The Damned Highway: Fear and Loathing in Arkham by Nick Mamatas and Brian Keene (Dark Horse) is a clever, disturbing, and absurd (in the best sense) mash-up of Lovecraft and Hunter S. Thompson that made our recommended gift list for the year. What’s it about? “Horror legend Brian Keene and cult storytelling master Nick Matamas dredge up a tale of drug-fueled eldritch madness from the blackest depths of the American Nightmare. On a freaked-out bus journey to Arkham, Massachusetts and the 1972 Presidential primary, evidence mounts that sinister forces are on the rise, led by the Cult of Cthulhu and its most prominent member — Richard M. Nixon!” Enjoy this short teaser of an excerpt excerpt, which throws you into the thick of it. Uncle Lono is a persona of Thompson, and he’s gotten into a spot of bother with an unsavory entity. (The cover art is by the legendary Ian Miller, and you can see it in all its glory here.)
It’s an odd feeling. For the first time in my adult life, I have absolutely nothing to say. I feel like I’ve just been told by my general practitioner that he has good news for me, and some bad news to go along with it. Hey, hey! No prostate cancer, Lono, despite your disgusting habits in American Samoa. The bad news … well, you have testicular cancer instead. Win some, lose some. Something occurs to me then, something beyond death. I do love my country. I love all the agony, all the nonsense, every pile of twisted limbs. I love the oppression and the rebellion, the open road and filthy alleys. It just doesn’t get any better than this.
“And then,” I say, “after Nixon serves his term, let me guess. You swap brains again, with whoever might win in 1980.”
“Ronald Reagan, yes.”
“What?” I jerk up and nearly snap my wrists against my bonds. “Are you utterly insane? I’ve heard some absolute gibberish on this latest road trip, but that beats all! Ronald Reagan? He can’t be president!”
“Of course he can. And he will. He’s a very handsome man. Virile,” Hoover says. “And after that, George H. W. Bush will be president. You know him, I’m sure. He’s a gormless fellow. We have also prepared a clone for the term of the millennium. Yes, cloning has been perfected. Has been since the end of World War II. Some of Germany’s best scientists gave us the technology. The clone is a real cutie. George Bush Jr., we’ve taken to calling him. Perhaps in the 1990s I’ll play a Democrat, if just to throw off suspicion and forestall revolution. The Negroes will vote for a nice, southern-cracker type.” Crakah, he says. “They will, even as he undoes the Great Society and replaces it with indentured servitude and a radically expanded prison infrastructure. Imagine a George Wallace, but with a warm smile and the appearance of human dignity. A charismatic fellow, the type who will sell you a used car while fornicating with your wife, and you’ll smile and thank him for it.”
“Such a thing, sir,” I say, “is beyond my imagination.”
“But not mine!” Hoover says. He leaps to his feet and holds the canisters high. “There are no limits to my imagination, or to my ambition! And I have a weakness too. I admit it.” He turns to me, leans over me, intimate, almost ready for a kiss. “And this is it. For so many years I’ve toiled, an appointee, biding my time, collecting my secrets, perfecting my methods. Sharing the scope of my planning with nobody. Conspiracies within conspiracies I’ve discovered, some older than man itself, but none cleverer than mine. Checkmate!” He stands erect, huffing like an aged house.
“And I’ve never had anyone to share my vision with. Nobody save you. Rather like a pulp-fiction villain, don’t you think, doctor? I used to read all the detective and crime magazines. I always wanted to give a speech, sir, and now I have. It is done. Now I’ll transfer our brains into one another’s bodies. Your country thanks you for your service, Lono.”
“My God, man. Don’t I get one last cigarette?”
Hoover moves out of my line of sight and says only, “This will tingle. Quite a bit, actually.”
