Our next original Drabblecast-commissioned story for HP Lovecraft month installment, “The Wallpaper Out of Space!” by Adam-Troy Castro read by Jacob Boris.
All right, so it’s Cheryl’s kid, okay? I didn’t know she had a kid until we were two months in and already deeply involved, and then she tells me she has a sixteen year old from a prior marriage, and that he was what you’re what always supposed to say kids are, a great kid, even if they’re just hostile presences who respond to everything you say with a nod and a blank, “Okay…”
Closing Music: “Juzt Mizunderstood” by Norm Sherman
The Wallpaper Out Of Space
by Adam Troy Castro
The kid’s an idiot, and that’s all there is to it.
Okay, so it amounts to more in detail. I just don’t like to think about it.
All right, so it’s Cheryl’s kid, okay? I didn’t know she had a kid until we were two months in and already deeply involved, and then she tells me she has a sixteen year old from a prior marriage, and that he was what you’re always supposed to say kids are– a great kid, even if they’re just hostile presences who respond to everything you say with a nod and a blank, “Okay.”
And that’s what this kid was, okay? I mean, I expected him to be all attitude about me dating his mother, because that’s the way kids are supposed to be, but the first time she drags me to the house to meet him he comes downstairs with a blank expression and a ripped t-shirt that says something like Blow Me. And I don’t mind that his hair is long, but I do mind that it isn’t washed, and I’m sitting there asking him all the expected questions like ‘what he’s into,’ and he just looks at me like I asked him what color his aardvark is, and says: “Umm, nothin.’” That puts me on alert because when a kid tells you that he’s not interested in anything, that can mean anything from, I don’t wanna be part of this conversation, to I don’t wanna be part of you. And both of those are okay, because they’re the kind of thing a snotty teen can get away with saying, but the third possibility means the kid really isn’t into ANYTHING– I mean anything at all, because the amount of concentration involved in anything is just too much work.
I figured it was the third thing even before Cheryl asked the kid to show me his room, and I followed him upstairs to the expected sty, and found behind the Himalayas of sweaty t-shirts and soiled underwear the Presidential Library of rooms for kids with no personality at all. I mean, some video games- (all zombie-killing shit) and one poster of an asshole rock star giving the camera the finger. But no books. No sports equipment, no toys left over from the days when somebody else wiped his ass– nothing. And except for that attitudinal guitar player, just plain white walls; grimy wherever he may have happened to rub up against it like a grizzly scratching his back against the nearest tree. It wasn’t an act. The kid was an actual vacancy. You could move an entire family into that head and still have room for rattling marbles.
What’s that? His name?
No, that’s it. That’s his actual first name. I don’t know what Cheryl and her first husband were thinking.
So okay, I come to peace with the idea that I didn’t have to fall head over heels in love with this kid, only be nice to him. And I try to do that. I take him out for pizza, where he says he doesn’t know if he’s supposed to eat it because he’s allergic to Gouda. I take him out bowling, and he tries to bet me that he can pleasure himself between frames and still get a spare. I take him out fishing and he says that he has a friend, ‘Glownuts,’ who’s apparently the Da Vinci of farting under water. And the kid’s bloody intolerable, the kind of kid who makes you despair about the generation soon to inherit a warming Earth. But me and Cheryl really have a thing for one another by now, and because she has the bigger house, we kind of fall into the decision that, okay. It’s time I move in.
And that’s about the time when I start to think it’s really gonna bother me that the chamber-of-toxic Eat A Dick t-shirts is right down the hall from me, all the time.
I could of just taken him out on the lake with a hammer, a rope and an anchor. Might have been easier in the long run.
But no, I’m trying to go a good step-dad– the kind who will turn the little idiot around and usher in a brand new attitude that’ll wind up with him thanking me in a valedictorian speech one day before he heads off to Harvard. I march down the hall to the den of instinkquity, where the kid is at the game controller smearing skull-tapped zombies across what looks likes Times Square. I tell him to put down the sticky controller and come with me. He obliges, and we get into my car where he starts complaining about the music I’ve got on– a band I like from maybe five years ago, old people shit. And we argue about it until we get to the superstore and he asks if he can get a hot dog, and I say no, and there’s a whole separate argument about it until the next distraction. And I swear to God it’s like tacking a sailboat into a storm, me constantly steering him at angles that only vaguely in the direction of where we’re going. Until we finally wind up in the wallpaper aisle and I say, pick one.
What color? he asks.
Your decision, I say. It’s your room.
And he starts whining because he likes his room the way it is– like a toxic waste dump in a nightcrawler burrow– but I say no, Constant, this is not up for negotiation: that room has to look like there’s not some refugee living there. Pick a wallpaper, I say. I don’t care what color, it’s your room.
He says, anything?
And look, I know I’ve let myself in for disaster. This kid is not gonna pick a normal human color, he’s gonna go goth and pick jet black. Or maybe something just at random to shut me up, and he’ll settle down in a room surrounded by little yellow ducks. Or maybe he’s gonna, …I don’t know. Somewhere on these shelves is the ugliest wallpaper of all time and he’s going to pick it and that’s okay. Because it will probably be an improvement on the current yellowing grunge.
