LP: Call the Doctor by Sleater-Kinney
2014 Sub Pop Records SP 1104
Favorite Track: Little Mouth
“Soren, that was an amazing twirl there at the end of ‘Call the Doctor’,” Dora said peeling off the pastie and throwing it on the counter buried in an avalanche of cosmetics, glosses, large mirrors and small mirrors, feather boas, fan letters, and cigarette butts. Following it, Dora’s blue wig landed on top of a small stack of twenty dollar bills. Her real hair was pulled back in a very tight bun which she let down with an audible sigh of relief.
“I can’t believe you danced to that song. I’ve never seen the men and women of the club so enthralled by the song selection,” Terry laughed, “They tipped generously, I see.”
Soren gathered up her blue jeans and Ramones T-shirt, her nude body pink with a thin film of sweat. A small splotch of makeup smeared from the corner of her eye reminding Dora of some evil clown makeup she saw once, but she couldn’t remember where. A weird dream perhaps. Soren took a cigarette from Terry, inhaled, other hand on hip, and said, “Well, it was empowering. This place is something special. Better than the other joints I’ve swung my hips in. Here, everybody can celebrate sexuality as a natural art without it being lewd or an obscene joke.”
“Everybody?” Isaac asked. He stood by the dresser halfway into his trousers, the bulge of his G-string forming a comical neon balloon against the dark polyester of his pants.
Soren snorted, “Most of everybody. It’s Stiff Kitties, the only co-ed strip club east of the Mississippi. I’ve only used my pepper spray once and that was on a particularly nasty raccoon that wouldn’t get out of my driver’s seat.”
Isaac chuckled as he slipped a jacket on thin enough to be an undershirt. A tuft of carmine chest hair curled around the neckline like the tentacles of some sea monster. He gathered his tips and bade the ladies a good night then exited on the back door in a hurry. Terry joked that he had an important date while Dora blushed because he was meeting up with her later that evening.
“You ladies want to get a drink at the Union?” Terry asked as the three ladies walked through the crowded parking lot toward Dora’s station wagon. The three of them often rode together because they lived within a mile of each other on the west side of the city. Only Dora and Soren had cars as Terry wrecked her three years ago on a wild New Year’s Eve night she steadily refused to talk about. And Soren had a point against her license and was afraid of accumulating more. Not that Dora minded. She never had that many friends in high school and college and never as close as she was with Terry and Soren.
“Not tonight,” Dora said.
“You never want to have any fun,” Soren said and threw her arm around her shoulder, “Look at that moon. Ha! It’s a new moon and you can’t see it. The perfect night to go out and get into some trouble. If there is some kind of deity up there in that infinite space, they don’t want to watch what we do.”
Putting her arm around Dora’s other shoulder and therefore enforcing that she had no choice but to go out tonight, Terry said, “Or maybe it is watching us all the time but doesn’t want us to see it. Because it is some pimply-faced virgin with glasses and and a pair of icosahedrons.”
“Pardon me?” Soren pulled her leather jacket closer. A cold wind had picked up during the afternoon and she half-expected to see frost in the morning. “What the hell is an icosa-whatsie?”
“Icosahedron: a twenty-sided die,” upon seeing arched eyebrows on Dora and Soren, added with a one-sided shrug, “Dungeon and Dragons.”
“Sounds like you know a little something more about pimply-faced virgins,” Dora snickered.
“Yes! That is the spirit Dora. Tonight is going to be the most special night the three of us have ever had.” Soren quickened her pace.
Terry said, “Maybe I do. Nerds are better lovers.”
They were almost to their car and freezing. The three had huddled together and began to sprint toward the car when they noticed a dark figure leaning against the back of the station wagon. A tall figure in a long coat that nearly touched the ground and wearing a wide-brimmed fedora. He shuffled three photographs in his hands while he stared at them with shadowed facial features, then slowly as if he had all the time in the world, stuffed the photos into a large pocket. He remained silent.
“Pardon me, sir,” Soren stepped to the front, her voice adapting an authoritative tone just one shade short of a snarl, “We don’t do private performances. And this is the employee’s parking lot.”
The man closed his hands then opened them. Long hair spilled over broad shoulders. His shoes seemed to reflect the moon’s luminescence, however, there was no moon to reflect. Dora realized she couldn’t differentiate his shadow from the shadow of the cars around him.
