Jon Hansen

Make sure you understand the agreement before calling something up.

All that remained of Henry Resnick was an ashy streak on the floor and a dark, sour smell. As I was the only witness to his disappearance, I knew I'd eventually have to tell the police what happened. The problem with stories like these is that no one believes them. Lord knows I wouldn't have believed it if someone had told it to me. Just bear with me and I'll start from the beginning.

Henry and I met in college. He lived across the hall from me in the dorm. He was a skinny little guy with glasses, reserved but with that kind of quiet intensity that could give you the creeps. We were both majoring in English, and we took a couple of classes together. We eventually got to be pretty good friends, all things considered.

Henry was an odd kind of guy. Nice enough, just kind of odd. When I first met him our freshman year he was a book burning, Bible thumping Fundamentalist. We spent hours in a bull session arguing about school prayer until the sun came up. But by the time graduation rolled around he had done a complete 180 and had become a full blown pagan. Well, maybe pagan isn't the right word, but you get the idea.

After graduation we both stayed in the area. I had gotten a job at a local department store in the housewares department. It wasn't what I would call a career or anything, but it was paying the bills until I could find something better paying. I was trying my hand at a screenplay, but I wasn't having much luck. The fact that I wasn't in Hollywood wasn't helping either, but I couldn't afford to move. At any rate, my life was definitely starting to settle down. I hadn't seen Henry in several months and had kind of lost track of him.

Then one gray day in February Henry stopped by the store. He was looking kind of gaunt and scruffy, like he was homeless. His glasses were held together with tape, his coat had seen better days, and there were noticeable holes in some of his clothes. As we talked about what we had been up to I could see undercover security keeping a suspicious eye on him.

After graduation Henry had taken up a full-time career as a writer. Not for TV or movies. He had always sneered at that. 'Hollywood writes by committee,' he had always claimed. No, he was doing real writing. The literature of the fantastic, the horrific he called it. He had a basement room downtown and he spent most of his days there writing short stories and the occasional novella. When we were still in school late at night while most everyone else was drinking beer you could hear him banging away on an antique typewriter he picked up at a pawn shop. When the sun came up, most of us would have passed out. But he'd still be typing. Dedication wasn't his problem.

The problem was that Henry just wasn't a very good writer. I'd read some of his stuff. He wrote these long, complicated stories about things from other dimensions that terrorized the poor hero until he was barely able to send them back where they belonged. Interesting stuff, but virtually impossible to follow. And he never seemed to get any better at it.

Now things weren't going too well. He wasn't able to make much money writing and he was too absorbed to be able to hold down even a part-time job. Sooner or later he'd stop showing up because he had a good idea that he wanted to work on and they'd eventually fire him. As a result he'd been selling plasma the past couple of weeks just to buy food. A collection agency had started sniffing around. Then he leaned closer. And although it would make security even more suspicious, I leaned closer. "Now, tonight, all of that changes," he said in a heavy whisper.

I must have looked interested, because he started. His last job had been in the Rare Books department of the college library. There he'd found some old grimoire that showed you how to summon things from another dimension and that sort of thing. Right before they fired him he'd managed to steal the book. It had taken some time, but he managed to get enough of it translated to understand it. That was why he had stopped into the store. He needed a few supplies to cast the spell.

Despite my common sense telling me it wasn't really my fault, I felt kind of guilty about how crappy his life turned out. So I fudged a few things and helped him open up a charge account. He picked a few odds and ends, including candles and a knife. As I rang it all up he invited me to come by his apartment that night and watch. I couldn't think of an excuse fast enough, so I agreed. He got a big grin on his face, but it didn't reach his eyes. He then gave me directions and left.

After the store closed I went home and changed. I left a note for my roommate and left. By the time I found his place it was pretty late.

Henry's place was right in the heart of downtown, underneath a secondhand store. Snow had fallen a few days before, and the streets were filled with dirty slush. Across the street a group of people spilled out of a bar, whooping and hollering. I knocked at the door and he let me in, muttering about the alignment of stars.

