These are weird, macabre times. So here's a fittingly and gleefully weird, macabre piece of fiction from doom metallurgist—he's also the drummer for Witch Mountain—and dark fiction scribe Nathan Carson. It's an edited excerpt from his debut novel of the same name, Starr Creek (Lazy Fascist Press), and it feels like the perfect blast of backwater Lovecraftian lore for our Trumptastic moment. Enjoy. -the editor
Jan 28, 1986 – STS-51-L mission ends 73 seconds after lift- off. Space Shuttle Challenger's lost payload includes the Halley's Comet Experiment Deployable. Feb 9, 1986 – Halley's comet reaches perihelion during its most recent apparition. April 26, 1986 – Catastrophic nuclear accident at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.
Black blood dripped from the old goat's horns in the campfire light. She could feel eyes upon her. They were not the eyes of the dead man who had lit the fire. He was wrapped in his blanket that smelled of garbage, bleeding freely. She turned her gaze toward what no human eye could see.
"You may drink if you wish," she said. With the care of age, she dropped to front knees and bowed her head. The thing she addressed looked to her like a cluster of mushrooms. But its smell was pure alien meat, unlike anything. Throughout her long life, she'd learned its tastes.
It crept close and cleaned her horns. Its cortina flexed as if with breath. The goat let her hindquarters rest as well. In the flickering warmth, she flared her nostrils and snorted. Her horizontal pupils narrowed as she divined futures from the flames.
"You watched over me when I was just a girl," she said. "How long have you haunted this land?"
It skulked toward the human corpse, the trespasser. "Seventy-six earth years," it said.
The goat's ears perked. She had sensed it when she was young. She could see it now. She had never before heard it speak.
A cold breeze whipped the fire high. A moment later the flames died to glowing embers.
"Something comes for my young," she said. "Unless I breed again, there will be no one left to watch my whelps but you."
The thing flapped its gills when the breeze arose once more. "We may not be here," it said. "Our relief is overdue. When it comes, we will tell it of your kindness. Before the cleansing."
The fire went out completely and both creatures slipped into the night.
His mama named him Puppy because she didn't know any better. Puppy liked his name just fine until he was three. That was the first time a stranger laughed. That's when he discovered that Puppy wasn't a proper name, but rather what you call something that you'd give a name if you liked it enough to keep it. Mama kept Puppy, but she didn't give him a proper name. By the time she was gone, he'd gotten used to it. Plus it always gave him an excuse to start a fight.
At the rundown Blackberry Tavern, Puppy had a tab. When the bartenders heard his rusted truck rumble up, they'd pour him a pitcher of whatever was going stale and leave him to drink alone. Nobody shot pool with Puppy Tyler. No one asked him to dance. He just drank and grimaced and mumbled to himself. Sometimes he dumped his pockets on the table in a booth, hands scrambling through his belongings but never seeming to find whatever he was looking for.
Under the neon signglow of cheap beer brands, he'd bow forehead to formica and knock the table with gnarled knuckles until he was ready for seconds or seconds again. Eventually he'd fall halfway out of the booth, leave without tipping or saying goodbye. The bartenders kept a red marker tally on a green paper notepad, but the balance was never in the black.
Puppy couldn't sit still unless he was hammered. So he rose early most days, cursing the sun that snuck in through crannies in the old split rafterwood. In the wincing mornings, in that old hand-built house, western sunbeams crawled with tiny golden dustfires. The pinwheel sunlight was only broken momentarily by flickering crickets flitting off to dream til moonlight next. Puppy usually woke in a fit, tense with the acrid taste of morning mouth oozing out. He had a spit spot in a corner of the floor. It was overdue for its annual splash from a bucket of creek water.
Starr Creek ran cold and fast. It slithered down forty miles of wood and field. Snow melted from the coastal mountains that loomed over the grey-green mid-valley. Most days the coast range wore a blanket of clouds. Thunder kept quite more often than not. Chill incessant nightrains gave way to clear days warm enough to thaw more snow and keep the creek clear. Those waters seeped up an oilslick rainbow moonshine of fertilizers and worse before cutting a scar through Puppy's backyard. That creek was his bathtub and playpen six months of the year, when he was a boy. Grown up, Puppy played different.
Wednesday, June 18, 1986
Willie's fat fist connected in an uppercut to the gut. A gallon of undigested dry dog food sprayed out of Puppy's mouth on a wave of bile and beer froth. Puppy, hands on knees, hurled a few more times on the scored wood floor. Willie waddled in a circle around him, grinning like a fat cat that forgot its mange long enough to gloat over a wounded baby bird. His greasy black hair shone in the neon light and scintillating fiber optic waterfall wall art. Before Puppy could wipe his lips of dreck a biker boot kicked his ass out the saloon door and into the hungry blue night.
