucks were concerned.
Peter went to the back room of the post office, retrieved a handcart, and took the canister out back, to the post office parking lot, off the alley. Hoisting the object into the back of a postal van, Peter estimated that it was close to the USPS’s 70-lb. weight limit.
It was getting late. He decided to leave his personal vehicle, the PT Cruiser, in the post office parking lot overnight, and drive the postal van home at the end of the day.
June was over to Peter’s for dinner that evening, and was spending the night, as well.
A decent pizzeria was a normal feature for a town the size of Dunwich, which was precisely why Peter was perpetually surprised that Dunwich actually had such a pizzeria. Dunwich and normality did not exactly go hand-in-hand. He and June shared a thin crust sausage and mushroom pizza. To drink, they had Royal Crown Cola, with, in each tumbler, a splash of Jose Cuervo Black Medallion Tequila.
“Doesn’t it seem a little weird,” June asked over pizza, eaten at Peter’s dining room table, “that you have to make the delivery in the middle of the night? It even seems a little, I don’t know, sinister.”
“We live in Dunwich, babe,” said Peter. “Bizarre and sinister are par for the course here.”
Peter had, about a week before, begun experimenting with calling June “babe” and “hon,” on occasion, prepared to apologize and back off from that if she seemed to be offended, or if it was too much, too soon, but June was okay with it. She continued for the most part to call Peter “Peter,” though she occasionally called him “Petey,” and she was the only one in the world to do so.
After dinner, Peter and June watched the movie Melancholia on DVD. Following that, they took a relaxing bath together in Peter’s claw footed bathtub. They performed their evening ablutions and retired for the night, or at least for part of the night.
They shared Peter’s bed. Peter regretted that the alarm, set for 2 am, would wake June as well as himself, but he knew from experience that she would quickly fall asleep again.
When the alarm went off, June sat up in bed, watching as Peter doffed his light blue pajamas, and then donned his postal uniform. Peter smiled at the bizarrerie, and uttered the words, “Neither rain nor snow nor sleet nor hail nor wind nor dark of night shall keep a carrier from his appointed rounds.”
He set the alarm for 7:00.
“I’ll be home well before then, obviously,” said Peter. “I just didn’t want to forget to do that later.”
“Peter, don’t go,” said June. “Forget this crazy two in the morning delivery. Deliver it in the daytime. Better yet, have this Hank Wheeler turkey come to the post office to pick it up. Come back to bed. Let’s make love.”
Peter stepped up to the bed, and reached out to touch June’s cheek with two fingers. “We’ve made love before, and we’ll make love many times to come, but for now, weird as it might be, I have a duty to perform.”
As Peter walked out of the bedroom and down the hallway, June trailed after him. She slept in the nude, and Peter reminded her of that nudity as they reached the living room.
“I’m just seeing you out,” she said. “I’m not going out.”
“Keep the door locked.”
Peter stood momentarily on his front lawn, gazing up at the stars. No matter what the weather was during the daytime, overcast nights were somehow rare in Dunwich. It was an astronomer’s dream.
Before he had moved to Dunwich, he had always enjoyed stargazing. Somehow, though, the stars as seen from Dunwich terrified him, causing paroxysms of loathing. He felt every inch of the distance between the stars and himself.
Too, it seemed that something gazed at Peter from between the stars, something more ancient than the Milky Way Galaxy, something completely inimical to man.
Peter walked over to the postal van parked in his driveway. Just before he unlocked the van, he thought that he heard a noise from within, a thump from the cargo area.
He pressed his face up against the window on the driver’s side (which was the right side, not the left), and cupped his hands around the sides of his face.
He could see nothing amiss.
As he put the van into reverse gear, and began to back out of his driveway, Peter reflected that he felt rather like a character in a horror movie. Then he wondered if it were a horror movie or a really scary science fiction movie.
It took him but a matter of minutes to drive to Hank Wheeler’s house. Of course, the town being the size it was, no place in Dunwich was more than a matter of minutes from any other place in Dunwich.
