C. J. Rowan
I within did flow with seas of life like wine. Thomas Traherne
"Daddy, can I have an octopus?" Alyssa said.
I looked at her in surprise. "What would you do with an octopus?"
"The Smithsons have an octopus. They keep it in the basement. Toni told me. She gets to pet it and everything."
"I don't think octopuses like being petted, dear. They just squirt ink or something. Toni must have been pulling your leg."
"Daddy, you are like, so out of it sometimes."
"Finish your cereal, dear, or you'll be late for school. Maybe we can get you a puppy."
She wrinkled her nose. "Puppies are for little kids."
I cleared my throat. "You liked that puppy in the mall, the one with the flat face that cost 400 dollars."
She gave me a withering glance. Fortunately, at that moment the doorbell rang.
"That's Kthantha!" she exclaimed, jumping up.
On the porch stood a girl with long black hair and pale blue eyes. She had a plaid skirt and long socks and a little jacket, and a canvas bag slung over her shoulder.
"Hello, Mr. Taylor," she said. "I'm Toni Smithson. My mother is driving us to school today."
She seemed very formal. I wondered if she were a Mormon, or something.
"Uh, that's nice of her," I said.
"Bye, Daddy," Alyssa said, and they ran down the driveway toward a silver-blue station wagon. The dark girl looked over her shoulder at me once, and I thought I heard the two of them giggle.
I'm not sure why I'm writing this down; I never kept a journal before. Shelley always used to keep a journal, and she gave me this blank one for Christmas one year. Funny to think that her journals are all I have left of her now.
I need to get back to my work, but it's hard to concentrate today. The usual sounds of lawn mowers and blowers are bad enough, but today there is some infernal racket across the street. There's a big truck, and some strange-looking workmen scurrying around. They all walk a little oddly, and I wonder if they're from some company that employs the handicapped. But the truck just says Ace Plumbing & Electric. Something about them bothers me.
Have met Mrs. Smithson. She came over after school to tell me that Alyssa was at her house. A striking young woman in jeans and a sweater; she has her daughter's eyes, but her hair is lighter.
"Mr. Taylor, I'm so glad to meet you," she said, looking as if she meant it. "Our daughters seem to have befriended each other. It's such a relief, because I know Toni misses her old friends, and she doesn't usually pick up new ones very quickly. We just moved in across the street a little while ago. We were living in Seattle.
"I do hope the workmen haven't been disturbing you. We've been having a nightmare with the plumbing. Alyssa told us you work at home. That must make the childcare a lot easier. I'm sorry, I haven't introduced myself. My name is Julie."
"Oh, yes, I'm Steven," I said, not sure whether to shake her hand. "Perhaps we ought to exchange phone numbers, in case we ever need to check up on our kids. Come in and I'll get a sheet of paper."
I felt acutely self-conscious, but she bubbled on quite amiably. There is something odd about her eyes. Even when she is laughing, her eyes have a still quality, and they glisten as if with excess moisture. Aside from that, she seems normal enough. I'm glad Alyssa has found a friend, anyway.
The workmen were busy across the street again today. The truck was the same, but I saw them carrying large, heavy-looking pieces of glass into the house. I can't quite isolate what is odd about their walk. They seem to sway a little, as if they expect the ground to move beneath them. Like sailors who have been months at sea. Their skin is dark, but they don't look Mexican. More like Polynesians, I would guess.
I looked up Ace Plumbing & Electric in the Yellow Pages, and they're not listed. 411 hadn't heard of them either.
Alyssa brought home some videotapes from the school library. They are of a series called "Life on Earth," narrated by a British biologist. She seems to be mainly interested by the earlier episodes. She will watch scenes of mollusks, nautiluses, and sea anemones with a certain fierce absorption. I find the creatures somewhat disturbing to watch; I wonder that they don't give her nightmares. The planet's primitive life forms appear so much more convincingly alien than anything Hollywood has dreamed up.
Speaking of nightmares, it seems to me I've been having some classics recently. Fortunately or otherwise, I can't remember them. But I wake up covered with a clammy dampness, as if I've been sweating profusely.
I asked Alyssa if she still wanted an octopus. She said, "No, that won't be necessary." Such an odd choice of words for a small girl. I suppose she's picking up some of her friend's speech patterns.
