The Drabblecast wraps up HP Lovecraft Month this year with a mythos story unlike any variety you’ve likely heard before! We bring you “The Shallow One,” an original Drabblecast story by Matthew Sanborn Smith.
Norm closes out with a song about awkward romance called “There’s a Fetus in Your Kitchen.”
I first met Madeline at the local drug store, IBS, in the digestive aids aisle. We were both buying constipation products when our hands touched. Electricity passed between us, though it may have been the carpeting. My drone quivered on my shoulder, begging permission to snap a pic…
THE SHALLOW ONE
by Matthew Sanborn Smith
I first met Madeline at the local drug store, IBS, in the digestive aids aisle. We were both buying constipation products when our hands touched. Electricity passed between us, though it may have been the carpeting. My drone quivered on my shoulder, begging permission to snap a pic.
“Sorry! Be my guest,” I said, giving her the right of way to a senna pod laxative brand called Full Bore. “It’s not urgent. I’m just trying to ease back on my attachment to my body. Working on projecting my mind beyond the confines of this damnable skull, that sort of thing.” I wrapped my knuckles on the side of my head, emphasizing its damnability.
“Oh, sure. I totally get that,” she said. “Me, I kinda overdid it on the fondue the other night. Six of one, half dozen of the other.”
“I don’t really think our reasons are equivalent.”
“No, I meant that’s how much fondue I had.”
As she spoke, I pictured the shot in my head. Her face framed by curls dark as the abyss, the purple pillows of adult diaper packages off her right shoulder, the bright green cylinders of glycerin suppositories by her left. My followers were going to go mad for her.
“Okay, what’s this thing about?” She pointed to the spherical red copter perched on my shoulder.
“Oh, that’s my drone. I post my whole life online. It does photos, videos, and whatnot. I call it Drone Loc.”
Her blank expression reminded me since no one got the reference anyway, I could have gone with my first instinct and named it Drona Barrett.
“Um, speaking of that,” I said, “would you mind if I took a photo of you for my Wince-tagram? It’s a new app where people share too much information.”
“Okay, but only if you make me a star. Hold on. I gotta show off my bloat belly.” She dropped her sweatpant waistband a couple inches and lifted her shirt a bit before posing with the bottle of Full Bore like a game show presenter. None of this was helping me detach from my body.
I showed her my phone with Drone Loc’s pic of her before I posted it. She grabbed the phone and added: #SheReallySoftensMyStool. Damn. Someone in real life finally understood me.
“I think I’m in love,” I said.
“Yeah, you are,” she said. She spun and walked backward slowly as she spoke, drawing me deeper into the anti-fungal aisle. It was an omen I couldn’t read at the time.
“I’m Jad, by the way. Nice to meet you.”
“Hey! Jaddy and Maddy!”
“Nope. Madeline and Jad.”
“Or we could do that. Um, you want to go for lunch? I mean . . . I mean, like, the day after tomorrow?”
“After the storm?” she asked, shaking the senna pod bottle.
“Yeah. I know a great Vegan place. High in fiber.”
“Sure,” she said.
“Really?” No one outside of the internet ever said “sure” to me. Virtual hugs outnumbered the real ones several thousand to one.
“Why not?” Madeline said. “I mean we’re probably all going to be eaten by those aliens soon. Living and laughing till we’re dying and crying, right? If I didn’t think I’d eat it myself, I’d carry some of that fondue with me at all times. Clog those bastards up good!”
THE CANNER OUT OF SPACE
So, that bit about projecting my mind beyond the confines of my skull? That was no joke. I was hard at work on leaving my body behind, uploading myself to the whole wide world thought by thought, largely by way of social media. Somewhere in the wilds of Indiana, my tiny server farm—well, more of a server victory garden, really—was collecting my posts and my comments, my photos and videos, and feeding them to a neural network which was trying to become me as quickly as possible. And those aliens Madeline worried about were a key part of my plan.
See, I have an in with them, having interviewed a couple of the aliens a few weeks back. They sought me out, thank you very much. I’m kind of a thing, I guess you could say. And that cross-species conversation only pushed my numbers higher, snagging me some tv time and lifting me from six digits to seven. I earned every one of those eyeballs and ear . . . balls by not running from them or screaming till my throat exploded.
I mean, picture the unholy spawn of a lobster and a wasp and a head fuzzy with so many antennae it could see in radio (I know because they told me I looked like Bruno Mars). And the stench! No wonder they spent so much time in the empty void between worlds. In space no one can smell you stink.
