Philip Kenan does not appear to be the most reliable narrator. Obsessed with H. P. Lovecraft's Great Old Ones, he keeps malign cosmic entities at bay by constantly revising his novel, The Despicable Quest. While Philip's preoccupied with the monsters lurking behind every cubicle at his dead-end job, his exasperated girlfriend flees — heading straight into the horror that lies at the heart of the corporate world.
William Browning Spencer's imaginative update on Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos offers a witty and wicked satire of office culture. This macabre masterpiece from one of America's foremost cult authors won the 1995 International Horror Critics Guild Award for Best Novel.
"If Woody Allen had ever written a Cthulhu Mythos novel, it might have come out like this." — The New York Review of Science Fiction
"An explosive story of menace, suspense, mystery, and love. Don't miss it." — Roger Zelazny
Author William Browning Spencer is "a brilliant writer of fantasy who’s also a very considerable serious novelist." — Kirkus Reviews
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
American novelist and short-story writer William Browning Spencer resides in Austin, Texas. The 1995 recipient of the Bram Stoker Award for Best Short Story, he incorporates surrealism and dark humor into his science fiction and tales of horror.
Read an Excerpt
Résumé With Monsters
By William Browning Spencer
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1995 William Browning Spencer
All rights reserved.
The Estranged Lovers
Ralph's One-Day Résumés was located in an industrial park that also housed insurance salesmen, auto mechanics, computer repairmen and a karate school. Philip Kenan accelerated to make the left into the parking lot, then braked hard to avoid losing his muffler on the huge speed bump that must have been a legend amid the local hordes of fire ants.
Philip parked, unbuckled the seat belt, exhaled. Work. It could be worse. It had been. This was safe harbor. So far, he had seen no signs of Cthulhu or Yog-Sothoth or his dread messenger, Nyarlathotep.
Philip waved to the receptionist, a pretty blond girl who was talking on the phone. He walked quickly down the hall and into the bathroom which, while cryptlike and dank, contained no hideous, disorienting graffiti from mad Alhazred's Necronomicon.
It was five in the evening, time for a middle-aged, lovesick, failed-novelist and near-obsolete typesetter to get to work. He just needed a minute to collect himself, to splash some water in his face, to check for nosebleeds, see that his eyes were in their sockets, see that no lichen grew on his forehead, that sort of thing. All was in order. Sane as rain. He smiled at himself, a pathetic attempt at self-affirmation. I will win Amelia back, he thought. We will put the bad times behind us.
He left the bathroom and walked on down the hall and into the break room where he punched his card in the time clock. The machine's worn ribbon produced a mark so faint that it could only be read by the ancient—and perhaps psychic—Mrs. Figge in payroll. Philip had actually seen her read the time cards by pressing them fiercely against her forehead and closing her eyes.
Philip left the break room and entered the long production room where the usual frenzy prevailed. A paste-up artist was sobbing while a secretary shrieked on one of the phone lines. A new printer, hired the previous week, was complaining that he had not been given a chance. Passing employees nodded their heads in perfunctory commiseration. The hard truth was, you had to fire a printer every now and then. Anyone in the business knew that long-term employment robbed a printer of his edge, and dispatching a printer invigorated those of his trade who remained.
The boss, an extremely thin, sharp-faced man named Ralph Pederson, rushed down an aisle where graphic artists labored over light tables and typesetters hunched over drab-green terminals. "Are you almost done? Finished? How's it going? An hour? What happened here? Shouldn't this be done?" He seemed, as always, to be in great pain, tortured by the money-consuming slowness that surrounded him. He waved at Philip and moved on.
Philip sat down at the terminal next to Monica, a stout, middle-aged woman with short- cropped brown hair who was the fastest typesetter in the whole world, perhaps, and who vibrated as she worked, her small feet bouncing on the dirty linoleum floor. Like all typesetters, she talked to herself in a loud, hearty voice. "If that's Avant Garde I'm a poodle!" she would exclaim. Or, "By golly, this isn't on file. I don't care what they say!"
Monica turned to Philip. "I had to set all that stuff you left last night. I've got my own work, you know. Let's get with the program, okay. We are production here, not design. This isn't some high fashion magazine where you can lay back in a barcalounger, sip some wine, and gossip about editors. This is slap-it down, out-the-door production, like it or leave it."
Philip promised to improve.
"You just got to get that speed up," Monica said. "I know you have only been here a couple of weeks; I understand that, but you gotta be aware, you know."
Monica and the rest of the production staff left an hour after Philip's arrival. He had the room to himself.
He grabbed another handful of business card orders and began to type.
Much of what he typed was banal. For some reason, hordes of old men wished to have business cards announcing that they were retired. No Job No Money No Worries these cards would announce. The purpose of such a business card was unclear. It was, however, a popular item, as were cards reading: Hi, I haven't even met you but I've fallen in love with you and I am heartbroken because I don't even know your
The recipient of such a card was supposed to write her name and address on it.
Philip tried to imagine a woman being charmed by such a card, but the best Philip could do was conjure up a vision of a hardened hooker smiling gamely and saying, "That's funny. That's really funny."