Alyssa has been spending a lot of time at the Smithson's. This afternoon, she ran over there straight after school. Some vague impulse made me enter her room and poke around a little. There were all her dolls and the little dollhouse he mother made her. It made me sad to see it.
A pile of books lay on her side-table, and another in the drawer one which used to be filled with hairpins, strings, and such things. It was a picture book with a garish green cover and the most outlandish creature posing. It seems to be a sort of jolly fat man with tentacles where his face should be, and wings. He is sitting on an island amongst various stone structures looking something like Stonehenge might if M. C. Escher had designed it. The title of the book, in bright yellow letters, was Our Friend, Mr. Clootlu.
I guessed this to be some Barney the Dinosaur kind of character, but somehow his rather outré appearance didn't strike me as being likely to reassure young people. The text that followed only left me more baffled. I've decided to copy it here, and then replace the book. This will enable me to think things over at my leisure:
Once there was a very wise old person.
He came to us from far away, further than the stars in the sky.
We call him Mr. Clootlu.
Whew! That's a big name, isn't it?
It's okay if you don't say it just right.
He knows what you mean anyway.
They say Mr. Clootlu knows just about everything.
Now, in the long, long time ago when Mr. Clootlu first came here,
the Earth was just a lonely place.
My, things were different then! Practically all water,
and just a few boring rocks sticking out.
And Mr. Clootlu sat on the tallest rock, and looked around him. And he felt lonely.
So he reached out all around him and planted life in everything he touched.
You see, Mr. Clootlu has many arms, as many as an octopus.
That's just to show that nothing is beyond his reach.
And Mr. Clootlu founded a great city, where he lived as king.
It was made all of stone, and all the buildings had silly angles, because they were really half in another world, and only the tippy-tops were in our own.
It was the grandest place that ever was, and it was called
And as long as Mr. Clootlu ruled the earth,
everyone could play all the time and no one had to work.
And he gave us many pets to play with,
and taught us fun things to do with them,
and showed us the tools to do it.
Some of them were called shoggoths, and dholes
and voormis. Maybe if you're really good, someday
you'll get to meet a shoggoth, too!
But then there came a very sad day.
Something in the sky changed, or
something beyond the sky, and great tremors
shook the earth. And the mighty city of Ruleyah
sank down beneath the ocean waves,
where it is wet, and dark, and very very cold.
And there in his house at Ruleyah,
Mr. Clootlu waits dreaming.
But he shall come again, in glory,
bringing rewards to all the faithful
and justice to all his foes.
For Mr. Clootlu could never truly die.
How could he, when he's such a special guy?
The book is well-produced, on good paper, with a bar code on the back cover. But the publisher is one I haven't heard of before: Order of Dagon Press, Innsmouth, Mass., 1985 and now in its sixth printing.
There's no sign that the book is from a library, but I also know that neither I nor her grandparents gave it to her. Instinctively I am sure that she got it from her friend. Is it possible that the family across the street belongs to some bizarre cult, some bywater of the Neo-Pagan revival? If so, how involved has Alyssa become? The fact that she hid the book is not promising.
I dare not confront her openly, lest I should alienate her or make her more secretive. Somehow, I have to find out about our neighbors and their beliefs.
LATER: It seems that I shall have my chance. Alyssa says that the Smithson's have invited us over for dinner. I'll bring some champagne wretched stuff and see if it makes them talkative. Alternatively, I will at least find out if they object to alcohol. (These New Age types often follow strange dietary fads, I know.)
Well, do I feel foolish. I have certainly been living alone too long too long apart from adult company, I mean. I see that I have become a paranoid and suspicious individual, the victim of my own constant brooding. If last evening had not been so pleasant, I'd be feeling remorse now over my pointless thoughts of yesterday afternoon. As it is, I am more inclined to laugh at my folly.
What shall I say? Oh, yes, Julie dispelled my doubts about obscure diets almost immediately by popping the cork on the champagne bottle and serving salmon with some spicy sauce for dinner; no tofu burgers or bean sprouts in evidence. There were candles at the supper table, which the children enjoyed lighting. Apparently Toni is an only child, and there is no Mr. Smithson in evidence. He was referred to, however, rather obliquely.