It begins not with a single memory, but instead with a deeper part of the mind, the autonomic system — I know that my ability to get an erection has been removed, physically, from my body, and then the horror surges forth but that too is sucked away, and yes though resignation rises up to replace it (this is the resignation of a young man imagining old age, not the pure resignation of a lifetime of defeat) it is also removed from my cere … cere … the back of my skull, along with so much trivial information: What’s a transom? I ask myself as the word remains but the concept is gone except that I know it has something to do with the publication of pulp fiction and the gray snows of New York winters, but all I remember of “pulp fiction” is Hoover’s thick lips inches from my face and then his face is gone but he is somewhere, somewhere growing inside of me, colonizing the very synapses of my mind for indeed no brain could live in that little tin canister — it’s a microprocessing computer! I realize but in Hoover’s voice not my own (I’m an eavesdropper in my own metacognitions) and that voice was younger then and it continues We’re fools with our transistors and our childlike daring to reach the moon; the switches in this device are three atoms long; it can contain all the information of a human brain; that is how the Mi-Go do it! and with that long-ago glee of a young man fresh from rousting some Wobblies from the art deco movie theater on Brattleboro Vermont’s main drag did his … what’s the word, scheme, no that isn’t quite right but it will have to do as the mental version of that book of words, not a dictionary, the other one used by bad writers the way a drunk uses a lamppost has left me in both word and actual function and Hoover digs deeper burns the candle of my mind on both ends I can no longer blink or inhale except in the shallowest of hmmps up my nose and even as my autonomic nervous system is shut down to be rewritten a few feet away in the superannuated body my memories go — goodbye the sultry nights on San Juan, farewell the smoke from my pipe, the hot breath on Groundhog’s Day in Colorado the flash of metal against teeth at the bottom of the rancid pork-fat ocean of Hells Angels and then the drugs the mescaline the coke the heroin the uppers Quaaludes all at once so many experiences and memories in contradiction sativa LSD dissolved in Teacher’s set aflame and spread on saganaki then consumed in a Volkswagen microbus with a bunch of cackling Romanian gypsies with fewer teeth than cousins the enteric system now it remembers with body wisdom all the things Lono has ingested a stew of elective psychoses and a few feet away where my nerves dance in a new body something begins to happen Hoover is too hungry for this too eager to travel down the damned highway of excess to the flaming wreckage of wisdom all the vice cases the dead Courier letters on hectographed forms nothing compares to experience from innocence to objurgation in the action of one stark fist and then yes yes I know I can win this Lono his white sails unfurled the women running to the black sands breasts swaying as in Eden this is no Weird Tale no diaphanous Margaret Brundage oil painting just pure love of a God without repression without the whiff of sulfur and then yes yes I understand and see the pattern beneath the system the roads of the District of Columbia the tentacles reaching across the inky blackness of space and somewhere the lights flicker the eagle its mouth full of liver alights and leaves Prometheus to heal and break free of his chains for no iron can hold a Titan and there is a molecule and the lights flicker and it is an iron not of this earth and something is burning and there is a circuit just six atoms wide made of two switches and my arms fail and my legs fail but they cannot move these atoms but Lono can and he does he does he does and the switch is thrown and Hoover gets it all every bit of it at once every turn of phrase every sizzling spice on the tongue every esterification of C5H11OH + HONO –›C5H11ONO + H2O and then seven seven seven and Lono triumphs.
Hoover’s dead, I know it. I can feel his dead heart in my own chest, a stone superimposed with my own raging, adrenaline-stoked timpani of an organ. The poor old square, the sad, pathetic bastard, despite his many squalid perversions and a lifetime of extracurricular vice investigations, despite his own field trips in the busty body of Mamie Van Doren, just couldn’t handle what I have to offer. Somewhere in Washington, DC, a clock chimes twelve. It’s still 1972, and Lono has landed on the shores of America.
This was my plan all along. First Hoover, the queen who thought he was a pawn who thought he was a king. My lawyer will be along, any moment, with a phalanx of ACLU Jews and a pair of comically oversized bolt cutters to set me free. My old friend Eagleton, warped by electroshock and the forces of CREEP, will torpedo McGovern. Moloch will rage and burn and with one last streak of soot and fire across the middle of America collapse into torpor, only to rise up in Japan, in China, in Indonesia. The six-fingered hand will stiffen and die with its fingers on the neck of the liberal intellectual elite. And I will steal Nixon’s brain, just as Hoover tried to steal mine, and save the world from Cthulhu.
Any minute now. My attorney, the brown buffalo, a sacred symbol as potent as Lono’s white sails, will be along any minute now.
Any minute now …