The Little Apartment Building Of (mainly) Lovecraftian Crossovers, Crack, Meta-references And Other Assorted Horrors
It all started with the paper.
It is a little known fact to outsiders that the occult community in the Northeastern states has a newspaper –The Thaumaturgical Herald, with a total of four pages, printed on cheap paper and peppered with the strangest advertisements imaginable and pieces of varied information regarding the most recent findings, speculations and rumors; each small issue is so riddled with jargon, some passages resemble a jumble of blindly chosen words and even languages.
One day, on a wonderful sunny spring morning to be exact, several people bought, borrowed or otherwise had access to several copies of the newest issue, and each of these people had to reread a certain advertisement, because it sounded too good to be true.
Crowninshield House Apartments, 80 High Street, ARKHAM. $30/mo. Four 2 BR/1BA apartments, one 3BR/1BA apartment - basement. Newly renovated. Group rites and rituals tolerated, with limits. Production and distribution of opiates of all kinds banned. Human and animal sacrifices banned. No dogs allowed. Cats are fine. Ask for Edward Derby.
Edward Derby, also known to some as Ephraim Waite, sat heavily on the armchair behind his crowded desk and gestured impatiently at the two men across him to take their seats. He could feel a migraine coming on.
His deceased husband had left him considerable wealth, along with a healthy body for Ephraim to transfer his soul into, but good things generally end as easily as they begin. So while Ephraim Waite still had a living piece of flesh to inhabit and a dry place to keep his books and magical equipment, he was running low on money to fund his traveling and dressing needs. The obvious solution – getting a job – had never been an option; Ephraim Waite, like any wizard worth his salt, had the social grace and people skills of a spoiled ten-year-old. It came with the territory, more or less – when one is busy learning by heart ten pages’ worth of Aklo and spends days nitpicking the symbols that go around the edge of a magical circle, they tend to neglect mastering the intricate art of communicating with commoners without getting punched in the face.
So he called in one last favor from his old ‘friend’ Barnabas March from Innsmouth, who in turn had sent some of his workers in Arkham. In a couple of months, the old house was divided into several apartments and the old furniture was distributed among them. Ephraim insisted to pay the workers with his last money, then calculated the monthly rent for each of the five apartments (keeping the last third floor for his personal use) and finally got in touch with The Thaumaturgical Herald’s editor for the advertisement.
And he waited.
“I recently sold my family’s old home to a relative of mine who was interested; I decided that I don’t need it, not really. I travel a lot, you see.” The skinny bespectacled man smiled at Ephraim with the bright happy smile of a person without a single care in the world. “It’s too much of a hassle, having an entire mansion to look after. So I figured it would be much more suitable to rent an apartment with a friend of mine...“
The friend in question shot a quick glance at his companion. They appeared to be roughly the same age, but while the first man, Randolph Carter, was strangely thin and pale, as if he would disappear into thin air any minute now (Ephraim really needed something for his headache), the other, who introduced himself as Richard Pickman, had a dark, earthly quality about him, like he had just crawled out of a crypt. He was paying little attention to Carter and Waite’s conversation, preferring to crane his neck to get a better look at some of the carvings that covered the walls of the room.
Pickman was also wearing a pretentious beret and had what appeared to be paint splattered all over the front of his shirt, the poseur.
Ephraim gave a light nod back.
“You said you’re both men of the fine arts. A writer and a painter, right?” He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed loudly. “Okay, here’s the deal. No more than two cats are to be owned at any given time.” Carter opened his mouth, then closed it. “No opening portals to other dimensions and no time-traveling on the premises of the building. No ghouls are to shuffle about the corridors, no corpses are to be kept inside the apartment except for immediate eating, no body parts are to be left on the floor for me to pick up later. Are we clear?”
Pickman stared at him blankly, before suddenly grinning. His teeth seemed normal, until one noticed how they jagged their edges were.
“You’re a sharp one, aren’t you?” he drawled as he leaned forward.
“And you two are rather notorious, each in his own way.” Ephraim began scribbling on a piece of paper.