"You know," I said to Toni, "I've noticed that Alyssa sometimes calls you by another name Ktantha. Is that your real name or a nickname?"
Her mother answered for her. "It is a bit exotic, I'm afraid. Her father was fond of the South Seas, and they only have five consonants you know. That's why we've always called her Toni instead."
At which point Toni interjected, seriously, "But when I'm a famous actress someday, I'll use my full name, of course."
Her mother winked at me.
After dinner, the children went to watch The Little Mermaid in the family room while Julie and I finished the bottle of champagne. I fear that it had a stronger effect on me than on her my memory is a bit fuzzy now, but it seems to me that I blathered on about myself way too much, and told really bad jokes which she laughed at anyway.
On an unrelated note, I noticed some strange marks on my skin this morning. They are pinkish rings about an inch in diameter, and there are several trails of them around my chest and back. I'm not sure if they are a rash, or a reaction to some biting insect. I'll keep an eye on them and see a dermatologist if they don't go away.
I'm really sleepy this morning, probably an aftereffect of the alcohol. I've already packed Alyssa off to school. I think I'll treat myself to a nap.
Well, this is something more than a hangover. I was awakened this morning by Alyssa returning from school. She took one look at me and got a thermometer from the bathroom. It seems I have been laid low by a fever. Alyssa ordered me to stay in bed an easy order to follow and went across the street to fetch Julie.
So now I'm being fussed over by two women: my daughter and a neighbor. Three actually, if you count Toni; but I can't exactly say she fusses. Her constantly grave demeanor begins to strike me as a put-on, as if she were hiding some secret amusement inside. She enters, bearing water and aspirin on a tray, and dispenses them with as much gravity as if they were holy wafers.
Losing track of the time. How long have I been here? It might have been hours, or days. The sheets are soaked; I must smell awful. In fact, there is a kind of fishy smell in the room. There, I can feel a two or three day's growth of beard, at least, on my face.
A chair and a reading lamp are posted near the bed, as if someone kept watch nearby during the worst of my fever.
An embarrassing discovery. I am actually naked under this sheet. I wonder who tucked me in? I think I shall put something on and look around.
The house was quiet; the hall clock showed 4:00 pm. I went into the kitchen and found that it had been tidied. More than tidied, in fact on opening drawers and cupboards, I found things that had been reorganized. I just wanted to get my mug to make a cup of tea, but they were in a different place now. The shelves had been lined with new paper, with a flower pattern on it. I experienced a sinking sensation.
Then I noticed that the kitchen window was open. I heard the usual gurgle of the fountain from the back yard, but there were lilting voices mixed in with it. I peered out between the curtains.
Toni and Alyssa were moving in circles counterclockwise around the fountain. They made little dance movements and ritualized gestures with their hands. Over and over, in sing-song tones, they repeated a series of syllables that made no sense to me. It went something like this:
Mugwa naffa funglui Klutalu futanya
Mugwa naffa ruleya naggal
Klutalu, Klutalu, nuwa kalatainya
Ktantha, Alyssa, yananthlei ladao!
After repeating this verse many times they stopped and began throwing flower petals in the water, now exclaiming
Iyantha, yananthlei, Klutalu, ladao!
At this, my vague, half-formed worries fell away, and I saw them for what they were: two innocent little girls engaged in make-believe. They seemed even to have made up some secret language, like pig latin. And the use of my name in the concluding verse led me to suspect that they had made up a "spell" for my recovery.
The shear silliness of it all was disarming. I opened the door and stepped out onto the back porch. I had to shade my eyes from the afternoon sun. After a few moments, I saw the two girls sitting on the bench under the willow tree.
"Hello," I said, stepping toward them. "What have you two been up to?"
"Playing a game," Alyssa said.
"Really? What kind of game?"
They gave each other sidelong glances. "It's called the Mao game," Toni said demurely.
I was aware of the sound of frogs croaking nearby in the late afternoon air, and the sound of small insects, leaves stirring in a slight breeze. There was a strange stillness in the air, most unusual for suburbia.
"I'm glad you're feeling better, Daddy," Alyssa said, and she got up to hug me. "Julie said you'd be better by tonight."
"I wonder how she knew," I said.
I heard the distant sound of movement inside, and turned to go in. Julie was setting a bag of groceries on the kitchen counter. Her eyes lit up when she saw me, and she came and placed her hand on my forehead. I felt my pulse quicken at her cool touch.
