My fiancee and I and a few friends went to see the fireworks over the river on the Fourth. It was beautiful. We rented canoes and loaded them with food, books, and, because we are after all millennials, with our iPads. Thus prepared for our two-hour trek, we paddled our tipsy little vessels out into the breach, dodging other boats and smelling of sunscreen. The river churned under the engines of bigger boats until it behaved like another, larger body of water, its waves pushing and hefting us unpredictably. Together, we stayed atop them, and with the others, we watched the sky.
Blue faded to deep indigo and the first of the explosions began. We lay in the bottom of the boats, our books and food and tech forgotten, watching the marriage of color and sound above us, a riot for the gods.
I’d been reading all day before we went out, and when I say that I mean I’d been reading for nine solid hours. Everything looked like a line of text to me. When I first thought I saw letters forming and vanishing one by one in the big white bloomer above, fast as flickers, I thought I was seeing things. But this is, after all, Boston, and as far as I’m concerned, the location is the explanation. Here’s what I read beginning from the time when I started writing down what I was seeing in the sky, which was maybe five minutes into the show. I’ve separated the story (poem?) out by individual salvos where possible. Forgive me if my memory is shaky when it comes to edits. When the finale began, it was all I could do to keep up.
Morning and sunset in the same moment
A lifetime of falling fire we pay the toll of heat and light
Gravity is the mother gatekeeper and we never met our father the rocket
Now we are ash children falling to a dirt world
A meteorite mistaken for a star or an absurd plummeting whale
All falling things are brothers unmindful of their moment
Heaven’s location depends on where we began
We began above
I’ve decided to try something different with this blog, as it has lain fallow for many a long season. I find myself interested in writing again and this seems like a fine place to once more pull out the old keyboard. This time, however, I’m taking a break from reality. I still might write about issues that I care about, like global warming and information literacy, but from now on the format will be fiction, the subject Boston, and the themes purposely strange, unless I specifically state otherwise. Enjoy!
This could be my last entry. I don’t know. I have a widget, some stupid thing to help me write, that’s going to post whatever I have down here in exactly 15 minutes. That way, if I don’t make it, there will be some kind of record. People have to know about this. So sorry about any spelling and grammar errors – I’ll probably use a lot of dashes – but oh god now is so not the time.
I’m in a Starbucks in Harvard Square. I’ve been here for a while, waiting for my fiancee to get out of her grad class. This is a good ‘bucks. Pretty quiet, really small, lots of plugs. I always get one of the round tables. You know? If you’ve ever been here, you know what I mean. I got the one that’s not wobbly. I’m babbling. Am I going crazy? I might be going crazy.
The homeless guy came in here about an hour back. Homeless guys don’t bother me much. People around here treat them like shit, but they come into my library pretty much all the time and usually they’re not the bad customers. Moms, especially ones with designer bags, you’ve got to watch out for them. They’ll swipe your iPhone faster than a magpie with a steel washer. This old fart in the flannel and the ragged canvas cover-alls, he wasn’t going to cause any trouble. A little noisy, maybe. Kept yelling for coffee at the top of his creaky old voice. Maybe he was deaf, I figured.
Anyway, I kept doing what I was doing, headphones on, as everyone else in the place edged away from the dude. Pretty soon, the shop was basically empty except for me and the homeless guy and the Starbucks staff, who all looked like they’d rather be pretty much anywhere else. Now, I’d glanced at the back of his wispy-haired white head once or twice, but I hadn’t seen the guy’s face. From his voice, I imagined a kind of leathery deflated-balloon look. Think sleeping outside without a tent. How bad could it be?
I seriously had no idea that anything was up until I paused for a second and he. Was. Right. There.
And his face.
It was tentacles.
I’m talking full-on octopus tentacles, suckers and all, squirming out of this hole that should have been his mouth, but which was circular and lined with rows and rows of tiny, pointy teeth. He had eyes, kind of, but they were miniscule and situated too far apart on his head. Also, there were about ten of them. They were all about six inches from my face. No nose.
I must have gasped, because the smell hit me like a rocket. Putrid fish, mold, ancient horror and cheap wine. Shit. I was still wearing my headphones, so I don’t have any idea if I screamed or not. I probably did. I’m kind of a coward. Weird how easy it is to admit that now, after years of picking fights and doing stupid shit to convince everyone I was some kind of modern fucking knight. One tentacle-faced homeless wino beats ten solid years of therapy.
He motioned for me to take off my headphones. I did.
His voice was exactly what I’d heard when he was talking to the baristas. Yelling. Croaking at the baristas in his wheezy old-man way. Wheezing now at me. He said, right into my face, “You votin’ Bernie?”
I mean, what the fuck? I was so shocked that I actually calmed down enough to reply. Barely. I said, “Uh, I don’t know yet.”
“Hillary’s a crook!” the thing wheeze-bellowed, waving its arms. “I have a document right in my bag that’ll destroy her!”
I glanced at the baristas. Were they seeing this too? They did look uncomfortable, but none of them were screaming or calling the authorities or anything. One skinny guy with kinky purple hair did cast a sympathetic glance in my direction. I was afraid to interrupt the unholy horror before me to ask the barista what the hell was going on. I should have been more careful, though. The eldritch wino whirled around to see what I was looking at and started howling at the baristas again. “What were you sayin’ about me? Huh? What were you sayin’?”
“Nothing, Tom,” said the large, blonde, tired-looking manager. She was repeatedly mopping the same place behind the counter, as though she could drill a hole in the floor and escape to the comparatively safe and comfortable confines of Hell. “We all love having you here.”