Who the hell sold a copy of the paper to a thrice-damned ghoul? And an even better question, who in their right mind would share an apartment with one?
“Let me assure you, you have nothing to worry about.” Carter’s smile was gone. “We need a place to rest, that is all. If I… if we were planning to continue living as if we were still in the Dreamlands, we wouldn’t have left them in the first place.”
Ephraim bit his lip and studied Carter’s face for a while, before speaking in a slow, clear voice:
“You’re here to rest, and I’m Sister Rosa Maria from the little church down at Hill Street. Look, I don’t really care. I need the money, I have an entire building renovated and ready to rent out, and while I would prefer to have my kind of people walking in and out of this place, I’d much rather not have any problems with the neighbors and the local authorities. I hope you understand what I’m saying.”
Carter nodded and crossed his legs, only to uncross them a second later. Pickman was still smirking. Ephraim could already smell the puddles of blood he would have to mop up from the corridors as soon as the painter moved in. Still, money was money.
“Now where did I put the contract…”
“Just when I thought I finally got rid of your kind…” Ephraim grumbled, but made no attempt to draw out the gun hidden in the drawer on his right.
The Deep One stared at him for a long while before replying. Its voice lacked the gurgling growl and the occasional croaks of the other Deep Ones; rather, it had an odd musical cadence to it. The creature was male (though who could really be sure with them) and very, very tall – over eight feet, not counting the three dorsal fins on the top of its head that ran halfway down its back, with smooth gray skin, like a dolphin. It… he was wearing the intricate armor of a certain warrior caste, which additionally baffled Ephraim – were they not supposed to be located exclusively around R’lyeh? Why would the bigfins send one, a lieutenant at that, on dry land of all places?
“You broke your Oath, killed a female that rightly belonged to us, and yet you live. Your innards have had a high price set for them from the moment you did not provide what you were paid for, therefore you will continue serving the Order of Dagon if you wish to keep them where they are.”
“Why did they send you here anyway?” Ephraim rubbed his temples and briefly fantasized of the bag of ice he had prepared back in his own apartment. “Surely I’m not the actual reason for all your troubles.”
The Deep One quirked its rather thin lips before answering:
“You are a tool, just as I am. Believe me, I find no joy in being here. The air is dry and foul, the food tastes horrible, and most of the humans I have met are obnoxious.”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“I did not intend to.”
Well, that’s that, Ephraim thought as he prepared the papers. He was curious, but he could clearly see the hilts of the pair of swords the creature carried.
“I’m going to need to know your name, at least. Just a title is not enough.”
“My name is O’ghihanuoakhaa’ravvyoa, which I believe translates roughly as The One Who Mimics The Dolphins’ Songs.”
Ephraim just stared at the Deep One.
“Or Khaa’r, which means simply Dolphin.”
Ephraim coughed awkwardly. Khaa’r made a face that was equal parts embarrassment and irritation, with just a hint of self-deprecating humor.
“Yes, I come from one of the bloodlines that encourages mating with dolphins, in order to produce stronger, more agile offspring.”
“Also smarter. And a lot more vicious.”
Khaa’r blinked lazily. The membranes he had instead of eyelids were perfectly transparent, Ephraim noticed, and a bit glossy. A more casual observed would not have noticed the blink.
“So you took notes from your wife.”
“I am only going to say this once – should you or anyone you have business with draw any unnecessary attention to this place, you’re out of here faster than you can say ‘bestiality’.”
“Fair enough.” Khaa’r shrugged. “My roommate should arrive in a couple of days with the payment for this month, along with our luggage.”
“I want the basement. No, let me rephrase that. I need the basement. I can move in tomorrow.”
Ephraim just stared at the man before him. He had the words ‘morgue technician’ written all over his face, stance and clothing.
“Didn’t you get torn apart by the reanimated bodies you were experimenting on?” he blurted. “I can swear I heard something on the grapevine...”
“Didn’t you get shot in the head several times in a row?” the other man countered without missing a beat. His expression somewhat softened. It was like watching an axe being deliberately dulled. “Try not to think too hard of it, or that headache you have been experiencing for the past few days will worsen considerably.”