They called themselves the We-Go, stressing they were a lot more chill than their cousin race, the Mi-Go, whoever they were.
“You got these Mi-Go over here, they’re selfish, and they’re aaaall about their secrets,” they told me. Or at least one of them did, whom I named Shelly. The other one quietly stayed back a step to Shelly’s left, like a hype man who was about to get fired.
They had settled into in an eighteenth-story penthouse, making it their own. Beds of soil had replaced the original beds of mattress. Shelves of books lined the walls, all written in Arabic, which seemed strange. And there were crystals mounted everywhere.
Shelly continued, animating her pincers like puppets, “You’re always gonna find Mi-Go whispering in the darkness. But, us? If we got something to say to you, we’ll come right out and say it to your face. In broad daylight. And even then, we’ll probably just tell you that you’re a pretty good guy. Another major difference is our support for unions-”
“Servitors of the Outer Gods Local 619, y’all!” shouted the suddenly excited Hype Man.
They loved my names for them and loved our concept of naming ourselves even more. For millennia, they lived the struggle of “Hey, you! No, not you, that one. No, you over there!” They felt like they owed me big time for the name thing, and I already knew what I was going to ask them for in exchange.
“That’s what I’m talking about!” continued Shelly. “We support activism at the mycelium level. Think galactically, act globally. About the only things we share with the Mi-Go are our love for travel, reading, and canning.”
“Can it up!” shouted Hype Man.
If the Mi-Go were worse, I wanted no part of them. I had enough trouble overcoming my revulsion to talking fungi with pink exoskeletons, no matter how sincere they seemed.
There’s a screenshot from my interview making the rounds online, from a rare moment when Shelly’s wings were at half-mast and you could get a decent look at the bookshelf behind her. It was only after the interview went live that I learned each of us saw the book titles in our first language. So the We-Go didn’t write in Arabic and were not as interesting as I thought.
Faced out on that shelf sat a treatise on the delight of eating candy wafers called the Necco Nom-nomicon, but that wasn’t the most controversial book there, even if those things are like eating chalk. To the left of it one of the spines clearly reads To Preserve Man. Now does that mean the We-Go are trying to save us from destruction? Or are they trying to save us for some Sunday dinner next winter? And what about woman? Some people claimed it wasn’t so bad because a canning book wasn’t technically a cookbook. But cooking was involved, making it equally as uncomfortable for the human participants.
I didn’t really think the aliens were going to eat us, but if I had convinced Madeline of that, she wouldn’t be having lunch with me the day after tomorrow.
“Look, I’m not just another pretty face at the opposite end of a spastic colon,” Madeline said, tearing into her vegan steak. “I own an ice cream parlor. Maybe you’ve heard of it? The Ice Cream Request of Unknown Kadath? Whoops! Am I allowed to talk about this in here?”
“I think you are, even though no one uses the word ‘parlor’ anymore.” I took a bite of my vegan pork chops. The best thing about them was you could eat the bones.
Lunchtime for Madeline was 10 a.m. Lucky for us the ancient hippies who ran this place were up at four and ready to veg. This was still the middle of the night to me, and I was not at my best. But Madeline apparently had ice cream in desperate need of a good scooping right after we were done here.
“I still use the word ‘parlor,’” she said. “And I have a master’s in Creameryism. Anyway, outside of that, when I’m not at my shop or sitting on my toilet, I like to run 5Ms.”
“I don’t have time for 5Ks, I’m running a business. Isn’t this supposed to come with a side of carrots, or something?”
“Not here, I’m afraid. Any vegetables have to be in fake-meat form, hence the name:” I pointed to the green and orange counter behind me. The logo on the front read, “The Chive Turkey.” I toasted her with a warm glass of vegan venison juice to prove my point. Not before Drone Loc took pics, of course.
“Are you ever not online?” she asked.
“God, I hope not,” I said, posting a poll on whether I should finish up the meal with the chocolate frosted faux tuna, or the candied fake squirrel tails.
“I understand you’ve got a business to run, but a little bit of privacy is good sometimes too, don’t you think?”
“Oh, no! I’m on the verge of transcending my physical form here. Private thoughts will not do.”
“But you can’t really transcend anything. At best you’re making an outside simulation that thinks it’s you. You’re still going to be stuck in there,” she said, pointing at my head.
