“Sure. I was closing-up anyway; no one in town’s going to be drinking tonight,” he replied as he turned out the lights and lead me to the door.
It was chilly in the street, and whirling motes of snow clung to our legs like desperate children. From the street, I could no longer tell if Madame Ezekial was in her den there above her neon sign... or if my guests were still waiting for me in my office. I shrugged; we put our heads down against the wind, and we walked.
“ ‘Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green, there hath he lain for ages and will lie battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep, until the latter fire shall heat the deep; then once by men and angels to be seen, in roaring he shall rise...’ “
His voice sounded strangely familiar, and I found myself finishing for him: “... and on the surface die.”
He didn’t seem to notice, as he adjusted his collar and shook the snow from his hair. Twenty minutes walking, and we were out of Innsmouth. The
shriveled into a narrow dirt path outside of town, partly covered with snow and
ice, and we slipped and slid our way up it in the darkness. The moon was not yet up, but the stars had
already come out. There were so many of
them; sprinkled like diamond dust and crushed sapphires across the night sky.
At the top of the cliff, two people were waiting. The barman left my side and walked over to them, facing me as he spoke. “Behold, the sacrificial wolf,” he shouted into the green flames. “Do you know why I brought you up here?”
And I knew then why his voice was familiar; it was the voice of the man who had attempted to sell me aluminum-siding. I sniffed, “To stop the end of the world?”
He laughed at me then.
The second figure, half-obscured by that cloying smoke, was the fat man I had found asleep in my office. He murmured in a voice deep enough to shake the snow from the trees, Well, if you’re going to get eschatological about it.... His eyes were closed; he was fast asleep.
The third figure was shrouded in dark silks, and smelled of patchouli oil. It held a knife in one, slender hand. It said nothing.
The barman laughed, and scrabbled up a stone; outstretched his arms to the sky. “This night, the moon is the moon of the deep ones,” he screamed. “This night are the stars configured in the shapes and patterns of the dark, old times. This night, if we call them, they will come. If our sacrifice is worthy. If our cries are heard.”
The moon rose then, ripe and amber and heavy, on the other side of the bay. A chorus of low croaking rose with it from the ocean far beneath us. Moonlight on snow and ice is not daylight, but it will do... and my eyes were getting sharper with the moon.
In the cold waters, men like frogs were surfacing and submerging in a slow waterdance. Men like frogs, and women too: it seemed to me that I could see my landlady down there, writhing and croaking in the filthy bay with the rest of them.
It was too soon for another change -I was still exhausted from the night before- but I felt strange under that amber moon. I felt--
“Poor wolfman,” the cloaked figure whispered. “All his dreams have come to this: a lowly death upon a distant cliff.”
“I will dream if I want to, and my death is my own affair,” I replied... I think I replied.
Senses heighten in the moon’s light. I heard the roar of the ocean still, but now, filigreed upon it, I could hear each wave rise and crash.
The splash of the frog people rang in my ears. I heard the drowned whispers of the dead in the bay. I heard the creak and groan of the green wrecks far beneath the waves.
Smell improves too. The aluminum-siding man was human, while the fat man had... other blood in him. The figure in silks? I had smelled her perfume when I wore a man’s shape. Now I could smell something else, less heady, beneath it. A smell of decay; of putrefying meat and rotten flesh. The silk fluttered; she was moving toward me....
“Madame Ezekial?” My voice was roughening and coarsening; sanding my throat clean. Soon, I would lose it all. I didn’t understand what was happening, but the moon was rising higher and higher; losing its colour and filling my mind with its pale glow. “Madame Ezekial?”
“You deserve to die,” she said, the silks caressing her lips. “If only for what you did to my cards. They were very old.”
“I don’t die, “ I answered, standing firm in the shadows. “ ‘Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night...’ Remember?”
She lunged forward, “It’s bullshit!” she shouted. “You know what the oldest way to end the curse of the werewolf is?” Her words hung there in the updraft from the fire like a slow divorce. The bonfire burned brighter now, burned with the green of the world beneath the sea; the green of algae, and of slowly drifting weed. “You simply wait until they’re in their human shape, a whole month away from another change. Then, you take the sacrificial knife, and you gut them.” She thumbed the knife in her hand as she finished, “That’s all.”
I turned to run, but suddenly the barman was behind me, pulling my arms; twisting my wrists up into the small of my back.
She was on me before I could react.
I felt the tip of the blade press cold against my throat; felt the first hot splash of blood stain my chest... the blood began to gush and flow then... and then... it... slowed... stopped.
The night bled into my eyes. The pounding in the front of my head; the pressure in the back. All a roiling change; a how-wow-row-now change... a red wall coming toward me from the dark. I tasted stars dissolved in brine, fizzy and distant and salt. My fingers prickled with pins, and my skin was lashed with tongues of flame.
My eyes were topaz.
I could taste the night.
My breath steamed and billowed in the icy air, there in the shadows of the trees. I growled involuntarily, low in my throat. My forepaws were lost deep in the snow. I pulled back, tensed, and sprang at her.
