“Look, I have to load your medications now. You need to slide your pod out of the way. If I override manually, I might break something – maybe you,” I said.
Robert Ichabod Pickman, renowned writer of horror and dark fantasy, glared at his computer screen. About a century ago, his father, a post-Victorian illustrator of macabre subjects, had moved his family from Boston to Portsmouth under questionable circumstances. You did not have to do much arithmetic to deduce that his son was obscenely old. Robert Pickman checked a computer document against a sheaf of dirty papers while we argued about maintenance of his life support.
Finally, he looked up. The speaker in his throat rasped, “I don’t want them.”
“Then why life support? Don’t you want to live?”
“I didn’t hire you. My handler did.”
“I work for Home Allopathic Health Aids. Your contract is with them, not me. What do you mean ‘handler’?”
“Call her my ‘editor’ then. She does it all through the Web. If I were hiring, I’d have hired some babe, not a muscle-bound lunkhead. My life’s a horror story.” He huffed when he said this, like it was more than a bad joke. “I’m her slave. I want to die.”
Pickman must have signed away his medical rights – common enough since the Liberty In Fulfilling Equity Act passed in 2020. “Contracts are money; money is life,” as the saying goes. Anyway, he had uttered trigger words. Pro-forma, I had to report his death wish and follow up with his contractual agent. I mentally pushed a message from my brain implant to my phone, which automatically entered a note back at H.A.H.A.
“I need to talk to your editor,” I said.
The unparalyzed side of his face contorted to create a grotesque half-smile. “Sure, be my guest.” He lifted his right hand, the one he used to write first drafts with pen and paper, and waved expansively toward the back of the house. “You’ll find her in the basement.”
Pickman just sat there in the midst of his imposing robotic machine. Except for the living room where Pickman subsisted in his bubble, this huge wooden gingerbread mansion on the bluffs overlooking Providence Harbor was in terrible disrepair. The adjacent rooms were stacked with yellowing papers, books, and garbage. I could not imagine anyone living in the basement, but decided to play along.
I followed a trail through moldering debris into the grease-stained kitchen. A door near the back seemed likely to lead to the basement. The paint was faded to a splotchy grey. Long scratch marks surrounded the doorknob. Inside, I found rickety wooden stairs leading down. An odor of damp earth and dead animals wafted from below. As my eyes adjusted, I saw a faint blue glow at the bottom. I flipped the light switch, but nothing happened.
Something scuffled. Alarmed, I got out my H.A.H.A. standard-issue pepper spray. The stairs creaked as I descended. The blue light radiated from beyond the furnace, under the octopus of the heat vent manifold. A ragged hole in the wall across from it revealed worn stone steps leading further down below the basement into blackness.
What I found behind that furnace still haunts my nightmares.
A human-sized creature, like a cross between a wolf and a giant lizard, squatted in the corner. Varicose veins crisscrossed her distended breasts, and she was covered with warts and sores. With one claw, she traced words on a handwritten page, while typing with the talons of her feet on a laptop. She munched a human arm held in her other claw. A baseball cap on top of the pile of bones, clothes, and body parts next to her announced “Papa John’s”.
The beast fixed me with bloodshot eyes. She swallowed and grinned from ear to ear, revealing rows of shark-like teeth flecked with gore, and said, in a gargling voice, “I like pizza delivery.”
I didn’t wait for more. I unloaded the pepper spray. The monster thrashed and shrieked. In answer, an angry commotion of squeals and scrabbling erupted somewhere deep down the stone steps. I streaked up the basement stairs and through the house. Pickman must have thought my panic hilarious, because his metallic laughter rang out as I crossed the living room. I paused long enough to kick his excrement container and was pleased when it popped open and spilled. As I drove down the driveway, a horde of demons poured out Pickman’s front door. They howled as I escaped.
I quit my job, assumed an alias, and moved to the Southwest. I did my best to erase my electronic trail, including illegal removal of my brain implant. For what it was worth, I became a practicing Catholic, but I knew that if I told my story to a modern priest, he would recommend non-consensual confinement and a psychiatric remake. I rented a remote faudobe house in the desert with no basement. I kept a Glock at my side and a loaded shotgun by the door. I thought I might be safe.
A Googlecoptor delivered a package this morning. My Belgian Malinois, Eliot, sniffed it and growled. It contained a copy of Pickman’s latest Arkham House novel, “Home Health Care”. A health aide on the cover was about to be dismembered by something that looked a lot like his basement ‘editor’. The aide bore a distinct resemblance to me.
There was a handwritten note inside:
Thanks a lot. My life is worse than ever, but you inspired my editor. She actually wrote most of this book – a ‘ghost’ writer, you might say. Ha. Ha. She plans to thank you personally real soon. If you want to know more about your unpleasant fate, read the book.
R. I. P.
This version has been accepted for publication in the September 2016 issue of Disturbed Digest.