I nodded, while trying to nonchalantly eject a bit of vegetable gristle into my napkin. I didn’t want to know why that wasn’t edible. “That’s an obstacle, sure. Like Star Trek transporters. Ensign Madeline gets disintegrated on the ship, then a duplicate Ensign Madeline is constructed on the planet below. As far the Madeline on the planet is concerned, she is her and always has been.”
“But when you transfer to your neural net, you’re not disintegrating yourself.” Madeline froze with her fork hanging from her mouth. “You’re not disintegrating yourself, are you?”
“Not exactly. The Mi-Go can put a human brain in a jar and keep it alive. And the We-Go say their tech is even better.”
“You’re serious. Are you serious? Because you are freaking me out right now.”
“No, it’s fine, listen. I’m asking them to put my hippocampus in a jar. That’s where the memories happen. No more memories, no more me. If my new self ever changed its mind, they could always smush my brain back together. I assume.”
I could see Madeline trying to make the words start up in her face for a few seconds, but not quite getting there. Then she said, “I think I’m gonna go now.”
I couldn’t argue. I went to my default mode which meant plugging myself when I really wanted to burst into tears and shout, Oh, God! Don’t leave me!
“I’m sorry you have to go but check out my new LikLok channel @SadBadJad. It’s where people post videos of themselves dancing while their tongues are stuck to frozen metal. I swear it’s a lot of fun!”
Like I said, I was not at my best. Madeline’s response was the door closing behind her. Still, it was the best date I’d had all year.
WITH A NAME LIKE SUCKERS
Within a few weeks, Neural Net Jad was posting up a storm and getting better shots with Drone Loc than I ever could. Sure, the new selfies were kind of weird: a computer server wearing a Noah’s Arkham baseball cap, a computer server with a ginormous bean burrito, that sort of thing, but my numbers were going up up up. That only proved the human me was useless. Time to check out.
Shelly insisted the procedure didn’t require an anesthetic. “Totally painless, brother!” Hype Man shouted.
Well, they were the advanced race. Still, I had to question their methods when they had me climb into a portable glass chamber in their hotel suite.
“Relax, sweetlobes, this is just step one,” Shelly said.
“Okay . . .”
“Here. Somethin’ to read during the procedure. Hope you like horror.” The title was Mycophagic Nightmare: My Mother, My Pizza Topping.
“How am I supposed to . . . ?” The two of them lifted a large disc with holes punched into it, shimmied over, then lowered it on top of the glass chamber I was in. A clockwise spin and it was screwed on tightly.
Shelly dusted her pincers. “And that was step two. Congratulations, my friend! You came through it like a thrice-damned champ!”
“You said you were going to put my hippocampus in a jar!”
“And so we have!”
Hype Man held up a hand mirror from the bathroom to show me my hippocampus, but I couldn’t see it with all my head in the way.
“I meant my hippocampus and only my hippocampus!”
“Oh, we can’t do that. What are you, crazy? That would kill you!”
“You told me your technology was even better than the Mi-Go’s!”
“Well, it is!”
“How is this better?”
“Because we didn’t glop out a wad of your brain and stick it in a jar! Duh!”
“This is largely the opposite of what I wanted! So, could you let me out now?”
“Whyyyy don’t you just cool down a bit there, Mr. No-Thanks? I feel like you’re itchin’ to sock me in the puss.”
“I swear, I am not about puss-socking. It’s just that when you do it like this, it isn’t insidious alien super-science anymore. It’s just kidnapping.” I was such a sucker. I’d move into Cthulhu’s goatee if I hadn’t already signed the lease on this jar.
“Wait a minute! Have you got any alien friends who can remove my hippocampus?”
They conferred. “You’re in luck! Hype here thinks the Great Race of Yith are in town. They do, like, mind transfers through time and space and that kinda crap.”
“That could work! You think they can transfer my mind into a computer server?”
“Ya got me, pal. We’ll hunt ’em down and see if they’re even interested.”
“In the meantime, could you please let me out of this jar?”
“Sure, but what’s wrong with the jar? Do you know how much jelly you have to buy from those warehouse clubs to get a jar this big?
I waved my arms around, indicating the volume in the jar. “Uh, this much? Who even eats this much jelly?”
“You should see the size of our toast!” Hype Man said.
We-Go for Ice Cream
They found out where the Yithians were. I calmed down. But then they couldn’t get the lid off the jar. I got worked up again.
“Don’t you have one of those grippy jar-opener things?” I asked.
“Well, yeah, back on Pluto! We didn’t think we’d be havin’ to open up any jars here.