“I said this is the employee’s parking lot. Now scram, loser.”
The man stepped forward, palms facing up. “Dora Dimples. Terry Cloth Fields.” he said looking each of them in the face and only smiling when he said, “You are no doubt Soren Bootie.”
“I have a proposition for you from my master. He has a very unusual request that will be unusually profitable for you. My master is important and affluent in ways you could never fully comprehend.”
“What’s that suppose to mean?” Terry had one hand in her purse.
“When you are done with your task tonight, your life will be irrevocably altered. Like you said, ‘the most special night the three of us have ever had.'”
“Who is your master?”
“What is the deal?”
“Is your master a regular at our club? Why did he send you?”
The man returned his hands to his pockets. His face remained in the dark. “One at a time ladies. My master is a man of special needs, esoteric needs that few can fulfill. The three of you being exceptions. He requests your immediate attendance at his manor for a fete–”
“His manor? Where? I told you we don’t do private performances.”
“Korobov Manor. On Hill Street. East of the city overlooking Pickman’s River and the city park.”
“Korobov Manor?” Dora said, “I’ve heard that it is haunted.”
Soren laughed rather icily. She looked at Dora with amusement, the hint of mischief in her eyes. Dora wanted to be home more than anything at the moment. She did not trust this man and certainly not the house he was trying to entice them to visit. Her mother and father told her about the atrocious crimes that happened there during the Great Depression. How half the walls were said to be made from the skeletons dug from the local cemetery…
“Tell me what the proposition is?” Soren demanded.
Terry started to protest, but the man interrupted, “He wants you to read his a naughty bedtime story. You will be well-rewarded financially and, perhaps, spiritually.” He said the last word as if damning someone to hell.
“Two million each.”
Soren turned around and grabbed Terry and Dora’s arms, pulled them into a tight circle. Dora was confused by Soren’s behavior, not that it was atypical of her to be the one to lead them into strange scenarios, but tonight, even during her performance, she seemed spontaneous and dangerously curious. Terry looked a little spooked, but a little intrigued. She often played Soren’s sidekick.
“I don’t trust this guy,” Soren looked right into Dora’s face, her green eyes almost black in the darkness, “He acts like he knows so much about us, he mysteriously shows up by your car, and his master sounds like some invalid sick fuck. However, I really could use that money.”
Soren looked pained to say the last part, lump catching her throat.
“What do you mean?” Terry asked.
Soren sighed, “I haven’t paid rent in two months. The landlord is threatening eviction. And, well you know my mother has ovarian cancer. I haven’t been able to keep up with the payments,” Soren lowered her head on Dora’s shoulder, “Things are worse.”
Dora stroked her hair.
“I need the money, too,” Terry admitted. “I got back with Charlie. He’s clean, now, but owes quite a bit to Juri. The rest I could put him through community college. Get him respectable again.”
They both looked at Dora.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t like this idea. There is something untoward about it.”
Soren said, “Yes, it is unorthodox. But how difficult is it to read a dirty story to a dirty old soul. And if this weirdo tries anything, the three of us could kick his ass from here to the Indian Ocean.”
“Dora, you can have the first kick. Smash his teeth to shards.”
Without meaning to, Dora laughed, “Okay, let’s get it over with.”
As if overhearing them, the man asked, “Are you ready to leave now ladies?”
Soren gave a crooked smile, “I’m not stupid. Show me the money.”
“I’ll do better. I’ll give you half.”
They drove in Dora’s station wagon with Janus giving directions while Soren and Terry threatened him with their pepper sprays. Janus answered few questions along the way, talking slowly as if each answer had to be unearthed from the deep recesses of his mind. He told them that his master, Mister Thelonious Casper Korobov was the fourth descendant to run the Korobov estate. His family were immigrants from Romania, aristocratic but supporters of the arts especially the abnormal kind, and had something to do with bookstores but Dora wasn’t sure if she just didn’t understand or if Janus gave a circuitous answer. Tall pines stood in thick patches alongside the narrow road to the manor, which stood at the top of a small hill. Terry and Soren both whistled when they first saw the Eastlake clapboards and gabled roof. The long drive to the entrance way was lined with stone statues of odd designs: triangles with three forked rods extending from the top like rays of sunlight. The base of the pyramid rested on four large skulls, almost human.
