I don’t really remember when I started this story. Like most of them sitting on the hard drive, it’s pretty old. I am fairly sure its origin would be in the mid-Ninties (which is the era I am now dating the main events—2002 minus nine) because I think I just sat down at the old computer (back when it was new) and started writing; I don’t have any memories of creating this in any form except computer text. The idea dates back to my earliest years here in Jackson County, associated originally with my Book of Seasons plot(s), and although completely not autobiographical I admit to using some of my own experiences to color the life of James Arkham as he accepted his teaching job in Mantorville, Quetzal County, Iowa. But you don’t meet him first; your narrator is Joshua Symonds, MD.
I am trying intentionally to update H.P. Lovecraft with this piece, and Quetzal County is deliberately parallel to Cthulhu Massachusetts. The narrative style is also meant to have its own 21st-century Lovecraftian flavor…
As Yet Untitled Horror Story
Excerpts from the records of Joshua Symonds, MD
This patient has been retained at the Iowa Criminal Psychiatric Institute in Iowa City for nine years. Observing that he has been invariably described as withdrawn and uncooperative by my predecessors, I felt intrigued by the bizarre nature of his crime and wished to discover what might have driven him to perform such a peculiar murder.
Our first sessions were unproductive—following the pattern recorded of his interaction with previous psychiatrists. Upon leaving his last session prior to the first transcript from tape, however, he suddenly turned and spoke to me, off the record so to speak, saying with noticeable sadness in his voice that he had really wanted that job in Mantorville. Thus opening the opportunity to reach him…
May 5, 2002, 2:10 pm
I hadn’t had many offers, he told me. Many? Hell, I’d only got two, three interviews. And neither of those seemed headed toward anything I’d want.
He looked at me expectantly. I didn’t want him to expect anything of me whatsoever, so I waited.
Okay, he continued abruptly, I don’t think they were headed anywhere for me at all. I just wasn’t what they wanted. And one was not for me. So when… —Mantorville came up, and they actually made me an offer, I took it.
—You did have an interview?
The interview. Yeah. I remember that. It was mid-July. I was still hankering after the first job—but that’d been almost four full weeks before. They weren’t going to offer it to me. He turned thoughtful, his expression slackening.
…Big school. 4000 kids. Huge tax base as well—helluva a campus, massive facilities. Sixteen-to-one pupil:teacher ratio. Nice little suburban community. New construction concluding that summer, and I’d have my own classroom in the new section. It would have been great.
—But you weren’t going to get it?
Nah. I was too experienced. Can you believe it? They wanted someone who cost them less, somebody just out of school or, well, with less than ten years anyway. Contract there said they’d pay for up to twenty years tenure, but I noticed everyone I met seemed under thirty. Real young staff. Oh yeah. Real young.
No. They were looking for another kid, no matter what their contract hinted. Sometime in August I got the letter: “youthful enthusiasm and current methodology were the determining factors.” Yeah right, and about twenty thousand less a year.
—But by then you were already committed elsewhere, to this other job. I tried to not lead him too much.
Well, I had a kinda iffy feeling about it all as I drove back home. They hadn’t talked money very clearly with me—like maybe they didn’t care all that much about my interview in the first place.
—So you investigated a second job?
Yeah. I should have known. The ad’d appeared the week I got the first interview. They made it sound easy, admitted the pay was just average, and—the part that caught my attention—offered fifteen years experience to start. They wanted someone who knew what he was doing. But the pay sucked. Even so I sent in my letter and résumé. But I was thinking more of the first job. I really did want that first job.
—But you didn’t get that one…
I never had a chance. I knew that at the interview. That’s why I went to the second one. They liked me; I could tell. But it was just pathetic. Pathetic. Old building, staff cuts—deep ones—in just the last five years, big administrative turnovers. It looked sick to me. I didn’t want that job, not unless I absolutely had to. Pathetic.
—Which made the third interview (I had to get him on topic here) …interesting?
Yeah. Interesting. Mantorville…
—Maybe even, …exciting?
Hey. I needed a job. I had to get some job. And by the time they called, it was July. I don’t remember, sometime around the tenth. I know the Fourth was over, I remember how I spent it… He wasn’t making this easy.
—Oh? How did you spend it?
