The Monster in the Living Room

Fiction

DON LAMPERT TIGHTENED the drawstrings on his beige cotton pajama bottoms and yawned as he walked into the kitchen of his Manhattan apartment. His wife, Meg, who was dressed in a robe and a pair of fuzzy pink slippers, sat at the table eating a bowl of Rice Krispies.

"Tired?" said Meg.

"Very funny," replied Don. Then he sat down opposite her and poured some cereal into a bowl.

"Maybe you can talk to the super again," she said, softly.

"I've talked to him four times already."

Neither of them spoke for a half a minute, as the sound of rock music vibrated through the walls.

"It's eight o'clock Saturday morning," said Don. "Doesn't he ever sleep?"

"I'll call my cousin."

"We don't need a lawyer, we need a hit man."

"We'll find another apartment."

"You know how hard it was to find this one? No, I'm thirty-six years old, I'm not going to move out of our building just because some jerk neighbor feels like playing loud music twenty-four hours a day."

"Why don't you try talking to him again?" said Meg.

"I'm through talking. I haven't slept in a week. At this rate the bum is going to cost me my job. Nobody likes an assistant office manager who can't stay awake. No more talking, now it's time for action." Don stood up, feeling a surge of adrenaline.

"Where are you going?" asked Meg.

"To buy a gun," said Don.

"You're going to murder our neighbor because he plays his stereo too loud?" she said, as she followed him into the bedroom.

"You have a better reason?" he said, putting on a pair of boxer shorts.

"Don't do anything you might regret."

"Oh, I won't regret this, I'll like this," said Don, slipping into a pair of jeans.

"It's only been going on a month, maybe it'll stop."

"It's a month and half since he moved in and you know it. It'll stop when he drops dead and not before," said Don, as he buttoned his shirt.

"I don't like this," said Meg. "What am I going to when the police arrest you and take you to prison?"

"Nobody's taking me anywhere, and by the time this weekend is over we'll both be able to get a good night's sleep."

"That would be nice," said Meg, wistfully.


DON GOT OFF THE subway near the financial district and walked into a dark side street. As he passed a few antique stores (which were closed), he wondered if Meg was right. Maybe it was a crazy idea. He was a law-abiding citizen, not a killer. Then it occurred to him that instead of a gun maybe he should buy a knife. He rejected the idea on the grounds that the sight of blood made him barf. He was considering purchasing some poison when he happened to walk by a metaphysical book shop. Ordinarily, Don would have kept going, but something in the window got his attention. There, among the crystals and toy pyramids was a little book whose title was How to Get What You Want With Magic.

Don walked into the store and asked the bearded man at the counter where he could find the book. The man produced a copy from under the counter and said, "It's one of our best sellers."

"What exactly is in it?" said Don, who, up till that moment had had no interest in the supernatural.

"It's a single spell, so powerful, that once said, can get you whatever you desire," said the salesclerk.

"Why doesn't everyone have a copy?" asked Don. "I mean politicians, crooks and people like that?"

"Who says they don't? We have a big mailing list. One dollar and it's yours."

"One dollar? What's the catch?"

"I can jack up the price if you prefer."

"No, I'll take it. But does it really work?"

"Let me put it to you this way," said the man, "two months ago, I was working at a hamburger joint mopping up after kids with zits and now I own my own bookstore. Why? Because I found this book."

Don wasn't convinced, but for a buck, he decided it was worth a look. He gave the clerk a dollar and the man put the book (which was really no more than a pamphlet) into a small brown paper bag.

"Perhaps you'd be interested in something else?" said the man, "I've got some powder made from a unicorn's horn that'll put lead in your pencil."

"I'm very satisfied with the current status of my pencil, thank you," said Don, and left the store.

A few hours later, Don sat on the couch in his living room, silently reading the pamphlet in the fading sunlight. Meg walked in, sat on a chair next to him and said, "Why didn't you just trade the family cow for some magic beans?"

"Quiet," said Don, "I'm almost done reading this."

"Do you really think that you're just going to mumble some words and he's going to stop playing his stereo?"

