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At the Highways of Madness, page 1

 

At the Highways of Madness
 

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At the Highways of Madness


  AT THE HIGHWAYS OF MADNESS

  A Comic Journey through the Dreamlands

  At the Highways of Madness Copyright 2017 David J. West

  Cover typography/design/art by: Carter Reid

  Digital formatting by: Hershel Burnside

  All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owners and the above publisher of this book.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

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  LOSTREALMS PRESS

  For Scotty

  Contents

  Foreword: by D. J. Butler

  At the Highways of Madness

  1. Midnight Rider

  2. Highway Star

  3. Gimme Three Steps

  4. Living After Midnight

  5. Smoke on the Water

  6. Under Pressure

  7. Gimme Shelter

  8. Highwayman

  9. Ace of Spades

  10. Hush

  11. You Make Loving Fun

  12. Crazy Train

  13. Hair of the Dog

  14. Space Truckin’

  Afterword:

  Bonus Tales

  Baptism By Fire

  Garden of Legion

  One Thousand One Nights Unseen

  The Cry of Carrion Birds

  Gods In Darkness

  About the Author:

  Foreword

  It is a curious—one is tempted to say cosmic—coincidence that the fiction writing of David J. West, the mid-twentieth century bête noire of Washington D.C., both in its political and its occult scenes, has come to be curated, edited, and from time to time presented to the public by a writer and literary entrepreneur (or, as we might have said in previous centuries, “undertaker”).

  I understand that they are not kin. The younger West is a pulp writer of magnificent prowess, keen eye, and exotic taste, who effortlessly throws off a wide range of tales including both Howardesque nephitalia (Heroes of the Fallen) and muscular weird western (The Dark Trails Saga). Belying the Milius-like ethos permeating many of his writings, he is a man of faith and family, and ultimately his belief in humanity shines through like a beacon in many of his tales.

  If there is one thing we can say for sure about the elder West, it is that he had no faith in humanity at all. From the beginning of the Second World War, when his predecessor disappeared in a cloud of smoke during the middle of an O.S.S. meeting, leaving behind in his seat only a Mason jar containing a pickled brain—and not his own—West was the chief occultist of the Roosevelt administration. Government files concerning most of his activities were incinerated in a blatant violation of federal record-keeping practice as well as applicable statutes by President Truman, who also signed blanket presidential pardons for at least seventeen individuals “for any and all actions taken while in the presence of David J. West.”

  Of his youth and education, nothing at all is known. Wendell Willkie once stated in a radio interview (Willkie was slightly drunk at the time) that the tattoos on West’s back were “a map to the godsforsaken wasteland that son-of-a-bitch West calls home.” This, though, should be discounted as manifest nonsense, since the tattoos in question consisted of a map of Antarctica alongside a wholly fictional continent West identified as “Ya’ul Karoja.”

  Most famously, though, the earlier West died in a room in the west wing of the White House. The room, discovered only during renovations undertaken under the direction of Ladybird Johnson, possessed no doors and no windows. The seven workmen who broke through the bricks and found the chamber swore under oath that West’s body, sitting cross-legged inside an elaborate chalked star (in the same sworn depositions, the workmen disagreed among themselves how many points the star had, with recollections ranging from five to eleven), was perfectly preserved, as if he had died within the hour. If the statements are accurate, decay apparently set in immediately and at a furious pace, because the coroner’s report describes a corpse that had been rotting for decades. Since West left no dental records, his body was identified by the now-shriveled tattoo of Ya’ul Karoja and Antarctica.

  The same coroner’s report enumerates seven items of “occult paraphernalia” found beside West, but the specific list of items was redacted sometime before I was able to examine the report in connection with my research for the writing of West’s biography (forthcoming). One current luminary of the Baltimore occult scene, who asked that her name be withheld, tells me that the seven items in question—which she would not name for me, but which she says she identified for the coroner at the time—are material components whose only collective use is in the summoning of a mysterious being (she persisted in referring to it as an “Elder God”) that dwells somewhere in the vicinity of Fomalhaut. This being apparently is wholly malevolent and hostile to humanity, and its summoning would herald the entire destruction of the world as we know it.

  The only other thing found in the room where West died was a stack of manuscripts, one of which is the book you now hold in your hand. It is not one of the Ya’ul Karoja stories, with their picaresque serpent-headed swashbucklers, but something darker. I have had a hard time finishing my own copy, as it seems to delight in moving away from my reading chair and hiding itself in obscure corners of my house, but I have read enough of it to say that, for dark imagination and brutal vision of a loveless cosmos—not to mention the hints it gives us as to what the Roosevelt administration was thinking in those final days of the war—it is worth the read.