Puppy had driven into the little town of Monroe a few hours prior, truck coasting on fumes, meter on E. He was half-starved, too. He hadn't eaten in two days. It didn't have to be that way, but he couldn't take any chances. He'd lost last time and didn't sit well with humiliation. Those lowlifes had treated him like spoor tweezed out of boot treads with a twig. Puppy eased his liver-spotted pickup into the last parking spot behind the squat, flat-topped cottage. The emergency brake ratcheted up with a dying squeal.
The sign above the wood-bordered tavern door read The Golden Bough. Everyone in town called it The Boog, though, since they found it easier to abbreviate booger than do something abstract like assign a color to a formal gesture. On the flickering, backlit marquee, black letters read:
3RD WED DOG FOOD
9PM WIN $50
The prize was a lot more than what hadn't slipped through the holes in the pockets of Puppy's pants.
The Boog was warm inside, but too crowded. Puppy knew how it felt to sleep all in a pile on a cold winter night, fighting damp drafts with the heat of shivering bodies. But awake on the verge of summer, this was overwhelming. Nowhere to go without brushing some biker's belly, some barmaid's behind, or dropping a drink in a feisty farmer's lap. Puppy wound his way to the sign-up sheet, scratched his name in pencil stub. He poured himself a mug of Oly and settled into a corner to wait his turn.
The jukebox throbbed with a Harryhausen beast battle of charging guitar tussling with writhing saxophone. Both bled each other to death over the march of drums and the crackle and burl of blown speaker blight. Puppy didn't let his beer grow warm, but neither did he fill the gnawing hollow in his belly. A clock on the wall in the shape of Mount St. Helens before it blew read 9:42. The bartender had one long arm and one short one, just like the clock. He used them to upend and pour a bag of Alpo into a police line-up of colored plastic bowls.
One by one, bikers of all sizes, some vested, some bare- chested, took their turn snuffling face first in the dog bowls. They chugged pitchers of beer to choke down the muck. Some dumped the suds in first and ate it like cereal. Others swallowed handfuls like pills. One guy produced a bottle of homemade barbecue sauce from a shoulder holster. When someone called foul and confiscated it, he lurked away, grumbling in surrender. Another guy clamped a clothespin on his bulging, hair-infested nose. Puppy just watched and waited and sipped. He felt his hunger burble and grow.
A vast man named Willie strode up to the bar. Puppy remembered him. Willie was the winner this time last month. The room got quiet. Someone pulled the plug on the jukebox and angled a lampshade like a spotlight. Embroidered on the back of Willie's denim jacket was a harp with angel wings. On the front of his shirt was a black and white cartoon mouse steering an old wooden ship wheel with his squiggly arms. The shirt didn't stretch far enough to cover Willie's navel. His exposed belly hung well past his fly.
The great man picked up a full bowl with both hands. He held it aloft like a crown. After he'd surveyed the crowd, he dipped in a finger, licked it and smiled. Then he slammed the bowl on the bar and took a stool over which his fat ass sagged. He buried his face in one, then a second dog dish until each shone clean. Willie licked his lips when all three bowls clattered empty. Then he reached over the bar and dug into the bag to shove a final fistful into his mouth. When he'd chewed and swallowed, applause erupted around the room. Someone plugged the jukebox back in and blew a quarter on "Eat It," which was still a big hit in Monroe.
The bartender reached into the register and started counting out ten five-dollar bills. Willie reached for them. Just as his pudgy fingers swept them into a stack on the counter, Puppy's hand came down to pin him. Puppy's other hand flagged in the bartender's face, fingers splayed in the universal gesture for "four." The crowed cheered even louder and Puppy lapsed half an inch toward a smile.
The bartender didn't bother to wash or change the bowls. The three that Willie had licked still sat on the counter. A fourth that someone squeamish hadn't been able to finish came back soggy from the sink. The bartender topped them all off with the rest of the bag, then dumped dust crumbles from the bag's bottom over the top. It looked like brown sugar topping but smelled of dirt, hair, and horsemeat. Puppy was too hungry to care and he needed that fifty to make it home.
Halfway through the third bowl, he coughed. The crowd grew silent, then exhaled when he went back to eating. He held his empty mug out and someone overfilled it 'til it spilled. Puppy chugged and chewed. Tears streamed from his eyes. He dug back in, by now doubled down and then some. By the start of the fourth bowl he was full to bursting. His body was in a fit over the cruel trick he'd played on it. And still more pellets scraped down his throat to stack in a pile that reached from intestinal pits to esophageal maw.
Puppy set the fourth bowl upside-down on the bar like a shot glass. A long, gassy belch erupted from his mouth. He reached for the money and slid it into his rumpled shirt pocket. The room was still dead quiet. He took one step then another toward the front, picking his way around statuesque bikers that flexed in silent judgment. Puppy had just reached the exit when he heard the creak of an old floorboard, saw a shadow engulf his own, and felt Willie's weight behind him.