Herbert West rolled his eyes and pulled out a pen from his breast pocket.
“Just show me where to sign. I can pay for the first three months in advance. I will also require some assistance with the transportation of the heaviest equipment from my previous place of residence.”
Ephraim felt he could really use a drink. Or five.
“Okay, okay, look here. For the past two weeks I’ve had a ghoul masquerading as a human, a goddamn zombie, and an honest-to-goodness Deep One rent an apartment each, but this is…”
“Yes, Khaa’r. I’ve met ‘im. I’m actually gonna share the apartment with ‘im.”
“What I’m trying to say is… wait. What?”
The wretched thing dared to raise an eyebrow.
Ephraim felt cheated. When he sent his advertisement, he expected to get… well, other wizards. Preferably of the gormless and conceited variety, those were fun to mess with. Most of the old school warlocks, like himself, were long gone, dead, either of old age or killed during a mucked-up summoning.
This one, however, had obviously been kept away from the decadence that had been tearing down the occult scene for the past thirty years. It was obvious, from the way the thing held its head, to the understanding look it threw at the direction of the amulets that cluttered the office, hidden in the guise of cleverly arranged wood carvings, and finally to the derisive snort it gave when it decided, yes, I could take this one out in my sleep. Oh, Noah Whateley had really done it! Ephraim remembered vaguely the rants of the old nutbar, about Yog-Sothoth and the Old Ones and the end of the world, yadda yadda, heard it all before.
Ephraim had lost all contact with Noah more than fifty years ago, when the man finally went back home to his wife. He remembered his last card – Noah had written something about a daughter being born to them, and…
“How old are you supposed to be?” he blurted out.
The thing glared at him, before shifting to sit more comfortably. It was not an easy task, partly because of its ridiculous height. Plus there was the tail.
“Lemme git this straight…“
“Look, the second you mentioned your name, I realized who you are…”
“… someone like me arrives, taller than the doorway, both mouths visible an’ all…“
“… because I knew your grandfather, you see, and he would sometimes talk about your… father, I guess?... and I’d always think, this one sure was dropped on his head as a baby…“
“… announces that they’re gonna room with a high-rankin’ Deep One, an’ when I say high-rankin’, I mean has- actually-been-inside-R’lyeh’s -Temple high-rankin’...“
“… and decades later I hear rumors about Dunwich, of the worst kind, about a summoning gone wrong, and, get this, I shouldn’t really be hearing anything, since I think I got a revolver emptied in my skull…“
“… ye’ve no idea what might be happenin’ round ye, an’ worse, ye want it to make sense – ye, with all yer experience… “
“… all I want now is for things to start making sense, because they don’t. At all. And trust me, when you’ve been in this trade as long as I have, you learn to have your feet planted firmly on the ground at all times, even when you’re not sure whether there’s any ground to stand on.”
They both fell silent for a long moment. The thing scratched its beard and smiled slightly. Before that, it had simply looked goatish, yet its face was unmistakably human. When it smirked, it transformed into something downright demonic. It was simply not right for any mouth belonging on a human face to stretch so wide.
“I spoke to Mr. Marsh last month, an’ he mentioned that ye might regret lettin’ yer own kind inside yer house, money be damned.” It said conversationally. “I asked ‘im, do I look like I care ef Ephraim Waite sleeps soundly at night?”
That got a startled laugh out of Ephraim.
“You’re Noah’s grandson alright, through and through!”
After Wilbur Whateley’s name was added to Khaa’r’s contract, they shook hands. This was not something either of them did with just about anyone.
“Last time I checked, I was fifteen.” Wilbur admitted. “I’ve been told, ‘owever, that measured in… uh, metric ton o’ emotional baggage, I’m ‘bout thirty-eight.”
“It’s okay, your grandfather’s mid-life crisis began when he was twenty-six. It’s probably genetic…“ Wilbur did not comment and made motions to leave the room. “And, uh, one more thing…”
Wilbur stopped and stared at - well, down at Ephraim.
“You mentioned something about mouths? As in, plural?”