Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Errands in August

What were you expecting? Brass goggles?

     Sometimes you just gotta start writing. So that's what I'm doing. Some of this may be true. Some of it might not.  It doesn’t matter. Just read and enjoy.

     Who am I? Is that really important? Fine. Name's David S. Littman. Besides that I got a useless diploma from a haunted school and I have to turn to gumshoeing to make ends meet. I don’t even care what the date is. To me it’s just August. Is that good for a start?

     If you ain’t heard the Hard Times hit Steelhead bad. I’m not going to bore you with details or foot the blame anywhere because I don’t know the whole story and I don’t wanna know. But the whole reason I’m going to this funny little town in Oregon is that just as I'm arriving the whole place is packing up and shutting down. And one of my old friends who was there from near Day One has decided to walk off into the sunset with it. That’s where I come in…to pick up the pieces.

     I was sitting on the doorstep of the apartment I was renting in Northern Virginia. In fucking August. It was too hot and muggy to stay inside and I couldn't foot the bill for the iceman even if he showed up that week. Then the mailman pushes a thick envelope stamped all over in my hand and makes me sign.
     It was from a place called New Babbage and from some guy with a Baron in front of his name.  I start reading. Concerns one Darien Mason. Hell. That’s a name I ain’t heard in years. He was my roommate at Miskatonic U. We got into all kinds of hijinks and I was usually the one who got him out of them.

<flashback>
     I remember one night shortly before we graduated from Miskatonic. My roommate Darien and I were doing shot after shot, try and forget the horror we just put down so we could continue the rest of our lives.
"David...I promise you...you're going to outlast me. With all the non-Eucledian equations and mad blueprints and chapters of forbidden books crashing around in my head...you've got the one thing that'll save you that I've never had."
I looked up from the table, hoping it would stop lurching.
"What the Hell's that, Mason?"
 "Common sense."
And with that, we both found solace in a small patch of Oblivion.
</flashback>

     So there’s a check in that package fat enough that I can’t refuse. Luckily I still hadn't unpacked since coming home from law school. I took the first blimp to Babbage. It was night by the time I got there. Frankly, it might have been an hour until sundown, I couldn’t tell because the smog was so thick I could barely see the rooftops. But I did see a kid on the top of one of those rooftops. Yeah, definitely a kid.
     I yelled at him to get the hell down from there. I squinted and got a better look. The kid was in rags. To make things worse that was a glass roof he was sitting on. He had to be rail thin not to crash through. I kept yelling at him and he spat back all the self-pity lines I’d been rehearsing to myself since I took off the cap and mortar. And I spat back all the retorts my family and friends were telling me to cheer me up. I guess I’m a good convincer because he edged over and slid down the gutter pipe where I caught him.
     Yep, he sure was scrawny. And he had an eye wrapped up too. Cripes, he needed a bath. Said something about getting it knocked out by some cops in Houston but I didn’t believe him. He said he was American like me, but a little slip here and there told me either he wasn’t or he’d been out of the States too long to know he was slipping.  He said he didn’t even know his own name. Fine, I said. I’m calling you James. You’re my responsibility now, so come with me.

     I finally got to the Consulate. I couldn’t find the address at first because they just moved. Herr Baron and his Baroness had servants pushing monuments around the courtyard like chess pieces trying to get them just right. Relation-wise and resource-wise that’s a whole galaxy away from the problems I got.

     So you probably know this Baron already, he’s a big mover and shaker and mentioning him by name might attract the wrong kind of attention if you know what I mean. Suffice to say he’s Teutonic, got white hair and a nose like an eagle. His wife is darker skinned, guessing someplace the Conquistadors could never shoot a sneeze into. She looked very elegant ordering the grunts around in her green silks.

     So the Baron took a break from arguing with her adoringly over the placement of that obelisk and started gabbing with me.  Seems after Doc Mason and I parted ways he eventually wandered into Steelhead, an out-of-the-way place that still had some memories of the Gold Rush. He wore a lot of hats there though they never seemed to fit him that well, except for that Mad Scientist hat. That’s where he met the Baron and they become much more than friends, practically family. Must be a Mad Scientist thing.

