Monday, February 6, 2012

"The Peanut Butter On The Doorstep" by Dr. Ace T. Jericho, Rogue Journalist

"I'm Alice Marsh," said the woman on the voicemail message, speaking with a pronounced New England accent. "I'm the Public Relations Chief for Zadok Foods and we'd like for you to write a review of our upcoming new product, Allen's Peanut Butter. Please call me at 978-555-3257. Thanks."

I hung up and turned to Anne who was sitting at her desk. "Since when did I do product reviews?"

"You don't," she said.

"Precisely," I said. "The closest were comic books and movies. And those aren't exactly spreadable on toast."

"And I've never heard of Zardoz Foods. Have you?"

"She said Zadok," I said. "The other is Sean Connery in a red diaper, knee boots, ponytail, and a Sam Elliot mustache that I would now like to bleach from my subconscious. And no, I've never heard of them either."

She spun her chair toward her laptop, typed for a moment, then studied the screen. "Here they are," she said after a moment. "Zadok Foods. Ipswich, Massachusetts."

"Home of the annual Ipswich Lion's Club Chowderfest," I said.

"Lion's Club?"

"A volunteer organization masquerading for a pride of were-lions. Cordwainer Duke sent over one of Azerov's reports on it last week. There are a bunch of them like that."

"Volunteer organizations? You mean like the Rotary Club? And Kiwanis?"

"The Rotary Club is really a secret society of clockwork people. Just look at their logo. And Kiwanis is run by sirens and banshees."

"Kiwanis?"

I nodded. "Kiwanis. From the Otchipew American Indian expression 'nunc kee-wanis' which translates to 'we make noise.' Great cover stories, I'll give them that. Worked for the last hundred years. But back to Zadok."

"My aunt and uncle were in Kiwanis," said Anne, sounding a little rueful.

"Zadok," I said. "What's the skinny?"

Anne gestured to her laptop screen. "They make food. Breads. Spreads. Cookies. Pastries. That sort of thing."

I rolled my chair to her desk and looked at the screen. "Hm. So they do."

"They even have a nice old style logo," she said, pointing to the web page's header. "Very homey."

She was right. Very 19th Century. Old-style lettering and graphic.

"Although I'm not sure," Anne went on, "why the logo has a tiara in it. But whatever."

"Tiara?" I said, squinting at the graphic.

She pointed and I saw it, an odd-looking thing. And immediately, dark thoughts sprang to mind.

"Sweet Mother of Dingos!" I said, leaped out of my chair, and dashed to the bookcase.

"What's wrong?" said Anne.

Zadok. Allen. Marsh. The names had a familiar ring and I was certain I knew why. I grabbed a copy of the world atlas, pulled it down, and flipped to a map of Massachusetts. I found Ipswich and the truth hit me like a sledgehammer to the balls.

"What's wrong, Jericho?" said Anne.

"Find a map of Ipswich, Massachusetts online," I said.

"Okay," she said, turing back to her laptop and typing. A moment later, Ipswich and the surrounding area popped up on the screen.

"Just as I thought," I said. "I needed a closer map to be sure."

"Be sure of what?" said Anne.

I pointed at the map on the screen and my finger cast a shadow over Ipswich. "That is the Miskatonic region, aka Mistakonic County, aka Lovecraft Country."

"Sweet Mother of Dingos!" said Anne.

"Excatly," I said. "And now I know why those names sounded so familiar. The tiara gave was a dead giveaway."

"Tiara?"

"It's one of the artifacts mentioned in 'The Shadow over Innsmouth.' Innsmouth is a small village near Ipswich. And Zadok, Marsh, and Allen are the names of characters in the story. That new peanut butter. Do they have a picture of the jar?"

"I think so," said Anne. She did a search on the webpage and nodded. "Yup. Right here."

We looked.

The label, done in old-style type, showed a picture of a smiling cartoon-like frog. Hidden among the letters of the product name was a silhouette of the tiara.

"That frog," I said, "is probably a representation of the Deep Ones. Fish-frogs of the nameless design. Worshippers of Father Dagon, Mother Hydra, and Cthulhu."

Just then, my phone rang, "O Fortuna" blasting from tinny speakers, and we both jumped.

Then I picked it up and put it on speaker.

"Speak," I commanded.

"Hello?" said a woman's voice. "Is this Doctor Jericho?"

Anne and I exchanged looks. The voice had that unmistakable New England accent we'd heard earlier.

"This is Jericho," I said. "Who is this?"

"This is Alice Marsh," the woman said.

Then the line gave a small click and suddenly, a raspy voice cried out "Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin! Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn! Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah-nagl fhtagn--"

I grabbed the phone and hurled it across the room. It slammed into the wall and exploded into several pieces.

"Like I said before," I said. "No product reviews."

Anne nodded. "And you need a new phone."

Come back next week for another entry of The Jericho Files!
Read previous Jericho Files entries here.

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