“Yer doin’ sign language! Yer talkin’ about me!”
“No, Tom. No sign language.”
“Oh really?” Tom the abomination started making ridiculous, convoluted hand and arm gestures at the baristas. He looked like he was having some kind of fit. “What’m I sayin’? Huh? What’m I sayin’?” I realized that now might be my chance. But should I take my computer? I needed the damn thing, that much was certain, but most of my work as backed up online and abandoning it would not be a career-level catastrophe. Plus, I could borrow my fiancee’s for a little while. I started to scootch away, quiet on the bench.
Not quiet enough. Tom rounded on me, his gaping tentacle-maw closer than ever. “You tryin’ t’git away?”
“No!” I said. What the hell was I supposed to say? My bowels still felt loose, but I was starting to realize that Tom wouldn’t hurt me. His face was jacked up, sure, but otherwise his abilities seemed to fall within normal human parameters. Plus, what kind of a cthonic demon drinks Mad Dog? “I have to go to the bathroom.”
“Oh,” Tom said, his tentacles contracting toward his mouth-hole. “Well I guess that’s all right.”
I slid away from him and made my way to the back of the cafe, catching the purple-haired guy’s eye as I did. He followed me into the back hallway where the bathroom was. Tom stayed in place, muttering commentary at increasingly shocked Harvard students who were starting to gather outside the giant panel window at the front of the store. I slipped into the bathroom and beckoned the barista to come after. Without missing a beat, he followed me. God bless the friends of Dorothy. I slammed the door closed.
I said, “What.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“OK, first of all, it’s not you. He’s really got an octopus for a face. And I’m sorry he did that to you. Usually he’s a lot calmer.”
Purple-hair wore a name tag on the front of his green apron. It read “Leon.” Leon sighed, eyes going to the ceiling. “About…three years? The tentacles only just started, though.”
“A month? Maybe? We know it’s him. Like, from his voice. He won’t hurt you.”
“I’m not talking about hurt,” I said, “I’m talking about what the fuck??”
Leon shrugged. “I’m really sorry. We can offer you a refund.” We stared at each other in silence.
“Did you ever, I don’t know, call a priest or something?” I asked.
“We did alert our regional manager,” Leon admitted reluctantly.
“What did he say?”
“He was already aware.”
We stood there for a minute in silence, listening to Tom rave outside, and dumb DIY dyke that I am, I just could not leave the situation alone.
It’s been a while since I last participated in an exorcism, and it wasn’t for a Lovecraftian nightmare. I’d been hanging out at a friend’s house in college when one of her vintage Barbies came to life and tried to either kill us or give us makeovers. The lack of articulation in its hands, arms and face was so crippling to the demonic entity within the doll that we really couldn’t determine its true intentions. After a few minutes of tottering around, it flopped onto its side right on my friend’s heirloom shag carpet and emitted an absolutely pitiable mewl of defeat. We found a site on the Internet and exorcised the entity out of mercy. It went easy, departing with a grateful backward glance and so little trouble that we decided that its half-hearted struggles were probably just for keeping up appearances. Then all my friends got drunk and I drove everyone home.
So it wasn’t quite the same thing, but can you see how I might have thought an exorcism would be a good idea? I mean, NOW I’m kicking myself, obviously. NOW I see how stupid this was. Now that the restaurant is engulfed in green flame that consumes memories but not flesh, I realize what a fucking idiot I am. Now that ticks the size of Pomeranians are getting swollen on the twitching bodies of Leon and the manager, I realize that I should have left well enough alone. I was wrong, OK? Here, I’m admitting it! If this comes up in a court of law, then let the record show that I am admitting that I opened a portal to a horrifying dimension of horrors in what used to be the Harvard Square Starbucks, against the express wishes of Leon and the manager and everyone who was watching from the street. Literally everyone. I am that idiot and it really is all my fault.
The giant squid-guy is still mostly Tom, I think, because he’s still screaming about Bernie Sanders, but he’s also scooping up handfuls of undergrads and tearing them in half with his mouth-tentacles, so his personality might have developed some.
And I just risked everything to reach outside of my circle of protection and grab my laptop, the better to write my last words, which you are now reading. Such a millennial. The last stupid thing I do is post a blog entry. The ticks saw me, of course, and came skittering right over. They are now crowded outside the chalk line like eager kids waiting for the ice cream man. I could just hang out in this four-foot radius, but for how long? It’s chaos out there beyond the shattered remains of the panel window. Police cars are overturned and smoking amid piles of bleeding corpses. Not a building remains unleveled. The dust of pulverized buildings is literally raining from the sky. Random citizens are shooting at Tom’s face – where the hell did all these assault rifles come from in Cambridge? – and the bullets are just straight up bouncing off his flesh. Someone just screamed that we’ve got to nuke it. Nobody’s coming to help me. Hell, nobody’s coming to help any of us. The species will count itself lucky if we all vaporize into radioactive ash.
Now Tom is reaching down, down, down out of the black-swirling sky above. His hand is seven-fingered and clawed, two thumbs on opposite sides of the palm, no fingerprints that I can see. Green, scaly-looking skin. Red mites about six inches in diameter crawling around on it. I’ve got my chalk circle. It keeps the ticks out. Oh christ, what am I saying? The hand’s directly above now, protective circle be damned, descending with terrifying, molasses-like speed. Would I rather be tick food? Or should I use the plastic knife I got with my bagel?
He’s coming. My timer widget is down to two seconds. I’ve made my choice.
This is obviously fiction. I love Harvard Square, sort of, and would be upset if it got demolished by a tentacle monster. Glorious image courtesy of Shirtsploitation.