  D.J. Butler

  Lammastide 2017

  At the Highways of Madness

  That is not dead which can eternally drive

  And with strange eons even death may not arrive

  1. Midnight Rider

  It was just past midnight when our—well he ain’t exactly a hero, a man called The Squid, pulled off the highway to get himself some coffee and diesel. His big, black Mack truck rumbled into the Flying K with all the subtlety a pair of brass knuckles has for a glass jaw. The anthropomorphic chrome octopus hood ornament on his truck held a deck of cards in one hand and a mud flap girl in the other. It’s an awful strange ornament, but then The Squid is one strange dude and the ornament was probably how he got his handle cuz he sure wasn’t in the Navy least ways that I know of. Despite his being a long-haired weirdo outta Shakey City, that’s Los Angeles for those of you that don’t speak trucker, The Squid’s a pretty congenial fellow. He’s forty something and dresses for comfort in shorts and rock & roll T-shirts along with a favorite cardigan sweater from his long time girl, Jeanie. The Squid’s a generous tipper, he picks up hitchhikers and ain’t afeared to give anyone that Nazareth or Deep Purple T-shirt off his back. Quick with a joke or a song he’s the kind of guy that always gets free pie and an extra smile from the waitresses, but he never lets it go to his head neither. Always on time with his loads, The Squid is always, ‘Truckin it up’. That’s just the kind of trucker he is. You’d like The Squid, he’s good people.

  Anywho, it fell on April 30th or Walpurgis Nacht, that’s Witches Night for a quick translee-ation, back in 1986 that The Squid an
d his good buddy Ogre, got themselves into a bizarre mess of trouble with a heap of near impossible to believe repercussions, and this time it tweren’t The Squid’s fault neither. You see when he stopped off at that Flying K that night, he had no idea what was heading his way from so far off, and a man can sometimes get mighty surprised. But I’ll take a step back now and just let the story unfold for you in its own way.

  After fueling up, the Squid went inside the diner and sat himself down on a ripped vinyl stool at the counter. A waitress in a teal uniform with hair shockingly red looked him up and down. “What can I do you for, Hun?” A lit cigarette dangled from her lips with a long cherry of ash teasing that it was about to drop.

  “Java, Darlin’, I gotta get to Denver by tomorrow afternoon.”

  She winked and poured him a cup. The fading cherry from her cigarette fell into the steaming black coffee. The Squid’s eyebrows raised. She turned to walk away.

  “Uh, Ma’am? I’m gonna need a fresh cup.”

  “What, tain’t good enough for ya, Sugar?” she asked, with a red stained smile.

  The Squid squinted, wondering at her teeth and deciding it must be lipstick. “No—I mean, yes. I need a fresh cup; your ash went right in the java. I don’t mean to be picky, but come on. It’s been a long day and its gonna be an even longer night.”

  “So?”

  “So? So, I need fresh java. Come on, I got a long way to go and a short time to get there.”

  “Uh huh.” She pushed the soiled cup a couple spaces down the counter and grabbed another from somewhere beneath. The Squid peered inside to inspect the potential lack of cleanliness as she poured it full. “Here you go, Your Majesty.”

  “Thanks, Toots.”

  She snorted at that and walked away.

  Ogre, a tall, beer-bellied trucker with a Dixie-flag ball cap walked in, slapped The Squid on the shoulder and sat beside him. “You made her mad, gotta watch out how you treat people, Squid. You can’t go getting personal about how people run their business.” He grinned wide, his smile framed with a Fu-Manchu mustache beneath his tinted, aviator shades. He never took them off.

  The Squid turned and shook Ogre’s hand, answering, “The thought did occur to me, but I wasn’t gonna drink that.”

  Ogre laughed, reached and took the tainted mug of coffee and swallowed it ash and all, then loudly belched.

  A full bod shiver wracked The Squid. “You’re a sick man.”

  “Like Sun Tzu said, ‘Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.’”

  “You know,” said Squid, then thinking better of getting into an argument with Ogre, he just shook his head, “Never mind, I ain’t even gonna try and correct that.”

  “How’s the highway been treating you?”

  “Good, good. I gotta burn rubber to Denver and then pick up a load and get it to Tucson.” He leaned up off his stool looking for the vanished waitress. “Where’d she go? Fix her weave? I need to order some grub.”

  Ogre nodded. “You catch more flies with honey than liquor, Squid, Plato said that.”

  Squid paused, cocked his head and just stared at Ogre a long moment.

  “What?” asked Ogre. He looked around as if Squid’s attention was drawn at anything other than himself.

  “You have got to get your white trash facts straight, my friend.”

  Indignant, Ogre spouted, “White trash facts? Squid, I am the most well-read trucker on these highways. Don’t make me draw you a picture.”

  The waitress returned and Ogre smiled at her. “Evening, Ma’am. I’d like a dozen eggs and a side of bacon and do you have any . . .” Ogre’s order was silenced as he glanced out the window and noticed the flagpole. His demeanor darkened. He no longer paid any attention to the waitress but smacked Squid on the shoulder. “Squid, do you see that?” He pointed an accusing finger outside.

  “What?”

  Ogre grimaced and sputtered, “Out there is a gold fringed flag on that damn flagpole! That is the flag of an Admiralty Court and here we are in god-fearing, five-wife-loving Utah!”

  “Nevada,” corrected the waitress absently, while the cigarette stuck to her heavy lipstick.