"Good," she said, and turned away. "I just picked up a couple of things at the store. Alyssa was running out of cereal."
"Thank you," I said awkwardly.
"Alyssa is a bright child, isn't she? She seems to learn quickly." She put some things in cupboards. More than cereal.
"How long was I out?" I asked.
She counted on her fingers. "Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday . . . about two and a half days."
"Why didn't you send me to a hospital?"
"Oh, I had a doctor friend of mine come over, Dr. Symes. He said this bug is going around, and all you really needed was bed-rest and aspirin."
"That was very good of you," I said, still feeling uneasy. "I hope you haven't spent too much time looking after me. You must have a job of your own to deal with."
"Well, what are neighbors for? And our daughters are friends. Anyway, my hours are quite flexible. I do . . . research work."
"Oh, you mean for a law firm?"
"Yes, that's right. Legal research."
"You must tell me about it sometime."
"It's not very exciting, I'm afraid."
Another pause. "I don't know how to repay you," I said.
She smiled. "Perhaps I can think of something. I know some family of mine are visiting, and we're having a barbecue tonight. You should come over. That would be nice."
"That's easy enough."
"And bring Alyssa, of course. You should take a shower and come straight over. We'll see you there."
I remembered suddenly what an unkempt figure I must be, and fingered my beard. "Fine. See you there."
Well, I'm clean now, and shaved. I noticed that the rash, or whatever it was, is fading; it must have been due to the fever. I don't know what to expect of this evening. I seem to be seeing my life of these last few days through two perspectives at once: one where everything makes perfect sense, and another where something is dreadfully wrong. I know I cannot resolve these views until I explore further.
Alyssa is calling me. I must go now.
Later: I mean, tomorrow. I must review the things that have happened tonight, for I have an important decision to make, and I'm not sure whether I have the strength to make it.
It began innocently enough. We trailed across the street at twilight, Alyssa and myself, me with my hair still wet, she with a bag full of chips and dip that she had insisted on bringing.
"Have you met any of Toni's family?" I asked Alyssa.
"Not really," she said ambiguously.
As I pressed the doorbell, the door swung open. Little dark-haired Toni stood stiffly in front of us and intoned, "Good evening. Won't you please come in?" It was an English butler imitation, and both she and Alyssa immediately burst into giggles. They ran through the house and out the patio door, leaving me trailing in their wake.
Outside, there were barbecue smells and tiki torches burning around a large swimming pool. An assortment of people were lounging around, swimming or tending to the food.
Julie appeared and gave me a quick hug. "I'm glad you came," she said. "Let me introduce you around."
There were two types of people in the group: Caucasians, and light-brown people I took to be of Polynesian origin. However, all seemed pretty fully assimilated, judging by their speech. Each was introduced as aunt-this or cousin-that. I smiled politely at each and promptly forgot their names. Someone handed me a beer.
Alyssa and Toni were romping with some other kids in the pool. They seemed to be playing a game like Marco Polo, with one person closing his or her eyes and trying to find the others. However, they didn't actually use the convention of calling "Marco" and replying "Polo" to find each other. I thought the person who was "it" would have to be awfully patient, unless they had exceptional hearing.
I peered at the people around me, trying to detect some sign of the shambling gait of the Ace Plumbing & Electric employees. There were two or three men there who reminded me of those peculiar workmen, but I couldn't be sure that they were the same. They seemed to sit well back in the shadows, and I had an impression that they only moved around when I was facing the other way.
"Stephen, why don't you come over here and help me with this." It was a portly Polynesian man at the barbecue behind me. I think he had been introduced as Uncle Ed.
He had a number of shish kebabs on the grill, and he asked me to prepare some more by skewering pieces of shellfish and vegetables. "Your family seems very fond of seafood," I said.
He chuckled. "You could say we came by it naturally. My people were always fishing."
"Really? Where are you from, originally?"
"Oh, round abouts Ponape, mostly. Julie's folks weren't from there, but she grew up among us. We kind of adopted her." Again that chuckle. "A very charming lady, don't you think?"
"Yes, she is. But I haven't known her for long."
"Funny, isn't it, that you just happen to live next to each other, and here you both lost your spouses so recently. Makes you wonder if there isn't some kind of divine plan at work."