Alone. That’s how I spent my last free Fourth of July. Alone. Sitting in my apartment packing up the things I owned so I could move to a job I didn’t have because the job I’d had for the last twelve years was gone. I spent the Fourth sitting among a bunch of damn boxes that every time I started trying to pack, I’d begin shaking and trembling… and I’d start to cry. —Satisfied?
—It was only natural.
Yeah, sure. Thirty-five year-old-man, high school teacher, sitting alone in the middle of a shag carpet crying. —Happy? He looked aggressive suddenly. Isn’t that the kind of stuff you guys like to hear?
I wasn’t going to take that bait.
—You had to move. Your old job was gone. You’re a teacher. You had to move to get a new job.
Huh. Who’d ever have thought they’d just dissolve a school district that size.
—No, big-city schools just seem to go on forever.
Think you’re funny, huh?
—No. I’m sorry. I just knew that issue was on your mind, and I was wondering what effect it might have had on you, and it just… slipped out.
Thought I was the one on the couch here.
—You are. Go on…
Okay, I guess maybe I was just scared, a little, to check out real Chicago or Milwaukee jobs. All those stories of gangs and violence and guns in the halls… I didn’t want to face that. My first dozen years had been a breeze, really. The district seemed solid, and we were suburban enough, if you know what I mean. Compared to tackling what big-city teachers face. So I wanted to focus on places about the size of what I’d been used to, towns over thirty thousand at least.
—Bigger was scary but too small was…?
Downright rural, okay. I’m a city boy.
—But in the end the size didn’t matter at all?
In the end I had to get a job, and well, I kept telling myself a little bitty town like that had to be, uh, secure.
—You felt it would be safer than a truly urban or inner city school.
—But it wasn’t? Safer?
Hell, worse. If I could do it over again, I’d choose some ghetto slum school over a small town in Iowa any day. He thought about it a little more. Any day.
—Maybe you had better continue, then. Tell me all about it?
What do you want to know. It was horrible. Evil. Like I told the patrolmen.
When they arrested me. Back then. It should all be in your notes… Right?
—Yes, but I have a different set of motives. They were just after evidence, a confession.
And I gave them a doozie.
—Yes, you did. And now you’re here and it’s all this time later. I wonder what your memories of it all are…
It was horrible… His face blanked as the memories washed into him again. —Maybe I don’t want to have to remember all over again.
—Whatever you say, Mr. Arkham. But I can easily see you’re remembering it all anyway.
Yeah. All the time. …Maybe you’re right. —Yeah, sure. What do you want to know?
—Whatever you want to tell me. But I am interested in that interview. Your first day in that town. Your first impressions.
Hah. My first impression was that it wasn’t there.
The morning I drove in for my interview I had stayed overnight in the town nearby, Bear River Falls. There’s a Super 8 there. And the drive from home— …I still think of it that way… —was about four hours. I wasn’t all that far west of Chicago; that had been one of the better parts of my original job.
I figured I’d have to sleep over on one end or the other—day before the interview or that day, and the superintendent, Howard Phillips, wanted the interview to start at 9:00, so that meant, the way I wake up most mornings, the night before. It wasn’t a bad motel, and not too noisy, considering all the business they had (being that close to five riverboats, gambling) —of course, on the other hand, it was a Wednesday night…Who all wants to go gambling on a Wednesday night or Thursday morning? Huh. Me, I guess.
—You? You went to one of the casinos that night?
Nah. But that interview. That was a gamble. Rolling the dice for the third time and hoping my luck had changed. But it hadn’t. Although I didn’t know that at the time. He paused again and his face took on that slack look as he remembered something again. He was making this interview intolerable. —But it all looked fine that Thursday morning. Bright sunny day. I remember it clearly. Not too warm. We’d come through a real heat wave the week before, but the weather broke on Monday night, and this week had been great.
©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.
I did check, and riverboat gambling began in 1989. When I added that set of information into the story a while back, I was just working to update the events from the early Eighties to the Nineties or later. In placing this much here today, I added the 2002 date to Symonds’s documentation, thus putting Arkham’s arrival in Quetzal County in 1993 (at least so far in this draft). I’ll put up the rest of Symonds’s May 2 interview tomorrow.
Any feedback, folks?