Hella Hellacious Diversions
Artemus Zebulon Pratt
Speculative Grammarian Editor-on-the-Lam
I was relaxing recently with the latest installment in a series of cozy horrors—a recently popular series the Gentle Reader might have encountered set in an eldritch, squamous, ichorous pastry shop (that being estate-agentese for mold, dry rot, and groundwater seepage) that houses Amaryllis, a single woman in her discreetly unmentioned years, and Phyllis, a cat that solves mysteries (usually mysteries of time, space, and the Elder Gods). This last typical ailuromane propaganda, not entirely unknown in Lovecraft himself, entirely elides the fact that cats are needlessly bloodthirsty ecocidal psychopaths who’d give the Russian Mafia a run for their money if only they had opposable thumbs. In this volume, Amaryllis and Phyllis are beset by weird pixyish twinklings in the garden late at night that, the cleverer reader will immediately realize, are in Morse code...but spelled out in reverse order and with frequent mistakes.
Chapter 4 thickens the mix. Deeply unsettling scones fresh from the hellish oven that drives so much of the cozy weird of the series waft odors of unearthly spices and narcotic sugars, summoning two ghosts trapped somewhere on an earthly plane or one somewhat lower, and the book then takes a turn to the darkest in blood-curdling horror:
Glowing brightly in azure, the first spirit, tall and proud, peered at her companion and cried, “Och, Larry, wherefore gangeth thee then, eek why?”
Glimmering a passionate fuchsia, her companion of the protoplasmic persuasion replied sharply, “Oi, Wendy, ’twould maketh a man for to puketh, thine eyen not more to seeth, and thine handen never the more to holdeth, and thine armen mine shoulderen nay again to garlandeth, yet mote needeth I for to stayeth away anon.”
“An it pleaseth thee, I would as lief stayeth with thou.”
“Could I haveth donth it differentwise, lassie, would I so willeth, but thee mote a mickle time abideth while I returneth here, ac ne beeth fanteeg.”
And so on and so forth. As the book trembled in my quivering hands, a cold wind in the dark outside howling my despair, my blood chilling in my bowels, my mind trembled on the brink of the abyss of madness. I shut my eyes, and then the book, and sought to escape the nameless indescribable horror of an amorphous effulgence of speech, a gibbering fungoidal excrescence foetid with the stygian darkness and dankness of unutterable thoughts, a noisome decadence beyond the narrow bounds of our comprehension and our small corner of the vast, unknown, and unknowable universe.
Three shots of whiskey later I dragged myself to bed, certain by then I had only imagined the passage above. Alas, sleep did not dissolve the bonds shackling my shell-shocked brain to the unspeakable, unnamable book I had been so unwise as to peruse, and as I settled into a sleep that left me wearier than when I lay down, I felt as if I had been sucked into a joyless land of tortured souls. I stood in an abnormally lit, drab, endless passageway that promised neither an ounce of pleasure nor extreme discomfort, much like Fartein Valen’s symphonies. A warder bearing a strong resemblance to Alfred Bester came to me grinning and ordered me back into my cell. Although I had never seen it before, it was familiar to me. The desk was piled with authors’ manuscripts, and with a sigh I returned to the work I had tried to escape. Looking through the 693rd chapter of the 437th volume in David Eddings’ latest posthumous series, I shook my head at a journeyman character who had apparently been born in Kent, grown up in Wales, and journeyed to Cornwall via a very wrong turn through Yorkshire. I took down my well-worn copies of the Middle English Dictionary and English Dialect Dictionary and sighed as I blue-marked half the page. A sentence having proved refractory to my experience, I stared at the highest shelf and saw the Dictionary of the Alleycumfee Dialect, and even as I realized as one so often does in dreams that it was utter nonsense, I took it down and found that even this dialect had been butchered and blended with several others. I dropped my head into my hands and damned the eternal buzzing of the lightbulb far out of reach above me. The door opened and the grinning warder slapped down another volume.
“Oh, hell,” I said.
“It is forever, yes,” he replied as his grin stretched beyond his ears to encompass our entire realm.
I awoke exhausted on a bright cloudless morning and shuddered at the memory of the continuing series of dreams that sufficed only to bring me up to Volume 441. Feeling as if suffocated by fumes from the hours just past and with the family on vacation, as usual, without me, I walked quickly to a nearby diner that I rarely frequent, for my wont is not coffee with all the volatiles driven off, like water, but that brew I needed that morning. As the dark sludge in my cup fought off the dark sludge of sleep that my brain seemed to be floating in, the world slowly returned to normal. I skimmed The National Voyeur, perhaps it was, or The New York Times—some nosy rag, anyway—and shook my head sadly at the opinion column in the arts section comparing the raucous adulation given to Daniel Felsenfeld’s setting of David Bowie lyrics for the concert hall, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, to the brickbats, bricks, and bats thrown at the luckless performers of a new opera that premiered and closed on the same night about a pug-ugly, utterly talentless schmoe who sold his soul to the devil for fame, riches, and women, Bon Jovanni.
Tiring of the opinionator rhetorically questioning such blatant double standards, I muttered, “Quod licet Bowie non licet Jovi,” and turned the page to a review of a somewhat more successfully premiered opera written for the more granolified of our modern cultural elite that consisted, one gathered, mostly of smug vegetarians watching the souls of deceased Southerners being deep-fried like ice cream and Twinkies for all eternity and American pop Buddhists (not to be confused with authentic Buddhists) led by the Dalai Lama (portrayed as a personal Hindu guru of the usual sort) chanting as they watched the wheel of dharma being turned on a daytime gameshow hosted by Yama; as the opera would have been improved by omitting the sins being punished, I shall raise its esthetic value by doing so here. I immediately checked to see if the composer was John Adams or (but I repeat myself) Aaron Jay Kernis, but it was some young buck I had never heard of, a certain Maurice Gafgaw, quoted as saying he and his librettist sought to overturn millennia of encrusted dogma by presenting the first vision of hell in all of human history that was finally entirely acceptable from a moral, musicological, and philosophical point of view. Quoth he, “You’ll notice that all the scenes in hell are set to tonal music, with the key of C major played in the lowest circle, while the realms of the blessed show increasing degrees of serialization the closer you come to anti-fascist purity—it’s just heavenly,” to which I could only reply, “Well, I’ll be damned.”
Many descriptions of hell have been offered, the astutest being “Hell is other people,” though one suspects from the nature of the beast that Sartre picked this phrase up from his milieu, where it was intoned facing away from him with a significant movement of the eyes; in my experiences with the French, were one to pursue further, “Is hell every other person or only certain other people?”, the questionee would shrug gallicly and say, “Oh, Americans, certainly,” before changing the subject. Nonetheless, it is a valid question, for if true universally, then we ourselves are all hell. While this captures certain realms of human experience—government, the Internet, academia—it is also true that some of you others are much more hellish than the rest of us, and the worst of you write.