"I've often wondered that," I said.
He peered at me and slapped me on the back. "You're a funny one, aren't you? You'll fit in very well."
Just then I heard a scream.
I turned to see Alyssa standing in the shallow end, pointing at a spreading stain at the other end of the pool. It was a cloud of inky blackness. "She's hurt!" Alyssa cried.
But just then, Toni surfaced near her, looking unharmed. A small boy surfaced in the deep end and started rubbing his eyes and crying.
"He was peeking," I heard Toni say scornfully.
"Toni, come here," Julie said. Toni dutifully went over to her, and apparently was lectured by her mother.
The boy, on the other hand, had been lifted out of the water at the other end of the pool. A woman was holding him and singing to him quietly. He seemed to be calmer.
The lights in the pool went out, leaving the stain almost invisible, lost in the general darkness of the water.
I brought a towel to Alyssa. "What was that all about?" I said.
"She got mad because Davie was peeking. I thought it was blood at first that came out of her. But it was just to punish him."
"She can do that?" I said, feeling a stab of anxiety in my chest.
"Oh, Toni can do lots of things," Alyssa said, admiringly. "But not as many as Julie."
"What can Julie do?"
Alyssa looked at me blankly. "Like, heal you when you're sick and stuff."
"Oh," I said.
"I'm hungry," she said. "I want a hot dog."
"It's just shish kebabs, dear. Uncle Ed can give you one."
She scampered toward the barbecue, her towel wrapped around her like a robe.
Around me, the party had resumed, as if nothing had happened. People were chatting amiably, laughing, and eating. I fought back a sense of unreality.
I opened the sliding door to the house. Some people in the kitchen turned to look at me. "Just looking for the bathroom," I said.
"Down the hall to your right, honey," an old woman said. I meandered down the hall.
The first door I opened led into a bedroom. The second led into a closet. The third revealed a staircase leading downward.
Some indefinable curiosity led me down the stairs. I found myself in a book-lined study. There were nautical and geographic touches all around the room: an old-fashioned globe, a wall chart of ocean currents, a couple of small aquariums. I went over to look at one, and saw a starfish and a sea anemone, nestled among pieces of red coral. A constant stream of bubbles rose from the air pump.
Then something moved among the rocks. I thought it was a little fish, at first, but then I saw another and I realized they were tentacles.
I started with a sudden irrational terror. I lost consciousness of the room, and instead I had a vision of pale tentacles curling around me, clasping with round suckers, slimy and cool. I wanted to fight, but I was too weak, and the suckers stung me with a kind of exquisite pain, like a million burning lips. The watery blue eyes swung into view, and then the hard, parrot-like beak, poised to bury itself in my chest . . .
By slow degrees, I regained an awareness of my surroundings. I was sitting on the floor, leaning against the bookcase. What had gotten into me? It was like a nightmare, and it came to me now that this nightmare had haunted me over the last couple of days of my fever. I must still be a little sick: my skin felt clammy, both hot and cold.
I drew myself to my feet. I looked in the aquarium again, and saw a small squid, about eight inches long. It seemed so tiny and harmless now, that I had to smile. But I felt a bit queasy as well.
I noticed a book lying on the desk. It had green cloth binding but no dustcover. Stamped on the spine in silver letters was the title The Cambrian Explosion in Light of the Ponape Scripture, by Lyall Marsh. It seemed to have been privately printed. I opened the book to the introduction:
One of the greatest scientific mysteries of recent years is the sudden emergence, in the Cambrian era, of all the distinct body plans to be found among animals on the Earth today, including the first known examples of the mollusca, echinodermata, arthropoda, chordata, and all other known phyla of animal life. Biologists have wrestled in vain with the question of why this one short period was so profligate, and diverse, in its invention. It is the thesis of this book that a close reading of the Ponape Scripture provides a solution to this riddle.
No one reading this Scripture, or other accounts of that pandemic, yet outré Mythos found in traces among seafaring peoples all over the world, and known variously as the Oceanic Cycle, the Tlulu Cycle, or the Yog Cycle, can fail to have been struck by the fact that the various extraterrestrial entities are described therein by comparisons to familiar, albeit primitive, life forms of Earth.
