The Happiest Place on Earth
“What kind of goddamn agent are you, Hal?” Mickey Mi-Go screamed into his cell-phone while drunkenly wheeling his Porsche through the studio parking lot. “I’m paying 15 percent a year to you and you don’t have my back?”
“Mickey, baby, how many people in this industry get to go out while they’re on top?“
“I built this studio, you bloodsucking loser!” Mickey steering into his reserved parking space, not realizing the minivan was there until he heard its fender crumple. Cursing a blue streak, he backed up and squeezed into the nearest open space, scraping paint off the Lexus to the left. In the back of his mind he knew he’d regret the damage to his Porsche when he sobered up, but the front of his mind didn’t give a damn.
“How can Walt cancel me, Hal? I’m iconic!! I’ve been iconic for almost a century, ever since I was in Steamboat R’Lyeh!” Stripping off the human gloves and face-mask he wore outside the studio, Mickey spread his wings and rose upward through the mundane metal of the car roof.
“Since you don’t seem to have any cojones, I guess I’ll go talk to ‘Uncle Walt’ myself!”
“Mickey, sweetie, that’s not such a—“
Mickey clicked off the phone and shoved it back in his throat sac. Down below, he saw families screaming at his true form—part-rat, part-fungus, part-insect, part-corpse—and then he noticed it was only parents recoiling in horror, not the kids. That was strange: driving small children to madness had always been a piece of cake for him.
Focusing in on the top floor of the Alhazred Studios offices, Mickey flew through the wall and into the icy chill of the cryonic air-conditioning system that enabled Walt Alhazred to keep running the studio decades after his death. “What the hell is this about, Walt? How can you do this to me?”
“Did you ever hear of knocking, Mickey?” Sitting behind a desk piled with contracts, film treatments and quarterly reports, Walt didn’t look the least surprised. “Or appointments? I have a meeting with Japanese investors in—“
“Don’t give me that bullshit!” Mickey slammed his slime-dripping forearm down on the desk.
“Did you think I’d let you cancel The Mickey Mi-Go Club without a fight?”
“Mickey, I’m only going by the sacred text. Well, the latest sacred text.” One undead finger tapped Walt’s unhallowed guide to cost-cutting and boosting profits, the Economicon. “The Old Ones are bound by no natural law, but even they submit to the laws of supply and demand.”
“When have I not known that? They demand the destruction of the human mind and soul; I supply that. My show is driving kids just as insane today as it did when we started.”
“You don’t keep up with industry news much, do you?” Walt sighed. “Of course, having to pay medical bills with five ex-wives in madhouses—“
“That’s why I need this gig! Do you know what a private rubber room costs?” Mickey might have driven his wives insane, but he’d always done right by them. “I know it would be cheaper to store their brains in jars but—dammit, Walt, it’s one thing to send Dagon Duck back to the Lake of Hali, but I built this studio!”
“You?” Walt glanced at the studio logo on his letterhead, containing the Alhazred name surrounded by a seven-pointed star. “Funny, I don’t see your moniker on anything in here.”
“I was your first star, Walt. We broke into the industry together, I made you as much you made me—“
“Why you snot-nosed abomination.” Walt stood, towering over Mickey in a way that defied all concepts of geometry or perspective. “I built this company. My banned books! My unspeakable storyboards! My unhallowed, obscene theme parks! If you’d checked the latest N’ielsen ratings you’d know you’re not pulling your weight. The rate at which you drive to kids to madness has dropped 60 percent since the last century.”
“What?“ Mickey stared at Walt, shaking his head, which sent slime spattering over most of the room. “I know the brats have gotten a little harder to scare—“
“A little? Mickey, your show still terrifies the boomers who grew up with you, and maybe a few Gen-Xers, but Generation Y and Millenials? They think of you as a hokey old monster that drove their parents crazy, not them.”
“Hokey?” Mickey swallowed. “I’m a classic! ‘A beloved icon,’ People said so!”
“It said that in 1980, Mickey. And classic just does not impress the Old Ones.” With an occult gesture, Walt turned on the flatscreen hanging on his wall. “Let me show you what does.”
Mickey saw a head with intestines and internal organs hanging down from it fly over a studio audience. Children screamed in horror as blood dripping off the dangling arteries rained down on them. ‘Walt, what the hell?”
“It’s a penagglan.” With a snap of his fingers, Walt turned the TV off. “A Malay vampire. Still novel enough in America to terrify kids—“
“Some Malayan chippie replacing me? No way she drives them crazier!”
“No, but the thing is, third-world monsters work cheap. She’s happy with a few bottles of blood, a nice cave. No profit percentage, no use of the studio condo on Yuggoth, no ever-increasing salary demands. In terms of cost-effectiveness, she has you beat to hell.”
“Walt, I have a contract!“
“It guarantees you remain an employee of Alhazred Studios until the end of time.” Walt smiled. “But you don’t get paid unless you work, and you only work if I say so. The Lawyer Who Cannot Be Named inserted that in the fine print.”
“Shit.” Mickey cursed himself for hiring his brother’s spawn to negotiate his last contract. “So…that’s it? I spend the rest of my days dancing to the music of mad flutes?”
“Not necessarily.” Walt sat down, all affability again. “Boomers are still terrified of you. 60 percent say you warped their minds better than LSD. We could keep you plenty busy booking you for celebrity nostalgia gigs—mall openings, used-car lot ribbon-cuttings—“
“Come on.” Mickey sank into the chair in front of Walt’s desk, wings draping over the arms. “That shit’s for has-beens!”
“Don’t think of it that way—call it retro. If it goes over well, there might be a judge’s slot on America’s Got Madmen next fall.”
“The pay’s not even industry scale. You know how I blow through money.”
“I’ll put you in touch with a great debt counselor. It’s a Tcho-Tcho, you know how tight those bastards are with a dollar.” Walt’s face displayed the confident smirk of an alpha fiend. “So, we have a deal?”
For a second, Mickey considered saying no. It would be real good for Walt not to get his way, just once. And he could always find work in real estate…
Instead, he thrust out his hand. Walt took it, looking almost surprised. “For a second, I really thought you were going to walk.”
“What, and give up show biz?” Mickey gestured at the air conditioner with his free hand. “You died years ago, but did you quit? It just gets into your ichor, know what I mean?”
“Yes,” Walt said, nodding slowly. “I think I do.” And for just a second, the two unspeakable horrors met each other’s eyes—and smiled.