Dora was about to turn around when Janus ordered her to stop the vehicle. They got out in silence and a slight rain drizzled upon them. Janus unlocked the front door which had an ornate door handle shaped like a diary with a lock across the front. The foyer was lit by a diamond chandelier with two hallways leading to numerous closed doors and one staircase lined with vermilion carpeting winded up into three stories into the dark. Janus offered to take their coats but none of the ladies parted with their jackets. The house was colder than outside.
In the light, Dora saw that Janus wore an outfit closer to a robe than a jacket as she had previously thought. It was uniformly black save for various blue lines forming multiple triangles inside of a white circle stitched above the left breast. The far door opened and another man in similar regalia entered with hurried steps. He whispered to Janus who then addressed the group.
“I would love to offer you ladies some drinks, but my associate has informed me that we are a bit behind schedule. Time is essential to my master. We will be conducting the ceremonial reading in his library, just down that hallway and to the right. However, I should again stress the particular eccentric behavior of my master and must inform you of a special request. When you read to him from the sacred text, you must be naked.”
“No way,” Dora said.
“I do not see how you can object upon the grounds of modesty when you bare it all every night at the Stiff Kittens.”
Soren interjected, “It is different there. People are there to enjoy the naked body and the seductive art of teasing. Respectfully.”
“My master merely follows the strict practices spoken of in the Revelations of Glaaki. You could say he has no eyes to see, but that is partially misleading. In any interest, he is not interested in your measurements.”
Dora fumed but Soren reconciled her. “It will be over soon.”
Janus and his companion lead the ladies down the tiled hallway and stopped before an oak door. He asked them to shed their clothes, never once turning around to peek. Inside, the room was dark, but comfortably warm, a large fire in the hearth casting flickering shadows along the bookcases and curtains. No one else was inside the room. On the floor, a carpet the size of a queen-sized mattress was laid, four round stones holding down each corner. On the carpet, a strange set of hieroglyphics glowed in the firelight. Terry murmured something about an ancient pharaoh but Dora was suddenly startled by the plucked strings of a harp.
Janus guided each of them to stand on a strange symbol, insisting that they do not move from each spot until the reading was finished. His associate in the meantime had retrieved three scrolls which he handed to each of the women. As he did so, he instructed them to only read the parts written in a certain colored ink. Dora was to read the red lines, Soren the black, and Terry the green. He then took his position by the fire place, a golden scepter in his hands.
Janus had procured his own scroll, unraveled the ancient paper, and read, “M’krg uutal fi…the spirit is perverse…it cannot be sated…to do so is a violate of the essence of spirit…the spirit is to be set free…to soar uninhibited toward new realms…yours realms…”
“What are we doing? Let’s split,” Dora attempted to whisper to Terry but Janus turned his terrible head toward her and she faltered.
Janus continued, “Tonight is All Hallow’s Eve. Your night. We are here to celebrate in your name, my master. We will begin the ritual that is old as father, timeless as mother. M’krg uutal fi.”
“M’krg uutal fi.” Janus’s associate stepped next to him and held up the golden scepter.
Janus looked at Soren who, with visibly trembling limbs, read, “Slash me…lash me…tear, rend and rip…blood is the first perversity that I must overcome.” Her forehead wrinkled with each word. She shot a questioning gaze to her friends.
Terry shrugged and read, “Lick and love me…cup my breasts with your hands…breathe in the scent of my passion…your body is a vessel…mine the wind.”
Dora suppressed laughter. She had read some twisted erotica in her days, but this was ridiculous. And with each phase, Janus and his companion seemed to breath deeper, stand closer together although how that was possible seemed to be a special effect of the unlit room and the bright flames, and the harp’s melody grew faster and more complex. She was starting to hear other instruments accompanying the harp but there was nobody in the room but her, Terry, Soren, and the two robed men. Who was playing the harp? Where was their eccentric master?
It was her turn. It wasn’t English.
“Sltkky phet phem…ovum ultar Glaaki…ovum ander Glaaki…vestru alec–”
The two men, “M’krg uutal fi.”
Soren whispered, “What the hell is this? I thought it would be mildly arousing.”
A fierce blast of rain struck the solitary circular window like a thousand needles sewing at the same time. Janus and his companion almost seemed to be joined at the hip. Janus’s left leg and the other’s right leg seemed to have merged together into one thick stump. Their heads were bent backwards at an angle that would leave them paralyzed for life. Dora rubbed her eyes. For the first time in a while, she felt truly naked. Exposed to something watching her that she never knew had always existed watching her.