Thus, the Old Ones of Antarctica are described as having the five-fold symmetry typical of many species of the echinodermata, such as starfish, sand-dollars, etc. The Outer Ones of Yuggoth have a crustacean body plan, and thus relate to the arthropoda. The Deep Ones or Spawn of Dagon are described as both ichthyic and batrachian in aspect, and thus find their parallel in the chordata. Lastly, the Spawn of Tlulu, or Clutalu, of whom little is known, but much hinted, have characteristics distinctly reminiscent of the mollusca, and more specifically the cephalopods.
Anthropologists explain these resemblances as psychological in character, reflecting primitive instinctive fears of those life forms that are most unlike ourselves while being, in some ways, quite as highly developed. But another explanation is possible, and that is simply this: that the beings described in the Tlulu Cycle were quite real, and in colonizing this planet, profoundly influenced the evolution of the primal protoplasm, known to the Ancients as Ubbo-Sathla, so that it assumed these various forms brought here from alien galaxies or possibly even alien universes. And the corollary is equally true: that the archetypes of these evolutionary forms survive even now in the hidden places of our world, or perhaps even among us, where they may walk unrecognized in the light of day.
I puzzled over this passage for some time. It began with the air of a scientific book, but quickly took a turn too bizarre for belief. In any case, the conclusion made no sense. How could creatures resembling starfish, crabs, or octopi possibly pass unnoticed in human society?
Just then, I looked up to see Julie standing in the doorway. I started, guiltily.
"My late husband," she said.
"My late husband Eustace. These are his things. It seems silly to drag them around now, but I can't quite bear to throw them away yet, not after the way he disappeared. I suppose I still have some fantasy that he'll come back, and things can be the same again. But it's been too long for me really to believe that."
"I'm sorry. Was it some kind of accident?"
"Perhaps. The ocean claimed him, in the end. He was always a great lover of the sea. He was a sickly child, and his family lived in an old house on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic. There he always heard the sound of the waves, and felt them vibrating in the old timbers of their home. When he was ill, he said he felt like it was calling him to some distant peaceful realm. And he said that as a young man, gazing from those same cliffs at the curling tresses of ocean waves, the laughing twinkle of light on water, he understood how sailors came to fancy they saw mermaids in the water, beckoning them in.
"He was a haunted man, really. I didn't realize how much so when I married him. I found that distance, that mystery about him, strangely fascinating. I thought that I could get close to him. But I was wrong. Not until lately have I understood why."
I was intrigued. "Why? What happened to him?"
"He was onto something. His was a wide-ranging and unconventional mind, and in the lore of the ocean he came across many things that are obscure; legends and remnants of island cults, and paranoid theories about government cover-ups. It all became an obsession with him, but he would never speak to me plainly of his researches. I realize now that he was trying to shield me.
"Toward the end he met up with this Lyall Marsh, the man who wrote the book in front of you. They were on much the same trail, it seems, and at last they flew off together to the South Pacific on some great expedition. Their last radio message stated that they had spotted a previously undiscovered island in the distance and were flying in for a closer look.
"They were never heard from again."
She spoke quietly, without overt emotion.
"And since then?"
She frowned. "It was as if I had started becoming paranoid myself. I noticed strangers who appeared to be following me everywhere, in shopping malls and Laundromats. One day they started leaving little stones on my doorstep five-pointed stones with strange inscriptions. I thought that Eustace perhaps really had stumbled on some primal cult, and that now they were bent on vengeance against his family. So we moved here, and left no forwarding address. But last week, I found one of the stones on our doorstep again.
"I remembered seeing you, and how you reminded me of my Eustace. And it was like I felt hope again. In some mad way, I imagined that if I could get close to you, you could keep me safe. I know it seems silly now I say it."
"Well . . ." I said uncertainly.
She came and stood beside me, and paged through the book. I was uncomfortably aware of her presence, her softness, and a subtle, intoxicating aroma.
She stopped at a page with a map on it. "This shows the area where they disappeared. It's somewhere east of New Zealand. There's nothing but empty ocean for miles around. Sometimes I lie awake at night, wondering how he died." She shivered.
I touched her on the shoulder, and she turned and embraced me. Her blue eyes gazed up at me from her upturned face. Our lips met, and melted together. How familiar it seemed, and how inevitable. And then we were swept away by currents beyond our control . . .