And sometimes, amid the banality and insufferable self-advertisements, there were true and decent aspirations.
Résumés of the young, narrating honors seminars and obscure college awards and summer jobs, full of fine sentiments (I wish to be of service to other humans and to work toward a cleaner and more healthful environment) could bring a sudden hollow stillness to Philip's heart, as though a loved one had just fled his embrace, and Philip would hear himself whisper, "Be careful."
At ten, Philip called Amelia up from the phone in Mrs. Figge's office.
"It's me," he said.
"I know that," Amelia said. Her voice still set his heart racing. It was such a wonderful, bell- like voice, although these days it contained a certain wary edge.
She had rationed him to one call a week, and this was it. She had been unhappy when he followed her to Austin, and she had refused to talk to him at first, letting her sister, Rita, take the calls. But she had relented under his persistence.
Philip had followed her to Austin from traffic-snarled Fairfax, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. They had both worked at MicroMeg, where they had met and fallen in love, and where, finally, the ancient, implacable curse that his father had called the System or sometimes, Yog-Sothoth or simply the Great Old Ones, had torn them asunder. He was here now to win her back, and he knew he had to proceed with caution. So far he had only spoken to her on the phone, although he had seen her a number of times. He had spied on her; he had crouched low in his car in the shade of live oaks down the street from the house where she was staying with her sister.
He would watch her come out of the house in the morning, get into her car and drive off. So far he had resisted the urge to race up to her, to enfold her in his arms. He didn't want to send her running again. He might lose her forever in the vastness of America.
Amelia, traumatized into blind denial by the doom that came to MicroMeg, refused to acknowledge that the Old Ones even existed, preferred to think that her lover had lost his reason; preferred to flee him rather than confront the truth, as though such flight could negate the dreadful, ghastly facts, the irrefutable history that she and Philip shared.
"You can't deny what happened!" he had shouted.
Oh, but she could.
She loved him, still. Philip could hear that love in her voice, beneath all the careful reserve and skirted subjects.
Philip kept the phone conversation casual, asked how her job search was going.
"Not good," Amelia said. Austin was a city with a large college population. Employers could hire from this student population. There were also a substantial number of people who had gone to the University of Texas for as long as possible, accrued as many degrees as parental funds and grants permitted, and now waited tables, clerked in government positions, or sat in the rental offices of apartment complexes—anything rather than return to, say, El Paso.
And who would want to leave? Austin was lovely, a laid-back town, the last refuge for hordes of aging hippies who drifted up and down the Drag, gray-bearded artifacts who knew all the lyrics to old Leonard Cohen songs and could talk knowledgeably about astral planes and karma.
"I can't find anything," Amelia complained.
"You will," Philip said. "It just takes a few days sometimes, and you want to be careful anyway. You want to see that there aren't any signs of—"
Philip stopped abruptly. Easy. "I just mean you don't have to grab the first job you are offered."
And you want to look in the bathrooms and see what is written there on the walls, and take a peek in the furnace room, and perhaps, quite casually, stick a good-sized pin in a long- term employee and see if she howls.
"I don't feel right about staying here with Rita too long," Amelia said. "She doesn't complain or anything, but I know I'm in the way."
"You could come and live with me," Philip said.
Silence. Philip's heart crawled out of his chest and jumped up and down on the desk: Boom boom boom.
"Are you still writing that novel?" she asked.
His heart climbed back into his chest and lay down, curled on its side, defeated. Why lie? He couldn't fool her. "Yes. Sure."
"Philip, I can't live with you. Look, Rita is expecting a call. I'll talk to you next week, okay?"
"Okay," Philip said.
He went back to his computer and began typing again. The phone call hadn't been a bad one, really. She hadn't said never to call again. She had said, "I'll talk to you next week, okay?" That was certainly positive. She seemed to have accepted his presence; she wasn't sending him away or running again.
He lay in bed that night and thought, "I'll win her back." In the meantime, of course, he would have to hang on to his own reason; he would have to be ever-vigilant. Once you have gazed on the baleful visage of Yog-Sothoth, your own thoughts are forever suspect.
He needed all his wits, and the first thing he did on arriving in Austin was to throw away all of Dr. Abrams' well-meant prescriptions. Pills might blunt the edge of his fear, but they were not the answer. A man could not spend his life splashing himself with tap water if he lived in a burning house. He had to fireproof his soul.
Books were perhaps the best antidote. Philip purchased used paperbacks. Occasionally, when he couldn't find the book elsewhere, he would check it out of the library, but he disliked returning a book once it was in his possession, so he availed himself of the library only when diligent search failed to discover the sought-after book.
He read Crime and Punishment, The Enormous Room, Bleak House, Green Mansions, Invisible Man (Ellison), Tom Jones, Heart of Darkness, Eternal Fire, Hall of Mirrors, A Princess of Mars.
He found that he did not have to read certain books, that simply keeping them near or upon his person offered protection. These books were The Catcher in the Rye; Cat's Cradle; Little Big Man; Something Wicked This Way Comes; The Sot-Weed Factor; Alice in Wonderland; The Horse's Mouth; Winesburg, Ohio; Sense and Sensibility; The Way of All Flesh; Titus Groan; and War and Peace.
