Up in Smoke

Been to the ruins, have you? Not yet? Ah, you’re just off the charter plane. I saw that hat coming down the tarmac. You didn’t look like the rest. I can tell you’re one of those scholarly types. Deep.

Don’t mind if I do. I’ll have a Scotch. I like a firm handshake. New Englanders come here from that Innsmouth place a lot. Limp, clammy handshakes is all you get from one o’ them. I know their ways and signs and can pass when I have to. Just slouch and tie a scarf around your neck. I feel sorry when I see their kids, all handsome-like, until they grow into that “ancestral look.” It’s mostly the dregs who come here. We don’t get many of the blond surfers and big-eyebrow ladies with the plastic boobs. We’re not even on their maps, and no cruise ship can get anywhere near. Pohnpei—where the left-overs come to dream and die.

Of course I’m being morose and melodramatic. They come and they go. We tend to get the homelier types, the oddballs. You look more Boston to me, averse as you seem to be to sunlight. I see the way you pick your table, one beam of light on that book you always carry, the rest of you in shadow. I just pick up details about folks, that’s all. If I painted any more, that would make a fine study. You and your book.

So, Harvard, is it? Are you on one of those expeditions?

Oh, that place. No, I’ve never seen anyone from Arkham before.

Miska — Miskatonic, you say? Can’t say I ever heard of it, though we’ve had scholarly types who wouldn’t say where they’re from and what they’re doing. Sometimes they unload crate after crate of equipment from the cargo ship then hole up back and above the ruins. Come to think of it there was a boat a while back, and I did see M-something on some crates, and TONIC on the ends of them. Could have been part of the big wreck after the storm.

That wreck was good pickings for scavengers, too, since a lot of stuff, and even some people, disappeared. Sink holes, you see—they have a way of opening up when you least expect it. Beneath those ruins, no one can guess how far down they can go.

We’ve had some other bookish types over the years. You can look at the stuff they left behind. A few went sun-mad or caught some funny diseases from the village girls. One old professor, philologist I think, said he would never sleep again, so he razored off his eyelids. He’s off in the madhouse in Wellington.

Thank you, yes, I do know just about everybody. Used to be you could count the white folk on two hands.

Now with the hippies and the Lovecraft tourists, this place is getting too crowded for me. That little charter plane is chock full, coming and going.

I’ve done a museum’s worth of paintings in those ruins, and did a lot of diving in my younger days. There’s more of those ruins under the water than above, you know. There are tunnels down there that go deep below the ocean, yet dry as a Baptist on a blue Sunday. Got to get into them at low tide, and get back out again before the water comes back up.

Those—what do you learned folk call them—Encylco—Yes, “Cyclopean”—that’s the word I was searching for. Funny thing is that out there and down below, it goes so deep you could swear it was never above water, not for a day, so how could these Polynesians have built it?

I sold a lot of paintings to visitors—the ruins, a little wildlife, sometimes I’d get a village girl or some boys to pose for me; very classical.

Nowadays they come and ask for tentacles. They want me to paint their damn girlfriends with tentacles all around them. They want that god (I’m not going to say his name), dragging his squid face over the landscape.

Goddamn Howard Philips Lovecraft, anyway! I want to spit every time I hear “R’lyeh!” Seeing as you’re not one of the hippies, I’d be happy to take you to the ruins. Easy it is to lose your way, and as I said, there are places that fall away. You might even find the skeleton of one of your own professors, ha! Just joking! You don’t need to look that way.

Fact is, I want to get off this island. A chance at a gallery in Sydney, fancy I’d finally get to see Hong Kong or Thailand.

It’s not the Lovecraft tourists that bother me so much. It’s the hippies, you see, these last two years, since the stuff they call “trans-heroin” arrived. Nepal is practically empty and the Afghanis are mad as hell that some unknown white powder has pushed all the other drugs aside. Now Pohnpei is the Haight-Ashbury of the South Pacific. They have a rickety hostel on the beach. Three Lebanese, ah, shall I call them “businessmen?” And some Russians, shall I call them “silent partners?” Have set up a dance club there—see the smoke?—not twenty yards from the ruins.

Since you’re a scholar, and I can trust you, I’ll let you in on the secret: the white powder comes from here, from fabled R’lyeh, Pohnpei Island. Take it just once, and all you want to do is sleep, and in that sleep—my god, what they tell me!

Those so-called gentle hippies. One sat there, right where you’re sitting, and boasted to me, “Last night, in my dream, I killed a thousand men. The powder wore off before I could finish eating them.”

At first it came from divers, not bringing up pearls, but caked-up minerals from an outcrop, a crazy place where those ancient stones had fallen into something, and the white stuff, over many centuries, extruded outward.

But now the Lebanese, laying a cement foundation for their nightclub, jack-hammered their way down to the vein, the mother lode of chalk-like powder. The Russians watch everything, sit down below in what they call “The Kitchen,” Kalashnikovs at the ready. There goes the neighborhood.

I have to listen to the thump-thump-a-thump of the living dead zombie dance music some nights till three in the morning. There’s a neon sign, oh, you’ll see it, with tacky Hawaiian lettering, and tentacles carved up top, that reads LOUNGE R’LYEH—HOOKAH ALL NIGHT.

Inside, the hookah pipes emerge from the floor below where, in the “kitchen,” three idiot village girls tend to the charcoal burner, the bubbling cauldron of water. The tubes run upward and through the floor, right to the hookah tables. And they sit, and they sit, and they sit. The waiters empty their pockets. Dawn comes, and the smokers awaken outside, piled in a heap on top of one another.

The hippies smile. They don’t even care that they’ve been robbed. Each night at dusk there are more of them, pressing against the bamboo enclosure, waiting for the neon sign to come on.

You look agitated, professor. I guess you didn’t realize what kind of place you’ve come to for your holiday. It’s fine, I guess, to spend your days afield.

The ruins, yes, the ruins are beautiful. It’s no wonder that writers look and then make up stuff to explain who built them. Not that they know.

You just don’t want to be here at night.

Did I mention the suicides? The beach, when the tide comes in, is not so wholesome. Drug tourists, sooner or later, exhaust their bank accounts, and so they hope to join the ranks of those who never awaken. The Russians remove the bodies by noon. Bad for business, you see.

Before long, they’ll just export the stuff. They’ll close the lounge. Instead, a kind of factory will sit there, extracting and packaging.

Oh, you’re a wry one. What’s that you said?

“Unless what’s down below, awakens.”

Don’t tell me you’re one of those believers in that thing whose name I won’t pronounce.

So you’re writing a book. If it’s drugs and cults, you’ve come to the right place, but don’t think you’re going to leave with a sample of the goods. The Russians won’t permit it.

You’ve already figured out what the drug is, you say? They’re what? No, don’t make me think that, don’t make me say that. It may be “two and two” to you but it’s nonsense to me. Let go of my arm: you’re hurting me!

Fine! Just calm down now. I heard you.

I wish I hadn’t heard you.

You think those . . . idiots . . .  are . . . smoking . . . the . . . brains . . . of . . . Cthulhu.

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