We lay together, aquariums bubbling around us. She was perfectly normal, perfectly loving. I wept and she kissed away the tears. "I've been afraid I'm not sure of what," I said. "Some mystery about you. I don't understand things."
"Hush," she said, and touched a finger to my lips. Then she kissed me lightly. "I must check on the children."
Who was saving who, I wondered. She stood up, with no trace of self-consciousness, began slipping on her clothes, panties and jeans. And then I saw something that made no sense. Women always wiggle their hips when putting jeans on, so as to get past the narrow waist of the pants. It was as if, instead, she simply poured herself in, instinctively remolding herself for the purpose. It only took a moment, and it was subtle. But it was there.
Something clicked. She gave me my clothes, another kiss, a promise to return shortly. I admired her the whole time.
A strange detachment settled over me. And I realized then that she wasn't really human, but something inhabiting human form. An imitation that surpassed its model. And Toni? And the rest of her family? What kind of entities were these? And what did they want from me? So far, they seemed to have shown me only kindness.
My mind ran on the outré theories of Lyall Marsh, and his unfortunate disappearance with her late husband. Was their disappearance really an accident, or had they learned too much? Had Julie really mourned her husband, or had she been sent to spy on him?
I wandered around the room, wondering what else I might learn. The carpet was thick under my toes, and except for the sound of aquariums bubbling, the room was silent; there was no hint of the party upstairs. I scanned the bookshelves and saw many mainly conventional books on oceanography and geology. Another section had a number of books on lost continents, such as Mu and Atlantis. At last I found a section of mostly foreign-language books on what appeared to be occult themes. I intuitively felt that these could have told me the most, if only I could read them.
One book attracted me particularly: the letters on the spine read Cthaat Aquadingen. I picked it up, but it proved to be as impenetrable as the rest. However, before replacing it I noticed a switch in the bookcase in the empty space where the book had been. A strange feeling of familiarity overcame me. Was this some lost memory, like my previous flashback to my fevered dreams? I had a vague sense that I had been drunk, or entranced, when last I had seen this switch.
I pressed it, and a section of the wall paneling nearby swung open. I opened it the rest of the way and stepped through into the room beyond.
A powerful oceanic stench assailed me in the darkness, and then lights came on, apparently triggered by my motion. The light was greenish, flickering, and I saw that it all emanated from a large tank or aquarium, about twelve feet long and wide and four feet tall. The glass was clear, but the water inside was opaque. At first I thought there were lights inside the tank, but then it seemed to me that the water itself was glowing, as if from an iridescent growth of some plankton-like organism.
Otherwise, the room was almost empty there was no furniture, and the floor was bare concrete with occasional drains. However, the flickering light revealed the walls to be covered with painted scenes. These images had an exotic style that reminded me slightly of Mayan glyphs. The scenes depicted were almost incomprehensible to me, but I was able to make out pyramid-like structures, temples perhaps, built of vast rough-hewn blocks. The perspective was oddly distorted, so that none of the angles came together in quite the way one would expect.
Interspersed among this architecture were a multitude of creatures of oddly varying shapes; they were all tangled up with each other, as if engaged in some vast battle, or perhaps orgy.
I heard a splashing sound, and turned to see that the concrete near me was wet. The waters of the pool seemed to be growing agitated. Hastily, I made my way back to the opening and returned to the library. I latched the panel and replaced the hook.
Julie had not yet returned, it seemed. I made my way back up the steps to the back yard, where some Hawaiian steel guitar music was playing for the still-gregarious visitors. I found Alyssa and told her it was time to go home and go to bed. I told Uncle Ed we were leaving, and asked him to convey our thanks to Julie. He gave me a mock salute and returned to a checkers game.
My first impulse was to take Alyssa and leave town, but on reaching home, a strange inertia overwhelmed me. That Julie and her family are eccentric, is clear. As for my wilder surmises, all become doubtful and vague as I think about them. I paused to write this account in the hope that it would clear my mind, but instead I just feel tired. I think I am still getting over that illness. I will sleep now, and perhaps in the morning we can see about leaving.
Four in the morning. All is quiet, but my heart is pounding. I was awakened by a dream, or nightmare, and I must try to capture it now before it fades away.
