I lay down on one of the benches with my bag under my head and Tales of Marvel open on my stomach. I closed my eyes hard and tried to doze. I knew my mom was looking for me, and I felt real bad, but I couldn’t call her until I reached Boothbay Harbor. If I called too soon, the police at home could call the operators and trace the call back up the coast and then next thing I knew, they would be showing up to have a little talk with me, you know, saying, “Jim? You must be Jim. Jim, why don’t you come with me. Your parents are real worried about you, Jim,” saying stuff like that, but walking toward me with their hands out. So I couldn’t call my parents. I tried not to think about it. I just curled up right there on the bench and rolled up the magazine in both hands and held onto it and I wondered what thaumaturgic meant and I guess I finally fell asleep.
Just after six I caught the first bus of the day to Boothbay Harbor and I sat with my knees up against the back of the seat in front of me, and an eldritch beast, a-glitter with the ichor of Acheronian pits, strayed into the ceremonial chamber, the Princess meeped in her wyvern-wing corset, and Caelwin, called the Skull-Reaver, unsheathed again his mighty broadsword, so fatal to foes, and hacked at the monster’s serpentine coils while the goring tail whipped around him, spiked like caltrops. The pines went by the windows, and I looked out, and my face haunted the woods. There were purple salt marshes and lots of mist.
“The Baron’s Ambuscade,” Tales of Marvel, vol. 3, no. 6 (June 1937). “The Weird of Caelwin, Skull-Reaver,” TalesofMarvel, vol. 4, no. 2 (February 1938). Both uncollected. “Gloom Comes to Parrusfunt,” TalesofMarvel, vol. 4, no. 8 (August 1938), the first Caelwin yarn with all the mythology worked out, the gods of Ur-Earth, etc. SongoftheSkull-Reaver by R. P. Flint, 1945, collecting all the stories that appeared in TalesofMarvel and Utter Tales from 1938 to 1944, with an alternative version of “Lords of Pain” (originally from UtterTales #6), in which the gem doesn’t fall into the chasm and the Visigoths have a stronger German accent.
“The Serpent-Men of Brondevoult,” Tales of Marvel, vol. 15, no. 10 (October 1949). The latest in the saga. “You are a brute,” murmured the Princess, putting her small hand upon his oiled arm, “but yet you are strangely to my taste.” Caelwin, called the Skull-Reaver, pulled her to him, and drew aside her velvet loincloth to reveal, as it said, the gem of her womanhood, and she yielded to him, melting in his clay-red arms. I was half-asleep and it was like I could see her, and she looked real good, with her wyvern corset ripped open and “the pale parentheses pressed into soft breasts by the iron brassiere, now cast aside” (and there were dark nipples—she groans and beckons—the clank of mail), and the bus stopped and I looked up and saw Wiscasset out the window but I realized I couldn’t shift my knees off the back of the seat in front of me because one leg had gotten embarrassing. I hoped we wouldn’t reach Boothbay Harbor very soon.
“Kid? Can you get your knees out of my back?”
No. No, I couldn’t.
“They’re trash,” said my mother, and she dumped them into the garbage. She said, “You know who reads these things? Soldiers. And prisoners in the state pen.”
I shouted at her to stop and I couldn’t believe she was just wrecking them, and I wanted to grab her hand to stop her but I knew she’d smack me. She was pouring bacon grease all over my collection. I told her no but she just kept going.
“Do you see this grease? I don’t want to hear anything else about R. P. Flint or his god-damned barbarian.”
I told her it was ten dollars’ worth. I said, “I been collecting those all over!”
“I’m telling you, Jimbo. Prisoners in the state pen. You know why they’re in there? Robbing little bakeries and groping the Campfire Girls.”
I kept on yelling at her and she stood there with her stupid arms folded and said, “That’s the kind of company you’re keeping.”
I got off the bus in Boothbay Harbor. I looked around the bluffs and out toward the sea. It was a little town with old captains’ houses and lobster fishermen. I put my hands in my pockets and went to find breakfast. I was real hungry. I read two more pages of the R. P. Flint story while I ate toast and eggs. I spread the pages real neatly so I didn’t get jelly on them.
I realized there was no way my mom and pop could stop me now, so I found a phone and told the operator my town and my number, and they connected me, with all the clicks going down the coast. My mom answered and she’d been crying, I could tell, and I felt kind of sorry, but I thought I shouldn’t feel sorry, and she asked me, “Are you all right? Where are you? Are you all right, sugar?” I said I was okay, and I told her I was in Boothbay Harbor. I thought that would really get her.
She didn’t understand at first. She just said, “Where?”