It wasn't much. It smelled of mold and decay. I kept my coat on. He obviously hadn't been paying his heating bill. A bare overhead bulb lit the room, showing a battered desk and chair in one corner and a stained old mattress in the other. My skin started itching at the thought of even walking near it. So I took the only available chair and looked around.

The rest of the room was taken up by a large pentagram drawn on the floor, anchored at various points by old typewriters. Candles burned on top of the typewriters, dripping dark wax into the keys. An old book sat on the desk, weighing down great piles of paper. For a minute neither of us said anything. Henry just stood there by the door, staring at me. I gathered he didn't entertain much. Outside a car alarm went off, faint but annoying. Finally I picked up the book. A piece of paper fell out and Henry snatched it up. I pointed at it. "What's that? A component for your spell?"

"Sort of," he muttered. He waved the paper dramatically. "This is Farnsworth Wright's rejection letter for Lovecraft's story 'The Call of Cthulhu'!" I must have looked blank because he frowned. "You don't know what Cthulhu is?" I shrugged. Most of my classes had been in 19th century British Literature. Henry began pacing around the room.

"'The Call of Cthulhu' is probably the single greatest horror story ever written by Lovecraft. Yet despite its power, its depth, its brilliance, it was rejected by the editor of Weird Tales, Farnsworth Wright. And do you know why?"

I honestly had no idea. But I waited patiently because I knew that he would tell me. Talking with Henry was always kind of surreal. He had a wild eyed look on his face. I wondered if Jim Jones or Manson had looked like this when they were speaking to their followers. Simply as a precaution I began looking around for easy exits. There weren't any except the door I came in, so I sat quietly.

"Editors are human. And like all people everywhere, they are flawed. They have their own prejudices about what will and what won't sell. So they reject anything truly new or innovative simply because they don't understand it. That is why Lovecraft was rejected and that is why I am rejected."

I glanced at one of the manuscripts on the desk. "The Thing From Beneath," the title read. Beside it lay a rejection letter from some horror magazine. I picked it up. "Dear Sir, We regret to inform you that your story does not meet our current needs ..." it read. Similar manuscripts and rejection letters covered the desk. I dropped the letter and looked at Henry.

"Look, Henry, don't you think you're overreacting just a little? All writers get rejection letters, especially at the beginning of their career."

That sent him into a fury. "I've been writing for years! My form, my style, my vision has reached maturity!" He began stomping around the room, waving his arms. "Finally, I have written my breakthrough work, a piece that would launch me into my professional career, and it was rejected because it does not meet their current needs! " He was screaming at the top of his lungs by this point. I glanced at the ceiling and hoped some kind passerby would call the cops.

"Well, no more of this!" yelled Henry. He reached under the mattress and pulled out the knife he had bought earlier. I stood up, alarmed, but he moved between me and the door. I was wondering if I could deck him before he punctured me when he pointed the knife at me. "No longer shall my creations be subject to watering down by others! Tonight I shall open the way for me to reap my rightful reward. Give me the book." Reluctantly I handed it over.

He leaned over and put Lovecraft's rejection letter in the center of the pattern. Then striking a dramatic pose he opened up the book and began reading. I didn't recognize the language, only that it was loud and guttural. As he chanted he took the knife and sliced it across his chest. Blood began to stain his shirt and I was beginning to think he had invited me over to witness his suicide attempt when two things happened.

The first was that the candles around the pentagram suddenly lit. That was good, because the second was the light bulb overhead gave a weird blue flash and shattered. I ducked from the glass shards, but Henry never flinched. He kept on chanting, his voice becoming louder and more inhuman. I started hearing this weird buzzing noise in my ear, like a fluorescent bulb going bad. The noise from outside died away until the whole of the universe became this room. Finally Henry gave a shout and stopped.

Coming out of the letter in the center of the pentagram was an odd little dark spot . It looked a little like a shadow and a little like smoke. Slowly it began to grow, twisting and curling. It was kind of hypnotic. I could faintly hear Henry drop the knife but I couldn't move. I sat there, trembling. Then hundreds, thousands of red eyes began opening and closing in the center of it, fixing us in place. And then it spoke.