I remember the tank, glowing greenly, and the sound of voices chanting uncouth syllables. And the sound of water splashing periodically, as if in time with the liturgy. Now I remember a scent as well the briny, oceanic odor from that secret room.
I find that I am kneeling, facing the tank, my arms crossed on my chest like a supplicant. I seem to be entranced. I can think, slowly, but I have no power of will, no control over my limbs. It is as if my veins are filled with lead.
The light, I see, is pulsing in time with the chant, as if stimulated by the words. The water begins to become agitated. Ripples spread across the tank, rebound and lap slightly over the edge. I feel hands touching my shoulder and the voices become louder, faster. A growing excitement grips me, but I remain no less paralyzed.
I notice shapes moving. It takes me a while to focus on them. Two-legged shapes, with long hair. I see one seems to be Julie, walking slowly around the tank, singing and moving her hands in strange patterns. She is naked, except for some exotic jewelry an armlet, ankle bracelets, a silver chain around her waist and blue lines that she has painted on her face, as if to represent whiskers, only more wavy.
I notice the pale figures of two other females circling me; they seem to be shorter. One has dark, straight hair, and the other is blond and curly. They, too, are unclothed, with blue lines on their faces. I catch a glimpse of their eyes, and I recognize my daughter and her friend. Their voices give forth in a foreign tongue, reciting responses to Julie's utterances.
The chamber seems to be echoing their words, but it sounds even more like a chorus of other voices is joining them some high and angelic, others deep and abysmal. The sound swells and grows in complexity; I hear the throbbing pulse of drums in the background. The floor begins to shake, and dizziness assails me. I hear a whiny melody in the background, as of a flute played by an idiot.
The room begins to change. Somehow the walls seem different, as if they are bulging in some places, and receding in others. The figures in the paintings seem to be moving. They writhe slowly in dance and seem to embrace; then, in frenzy, they begin to rend each other and blood flows like rivers. They are here, and we are there. No longer is this a basement; we are in an ancient city of wet, slimy stone. It seems we are on an island but recently risen from the waves. All the angles are misplaced convex is concave one sees around corners.
The tank is still in front of us, but now its sides are of stone instead of glass. The green water sloshes more. I dread discovering what lurks beneath that surface. Then the water begins to ooze over the sides and bulge in the center, and I realize it is not water at all, but some gelatinous substance, animated now and forming itself into shape of a vast being. Where its face should be, there is only the writhing of maggot-like tentacles; vast wings spread behind it. It towers above the scene, glowing translucently, bands of light moving slowly across its surface, dripping bubbles.
The chanting assumes a note of frenzied triumph. All about us, the creatures give forth cries of glee and pleasure, even as they rend each other limb from limb. One shambles about whimpering until it finds someone willing to attack it. And the Great Being sways above, speechless, but glowing brighter and shimmering more complexly as the carnage unfolds about it.
Julie, Ktantha, and Alyssa bow down before it, and touch its liquid surface with their hands. They stand up and advance toward me, arms extended. Their fingers My God, each one is moving! snakelike, as if with independent life, and boneless, seeking food, round suckerlike mouths agape. At last, I manage to shake off my paralysis, and I stagger to my feet, but it is too late they are upon me. My clothes are torn from my body. Mad cries of exultation erupt. Mouths are all over me, and from each one I feel a shock of painful pleasure, burning into my soul. I fear, I cry out, but I want more, I must have more. One of the mouths probes mine, and I kiss it back, hungrily.
Blankness. I must have awakened then.
Now I feel my skin, which still bears traces of the round welts, and shudder. All is lost, and has been lost for days. Now that I have survived now that I remember I cannot live without that acid, burning joy.
Now I understand the nature of the Spawn of Klutalu. Some species of life bear children, some divide, some lay eggs but others are simply grafted onto a host, there to mingle inextricably with its tissue in an abhorrent symbiosis. Spawn of another dimension we show our true form when the proper spells are spoken Iä! Ruleyah!
Haven't much time before the last of this human ego dissolves Julie and the children have entered my room. This is what it means to truly die to be absorbed God help me . . . it is finished.
About the author: C. J. Rowan is an atheist given to bouts of depression who claims descent from a long line of Druid priests. He lives with two cats and a goddess.
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© Copyright 1997 by C. J. Rowan