I finished my allotted chapters early and spent some time in downtown
I wandered the hilly and curving streets of downtown Brat and marveled at the lengths to which these stand-offish people preserved their old buildings. There were at least three churches (and looking very much like churches) that had been converted into actual businesses, like a pharmacy. I wouldn’t say that I thought it sacrilegious or anything like that, but I would feel profoundly uncomfortable doing business—retail business—in a church.
My mission was twofold while in town: I was looking for books, and I was looking for anything having to do with Kipling. Granted, he only spent four years in Vermont, but considering that after Kipling, the next most famous author there is Archer Mayor, I figured it was worth looking.
Nada. Zip. Diddly. Bupkiss.
Every little tourist store I poked my head into had T-shirts with maple leaves, moose, or dullards (with a witty saying about the lack of intelligence in Vermont). There were even Brat-themed shirts, but not a single mention of Kipling anywhere. Everyone, after immediately barking out “NO,” asked me, “Don’t they have anything up’ th’ house?”
No, they bloody well don’t. The one postcard they have is a sucky picture of Kipling in the snow, so bundled up that it could be, well, anyone else. Not a picture of the house, nor a picture of Kipling, nor a painting of Kipling, or anything even sorta cool. It was disappointed, but also re-affirming in a backwards-ass kind of way. After all, almost no one in Vernon knows they are living in the home town of Jack Teagarden. There are still people in Cross Plains who couldn’t tell you a thing about Robert E. Howard. I guess it’s that way all over.
Good bookstores, though. The kind that book lovers get lost in. The kind that are inexplicably hot, despite numerous fans blowing. The kind where the guy working may or may not talk to you as his shelving is more important than you figuring out the labyrinthine layout of the cramped and crowded store. I bought a couple of Archer Mayer books (he writes mysteries set in Brat), as well as Kim, a Kipling book that I have not read.
The rain started, and everyone came outside like sunflowers opening up to the sky. It was weird. These Vermonters have an inherent creepiness about them. Partially due to the age of their settlements, and partially due to their geography. It’s hard to get your head around. But I suddenly appreciate Lovecraft just a little bit more.
Oh, and speaking of Lovecraft, the Dagon Cult is alive and well. I know, because I have seen one of his forgotten children. Brat has a slight homeless population, apparently. I ran into one of them on the street, not once, but twice, and it left me visibly disturbed. The guy looked like a down-on-his-luck version of the Gorden’s fisherman. You know, that angular face, the maritime beard. He even wore a black slicker, with layers of filthy clothes under it to give him an kind of top-heavy appearance. And it was while he was smoking that I noticed his hands.
Across the back of his hand was a thick, calloused layer of hardened flesh, from the end of the wrists to the tips of his fingers. And seemingly regular intervals were knotty warts or moles or—something—that he’d been picking for a while. They were black at the base and became deep crimson at the tips. Honestly, they looked like the serrated extrusions found on crab claws. Hence, I dubbed him in my mental filing cabinet as “Crabhands McGee.” I didn’t mean to look at his hands, but he was lifting a smoke to his lips just as I glanced at him. The hand I saw made me recoil in horror, but Crabhands didn’t notice. Thankfully, I was able to truck on by as if nothing was amiss. But it was the most Deep One moment I’d ever had.
Later, in the rain, I rounded a corner to get under an awning and drew up short in front of him again. I glanced down, and sure enough, he had that same problem on both hands. Just thinking about it makes me shudder. Insensitive? Maybe. But also genuinely horrific, particularly if you weren’t planning on looking at crabhands on that given day.
I’d had my fill of downtown when the call came through that Matt had arrived. We all met at one of the two steakhouses in town and had a glorious meal. I ate scallops again, and made no apologies for it. It was great seeing Matt again, and with Willingham and Williams around, the old CWSB vibe was returning. I deduced that we were re-establishing our old rapport when they told one of our waitresses that I was a special needs person and that I might need help in the rest room.
Ah, the things guys do to one another.
Back at the Kipling House, after a brief tour of the place, we plunked Matt down in the study and dropped him right into the critiquing process. It was great. I always appreciated Matt’s feedback, and he was right on target with his comments.