So I said, “In Boothbay Harbor,” again, and “Maine,” and then she figured out what I was talking about and realized what I was doing and started to say I was being stupid, and not to make a fool out of—so I hung up and walked out.
I had looked up the address on a map, and I had drawn a little version of it on a piece of school paper. It didn’t look like it was far. I walked out of the town center, and along a road that led past ridges of some kind of needly tree, like pines or firs or spruce. I don’t know the difference between them. A couple of years ago, I tried to find out the differences from a book, but all the pictures looked exactly the same. The seagulls were crying out over the islands.
It took me forty-five minutes to walk to the house. It wasn’t near the ocean. It was in an ugly, uneven field, and the bushes around it had grown up with elbows. It wasn’t a very big house, but the name on the mailbox was Flint, painted in yellow, so I went up on the porch and knocked. There was no sound for a while, and I thought maybe no one was home, which would be stupid, but then someone moved. Whoever it was only moved a little. Then they said, “Who is it?” and I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t answer.
“Who is it?” called R. P. Flint.
“I’m,” I said, “I’m a person knocking on your door.”
There were footsteps inside the house, and the door opened.
R. P. Flint was not as tall as I thought he would be. He was kind of short, but he was wiry of limb like the thieves of Mortmoor. He had a little mustache, and his hair was finger-combed and clutched. He was dressed kind of like a writer, in a silk bathrobe, but also just in his boxer shorts, which kind of made me embarrassed. He had a lot of black hair on his chest, which also hadn’t been combed.
“Hi,” he said. “You have a package or something?”
I shook my head. I didn’t know what to tell him. A car drove by on the dirt road below.
R. P. Flint nodded. He said, “You are a disciple of the Skull-Reaver.”
I said, “I have the. I have all the issues. I had them.”
“Come inside,” said R. P. Flint.
I went in. I was real nervous. There wasn’t much in the house, just a few lamps and a desk and a sofa that someone had slept on, and some tin dishes. There was a map of the Age of Caelwin tacked up to the wall. It was done in blue pen on typing paper. The cover from UtterTales no. 15 was pinned beside the window, showing Caelwin, called the Skull-Reaver, stomping on ooze.
“Welcome to my lair. This is where it all begins,” said R. P. Flint, knocking on the desk. “It’s just a little desk, made of wood, but boats are just little things made of wood, and they can transport you to foreign lands.”
I stared at him and at the map of the Age of Caelwin, and I felt completely stupid, just like my mother’d said.
“You may wonder about me,” said Flint. “I’m from Ohio. I write out my first drafts in blue pen—always blue—then I type them. I roll up my sleeves when I write, because I really dive into my world. I’m up to my elbows in sediment.”
I was feeling real confused. He was right in front of me. He was looking at my face.
I pointed my foot at a wicker chair, and I asked if I could please sit down.
He said, “Kid, I’ve got Caelwin tied to a pillar, with a pterodactyl shrieking and coming to feast its unholy beak upon his numbles.”
I went over to the wicker chair anyway and sat. I stared at the floor. I felt very weak.
There he was, right in front of me.
“Hey, pal,” said R. P. Flint. “I’ve really got to get back to the typing.” I didn’t stand up. R. P. Flint smiled and he said, “I’m thinking maybe instead of a pterodactyl, a giant vampire bat. Which one do you think would be better? Here’s your chance, pal. Prehistory in the making.”
I told him, “You’re having an affair with my mother.”
For a long time after that, neither Mr. Flint or I moved any. I was sitting there with my hands on my legs. Mr Flint picked up a root beer bottle from his desk and rolled it between his hands.
“Or had,” I said.
R. P. Flint scratched at the stubble on his lower lip with his teeth. He asked, “What’s your, you know, name?”
I told him, “Jim Hucker.”
R. P. Flint nodded. He stuck his finger into the neck of the bottle and popped it back out. “Swell,” he said.
I said apologetically, “You used a vampire bat in ‘The Worm-Born of Malufrax.’”
Slowly, Mr. Flint swung the bottle back and forth, his finger trapped in its mouth. Finally, he admitted, “Sure. But that was a normal-sized vampire bat. This would be huge.”
Two months before, I found a letter in our mailbox. It was from “R. P. Flint, Author,” and the address was in West Boothbay Harbor, Maine. The envelope was handwritten.
I ran into my parents’ bedroom, where my mother was smoking, and I said, “Mom, you got a letter.”
“Great,” she said, and she took it.
“Who’s it from?” I asked, knowing.
She looked at the return address. “Oh, Jesus,” she said.
“It’s from Maine,” I said. I knew there couldn’t be two R. P. Flint, Authors, of West Boothbay Harbor, Maine. “Who’s it from?” I asked.