The words seemed to roll around in my head, echoing up from a dark chasm. -Yes, mortal? What do you wish of me?- It hurt to listen to that voice.

Henry's eyes were all lit up. He stepped forward, hands trembling. "Great Old One from Beyond, I would beg of you a boon, a favor. I wish that my genius would be realized by one and all. That the princes of the literary world would throw themselves at my feet, begging to publish my works. That greatness would be mine, and I will live forever in the annals of history!"

The shadow kept growing until it reached the ceiling. -This can be done. But payment must be made.-

Henry pointed at me. "Take this poor unfortunate to meet your price, Master." He looked pitying. "Sorry, my friend. But these things are unfortunately necessary." I would have slugged him or run for the door, but I couldn't move. My heart pounded in my chest as I looked up at the curling darkness.

The eyes looked down at me and I flinched. Despite the cold in the room I could feel myself covered in sweat. I couldn't think. All I could do was crouch there and be damned. The thing gazed at me for an eternal moment and then turned back to Henry. -No.-

Henry twitched. "No? But -- I don't understand." He sounded unsure.

-This one is not a satisfactory payment. We require another instead.-

Henry realized what it meant at the same time I did. "But -- you can't mean me! You promised that my greatness would be recognized! You can't!"

-Many writers do not achieve their status of greatness until they have passed from this world to the next. Your precious Lovecraft was the same way.- The shadow flowed across the room towards Henry.

Henry stumbled back into the corner. "No! I forbid it!" he screamed, his voice filled with terror. The thing gave a horrible laugh. I could feel my heart pause and I closed my eyes, afraid to watch. Henry howled again, but his cry was suddenly cut off by a terrible silence. When I opened my eyes the shadow was gone and the only thing that was left of Henry was a long streak of ash.

There isn't much left to tell. With all the shrieking someone from the bar must have called the police. When they got there I was crouching by the desk, incoherent. I don't remember what I told them. Eventually they released me. The lack of a body and Henry's money troubles finally convinced them that he had fled town to escape his creditors.

I quit the store a few weeks later. My nerves were bad, and I couldn't take listening to my customers' nagging, inconsequential requests. I burned my screenplay late one night in a drunken stupor. My roommate began to complain that all I did was sit in my room and stare at the wall. This went on for a few weeks. Then I had an idea.

I did a little research and found out that Henry's few possessions, including the manuscripts, had been claimed by his parents. I got their address, borrowed my roommate's car, and went to see them. I told them who I was and then told them the whole story of what had happened to Henry.

Amazingly enough, they believed me. They were shocked and horrified, but they believed me. Then they asked me what I wanted.

I told them I wanted Henry's old manuscripts. They thought about it and then said yes. They let me have every one of Henry's old papers, lock, stock and barrel. I took them home and looked them over. I spent about a week retyping everything and making fresh clean copies.

Then I called up another friend of mine. He was luckier, having landed a job as an editor's assistant at a publishing house. He had known Henry too, and he was sorry to hear he had died. I asked him if he would be interested in looking at some of Henry's work. He didn't see why not, so I sent him some of the stories.

A few days later, his boss called me. He said he wanted to publish a collection of Henry's work and asked if I had any more.

Now all the world knows the name of Henry Resnick. His fame has grown far and wide, and everything he ever wrote has been published and read. His parents have been able to retire on the royalties, and as his literary executor, I've been doing quite well on my modest percentage. Everyone wants to know all about Henry. I was even contacted by a studio out in Hollywood that wanted the rights to my version to the last days of Henry's life. I refused. I had finally seen the light. Henry may have tried to kill me, but I would remain true to his ideas. He would never have allowed his life to be written by committee.


© 1997 Edward P. Berglund
"The Sudden and Dramatic Disappearance of Henry Resnick": © 1997 Jon Hansen. All rights reserved.
Graphics © 1997 Old Arkham Graphics Design. All rights reserved. Email to: Corey T. Whitworth.

Created: December 2, 1997; Current Update: August 9, 2004