And, of course, he kept the Arkham H. P. Lovecraft books close by, a reference and a warning (The Dunwich Horror and Others, At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels, Dagon and Other Macabre Tales).
Philip continued to work on his own novel—oh how Amelia hated that novel; and oh how she was wrong about that—presently entitled The Despicable Quest. The book was completed, but he constantly altered it. In over twenty years of alterations, it had grown to four times its original length. He had been sending it to publishers and agents since the late sixties, and he had a drawer full of rejections. Most of the rejections were form letters, often badly photocopied scraps of paper, but occasionally an agent or publisher would actually write or type a brief note, notes dashed off in great haste and suggesting a life far more eventful and momentous than Philip's own grind of blighted hope and menial toil. Recently, these occasional personal missives were filled with words and phrases like "unwieldy," "diffuse," "directionless," and "muddled." The influence of Lovecraft was noted by one agent who said, "Not everyone is familiar with Lovecraft's works or his Cthulhu stories, so a two-thousand-page novel about these obscure monsters might have a limited audience."
In any event, the novel, despite its increased thickness, was beginning to fail Philip as a buffer against dark thoughts and nameless anxieties. Where once the novel had been a refuge from hostile realities it now seemed—Philip stopped, stunned by the possibility that Amelia, intuitively, was right. She had said that the novel was not good for him, was the cause of all his mental problems, and while that was patently untrue and part of her own denial system, what if the novel were, in some way, a malign influence? What if the novel had become a sort of psychic magnet for ancient beasts? What if, every time he typed a sentence, vile, star-shaped heads turned on gruesome necks and listened with outrageous, febrile antennae?
No, the novel was what kept him sane. Indeed, the thought that it might be otherwise was probably planted there by inimical Powers.
These thoughts seemed to heat his brain. He realized that he needed help, someone who could aid him in sorting the clutter of his thoughts.
The next day, Philip perused the ads in the back pages of the Austin Chronicle, a free weekly newspaper. As Philip scanned fine-print blandishments for massage, Tai Chi, psychic healing and self-esteem counseling, he had to battle a growing sense of hopelessness. Was there really anyone who could help him?
He paused before an ad entitled GREEN COUNSEL, How to seek solace and wisdom from common houseplants and he saw himself sitting in a room confiding his troubles to an indifferent cactus or a coolly aloof African violet. At that point he almost abandoned his quest. Fortunately, his eye had to travel less than an inch before arriving at a small box with a dotted border. ISSUES ADDRESSED! it stated (in fourteen point Optima bold). It continued in an unassuming, eight-point serif: Experienced counseling professional can help you define and address your issues. FREE initial session to determine client-counselor compatibility. THERE IS HOPE! Call now.
Philip called the number (twelve-point Helvetica bold).
"I can see you today," the woman said.
"Ah," Philip said. He did not know if he wanted to address an issue that very day. He was coming down with something, the flu perhaps or a bad bout of Austin's famous cedar fever.
"Don't waffle, man," the woman said. "Where do you live? Yes? Well, you are right around the corner. I'll give you directions. I can fit you in at three."
The address proved to be a residence, a small, wood-frame house in a weedy lot.
A frail, elderly woman wearing a Grateful Dead T-shirt and an ankle-length purple skirt rocked on the porch swing.
"You're Philip Kenan," she said. She looked disappointed, or perhaps even disgusted, although this may have been an expression created by the sunlight in her eyes.
Philip nodded his head.
"I'm Lily Metcalf," she said. She came forward and deftly hugged Philip around his middle, leaning forward and pressing an ear against his stomach. She smelled like baked bread, and her thin arms embraced Philip with surprising strength. Lots of gold and silver jewelry jangled on her wrists.
Philip tottered backward.
"Be still!" she shouted.
Philip froze, like a dog surprised in the act of chewing his master's slipper. Lily Metcalf's voice had an imperious quality, such as is found in certain high school shop teachers.
He was locked in her embrace for what seemed long minutes, although perhaps it was only seconds. Then she released him and squinted up at him.
"I like to listen right off," she said. "Before a client makes those interpersonal adjustments that are automatic."
"Well?" Philip said.
She shrugged. "I don't know. Sometimes I get a feeling, sometimes I don't."
They went inside. The living room was small and full of light from the gossamer-curtained windows. A breeze made wind chimes sing. Philip sat on a small couch—he'd encountered larger armchairs—while Lily Metcalf made tea.
"You can call me Lily," she said, returning with the tea. She sat down on the couch next to Philip. "I hate it when people call me Dr. Metcalf."
Lily closed her eyes and leaned back. The sunlight showed her face to be a net of wrinkles. Her hair was a gray, spun-glass cloud.
Excerpted from Résumé With Monsters by William Browning Spencer. Copyright © 1995 William Browning Spencer. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsPart One: The Estranged Lovers,
Part Two: The Doom at Came to MicroMeg,
Part Three: The Perils of Pelidyne,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Dry satirical humor set in the flourescent daily nightmare of workplace burnout; timely and funny with a twist of the surreal