Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Thing On Hope Street

I was far from home, and the spell of the eastern sea was upon me.
- H.P. Lovecraft, "The Festival"

Through a mad cacophony of stars and spiraled galaxies, I somehow found myself in Providence, Rhode Island, a town which prided itself on having been the home of H.P. Lovecraft, noted author of strange tales of the beyond.

I had come to the eldritch streets of Providence seeking succor for a life not yet truly lived, an existence that had yet to blossom. The mere fact that this decision had been made for me, by virtue of the fact that some friends had moved there, only underscored the mad vacuum of my insular universe. Somewhere down these dark and eerie streets, I reasoned, must be a whisper in the night’s inky blackness that would reveal the secret that could crack open the universal egg of madness.

Or at least get me a job.

I had secured a place in a training program that would pay me while I learned the ways of offset printing. All I had to find was shelter.

The house stood on the top of Hope Street, enshrouded in mist and bathed in moonlight. Although I seemed to have little in common with the pair who’d advertised for a third roommate (the Dan Fogelberg albums in their record collection assured me of that), we settled on an arrangement that was mutually beneficial for all concerned. The first few nights, I put off the strange noises above my room to the usual uninvited inhabitants that dwelt in the walls. Sleeping was easier that way.

My roommates were collegiate in dress and speech, appropriate insofar as we were within walking distance of both Brown University and The Rhode Island School Of Design, both known for libraries full of arcane volumes that contained spells and lore better off left alone. I’d while away many an hour there seeking an explanation for the sounds from the attic, but found myself frustrated by the archaic terminology of these dusty tomes.

In the meantime, I did what I could to absorb the lessons in my printing class. They seemed to get progressively more boring so, as hopelessness set in, my evenings began to include drinking sessions that would take my mind off the otherworldly sounds trying to break through into our universe via the house on Hope Street. Soon the empty bottles began to line up and I imagined that they were a first line of defense against whomever, or whatever sought entrance to our reality.

Unless it was, of course, I who was going mad.

I began to steer clear of my roommates as much as possible, taking care to enter the house through the back which led straight to my room. Only on rare occasions would I join them in the living room where the coffee table was littered with adult comics and the main topic of conversation appeared to be hosin’. It was a word they worked into their discussions as often as possible: How about the hosin’ ? She knows what hosin’s all about. I need some hosin’. After enough of this, I began to see my roommates as something half-human, half-not human, octopods with tentacles that roamed the room in search of hapless victims whose sole purpose in their minds was that as meat was to man.

Eventually I graduated from the training program and was placed in a position that had absolutely nothing to do with what I’d learnt. Since I’d been taught about printing, someone higher up decided that I’d be just the fellow to operate this giant press that manufactured Hawaiian Tropic Suntan Lotion labels. It must have weighed a couple of tons and looked like one wrong move could take an arm off. It had one huge lever that turned it off and on and made it spit out the distinctive, hourglass shaped golden labels. I’d look at the labels and think that Hawaii probably wouldn’t be a bad place to be right now.

Each time I turned on la machine infernale it would hiccup and stutter, coughing up odd, mutant labels that somehow always missed imprinting the label within its prepared die-cut design. These were labels for no bottle yet dreamed of by man, labels for bottles that contained not lotion, but the oil of evil, the lube of cosmic entropy. I would take home these misfit labels and plaster my walls with them as I drank and shrank from the strangled sounds that would beat against my helpless room from above, making me as curious as I was horrified.

I was fired not shortly afterwards and found myself making wax molds for jewelry. This involved shooting hot, red wax into rubber molds and removing the result which would be used to manufacture rings and the like. This being 1977, it meant listening to a radio station all day whose entire playlist seemed to consist of “Dreamweaver” and “Baby Come Back.” Hearing either one of these today can still bring on an instant case of nausea accompanied by dizziness.

Being 1977, I was also able to bring home a copy of the brand new Sex Pistols album, which seemed to work on my tentacled roommates in a talismanic fashion, the way garlic would with a vampire. I’d place it against the door before I went to sleep, comforted that I was being safeguarded from whatever strange gods dwelt beyond that nameless gate I was certain lay on the other side of my ceiling.

The defensive line of empty bottles continued to gather strength on my dresser.

Finally, I could bear it no longer. I would know the source of this unearthly nightly wailing even if it meant certain damnation. Leaving my door open a sliver, I waited patiently for the otherworldly caterwauling to begin. After I heard an inaugural thump, I gritted my teeth and slowly pried the door open further, gathering strength for the ordeal to come.

My mind reeled through panoramas of fear and horror, conjuring visions of Hawaiian Tropic labels that attached themselves to victims and then sucked the very life force from them. Or wax molds of jewelry on a dream-quest to establish a foothold in the world of the real, prying open the skin of the universe with bejeweled fingers of menace.

At last, the door open wide, I was met by one of my roommates sitting in the living room with all of the lights on. Surely he, too, was hoping the lights would act as some sort of bulwark against the madness battering its way into Hope Street.

“What…is it?” I asked him, sitting across from him.

He barely lifted his head up from his comic book as he replied, “Now that’s hosin’!”


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