The Call of Cool-O:
Philip K. Dick meets H. P. Lovecraft
by Andrew May
[Author’s note: Visitors to this site will be well aware of Philip K. Dick’s long-standing interest in Gnosticism – the idea of a demented and/or evil demi-god usurping a benign but no-longer-present true God, both having come to Earth from the stars. It struck me that there are some distant parallels here with the Cthulhu mythos of H. P. Lovecraft. This notion inspired me to write the following story – a humble attempt to re-tell Lovecraft’s "The Call of Cthulhu" in the style of PKD.]
Information is being beamed into my head, Hank Wilcox thought grimly. By some vast, timeless, impersonal entity. That was the only way to explain what had happened that morning. He speeded his pace, then, as he moved along the sidewalk clutching the small paper-wrapped package.
He came to the university building he was seeking and went inside, glad to be out of the hot sun. He ascended the wide stone staircase to the second floor, close behind a chick with a nice ass and fashionable Cool-O trainers. At the top of the stairs there was a soda machine. He felt in his pocket for change; he needed a Coke. But the machine was out of Coke, he saw; and out of Sprite and Dr Pepper also. The only cans left in the machine were Cool-O. He hated the taste but, hell, he was thirsty. He drank the Cool-O with a grimace.
Hank Wilcox inspected the directory and found the name he was looking for. Professor George of the archeology department; an authority on ancient inscriptions, he'd been told. Hank went along the corridor to his left, found the right door, and knocked.
The dark-haired female behind the desk stood up to greet him as he entered the room.
"Hi, I'm Angel George," she said, eyeing him cautiously. "How may I help you?"
Jeez, Hank thought, the professor is a chick. No older than thirty, she was slender, with high cheekbones and a long neck. She wore black jeans and a man's style shirt, open to the third or fourth button. Her long brown hair was tied back in a braid.
"I need your help with some hieroglyphs," he mumbled, unwrapping the package and placing it on her desk.
As she leaned forward to look, he caught a glimpse down her shirt-front. Her breasts were tiny and braless. There was a ring piercing her right nipple, and a small tattoo just above the left. Christ, he thought, this is one kinky chick. She must need it real bad. He ought to offer to ball her, he realized, as a matter of Christian charity. But he didn't; somehow it didn't seem the right thing to say to a professor of archeology.
Angel George looked up suddenly, fixing Hank with a penetrating stare. "What kind of joke is this?" she inquired fiercely. "There's nothing ancient about this object; it's an obvious fake of recent origin. Look, the clay isn't even dry yet."
"That’s right. I only made it this morning," Hank said. "When I woke up."
"What?" She looked at him pityingly, as if he was a retarded child.
"I'm a sculptor," Hank said, solemnly. "That's my job. When I made this, I was in an altered state of consciousness. Under orders, as it were, from the avatar of a higher reality. Look, it's important. I need to know what these hieroglyphs mean."
Angel turned her attention back to the object. Observing it, really, for the first time. Before, she had seen only its newness; this time, she took in all the details.
The hieroglyphs ran all around the rectangular base of the clay sculpture. Above this squatted the figure of an alien creature, with a scaly, vaguely humanoid body, clawed hind- and forepaws, small leathery wings, and a bloated, tentacled, cephalopod-like head. The overall impression was of something ancient and unearthly.
Angel shuddered, then straightened suddenly. "I'm sorry - these symbols mean nothing to me. I'm sure they're nothing but a product of your clearly fertile imagination. Now, please excuse me. I have an important call to make."
Defeated, Hank re-wrapped the package and left. On his way downstairs he thought bleakly, I really should have offered to ball her. Look at all these nerdy college types. I'm probably the first real man she's seen this year.
Outside in the street, Hank stood at a crossing and waited patiently until the "Don't Walk" sign changed to "Walk". A Cool-O truck pulled up and he crossed in front of it, then started along the opposite sidewalk in the direction of his conapt.
A police air-car appeared from nowhere and landed right in front of him. Two cops got out.
"You're under arrest," the first cop said.
Hank was astounded, incredulous. "What for?" he asked.
"Jaywalking," the second cop said, after a pause.
"But I waited…" Before Hank could finish, the nearest of the cops shoved him bodily out into the traffic. A ground-car screeched to a halt, narrowly avoided hitting him, and sounded its horn. The other cop grabbed him roughly and pulled him back, punching him gratuitously in the stomach.
"You're busted, freak," he said.
"Yeah, goddamn long-haired hippie freak," the other said. "You're coming with us."
They bundled him into the back of the air-car, and seconds later it was climbing rapidly into the clear blue sky.
At the police station, the first thing they did was confiscate the package containing his clay sculpture. Then they took his name and details, and seated him in an interview room. The cop there identified himself as Police Captain J. R. Grass. A big man, massively overweight, middle-aged, balding. He was dressed untidily and slouched back in his chair, with the manner of one who had occupied a position of power for so long that he no longer needed to impress people.
Captain Grass looked at Hank, assessing him. "So you're a member of the Cult. When were you recruited; how high up in the organization are you?"
"Cult …?" Hank echoed. He was stunned; events had overtaken him.
"You know what I'm referring to. The Cult of Cool-O, they call it." Grass sounded empty, like he was tired of life.
"Cool-O? You mean like the drink?" Hank asked.
"Like the drink, and the sportswear, the TV network, the intercontinental hypershuttle - you name it. Cool-O is everywhere. It's so ubiquitous people don't notice it any more." Grass steepled his hands, meditating. "But that's all above-board, a multinational commercial consortium. The Cult is something else - something sinister and threatening. Look -"
The police captain leaned down and took an object out of a cardboard box. He placed it on the table between them. The object was made from a strange greenish stone, flecked with gold. But apart from that, it was identical to Hank's clay sculpture. Even in its proportions.