There were no other cars on the road. In all of Dunwich, there was no 24-hour business.
Peter Post parked at the curb in front of 180 Cold Spring Glen Road. He schlepped the canister across Wheeler’s nearly barren lawn to the porch, and then up the two steps and onto the porch.
Strangely enough, the delivery instructions had very specifically (and most emphatically) indicated that no notice was to be given of delivery. Do NOT ring the doorbell. Do NOT knock at the door. Do NOT stand outside the door and sing “My Way” or “California Girls” at the top of your lungs. That was fine by Peter, who was not crazy about the idea of ringing someone’s doorbell at 2:00 in the morning.
He was, however, supposed to remove the canister’s lid. Turning the handle to the left, as instructed, he heard the sort of hissing sound one gets when one first turns the cap on a new two-liter bottle of carbonated soda. The pressure level was equalizing. Not knowing what else to do with the lid, Peter placed it on the porch beside the canister itself.
The interior of the canister was filled with a light blue liquid resembling a dishwasher detergent, but with bubbles. There was an almost overpowering smell of ammonia, undercut with something else, the scent of decaying organic material.
He jumped when something within the canister stirred, and broke the opaque blue surface. It was a length of tentacle, greenish-blue, with burgundy-colored suction cups. Then the thing disappeared beneath the surface.
The delivery instructions had said that the contents of the canister would slowly begin to expand once the canister was opened, and they instructed the driver to not stick around after making the delivery.
Peter Post, Postmaster, did not stick around. He ran across the sickly lawn in a sprint that would have done proud a man a full two decades younger than Peter’s forty-five years.
He started the postal van, and made a three-point turn that would have pleased any police-academy driving instructor.
Back at home, Peter found June waiting on him. She sat, still nude, in front of a dark and silent television set, a bottle of Sheet Metal Blonde beer in her hand. Mr. Kitty Fantastico snoozed beside her. She placed the beer on the coffee table, stood up, and walked over to where Peter was locking the door. They embraced.
They sat on the sofa, and Peter told June all that had happened. Then they went back to bed, and were almost immediately asleep again.
At work later that day (although Peter somehow thought of it as the next day) he thought of little but the special delivery.
He decided that Wheeler had placed an order with Dimensional Delicacies. This was like some bizarre variant on the idea of Omaha Steaks. It had been a form of marine life, which Wheeler intended to slaughter and eat.
Peter had no explanation for himself as to what manner of fluid had been in the container. Certainly it had been neither saltwater nor fresh.
Dunwich had no law enforcement agency or agent of its own; not even a solitary constable. Thus it was that the Massachusetts State Police investigated the mysterious and brutal death of Hank Wheeler. Wheeler’s screen door and front door had been obliterated. So had the door to the master bedroom on the second and uppermost floor of the house.
The body (what was left of it) had been found in that room. A shotgun lay nearby. It had been fired. There were shotgun pellets in the wall near the door.
Wheeler himself had been largely devoured, after a very particular fashion. His internal organs, or at least some of them, had been eaten: liver, kidneys, even his appendix, that vestigial organ famed for its absolute uselessness, and its potential hazardousness.
The consumption of Wheeler’s heart had been facilitated by a massive blow to the chest, delivered pre-mortem, which had shattered his rib cage in the same dramatic fashion that a dropped bowling ball would crush a model house constructed out of toothpicks.
The Chief of Pathology at the Miskatonic University School of Medicine offered to perform the autopsy for the county coroner, an offer gratefully accepted.
Peter realized that he had misconstrued the nature of the relationship between Dimensional Delicacies, Incorporated, and whatever it was that had been inside that shipping container. Whatever that creature was, it had been the cargo, but it had also been the client, a discerning carnivore, indeed, which had had itself delivered to the habitat of its prey, its livestock. How had Hank Wheeler been selected as the entrée?
Peter was pretty certain that living in Dunwich had not helped.