     Yep, that’s the Darien I remember. Always building things or designing things he planned to build. Like the time he showed me sketch of a girl made of metal with watercolor circles for organs and surrounded by scribbles that made my eyes water. Clip Pothic or something he called it. Must have been an art project.
     So Doc Mason was good and so was most of his family, and I had to grab some important knickknacks out of there before they fall into the wrong hands. I was starting to hem and haw and ask “Why me?” before he pushed another Baron-sized bundle in my face. He’s a shrewd negotiator.
“Well, James” I said. “Let’s take you home.”
------------------------------------------------------------------
     James and I got to Steelhead during a storm. I slipped him something and told him to hold onto it. Soon he realized I slipped him a bar of soap because he’s trying to wipe all the suds off him in the downpour. The Baron told me Steelhead was kind of a Bohemian place while still being wholesome. Yeah that’s pretty much on the dot. A Steampunk Noir vibe. But you could tell things were just starting to tip. A bit too much dust and new boards over some of the windows. I ducked in from a rainstorm and realized we were in an absinthe house with mechanical waiters. Okay, fine. I was told to expect this kinda thing. I get some dirty looks from the patrons for bringing a kid in, but hey he we were soaking wet. I opened the door and pointed at the lightning crashing outside and they let it go.

     This young girl pops in, about James’ age but better fed. She was half dressed like a mourner at a funeral and half like some rainbow parade float. She had a huge platter full of fresh cookies and cakes for everybody. She had a French accent. And she used it a lot. You know how self-conscious girls are that age. She tells me her name is Blue Lacroix and that Doc Mason was one of the first people she met in Babbage, and brought here to Steelhead where she set up her own bakery business. 

     Okay you're asking how could a little girl start her own bakery business. Look I know this probably doesn’t make sense to you but I’m cutting everything about Steelhead to the bare bones enough so that you’ll believe ANYTHING I say about it. It’s that kinda place. 

     So Blue points out where Mason Labs is. I thank her and let her and James chat up while I make a quick side trip and introduce myself to the local lawman – one Marshall Ortega - and show him my papers, so he knows I’m not a looter or a kidnapper. It all checked out. He was friendly enough but obviously had a lot on his mind. He was obviously upset that his Doctor friend was gone, but not surprised. Apparently he’s pulled this disappearing stunt once before. He and this whole town had a bittersweet flavor.

     So I swung back to the absinthe house to pick up James. Blue says since I'm friends with Mason she's friends with me and can probably swing some business my way. Well I'm not sure if she meant more than tea and biscuits but I'm not complaining. At first I thought it was an old stone chapel. Cripes, someone’s been reading too many Gothic novels. The stone building was surrounded by swamp gas. At least I hope that’s what it was.                  

     Nobody wanted to go near the place so I guess he wasn’t afraid of people stealing from him because one of the big metal double doors was swung open. It was chockablock full of inventions and lab equipment with barely room for his desk and a chair. I told James what to touch and what not to touch. Ignore the jars of brains. Stay away from the sparking stuff. Grab the documents. Get that chest. Get that… Suddenly something crashed down from the ceiling.

“Oh crap.” I say. “That’s a Voorish Sign.”

“Is that a Voorish?”

     James is pointing at something at the other end of the room. His eyepatch is off. The hairs are standing straight up on the back of my neck but I can’t make out anything in all the flickering. But I look down and something’s moving away the dust and cobwebs and pushing away furniture to get to us.

“I dunno kid, but let’s not stay and find out.”

     I grab one strap of the chest and he grabs the other strap. He’s behind me but the way’s to narrow from clutter to switch places. I’m counting one-two one-two so we don’t fall end over end. Suddenly he’s tossed to the ground like a rag doll and that something I can’t see is lifting up the other end of the chest. I hear lots of metal crashing inside it as I hold on, the damn thing’s lifting me up!

“I did NOT sign up for this!”

Suddenly the strap at the other end of the chest snaps and it comes crashing to the ground with me in tow. Crap spilling outeverywhere.

     I hear…I suppose you could call it a roar. The whole lab started shaking to the ground. Stones, girders, tubes of green light, brass lightning balls, even his pole with the yellow flag all collapsed. Then came the weird part. It all folded in on itself with a grinding and crunching sounds, then it popped out this world. There was only a patch of bald dirt where the whole place stood.

“Is it gone, James?”
"Yeah..."
“What...what did it look like?”
“You don’t wanna know, Mr. David.”
I gave him a hard stare. The kid is calm. He’s seen the damn Mythos before.
“I suppose you’re right, kid. Help me put this stuff back in.”

What kinda stuff was this? A turn-key for a giant doll? An Egyptian ankh? A white fur rug? Whatever.

     We got on the next blimp with the chest and floated back to Babbage. It sounded just like what the Steelheaders were going through expect they hadn’t settled on a new place yet. The residents were pointing in all kinds of directions so…who knows.

     During lunch I was reading the paper about some town in New Jersey with a story a bit like Steelhead. It flooded out and everyone moved across the river to a new spot they were still building. It’s called New Palermo. It’ll be September when we get there.