There was a sense of corruption that hung in the air, like a fetid mist, surrounding me. High in my leap, I seemed to pause... and something burst like a soap-bubble.
I was deep, deep in the darkness under the sea. I was standing on all fours on a slimy rock floor, at the entrance of some kind of citadel, built of enormous, rough-hewn stones. The stones glowed like the hands of a cheap watch.
A cloud of black blood trickled from my neck. She was standing in the doorway before me. She was now six, maybe seven feet high. There was flesh on her skeletal bones, pitted and gnawed, but the silks.... The silks were weeds, drifting in the cold water, down there in the dreamless deeps. They hid her face like a slow, green veil. There were limpets growing on the upper surfaces of her arms, and on the flesh that sagged from her ribcage.
I felt the waters bearing down on me; I couldn’t think anymore.
She drifted toward me. The weeds that surrounded her head shifted.
She had a face like the stuff you don’t want to eat at a sushi counter, all suckers and spines and drifting anemone fronds... and somewhere in all that, I knew she was smiling.
I pushed with my hind legs.
We met there, in the deep, and we struggled. It was so cold... so dark....
I closed my jaws on her face, and felt something rend and tear. It was almost a kiss, down there in the abysmal deep.
I landed softly in the snow, a silk scarf locked between my jaws.
The other scarves were fluttering to the ground, mourning the loss of their mistress. Her knife glittered slyly in the snow at my feet.
I waited on all fours in the moonlight, soaking wet. I shook myself, spraying the brine about. I heard it hiss and spit when it hit the fire. I was dizzy and weak; gulping cold air into my burning lungs.
Down, far below in the bay, I could see the frog people bobbing on the surface of the sea like dead things. They drifted there for a handful of seconds, moving listlessly with the tide, and then they twisted and leapt, and each by each they plop-plopped down into the bay; vanished into the depths.
There was a scream. It was the barman... that pop-eyed aluminum-siding salesman. He was staring up at the night sky, at the clouds that were drifting in and swallowing the stars, and he was screaming.
He dropped to his knees before me. “You bastard,” he whimpered, falling on his hands. “What did you do to her?”
I would have told him I didn’t do anything to her; that she was still on guard far beneath the ocean, but I couldn’t talk anymore. He was crying, and he reeked of insanity and disappointment. He wagged his head back and forth, and clutched at the snow, weeping cold, salty tears.
He rose slowly, with the knife in his hand. He raised it, and lunged at me. I moved to one side. Some people just can’t adjust, even to tiny changes. The barman stumbled past me... into nothing.
Armageddon is averted by small actions.
In the moonlight, blood is black, not red. The marks he left on the cliffside as he fell and bounced were sooty smudges of black and grey. Then, finally, he lay still on the icy rocks at the base of the cliff. I watched raptly as an arm crept up out of the waves, and grabbed at his ankle. It dragged him, with a slow, deliberate grace that was almost painful to watch, down under the water.
A hand scratched the back of my head. It felt good.
What was she? Just an avatar of the deep ones, sir. An eidolon, a manifestation, if you will, sent up to us from the uttermost deeps to bring about the end of this world.
I whined up at the fat man.
No, it’s over... for now. You disrupted her, sir. And the ritual is most specific. Three of us must stand together and call the sacred names, while innocent blood pools and pulses at our feet.
I looked up at the fat man, and growled a query. He patted me on the back of the neck sleepily. Of course she doesn’t love you, boy. She hardly even exists on this plane, in any material sense.
The snow began to fall once more; the bonfire was going out.
Your change tonight, incidentally, I would opine, is a direct result of the self-same celestial configurations and lunar forces that made tonight such a perfect night to bring back my old friends from underneath....
He continued speaking in his deep voice, and perhaps he was telling me important things... I’ll never know. The appetite was growing inside me, and his words lost all but the shadow of their meaning. I had no further interest in the sea or the clifftop or the fat man. There were deer running in the woods beyond the meadow; I could smell them on the chill night air, and I was, above all things, hungry.
I was naked when I came to myself again, early the next morning. The snow was stained a fluorescent crimson where the deer’s belly had been torn out. My face and chest were sticky and red with its blood. My throat was scabbed and scarred, and it stung. By the next full moon, though, it would be whole once more.
I was cold and naked and bloody and alone.
“Ah, well,” I thought rising carefully in the cold morning light. “It happens to all of us…. At least it’s just once a month.”
I was painfully exhausted, but I would hold out until I found a deserted barn, or a cave, and then I was going to sleep for a couple of weeks.
The sun was a long way away, small and yellow, but the sky was blue and cloudless, and there was no breeze. I could hear the roar of the sea some distance away. A hawk flew low over the snow with something dangling from its talons. It hovered above me for a heartbeat, and then dropped a small grey squid in the snow at my feet. The flaccid thing lay there, still and silent and tentacled in the snow.
I took it as an omen... of good or ill, I couldn’t say.
I really didn’t care anymore; I turned my back to the sea, and on the shadowy town of
Innsmouth, and began to
make my way toward the city.
I really didn’t care anymore; I turned my back to the sea, and on the shadowy town of