Something catastrophic had taken place in Dunwich back in 1929, involving several deaths and the absolute destruction of some buildings. Dunwich residents still spoke of these events as though they had occurred only the month before, instead of generations before. Current Dunwich residents had heard about these events from their parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents.
From what Peter could gather, these events either involved a rampage by an invisible entity of huge proportions (obviously a preposterous idea), or…or there was some other, impossible-to-conceive explanation.
Was Dunwich the focal point of the attentions, and the malignant intentions, of entities from another dimension? Did such things even exist, outside of The National Enquirer?
Peter did not know. He intuitively felt, however, that he potentially stood on the brink of becoming less of an outsider in Dunwich. He noticed locals paying close attention to him, possibly assessing his reaction to the brutal death and partial devouring of Hank Wheeler.
No one actually spoke to Peter about that death, however. No representative of the Massachusetts State Police ever questioned him regarding any unusual deliveries to the Wheeler residence, or any deliveries from CTH Shipping to the post office in Dunwich.
No one ever mentioned a strange silver shipping container, and, to the best of Peter’s knowledge, that canister was never recovered. He wondered in a vague sort of way what had happened to it.
He wondered in a much less vague way about the thing that had killed Wheeler. Had it gone home, wherever that was? Had someone, possibly either from CTH Shipping or Dimensional Delicacies, Incorporated, repacked it, and sent it back to wherever?
Or was the thing still out there somewhere? If so, where was it? How long would it be before it decided to, or needed to, feed again? How would it go about deciding who was on the menu?
Hank Wheeler’s death was finally officially listed as a “death by misadventure,” which was certainly true, as far as that went. His next-of-kin donated what remained of his remains to the Miskatonic University School of Medicine, and what that esteemed institution did with them was anyone’s guess.
Shortly after Wheeler’s death, his house burned to the ground in a fire of mysterious origin.
Would Peter telephone the state police detective in charge of the death investigation and start talking, either about CTH Shipping, or Dimensional Delicacies, Incorporated? Would he blab about brown trucks that looked just like UPS trucks? There was a driver named Corey. Detective Levine should question him. Would Peter run off at the mouth about that 2 am delivery, but state that he had only been following orders? Would there be talk of tentacles?
Or would Peter accept life in Dunwich for what it was? Would he become a part of the Dunwich curtain of silence? Would he encourage people passing through to keep on passing? Would Peter deliver whatever it was given to him to deliver, not only without question, but also without even curiosity? Would he begin ordering anchovies on his pizzas from Rich Man’s?
Peter knew that, never having been born in Dunwich, he would always be an outsider to some extent, but he could take a step closer to being a Dunwicher. Dunwichite? Or would he choose to make waves, and rock the boat?
He chose to do neither.
Peter Post put in with the United States Postal Service for another transfer—a city this time—the bigger, the better. He had had it with small towns.
There were no administrative positions immediately available, so Peter accepted status as a mail carrier in midtown Manhattan. He asked June if she wanted to move to New York City with him. She did. She soon obtained a position as desk clerk at the Hotel Paramount.
They bought a one-bedroom condominium in Brooklyn together, and commuted to and from Manhattan every day on public transit. Mr. Kitty Fantastico lived with them in domestic harmony.
Though he never became devout, Peter started attending an Evangelical Lutheran church every now and again, a couple of times per month.
Tim Scott is a 23rd-level Scribe/11th-level Bard who lives in Chicago, where he writes freelance and safeguards his Precious, a Ring of Protection From AD&D Editions After the 2nd, and attempts to balance his fascination with AD&D with his love of Lovecraft, even while making occasional forays into the so-called “Real World.” Work of his, fantasy, horror, and mainstream, have been published in such magazines as AOIFE’S KISS, TALES OF THE TALISMAN, TRAIL OF INDISCRETION, DREAM FANTASY INTERNATIONAL, and KALEIDOSCOPE, amongst others. He is pleased and proud to make an appearance in THE LOVECRAFT EZINE.
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Story illustration by Dominic Black.