On earlier visits I had come to know all the musty lower floors of the Museum, with their cases and cages full of charred artifacts. On this occasion I rushed upstairs to the Special Collection and asked a curator for specific directions to the exhibit I sought. Within moments I stood alone before a dusty plastic cabinet. A lantern flickered at my elbow, so I raised it for a better look at the objects within. My heart pounded like a drum in the vast gallery.
There were a dozen pages painstakingly restored from scattered fragments, the print retouched by experts in order to rescue meaning from the damaged words. Here it was that I first glimpsed the mystic epic of Don Cujo, the anguished Bernardine saint who drove himself to a mad death tilting at cars, in the company of his faithful but rabid dog, Sancho Dracula. Here also I gazed upon actual pages from the unparalleled prophetic tragedy of humanity’s fall from grace—namely Salem’s Lost, which had been dictated by a blind Strapon Thing to his daughter Orphelius.
But more affecting than any of these remnants was a slight bit of human script, not typed but actually penned. Discovered on the flyleaf of some decomposing volume, it had been positively identified despite its advanced age and decrepitude as the actual signature of the Master himself!
The lantern nearly fell from my hands when I realized what it was I beheld. I lapsed into a reverie like that which had claimed me at my first encounter with the Master’s words. My eyes moved again and again over the broken lines of the signature. The scribbles were etched upon my memory—and deeper, upon my very soul. They bound and held me captive.
When I next became aware of my surroundings, I was standing in the street outside my home. It was quite dark. My fingers twitched in my pocket, still tracing those lines. I gazed up at the window of my father’s study and heard him laughing, reading lines of Thing out loud to himself. I hurried into the house, anxious to let him know where I had been, eager to share my day’s discoveries. But all my anticipations were quickly demolished.
I had never seen him in such a fury. My appearance threw him into paroxysms. He had been drinking heavily; the absinthe stink was on his breath, on his clothes, and I swore to myself that I would never again so much as sip the stuff. He demanded to know why I was late, but before I could begin to answer he launched into a fantastical attack on the trade which I had chosen to pursue. He insulted Dorky Coxset’s honor and intelligence, insinuating that some dark relationship had sprung up between the old man and myself. Why else would I have so few words to spare for my dear father? Why else would I spend every waking moment away from home? It was as if, he said, I had wed myself to a typewriter, without so much as my father’s blessing.
I realized that his bitterness stemmed from loneliness. I tried to explain that I thought most highly of his trade in weeds but that it had never held any great appeal for me. He howled and threw his empty bottle at the wall near my head. I wanted desperately to bridge the gap between us, but Father rose up with his hands shaped into crablike claws. I tore myself away from him. I fled the house of my birth and ran headlong down the streets toward the only haven I knew: the typewriter repair shop.
For an hour or so I sat weeping at my workbench. Never had I known such emotional extremes in the space of a single day. From the heights of aesthetic ecstacy to the trough of despair.
I cast about for some salvation, some flimmer of hope, and my hand strayed across an ink pen. I snatched it up idly, thinking to play a dangerous game of mumblety-pen, imagining my father’s reaction if I were to stab myself with an inky nib. Would he relent? Would he love me again?
Instead I found my fingers moving as they had moved earlier. On a scrap of paper I signed the name of Strapon Thing, over and over again.
After awhile, realizing what I had done, I raised the paper to my eyes and scrutinized the signature. It looked exactly like that which I had seen in the museum that afternoon—more so, in fact, for it was fresh and alive!
I thought of my father and the pleasure that would be his if only he could own a signature of Strapon Thing. I realized that it was in my power to grant him such joy as he had never dreamed of acquiring.
I tossed aside the scrap of practice paper and headed into the dim recesses of Dorky Coxset’s storerooms. I had never ventured farther than several feet among the leaning stacks of old paper and corroded typewriters, for Dorky did not like me poking about in the dark. This time I brought the lantern along. My search led me into the depths of the storeroom, and quite a maze it was. Beneath layers of dust, undisturbed for years, I found bottles of nearly colorless ink and ballpoint pens whose balls refused to roll. I selected a few sheets of particularly malodorous paper and returned to my workbench, where Dorky had been teaching me the rudiments of typing in the evenings, after more important business was concluded. I also brought with me an ancient Underwood that Dorky had pronounced unfit for repair and abandoned several weeks before, but from which I managed to elicit more than half the alphabet. I thought it lent the proper air of antiquity to my work.