  Ogre frothed, standing up and shouting loud enough for the handful of other patrons inside to pause and look their way. “Last time I checked this was still America! Not a U.N. Charter stop and shop.” He wheeled on the waitress and shouted, “Take that flag down now!”

  The Squid put a hand on Ogre’s shoulder. “You can’t go getting personal about how people run their business. It’s still an American flag. He’s had a long day,” he directed the last sentence to the waitress.

  Ogre slammed the counter shouting, “No, this will not stand. I’m gonna give my diesel back! I’m taking my business elsewhere! You Commie sons of bitches!”

  “Ogre, calm down.”

  “Am I wrong here?” asked Ogre, his breath coming in angry spurts. “Am I wrong? This is still America, isn’t it? Or are we spelling it with a ‘K’ now?”

  Dark and still as it was outside, that was all suddenly broken by a bright flaring light that arced overhead. It was accompanied by a wretched grating noise akin to colossal nails on a titanic chalkboard. It turned everyone’s attention away from Ogre’s tirade. Appearing to be some type of rocket or craft, it tumbled violently in a downward spiral through the night sky. Green and orange flames backlit the grey smoke trailing behind like a twisted comet. The waitress’s cigarette fell from her slack-jawed mouth.

  Holding fingers in their ears, The Squid, Ogre and others stepped out the café doors to watch. The weird light sparkled and fizzed, turning a variety of colors as it cascaded eastward. It looked like it would hit just a couple miles away. Then there was a thunderclap and blast of brilliant green light. Dust fell from the eaves as slight tremors rippled through the truck stop.

  All misgivings about the truck stop and flag were lost in the excitement for something new. Ogre slapped The Squid on the back. “That’s right down I-80! Let’s go take a look!”

  The Squid glanced back to see the waitress picking her nose while pouring another cup of coffee. He gave a full body shiver and responded with, “All right, let’s go look, we’ll find somewhere else to eat.”

  2. Highway Star

  Roaring down the highway, the Mack and Peterbilt headlights were weak in comparison to the twisting, green witch-fire that had beckoned in the distance. It seemed to The Squid that out here on the edge of the desert there were no stars, just a blackness hanging overhead like a bad dream. He had a bad feeling about all of this, but had to try and keep Ogre out of trouble. You gotta do what you can for good friends. But the boisterous redneck was driving as fast as his rig could go and The Squid had to floor it above eighty to catch up to him.

  It was farther than The Squid first thought. They were almost twenty-five miles from Wendover when they came to a huge furrow that had plowed into the salty desert. The rocket or whatever it was had hit a local landmark or eyesore depending upon your artistic interpretation. Something known as the Utah Metaphor Tree. The colossal steel and concrete monstrosity was leaning forty-five degrees crooked beside the highway with those same eerie green flames sputtering about like ghostly candles where shreds of steel and concrete had been cast off like dead leaves.

  Ogre had made it there a bare moment before The Squid; he leapt from his truck and ran out into the enveloping darkness. “Hahaha! Look at that! It almost wrecked that damn tree! I hate that ugly thing!”

  The Squid felt obliged to follow at a more leisurely pace keeping his sweater tight about him against the April chill.

  Ogre had vanished into the murky gloom then yelled out something unintelligible.

  “What is it, man?” called The Squid. “What did you find?”

  No answer or sound but the licking flames that made shadows dance like marionettes.

  “Come on man, quit yanking my chain. Where are you?” shouted The Squid. He couldn’t see much in the interplay between darkness and flickering lig
hts. He felt a ripple of wind a twinge of nausea and wondered a moment if he was dizzy or sick, then the feeling passed as quick as it had come.

  “Hahaha! Look at that! It almost wrecked that damn tree! I hate that ugly thing!” shouted Ogre from the darkness.

  “I heard you the first time man.”

  “First time?” asked Ogre in a shout. “What are you talking about?”

  “Yeah, yeah, where’s the rocket?” asked The Squid, casting a look about the black landscape.

  “I wish it had knocked that ugly piece of trash all the way over! Hey! It’s over here!” shouted Ogre, running forward from the gloom. He stopped suddenly as The Squid caught up to him. “You gotta see this!” said Ogre, tugging on The Squid’s sweater. “The Martians have landed.”

  “Come on man. It’s not alien. Must be an experimental rocket accident or something. Like the Challenger, man.”

  “Hell, no, Squid, look at that thing. That is a bona-fide UFO right there. You ever heard of Roswell, Squid?”

  “No. Should I have?”

  Ogre’s childlike glee went deadly serious. “It’s only just the most radical secret the government has ever tried to keep from us is all.”

  A long silver object was half plunged into the salt flat. Mist surrounded it. “It’s a rocket ain’t it?”

  “Damnit, Squid! Aliens crashed in the New Mexican desert. Lee Iacocca and the Bilderberger’s have been trying to hide it from us for almost forty years! You need to read a book my friend,” said Ogre. “And right here, right now, we are here to witness this solemn occasion. It is up to us to speak the truth and share our experience with the world for the good of all mankind! Or at least try to make some money off of it!”

  “Iacocca? Outside of Wendover? Next to the damn Utah Tree. It looks more like a silver cigar.”

 
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