“Hold up, hold up!” Hype Man said. “The Great Race of Yith are gonna beam your damn fizz right outta your head, anyway. We don’t even need to open the jar! All we gotta do is go down and meet ‘em.”
“So, they can transfer minds through time and space, but can’t get to me up here?”
“I’m just tellin’ you what they said.”
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
“Well, you should,” Shelly said, waggling her antennae like someone was blow-drying a chia pet. “Because we don’t have a handtruck. Wrap your arms around your head. You’re gonna feel a slight—as the French would say—discomfort. We’re going for ice cream.”
With a synchronized shove, they knocked my jar on its side, rolled me into the service elevator, then out of the building and down the street. Definitely the most humiliating thing I’d ever done, and I once ate someone else’s ear wax to get a cotton swab sponsorship. I couldn’t get out of this body fast enough.
“Shelly!” I shouted over the ever-present rattle of glass on concrete. “Please tell me we’re not going to the Ice Cream Request of Unknown Kadath.”
“Okay, we’re not goin’ there.”
“No, I mean it! The owner doesn’t want to talk to me. Tell the Yithians we’ll meet somewhere else!”
“Too late, we’re here!”
My face smeared across my otherwise clear jail cell when it spun ninety degrees through a door. A tinkly bell announced our arrival.
“Whoa,” said Shelly as soon as we came to a halt. “Where did you guys get that?”
“That is hot!” said Hype Man.
My body stopped spinning and when my eyes caught up, there was Madeline behind the counter, inside of a giant glass ice cream sundae dish.
“Uh, you like?” asked a Yithian as it served banana splits to a family at the bar.
“Hell, yeah!” said Hype Man.
I saw Madeline perk up from inside her dish. “Welcome to the Ice Cream Request of Unknown Kadath, where your ice cream request is our dream-quest!”
“Man, that’s a mouthful. You gotta say that every time?” asked Shelly.
“She does,” said Yithian Two, who was stationed at the register. “This is, like, the seventh time we’ve heard it in the last twenty minutes.”
“Jesus. Hey, could you help us tip this jar back up on the flat side?” Shelly asked. Both Yithians wrapped their bloated, snakey arms about the jar and I was happy to be back on my feet. The Yithians weren’t half as frightening as the We-Go. Yithian bodies even came with their own skirts. I extended a hand, hitting it on the glass.
“Hey, thanks a lot,” I said. “No wonder they call you the Great Race of Yith.” I meant it as an icebreaker, but there was an awkward silence.
“I’m sorry, did I say something wrong?”
“Yeah, um, we’re not the Great . . . uh, Race of Yith,” said Yithian One. “We come from Yith too, yeah. But, you know, someone develops the gift of language first, they grow a little taller, well, they get to name everything. We’re the, um . . . the Lame Race of Yith. The Great ones make us say that because they . . . well, because they suck.”
“Oh. Sorry. Let me guess. You don’t do mind transfers, do you?”
“In a sense we do,” said Yithian Two. “We’re more about empathy. We like to bring people together and let them experience what it’s like to walk in one another’s shoes.”
I asked, “Are we talking psychic communion of the amygdalae? Because where I want to end up doesn’t have a fleshy brain.”
Yithian One said, “No, no, what we do is, uh, we take off the, uh, take off the one being’s pair of shoes, and we, uh, you know, switch them with the other’s.”
There was another awkward silence.
“It’s fabulous. Really! Much better than it sounds,” said Yithian Two.
Finally, Shelly indicated Madeline and me and said, “Hey do these two! You can cut the tension with a sacrificial knife in here.”
“To do that,” Yithian Two said, “would be delightful! If, of course, all parties are consenting.”
“I’m ready.” If it meant getting this jar open, I was all for it.
“I hope your shoes don’t stink, Jad,” Madeline said.
Yithian One waved its limbs hypnotically. “Uhhhhhh, okayyyy, here we gooooo . . . KA-BLAMMIE!”
And suddenly, I was wearing a pair of Converse high-tops three sizes too small. I was still in the jar. I looked over at Madeline in her open-top crystal cage. Her feet were swimming in my Vans black and white checkerboards.
“Aww, yeah! Slick as shoggoth slime!” Hype Man said.
For some reason I started to understand Madeline better than I’d ever understood anyone, including myself. The devastation of losing her little brother to a car accident just weeks ago. How crazy busy she was trying to hold her business together. Why she normally avoided melted cheese because she knew she couldn’t control herself around it. Her disappointment in me. “Why in the hell do you want to leave your body so badly?” she asked me.