“My work.” What euphemisms the mind is capable of framing when it diligently stretches to avoid the simple truth!
For hours I labored over that first letter, filling it with the few scraps of knowledge that I had gleaned of the days before the Turbulation. I filled the missive with mysterious implications and carefully left them unexplained. It would not do, after all, to have Strapon Thing explaining commonplaces to one of his contemporaries. The gist of the letter, if you did not see it during the brief but popular tour of my father’s collection, was merely to thank one of Thing’s readers for his admiring response to The Whining. I also framed, in Thing’s words, my intentions to publish a novel which I hoped my fictitious reader would equally enjoy, an extravaganza which I dubbed Good ‘n’ Evil. Then I signed the Master’s name to all this nonsense.
Already, as you see, the length and breadth of my plans were mapped out in my mind. Once my course was set, it was merely a matter of sticking to it. For in my heart I had resolved that my father would love me again, no matter what deeds I was driven to.
Late that night I returned home and found him collapsed across the threshold, snoring heavily. I covered him with a blanket and in his hand I placed my letter. Then I crawled into my bag.
I was awakened at first light by his astonished gasp. He stood at the window, a hand to his head, his eyes red-rimmed but fervent with joy.
“My boy!” he cried. “Maven, my son, do you know what this is? Where did you find it?”
“I…I thought you might be interested in it, Father,” I replied, erasing all guile from my face and voice. “Dorky Coxset has a new client, a gentleman from the country—a very secretive gentleman—who has asked us to retype a number of old papers belonging to his grandmother. In exchange, he promised that we may keep what we wish of the original manuscripts. Dorky’s collection of antique stationery is quite well-known, I suppose. But he’s been too busy to do any typing himself. He said that if I did the work, I could have my pick of the paper.”
“But my boy, my boy, this is no less than an original Strapon Thing!”
Before I could express my amazement, my father threw his arms around me and tried to draw me into a jig. I reminded him of the fragile paper which he held, and we set it safely aside before continuing with our celebrations. To my displeasure he insisted on opening another bottle of absinthe, while asking me again to tell him the story of the letter’s origin. He was very curious about the mysterious gentleman.
“Do you think there might be more letters from Strapon Thing in his grandmother’s collection?”
I nodded. “Undoubtedly. He mentioned reams of pages like this one, and not merely correspondence. He thought there might be an entire novel somewhere in the mess. Perhaps it is the one mentioned in the letter—Good ‘n’ Evil.”
My father stumbled backward and sat down hard on the floor, with a loud hiccup and a spill of absinthe. His face had gone white. His mouth moved peculiarly. I wondered if he might be hallucinating. The absinthe had strange properties. But after awhile I heard him say, “Incredible fortune. But we must have these pages inspected. The Dean of the College will want to see them, and Professor Tadmonicker. Do you have these pages at the repair shop?”
“No, Father,” I stated quite honestly, and then went on boldly into fabrication. “The gentleman insisted that he apportion them to us a few at a time, so that he might have the opportunity to organize them, and so that we would not become burdened by the work. He was a peculiar fellow; I did not entirely understand his reasoning but he was most particular on these points.”
My father sat deep in thought. “A gentleman. Good family. Grandmother. Money. Perhaps they had a shelter-one that worked, I mean. Old money. Who knows what might have been preserved? And no wonder they are reclusive. Still, it would be excellent to meet this man. We shall have to see if it can be arranged at some point. Don’t be too brash with him, Maven. He mustn’t be frightened off. Go at it gradually but see if you can’t talk him into a meeting.”
I swallowed my doubts and nodded in order to please him.
I left my father perusing the letter, marveling at its excellent condition, and I swore to bring home whatever pages I finished copying. The grand scheme had been hatched; now the living monster issued forth.