Here for your reading pleasure is SQUIDD, INC., a complete story from my story collection, BEST LITTLE WITCH-HOUSE IN ARKHAM. Here’s a link to the collection’s page on Amazon.com, in case you’d like to learn more about the book:
by Mark McLaughlin
Henderson snapped one day in the department head meeting and began speaking in tongues: “Ulala pizani! Y’kha Shub-Niggurath ghakala! Azagga pupago ma’azu!”
Henderson’s seat is right under the huge chrome Squidd, Inc. logo mounted on the wall, and his outburst was more than a little blasphemous – an affront to our disciplined business world. Or so I thought. We all looked to bulbous-eyed Old Man Squidd, our flabby corporate pooh-bah, to watch the fireworks.
The Old Man sat up in his chair (a formidable task for one so huge) and said, “By God, Henderson, I like a man with Spunk.”
Spunk. Spunk. Spunk with a capital S became our watchword, our password, our office shibboleth.
At that time, Squidd, Inc. specialized in the production and distribution of pharmaceuticals, with interests in medical equipment and biochemical research. I was Director of Sales, and I longed for Spunk like the cartoon coyote longs for roadrunner meat.
I’d been with the company for twenty years; my hair had turned grey and my skin had grown spotty in the service of Squidd. My chair at the meeting table was choice: only three seats down from the Old Man. But did the younger Directors have any respect for my years of experience? Sorry, no. Whenever they deigned to speak with me, their smug expressions told the story too well. They saw me as nothing more than a corporate leftover – a dried-up old piece of sushi.
I wasn’t about to let the matter of Spunk, and my lack thereof, cripple my standing with the company. I prayed at my desk: Gods of Commerce, I need more than just daily bread. Lead me deep into temptation and give me a magnum of champagne, a midnight-blue BMW, a penthouse office, a stock portfolio to die for, and most of all, a generous helping of high-energy, high-octane, high-and-mighty Spunk.
McCallum, Director of Public Relations and the youngest of our lot, tried his hand at Spunk the next week. He entered the department head meeting wearing a studded black leather collar and an orange Mohawk.
Old Man Hawthorne gave him the big thumbs-up. “Spunky,” he said, winking one of his staring sea-green eyes. “Damn Spunky.”
Each executive at Squidd, Inc. took their own personal walk on the Spunky side (except myself – my time had not yet come, my glorious dawn of Spunk).
Abernathy patched his pinstripe suit in gingham and replaced the handle of his briefcase with a corncob, like the mayor of Dogpatch.
Van Doring donned the robes of a Tibetan monk and delivered his marketing report in a complex but undeniably Spunky combination of Morse code, sign language, and hula dance.
Johannson filed his teeth to points, then decided to get in touch with his feminine side by personally designing a red velvet, off-the-shoulder business suit, perfect for the office or a night on the town.
Ms. Devlin, the only woman in the group, thrilled the Old Man with a brilliant display of Spunky initiative. She shaved her head, carved notches in her ears, and had a blue-green dragon tattooed across her face. She chain-smoked clove cigarettes and insisted that we call her ‘Lobo.’
I was sitting at my desk, thinking about Spunk, when I began to make paper airplanes. As I folded in the wings of my seventeenth memo pad stealth bomber, I stopped to consider the printing at the top of the sheet. The stylized cephalopod depicted in the logo stared back at me. Its gracefully curving tentacles seemed to be reaching out … but not to crush me. To embrace me.
I put in a request for an extended leave. And not for just a week. This particular leave would eat up all of my vacation time. Sick time. Holiday time. Personal time. I had to pull some strings and cash in some favors, but I finally managed to swing it. I then arranged for my work to be covered by several efficient but lackluster lackeys (Rule No. 1 in the white-collar jungle: never hire anyone with more Spunk than yourself). I divided my duties among these underlings in a complex, piecemeal fashion, to prevent any one of them from attempting a coup in my absence.
Having battened down my administrative hatches, I began my sabbatical. I had a lot of accrued freedom coming, and would need every second of it for what I had to do.
When I returned to work, a delivery boy standing in the front lobby screamed and fainted. The copying machine repairman flew under a desk and began to whimper.
My entire life savings had gone into my transformation. Skin grafts. Hormone injections, both natural and synthetic. The removal of certain bones. Tendon and cartilage augmentation. Gland transplants. Extensive redistribution of muscle tissue. And more. Much more.
I was supreme, imperious, an industrial juggernaut: the Squidd, Inc. logo incarnate.
I slithered into the department head meeting and stopped in my slime-streaked tracks. Abernathy, he of the gingham-patched suit, was sitting in my chair. With a squeal of outrage, I lashed out a tentacle, knocking out his teeth from across the table.
He rushed out of the room, his mouth gushing blood. I then looked to the head of the table, anticipating a big thumb’s-up.
It was then that I saw the unthinkable.
Next to Old Man Hawthorne sat McCallum. The Spunky young Director of Public Relations had given up his orange Mohawk and dog collar. Now, he too sported a slick, cone-shaped head and a writhing cluster of sinuous appendages —
Six inches longer than my own.
McCallum wriggled up to me. “Nice try, my friend,” he said with a gurgling chuckle, “but I’m afraid that mine is just a bit … nicer.”
A red mist of fury seethed across my vision.
“I have news for you, McCallum,” I stated, whipping my two largest tentacles into the air. “It’s not the length that matters…” I lashed my mighty musculature around his thick throat. “It’s what you do with it.”
And then I squeezed…and squeezed…and SQUEEZED…
First, his cone turned dark purple.
Then his eyes bugged out of his skull.
I decided to let go when his brains started to squirt through his thin, vestigial nostrils.
Old Man Squidd bared his dark teeth in a crazed grin. Later, he took me aside for a man-to-monster chat.
He said he admired my drive and ingenuity. He told me about a special clinic in his hometown of Innsmouth that could fit me with gills, making my transformation truly complete. He then lifted his flabby jowls, revealing shallow, green-edged fissures just under his jaw line. He explained that this sort of thing happened to the men of his town when they reached a certain age. And someday, after his gills finished growing in, he would take me down, down, down to the ocean floor, to visit the sunken Home Office. There we would pay honor to our Chief Executive Officer: mighty Cthulhu, powermonger of the deeps.
But in the meantime, there was work to be done.
I have become the prototype for an exciting new product line. The Old Man’s empire is expanding, taking the world of plastic surgery by storm. Around the globe, Squidd BioMorph Clinics are currently under construction.
Are you tired of the same old body, day in and day out? In the market for a new look? Our skilled specialists know how to bring out the real you. Ladies: fuller lips and bouncier breasts can be yours for the asking. Men: there’s certainly no need to suffer the shame of, shall we say, tentacle envy…
But don’t stop there, my friends. Try fangs. Pincers. Ghoul claws. Night-gaunt wings. Let your imagination run wild. You will love what we can craft out of you.
We’ll have you looking smart and sassy —
And as Spunky as hell.