Hank's eyes bugged out. He said "I don't understand."
Without speaking, Grass went over to a large video display and set the tape running.
"These events happened just over a month ago, here in Southern California; a combined operation by the Feds and ourselves. Watch."
The screen showed a group of sprawling ranch-style buildings; the view was unsteady, obviously taken with a hand-held recorder. Suddenly there was shouting, smoke and explosions, as uniformed men appeared from all sides, storming the building. The camera followed the troops in. Figures in long white robes appeared from the buildings, firing back at the attackers. But their old-style weapons were no match for state-of-the-art laser rifles, and most of the defenders fell quickly. The camera went through into the smoking compound itself, to an inner courtyard in which a group of the white-robed figures were kneeling before a central pillar. Panning up to the top of the pillar, the camera picked out the incongruously diminutive object there - the green and gold statue that was like Hank's clay sculpture.
Grass paused the video. "This creature with the wings and tentacles - the Cult freaks refer to him as Cool-O. In fact, they worship him as a god. We captured a group of freaks and interrogated them separately. They all told the same story, vis-à-vis Cool-O. They believe him to be a member of an ancient, virtually immortal race called the Great Old Ones, that came to Earth from the stars long before humans were here. There was a clash with another set of space beings, the Elder Gods, and Cool-O ended up sedated and imprisoned in the depths of a parallel dimension beneath our own. But the Cult believe he will rise again, to reclaim his place as lord of this world. Which they see as his rightful place. Their rites are designed to speed up this process."
"I had no idea," Hank said. "I never heard of this Cult before, or of a god called Cool-O. I made the sculpture, sure, but I was in an altered state of consciousness - it was like I was receiving orders telepathically." He chewed on a knuckle, reflexively.
"You know, son, I'm inclined to believe you," Captain Grass said, placing his two great paws on the table between them. "The Cult freaks say that, even though Cool-O is sleeping, and imprisoned in another dimension, he has the ability to beam thoughts directly into the minds of certain individuals. That's how the Cult knows what it does about him; how they know what rites to perform. Some types of people are particularly susceptible to picking up Cool-O's mind-messages; by that I refer to schizoid types, specifically. Not that I'm saying you're crazy, of course. I'm not judging you, sanity-wise; I'm just pointing out certain facts to you."
"Thank you, sir, that's very generous," Hank observed, philosophically.
"Okay, interview over," Grass said, rising abruptly. "You're free to go."
Some recent medical cases provide strong evidence in favor of the reductionist view. Human beings have a lower brain and two upper hemispheres, connected by a bundle of fibers. In treating a few people with severe epilepsy, surgeons have cut these fibers … The effect, in the words of one surgeon, was the creation of two separate spheres of consciousness."
Derek Parfit; Reasons and Persons, Oxford University Press, 1984.
A strangely dark mood came over Hank Wilcox as he walked back toward his conapt. He felt queasy and dislocated; the sickly Cool-O soda still sloshed around in his otherwise empty stomach. And the cop's talk about the bizarre cult had left him confused and uneasy. The high buildings pressed menacingly in on him, darkening and twisting into unfamiliar forms. Reality is changing around me, Hank realized. Shifting, in some indefinable way.
He found himself struggling up a steep slope, the buildings to either side of him now black and windowless, jutting at crazy angles. With shock, he saw that the walls were dripping with green ooze, and inscribed with hieroglyphs like those on his sculpture. He was alone, he realized; there were no other people on the weirdly sloping street. But there was a sound; a slow, rhythmic thudding, like immensely huge footfalls.
Hank stopped, and looked around at the insanely fractured landscape. Dark stone blocks, their geometry all wrong; shattered, slime-dripping towers of unearthly construction …
"Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen," he thought. "Mit der ich sonst viele Zeit verdorben." Like most working-class Californians, his thought-patterns shifted at times of great stress to obscure German literature.
The thudding sound was much nearer now. He came to a corner and peered around the crazily-carved stone wall. And he looked upon the source of the sound; he saw the nightmare creature that was called Cool-O. It was huge, lumbering, of indeterminate size; it could have been anything from a hundred feet to a mile in height. In general outline the sculpture had been accurate - the scaly green bulk, oddly stunted bat wings, savage claws, and rubbery, tentacled head. But no image could have prepared him for the feeling of total, inhuman coldness that he perceived the instant he set eyes on the thing itself. In wave after wave it came upon him. The thing slowed its pace, fixing its glacial eyes on him, and the hideous feelers snaked down toward him …
Hank fainted, then.
"… I know this guy; leave this to me." A voice, as he drifted back to consciousness.
He opened his eyes to see Angel George leaning over him, a concerned expression on her face.
"You passed out - I saw the crowd gathered around you. They say you were babbling incoherently about an octopus and a soft drink, or something." She mopped the perspiration from his brow with a handkerchief.
"I looked on the face of God," Hank said, serenely. "He spoke to me, directly into my mind. He said this place - this world - it's nothing but an illusion. A fake. He's trying to help us, to break through and take us back to the real world. I was there with him, briefly."
"I'm sorry I had to turn you over to the cops," Angel said. "But your sculpture was identical to one they showed me last week. They said it came from some crazy cult. You can see the position I was in."
"Okay," Hank said, blinking at her. He meditated solemnly for a moment. "Can I ball you now?" he asked.
She slugged him, then.
Copyright © Andrew May 2000