The dull thud of "music" continued to pound through the walls. "We'll see," said Don, as he closed the book and stood up, "now help me with the furniture."

"What are we going to do, throw a chair at him?"

"No, we're going to move everything to one side of the room so I can draw a circle on the floor, just like it says in the book."

"I'm starting to think a gun was a better idea," said Meg.
 


HALF AN HOUR LATER, the living room was cleared of furniture and rugs, and Don had drawn a chalk circle on the floor. Meg looked at it and said, "I don't think chalk is good for parquet."

"They laughed at the Wright brothers too," said Don, as he sprinkled a few spices around the circle.

"Hey," said Meg, "are those from my spice cabinet?"

"Do you want him to stop making noise or not?" said Don.

"I do, but I don't see how putting my oregano, cumin and sweet basil on the floor is going to make him do it."

"It's all part of the spell."

"This is wonderful," said Meg, "I'm married to a 34-year-old man who sprinkles spices on the living room floor. What are you going to do next, toss a salad in the bathroom sink?"

Don lit a few candles and said, "I'm ready."

"Well, what do you suggest I do about it, give you a drum roll?"

Don looked at her, sighed, then turned out the lights and read from the book. The words were in a strange language, which had been printed phonetically in English. Don chanted for five minutes and then stopped.

"Now what?" asked Meg.

"Now something is supposed to happen."

"I see something happening all right, you're dripping candle wax all over the floor."

Suddenly there was a puff of smoke and a slimy green, scaly humanoid creature with big purple eyes, and a reptilian tail appeared. It smiled, revealing a mouth full of sharp piranha-like teeth.


"Hi Don," said the creature, "I'm Mardarth, you can call me Mard, all my friends so, not that I have many left. I ate most of them."

"Hi, Mard," said Don. "Say hello to Mard, honey."

"Hi, Mard," said Meg, then looked at Don and said, "And to think I used to get upset when you had your friends over for poker."

"So, Don," said the monster, "what can I do for you?"

"My next door neighbor plays loud music all the time, and it's very annoying," said Don.

"I could twist off his head and toss it to him," said the creature.

"Perhaps something less gruesome," said Don.

"I could pull his guts out and make a quilt out of them," said the monster.

"Maybe you can just scare him a bit," said Don.

"Whatever you say, Master," said Mardarth. The creature stepped out of the circle, walked to the front door, opened it, stepped into the hall and closed the door behind him.

Don looked at Meg and said, "Not bad, huh?"

"I hope he doesn't track dirt into the apartment with those webbed feet of his."

"Is that all you can say?"

"You're right," said Meg, "Boy, does he ever need a deodorant."

Don gave Meg an irritated look as the music next door stopped. Suddenly there was a crash, and then, a loud thud against the wall, followed by a muffled scream. Half a minute later, the creature opened the front door and walked back into Don and Meg's apartment. "You won't have to worry about your neighbor anymore," said Mardarth.

"What did you do?" asked Don.

"I smashed all his equipment, then threatened to pull his brain out of his ears if he ever made any noise again."

"What did he say?"

"He said he's moving out of the building, effective now."

Don and Meg heard footsteps in the hallway. "That's him leaving," said Mardarth.

"That's great," said Don, "you got rid of him. Now we can sleep again. I don't know how to thank you."

"Forget it," said Mardarth, as he sat down on the couch. It collapsed under his weight. "Sorry about that."

"Hey, I just had that sofa re-upholstered," said Meg.

"Uh, Mard," said Don, "can you leave now?"

"Sure, all you have to do is say the spell to get rid of me, and then I'm out of here."

Don flipped through the pamphlet. "Is that the one I said to get you here?"

"Let me see that," said the creature. Don handed him the booklet. The creature looked at and said, "No, that's not it, that just gets me here."

"So, how do I get rid of you? No offense."

"None taken. You just have to say the right words."

They don't seem to be in this book. It only has one spell in it."

Meg walked over to Don and said, "You can't expect me to let this creature stay here, can you?" Then she turned to Mardarth and said, "Can you go to a hotel till we straighten this all out?"

"I can't do that, Ma'am, I have to stay with my magical host here," said Mardarth, pointing to Don.

