Sunday, November 14, 2010

Idea Garage Sale: Best Unholy Ritual

Yesterday evening we were supposed to go to the postponed Frightful Food Feast mentioned a few weeks ago. I made a successful Quiche from Yuggoth (pictures and recipe to come), and then we couldn't go because poor Damon had too many symptoms. He's mostly all right now and we had a successful game day with him DMing, so don't worry about it. I only bring it up because making the Quiche reminded me of a Garage Sale Idea that's been bopping around in my head for awhile now.

I'm not sure how long. I came up with it during the period when I was still writing, and semi-regularly selling, short stories to the SF/fantasy magazines, before shrinkage set in and the number of paying markets grew so small that it wasn't worth the attention diverted from book-length work that I can't sell either but pays off well if I do sell it. So, any time between 1986 (when I made my first sale to Twilight Zone Magazine) and the late 90s.

It's a straightforward TZ sort of story. It'd be called "The Testimony of So-and-so," some ordinary middle-class white lady name, and would consist of a statement to the police concerning the disappearance of a guest from her Halloween party. Her circle of gamers and fans had come over in horror-appropriate costumes for a meal not unlike the Frightful Food Feast, to be followed by party games, with prizes for things like Best Unholy Ritual. It would be a typical Fen group, with the hostess and her husband a little older than most of the guests, the stable married core around which the rest of the group coalesces, with recognizable types like the Fatbeard, the Munchkin, and the guy - for whom, oddly, there is no word - who seems a little off even to other Fen, but is included because he meets the base criteria of common interest.

This guy is at best only a semi-participant in the proceedings, whatever the group does, and never seems to be in the same conversation as anybody else. Everybody else looks down on him a little and feels a bit virtuous for not freezing him out, even the hostess, who regards him like the stray cats on her compost heap and always defends him when other people are laughing at him behind his back.

Tonight his dissonance is centered around the competition for Best Unholy Ritual. These things, he says, are not funny, they are dangerous. It's one thing to play Call of Cthulhu and make jokes about not using Hastur's name in conversation, and another to put together even mock rituals invoking the inimical powers of the universe. He messes with people's props, interrupts nonsense invocations, and generally pisses off everybody, till even the hostess has had enough and removes him from the proceedings to the kitchen, which is where they are when he is proved right and one of the play rituals does in fact open an interdimensional gate in the living room which threatens to bring through Something Nasty.

Fortunately kitchens are full of ritual objects and, being Fen, neither Hostess nor Loser waste any time not believing what's happening. Loser, who has been expecting this all along, is prepared, throws together what's needed, and closes the gate - but the only way to seal it is with a human life, which, as the only person who understands what's going on, he does, stepping into the portal himself and never coming out again.

Somebody, possibly a neighbor, has already called the police, and the hostess makes her statement as straightforwardly as possible, prefacing it with the statement that she doesn't know what happened, only what she saw, and she doesn't expect the police to accept that what seemed to her to be happening really was. No doubt he's somewhere, and possibly when he's found there'll be a mundane explanation for everything. It's not up to her to interpret what really happened, only to be honest about it. Meantime, she and her friends are in the uncomfortable position of having been saved by someone they don't respect or quite like, and who never quite seemed to like any of them, but sacrificed himself for them, anyway.

I never did write this. It's a little too patly a TZ sort of story, I think; and the skill with which the characters would have to be written, in order for them to be both recognizable types and characters, rather than the caricatures one sees so often in media, was intimidating. Also, I couldn't work out what kind of ritual I wanted.

Really the thing I liked best about the story was the hostess's menu, which I never got far with, though I knew it would include Fungi from Yuggoth (mushroom) Soup and Roast Dark Young of Shub-Nigguruth the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young (cabrito). If you spend all your time working on the menu that would inevitably be cut for length rather than the plot, you're not enough into the story to write it.

1 comment:

  1. I've read mystery novels which included recipes for dishes that appear therein, as well as an entire cookbook assembled of dishes mentioned in Nero Wolfe stories.

    Maybe a story like this would do best as a framing sequence for a small illustrated cookbook full of fantastical dishes.