But to my surprise, he says cool, and for a moment I think it’s not gonna be as bad as I’ve feared, until he asks me, “Even if it’s all naked women with big titties?” And then I die a little inside. I say, “Even if,” and he starts going after the rolls like a desert island castaway subsisting on coconuts who just saw a raft wash up with chocolate cake.
We’re there for an hour. He goes through every wallpaper in the store. This shiny red pattern that would of made his room look like a perfumed whorehouse. Another of toy soldiers, for pre-schoolers. A few things that would have made your eyes bleed. About all they have in common is that they’re a testimony to the knowledge that you can pretty much name any stupid thing anything and some schmuck will go ahead and manufacture it. No naked women with big titties though, although I guess I might have been lucky if it had turned out that way.
We were on the last shelf at the end of the aisle and he was digging under this jungle-camo pattern when he pulled out this roll of a color that I hadn’t seen before and he said, “Duuude. This is it.” And I almost gagged. But a deal’s a deal.
Look, I’d say I was gonna just skip over the middle act, but you can probably already imagine it. You’ve seen it lots of times in old-timey movies, where some guy and his idiot friend have to put up wallpaper and the idiot friend keeps causing disasters that include stepping into the bucket of glue that gets him all papered up against a wall or something. For me, making a home project that involved helping my new step-son Constant (middle name Annoyance) wallpaper his room- it was exactly like that, except way worse in ways you can’t imagine. But between the withered parental instincts that tell me maybe I’m doing something nice for the kid, and the regular visits from Cheryl who keeps coming into the room to say she’s so proud of her two men, we get it done.
It’s like no color that has every existed on the planet Earth before, this wallpaper. And I know that’s stupid because there’s only one spectrum that we see, and every color that God ever invented is on it, but somehow somebody working for the top Cthulhic Wallpaper company of Arkham, Massachusetts built himself an auxiliary spectrum and wound up selling us what can only be described as what purple would look like if purple developed a bad skin rash.
It glows man, and everything in that room glows alongside it, and it kind of makes me sick every time I catch a glimpse of it out of the corner of my eyes, even as it gives Constant’s eyes a glow of actual enthusiasm. Which I have to tell you is something, on a kid whose eyes before were duller than backward marbles.
Does he actually like his wallpaper? Duuude, I love this wallpaper! he allows.
It would look really cool under black light, he says, and I say that if he ever brings a black light into that room I sure as hell never want to see what that looks like. And he actually laughs. The first time ever, at least that I’ve ever heard. And he turns to me and says, “Thank.”
It’s like for two seconds I actually have a kid who can actually be my son, and not just some accidentally adjacent dumbass.
Except then, you know, all the otherworldly cosmic horrors happen.
No, I’m not going to go on into detail about it, and yeah, it’s the major part of the story, but would also take up like, a whole hour.
Look, I’ve been doing some research into stuff since all this began, and it’s not exactly unusual. Sometimes something bad gets into a house, and the affected (or infected) people involved start acting all weird, and there are all these dire indications of a cosmic explanation. Animals start acting weird, kids start acting weird, it all leads to some sort of indication that there’s a nameless mess the size of whatever going on, and that it’s your own damn fault for messing with things. And ultimately it eats you, and that part of the story is always the same. And I’m not going to sit here and give you a windy speech that goes on forever with words like… “Squamous.”
Things got weird, is the point. And you don’t need to know about the light that comes shining through the crack at the bottom of his door sometimes, the noises that sound like ping-pong paddles crushing raw eggs that come from inside– sounds this fragile human mind has never before heard or could ever fully comprehend. The golden retriever going in and never coming out, the same thing happening with the mailman, house guests going mad over something called Non-Euclidian geometry, that guy from the University coming over and somehow having the presence of mind to put it all on paper.
I mean, I could, but who has the patience.
It’s like, all I ever wanted was to let the kid choose his own wallpaper– what the hell do I know about the pigment coming from some meteor that fell into a swamp ? You could go crazy, thinking about all this stuff.
The way I figure it is, you have a teenage kid, and his room is supposed to horrify you. I mean normally. It’s just a… I dunno. A terrestrial horror, not a cosmic one, even if he’s blasting music that makes you question the very idea of music in the first place, going back to the time caveman started banging on rocks. You’re supposed to feel like you’re losing your sanity with kids, you know? My Dad’s hair went white too when I was putting him through those years. And now look at me. It ain’t all that unusual. I never expected to catch some mind-rending glimpse of a vast and pitiless cosmos, but hell. How the hell am I supposed to know these things? Until now, I never had a kid.
What do I see now when I walk into his room? Well, I hate to tell you this, I really do… but there are times when I absolutely have to walk into that room, even when every instinct in my body tells me I really shouldn’t. Because that doesn’t look like wallpaper stuck to those walls, but the sky of some plane beyond our own, extending out into an infinite distance that hurts my mind to even think about. And if I pay close attention, I can sense an otherworldly intelligence behind it all, gazing upon our own cosmos with a malignance beyond all measure.
And after making it back down to the kitchen, where I inevitably make some irritated comment to Cheryl, and to which she inevitably responds, “It’s just a phase,”…I see it again in Constant’s eyes… glaring at me with ancient and horrific knowledge, eyes that shine with the same strange color as his wallpaper.
“Jesus kid, …can you turn it down?” I mutter.
“Okay,” he says, and gets his headphones.