“Gluttony…overindulgence…ambition…they came after pain and rendering…flesh is the dress of meat…”
Terry hesitated for a second and there was a shriek so inhuman from Janus she nearly fell over. One arm across her chest, she read, “I am your vessel…I am your cup…please…please…enter me…possess me…the book of life….begins…and ends…with me…”
Dora nearly dropped her scroll. All three of them knew it: they were in over their heads. However Janus pulled the wool over their heads, they had to admit a certain respectful persuasiveness to him. However, Dora understood a deeper aspect than her friends. She wasn’t quite sure how or why she knew, but she knew with all the marrow in her bones that she should never ever utter the next word written in the scroll for her. Janus and his associate had completely merged into one fat being, humanoid in depraved obesity, and headless. Large hands opened and closed revealing the blue and white insignia once stitched on their robes, which were now torn on the floor, a fat hairy member swinging between corpulent thighs. She shouldn’t say it. She shouldn’t. Felt compelled to. The rhythm of the harp overwhelmed her. Terry was screaming. Soren danced as if on stage back at Stiff Kittens. Don’t read it. Their hands. That insignia is moving. Opening. Closing. Like a mouth. Like a mouth full of blue teeth. Like–
It came out before she was conscious of it. Then came the sound as if every string of the harp snapped at the same time. All the bizarre accompanying instruments also self-destructed. Dora clasped both hands over her ears, the scroll falling and rolling toward the fire. She barely heard Terry’s last scream. But she saw it. She watched as the fat mass that was once two men ran forward, the fingers bending so far backwards as if there was another set of joints behind the knuckles, the blue teeth digging deep into her neck and heart, her blood and flesh rapidly shredded and swallowed. Soren continued to sway and buck, chanting “M’krg uutal fi.” There was nothing left of the top half of Terry. The hands were feasting on her ample hip bones.
A spark from the fireplace lit the corner of Dora’s scroll. The fat blob screeched as a curl of smoke wafted from its shoulder. Dora wasted no time. She scooped up her and Terry’s scroll and threw them into the fire. Instantaneously, purple smoke filled the room as the monstrosity burst into flames and fell into itself on the carpet. One arm had disappeared, but the other seemed to extend itself in Dora’s direction. She snaked around it and ran toward Soren. She had to find Soren’s scroll, which she must have dropped during her gyrations. Dora cursed the lack of moonlight, falling to her hands and knees as the extended arm-mouth crashed into the bookcase behind her. Crawling, she frantically searched the floor for the missing scroll. She found nothing. At the last second, she rolled forward hearing the hand smack the ground where she previously was squatting.
Soren stepped on her hand and before Dora could swat her, she saw the scroll. It perched from an angle from between her legs. “Fuck this,” Dora said, grabbed the scroll and pulled with a wet popping noise. Soren stopped dancing immediately. She saw the stain that was Terry. Screamed. The arm-mouth flew toward her head, but Dora falling into a full split, a talent she had brought to the stage nearly every night, managed to knock aside Soren at the same time as throwing the last scroll into the fire. The arm-mouth melted with startling rapidity. The carpet had also caught on fire.
Dora launched herself back to her feet. She picked up Soren, lifted her, and ran out into the hallway. There was fire here too, even though she had no idea how that was possible. She paused by the front door for a second, then checked the coat room Janus had offered to store their coats. She found two heavy fur coats and although against wearing animals pelts knew that the cold outside would be unmerciful. When they reached the car, Dora heard part of the roof cave in. She drove on without looking back. Soren came in and out of consciousness during their return trip to the city. She spoke only once.
“What do we tell them?”
Dora did not know. What could they say without sounding insane. No authority would believe them. Dora wasn’t even sure if she believed herself except for the fact that Terry, one of her best friends, was now dead. And as the city lights dawned in the middle distance, Dora realized that mostly she was thinking about the music–the harp and its strange background. Despite the terror, she found comfort in the dissonant noise. An idea was forming, a way to warn people. Music. Rock’n’roll. She could warn people about Y’golonac, whatever that really was, through the power of song and lyrics. Soren knew how to sing and play guitar. Dora could drum.
By the time they reach Stiff Kittens, the seeds of a revolution had started.
Glaaki and Y’golonac are the property of J. Ramsey Campbell. I highly suggest you read Cold Print (1969).