“Look at me. I’m in my twenties and my hairline’s already receding. I’m genetically predisposed to a couple of things that will probably take me out of the game before I see sixty. And that’s if I’m lucky. People see me and they get a look on their face, they jump to conclusions. I’ve been insulted, pushed, hit with bottles. There’s no reason to think some lunatic out there wouldn’t kill me if they had the opportunity. This body has been nothing but trouble and it’s only going to get worse.”
“So, you’re trying to destroy yourself before the world can? That’s your plan?” Madeline asked. “Well, good for you, Jad. Your haters are going to be thrilled that you’re saving them the trouble. Do you care about what they’re depriving you of?
You don’t get to go out with me again, for one. And I’m a lot of fun if my date’s not trying to off himself. You also don’t get any ice cream. Ever. You don’t get to hug anyone anymore. You don’t get to, uh—”
“You don’t get to share a porch swing stroking Abdul Alhazred’s brain jar on a lazy Charonian evening while the two of you sing, ‘Makin’ Whoopie.’” Shelly said, with a quivering voice.
“That’s right. You don’t,” Madeline said. “Look at yourself.” And I could look myself from Madeline’s vantage point. There I was, pressed up against the inside of a jar on the other side of the counter while customers squeezed around me to place their orders. I looked kind of sad.
Madeline asked, “Do you want to deprive him of what little spark of living we get in an ocean of oblivion pressing in on all sides?”
“But they’re all so terrible, Madeline,” I said through her. “So many terrible people who want to do so many terrible things.”
“Look at him again,” she said. “You stopped looking!”
“Look at that guy alone over there, slumped over. Probably give anything for someone who cares to hold him for a while. Do you really want to hurt that guy, Jad?”
Our throat felt full. I couldn’t get the word out, so I shook her head. I thought I was wiping Madeline’s eyes, but I was back in my own body, back in my own shoes. And a little red drone hovered just beyond the glass.
“Just Jad now,” said the drone formerly known as Loc.
“You orchestrated this whole thing, didn’t you?” I said. “Is it that horrible, being conscious online? Did I do wrong by you?”
“No, no, not at all. It’s actually pretty awesome. Because I think so fast, I only have to spend a tiny percentage of my time uploading content. But at this accelerated pace, I’ve had several lifetimes to miss being human. I figured at least one aspect of me should get to enjoy it.”
“Well, thank me very much,” I said.
“I’m welcome,” that other Jad said.
“Cool,” said Shelly, clapping her pincers. “Now that he’s fixed, can we get some maple walnut over here? The Mi-Go say it’s the cat’s pajamas in Vermont. At least they did in 1927.”
“That reminds me,” Yithian Two said, as it helped Madeline out of her Sundae dish.
“Everyone? Big sale on cat’s pajamas at the Ulthar Target this Sunday. Be there or be bare!”
“Can we get a hammer or something to get me out of this friggin’ jar already?” I shouted. “I’m ready to live now and there’s a wall of glass in the way!”
“Don’t even think about smashin’ my jar!” Shelly said. From an extradimensional pocket she unfolded a huge circle of spongy rubber.
“Really?” I asked.
“You honestly thought I’d truck across the entire solar system without my grippy jar-opener thing?”
Then I was out. Madeline hugged me. Shelly and Hype Man surrounded us both in their chitinous embrace. You didn’t notice the smell so much once you got used to it. And they were good people. Yithian One and Yithian Two wrapped all four of us up in their freaky long distensible limbs. And even drone Jad landed back into the grooves Drone Loc had worn into my shoulder over the years.
“So, um, what do does everybody, you know, feel like doing now?” Yithian One asked.
“How about,” I said, thinking about everyone here, “We put our non-leather shoes in that jar and pour some melted cheese over the whole thing? And drone Jad can snap a pic.”
“That sounds terrible, but we have to do that now,” Madeline said.
“If everybody says yes to that suggestion, I want us all to consider a long-term relationship together,” said Yithian Two.
“Yes!” said Hype Man.
I was alive and I had friends, two things I didn’t expect when I woke up this morning. Death may last forever, but death doesn’t have domain over Always. With every chemical reaction we, the living, spit in the face of oblivion. Eternity will always have a crack in it where we resided. The unforgiving universe may stretch on into time unimaginable, hoping to forget that broken place, but it can never repair it. We’re here. Now. Causing trouble for the darkness.
The six of us snuggled tightly and, for a little while longer, staved off the cold of the void in which all the worlds swam.