Don looked at Meg and said, "It's that guy at the store's fault. He tricked me, he knew this would happen. Wait a minute, hey Mard, can you get me the spell that'll send you back to where you came from?"

"Sorry," said Mardarth, "I can't do that."

"It's already ten o'clock at night said Meg, "the store's closed. I guess you'll have to wait till tomorrow."

"How do you like that?" said Don. "I've been rooked, flim-flammed and bamboozled."

"Will wonders never cease," said Meg, and headed into the bedroom.
 


LATER that night, Don and Meg were woken up by strange music. They turned and looked at each other.

"I thought we got rid of our noisy neighbor," said Don.

"It's not coming from next door," said Meg, "it's coming from our living room."

Don and Meg went to the living room and saw Mardarth sitting on the floor, listening to a large pulsating crystal that had loud unearthly music emanating from it.

"What are you doing?" asked Don.


"Oh, hi, Don," said the monster, "I was just listening to some music from my crystal. I always listen to music."

"Can you turn it down? We're trying to get some sleep."

"I can't turn it down, Don, it plays when it wants to play and at whatever volume it likes. I haven't got any control over it. It's an all-demon group. Got a real beat to it, don't you think?"

"Yeah, a real beat," said Don, as he gritted his teeth and pulled up his slipping pajama bottoms.

Dona and Meg went into their bedroom and looked at each other.

"The cure was worse than the disease," said Meg.

"I'll fix all this tomorrow," said Don, "you'll see."

"Yeah, right," she said, and crawled back into bed and put a pillow over her head to try to drown out the wailing in the next room.


"HI, FRIEND," said the man behind the counter, as Don walked into the little metaphysical store. "Don't hi, me, buddy," he snapped, and tossed the booklet on the counter, "what's the big idea of cheating me?"

"Having a problem, are you?"

"You know damn well I am. You sold me a book with only one spell in it and now I have a monster in my living room that plays his crystal all night long. What are you going to do about it?"

The man smiled, reached under the counter and dropped a small pamphlet on top of the first one. He said, "The antidote."

"Pretty sneaky," said Don, "I'll take it." But before he could touch it, the man snatched it and held it close too himself.

"Not so fast, young man," said the clerk, "this one is a little more expensive than the first edition."

"So that's the idea, huh?" said Don. "Okay, it's highway robbery, how much?"

"Five thousand dollars."

"What? You must be crazy! I'm not going to pay you five thousand bucks for some crummy little pamphlet that looks like you ran it off in your basement with a hand-cranked printing press."

"As a matter of fact, I did. Well, too bad then, I guess you'll just have to live with that monster for all eternity. That's its life span, you know. Actually, it's eternity and a day, but why quibble over a detail?"

"Can't we work out some kind of deal?" said Don, as he thought of the creature following him around through his old age.

"The deal is five thousand dollars."

"Do you take plastic?"

"Yes, but the booklet is non-returnable and all sales are final."

"Why you, you . . . ," said Don, stopping himself. No use provoking the clerk, he thought, who knew what the man was capable of? Maybe he could turn him into a bug and step on him. Besides there was a monster at stake.

Reluctantly, Don took out his wallet and handed the man his credit card. The salesman ran it through his machine, got the approval code, took out a receipt and Don signed it. Then the man put the book in a bag, handed it to Don and said, "Thank you. Call again."

"It'll be a cold day in hell," said Don.

"That can be arranged," he replied.

"Never mind," said Don, and he ran out of the store.
 


WHEN HE GOT BACK to his apartment, Don stood in the living room and asked the monster if he could get his five thousand back. "Sorry," said the monster, "I can't do that. In fact, I can't get you any money. It's not my area."

Don sighed and looked at Meg. She shrugged.

"Okay, Mard," said Don, turning back to the monster, "Step into the circle, please." The creature did as it was told, then Don opened the second pamplet and read it out loud. As soon as he was finished, there was a puff of smoke and Mardarth disappeared.

"Well," said Don, "that's the end of that."

No sooner had he spoken, then there was another puff of smoke and now, standing in the circle, was a different creature who was much larger than Mardarth. This one had reddish scaly skin and an even bigger tail than Mardarth's.

"Hi, Don," said the new creature, "my name is Zardarth."

"What happened to Mardarth?" said Don.

"Oh, he's gone back to where he came from," said Zardarth.

"But, what are you doing here?"

"You called me."

"I did not."

"Did too."

"Don," said Meg, "if this huge person says that you called him, perhaps he knows something."

"Did I call you?" said Don.

"Yes," said Zardarth, "by reading the incantation that got rid of Mardarth, you simultaneously called me."

"I'm gonna kill the guy at that store," said Don, as he stared at Zardarth. "Say, maybe you can kill him for me."

"Sorry," said Zardarth, I don't know why, but he's the only human being on the face of your planet that I am forbidden to harm."

"Figures," said Don.

"Do you have anyone else that you'd like revenge on?" said Zardarth.

"No," said Don, "I don't."

"How about someone you just don't like?"

"No."

"What about that rude man at the deli last week?" said Meg.

"The one that claimed he was out of cole slaw when he wasn't?"

"You want to kill a guy you don't know just because he wouldn't sell you cole slaw?" said Don.

"You have a better idea?" she said.


LATER THAT NIGHT, Don and Meg were woken up by the sounds of strange clanging. They went to the living room and saw the creature huddled next to a huge flickering crystal. Loud noises were coming from inside it. The monster looked at Don and Meg and said, "Nice beat, don't you think?"

"Yeah," said Don, "nice."

"HOW may I help you?" said the salesman, as Don walked up to the counter.

"Take a wild guess."

"Ah, I see that you are here for volume three. They're a set, you know."

"No, I didn't. You somehow forgot to mention it the last time."

"Must've slipped my mind," said the salesman.

"Okay, how much?" said Don.

"This one is absolutely guaranteed to get rid of your latest problem and not create any more."

"How much?"

"Twenty-five thousand."

"You must be kidding."

"Enjoy your creature, good day," said the man, as he started to walk into a curtained-off room behind the counter.

"Okay, okay," said Don, "will you take a check?"

"With two valid pieces of I.D., I might."

Don took out his wallet and wrote the man a check knowing that the amount would clean out his bank account. He wondered how he would explain it to Meg. They were living beyond their means as it was. Don gave the man the check. The salesman examined Don's I.D. as if he'd never seen him before, then reached under the counter and took out the third pamphlet. Don grabbed it and started for the door.

"Wait," said the salesman, holding a rolled up poster, "you forgot your complimentary positive affirmation chart."

"I'll give you a positive affirmation—drop dead!"

"Another satisfied customer," said the salesman.
 


THAT NIGHT, Don asked Zardarth if he could get him his money back. Zardarth replied that it wasn't his area. Don groaned, coaxed Zardarth into the circle, said the incantation and watched the creature vaporize into the ether. Then Don told Meg about the money. She was not happy. At least that's the feeling that Don had while he was dodging the plates that she threw at him.

Two weeks later, Don and Meg moved into a much smaller apartment. The day after the move, Don's boss informed him that the company had just been sold to foreign investors and that Don was fired.

The following Sunday, Don and Meg were lying in their bed, reading the Times (she was reading the travel section—he, the book section), when Don said, "At least it's quiet.

Meg was about to answer him when a loud blasting noise shook the walls.

"What was that?" said Don.

"It's our neighbor," said Meg. "Their eleven-year-old son plays the tuba."

"I wondered why we got such a bargain on the rent," said Don, as he picked up the first pamphlet he had bought and flipped through it.

On the last page he found a line printed in very small type that he hadn't noticed before. It read: Good for one use only. Don got out of bed and started getting dressed.

"Where are you going?" asked Meg.

"To buy a gun."

"You're going to kill him?"

"No, myself," said Don.

"Oh, honey," said Meg, "do me a favor, on your way back, will you pick up a bottle of oregano. I'm all out."

"Yes, dear," said Don, as he put on his jacket and trudged toward the door.
 

Originally published in H.P. Lovecraft's Magazine of Horror.

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