February, 2010


3
Feb 10

**THOSE WHO COME TO DAGON**

This is a Lovecraftian story I wrote for “High Seas Cthulhu” – hopefully this will promote that anthology, and High Seas Cthulhu 2 which is now in the works. And now:

THOSE WHO COME TO DAGON
John Shirley

The Journal of Caleb Ward

June 21 (?) 1806

Leseur, the Bosun of a lost ship, declares me foolish to expend strength dashing off these lines, for all of us in the launch of the late HMS Feveringale feel the weakness of eleven days at sea without food and little more than a mouthful of fresh water for two days running. I hope that though we perish in the launch, my papers might be preserved and found with my body, if inclement weather does not consign it to the deeps. How I could wish for a rainstorm to bestow drinking water on us, if the storm did not blow overhard; one such gale, rendering but little rainwater, took our launch’s only mast. O for fresh water! The equatorial heat is relentless, and I feel my throat chafe against itself, and burn with salt. Sometimes Tantalus has his way with us, when we scent the greenness of the West African coast, and espy a bit of palm or liana floating in the sea, but the current never carries us close enough to bring hope of a landfall.

The Reverend Mothe, though his voice sounds like a rusty pump, continues to spout of Providence, to be of good cheer, for God will not forget us. I have not succumbed to the temptation to ask him why God should remember us and not the scores of men (and the cook’s wife) who died in the fire, or in the consequent sinking of the Feveringale.

I have long been one of “The Lord’s Stray Lambs”: My regard for His creation was blackened by the knowledge of my inherited fate, even before we few survivors of the catastrophe were cast adrift, for as a young man I watched as my father died of a cancer; his going was slow and terrible. He had not seen forty summers. I know that my grandfather, and his father, died in the same way. The disease is in our blood and I fancy I feel it working its malignity upon me already. So it was that at close to the age my father was when he was stricken, I gave off clerking at the bank and took to poetry and the penning of Observations for the Weekly Journals reckoning that at least I might live out my greatest hopes for myself, for a few months…

And then this! Cast adrift in an open boat! Yet it may be that this death by drowning or thirst is preferable to death by the slow inner consuming of cancer. It may be that this is a mercy after all. I could only wish I had died quickly on the Feveringale.

Any who chance to find this hasty journal will remark that the edges of the paper are scorched. I did manage to snatch a few necessaries from my trunk, even as the flames that engulfed the ship seared the trunk’s right side—I burnt my fingers lightly doing so—and to one whose hope is to write for the Boston Gazette, quill, ink and paper are more necessary than the dueling pistol and compass I snatched up as an afterthought. (I do hope my handwriting is legible, there being more than enough swell and pitch and salty spray to make writing difficult. I fear my ink may dry out and sometimes I am tempted to drink it).

We had survived an encounter with privateers, Captain O’Brian having outrun them when they lost a mizzen, and we had triumphed over a breached gun-room which flooded because a drunken sailor forgot to close a port—we weathered these vicissitudes only to have the ship burn down around us for the misplacing of a candle! Dr Bessemen insists it was not he who left the candle too close to a case of spirits, but the fire commenced in his quarters. His loblolly boy, not having survived the fire, cannot protest his innocence.

In truth, so far as we know, only those of us in the launch survive–dour old Bessemen, Gaddle the squint-eyed first mate, sallow, glowering Leseur (whose presence has always made me uneasy), the sailors Brackin and Milford, Sargeant Sparks of the Marines, and myself. We are all quite burnt and bearded now, looking like people any one of us would have avoided on the street in Boston—or perhaps London, for I am the only American, on a voyage that should have taken us to the Canary Islands, and though our nations are at peace, I have been more than once the object of a fully unjustified suspicion. Would I be so absurd as to sabotage a ship in which I myself am sailing?

There is a strange smell in the air, a foul reek carried on the rising breeze from the south: a dead whale nearby, perhaps. O and this is cruel, the ink is quite drying out. It does not mix well with seawater but I shall att

#

June 25, 1806

I was unable to finish my sentence, at the conclusion of the previous entry, for want of serviceable ink, but I recommence my journal aboard the ship which has picked us up, for here ink is plentiful, thanks to the generosity of Captain Hoek, the stout, bluff Dutchman who is the chief Argonaut of the Burdened Pelican: a brig of two masts, a ship neither big nor small. Only the peeling paint on the bow declares the ship’s true name; her captain and crew call her “the dratted ol’ Pelican.”

Three days I’ve been on this leaky old vessel, recovering strength, as the ship works its way north to Holland. Yet it makes scarcely any headway; “’tis all leeway”, says the bushy-browed Captain—he speaks always around the ancient curved pipe clutched in his teeth, a pipe usually turned upside down and empty of tobacco. “The winds, the winds rush agin’ us and agin’ all natural blowin’, for the should northerin’ this time of year, do ye hear? But they blow southwest and we must tack, and beat and tack again and more, and scarcely any progress do we make. We must find an island to stop for water and meat, soon, if the wind do not change…” And so the time wears away, with little progress in our journey—but at least we are rescued!

The other survivors of the Feveringale, perhaps surfeited with the sight of one another, have largely kept to themselves. I have a cabin to myself, once belonging to an officer now lost at sea. The officer was lost along with the ship’s doctor and several other men during an “unnatural blow”, as Hoek has it, not long before we were picked up. (They were pleased to have a new doctor, in our Bessemen, but when they discover his drunkenness and absence of real parts, they will be less sanguine.) Yet the First Mate, Van Murnk, a heavy-cheeked man with hair so blond it is almost white and a face so sun burned he sometimes resembles a Red Indian—a man, indeed, perpetually sodden with drink—claims that those who went missing, including “even Monsieur Galange…took it on their own to hie to the sea, and have not yet left us, mein herr, but follow in our wake.” He would say no more and I had no wish to pursue his meaning and encourage the fallacies and fancies so common to sailors.

Van Murnk is not alone in his oddity; it must be said that it is, withal, a strange ship. The crew seem sullen and fearful except for discrete occasions when they are caught up in an inexplicable and outlandish glee, their eyes feverish, their mien giddy; they have a proclivity for gathering in groups far aft, whereupon they take up tittering and whispering…

Today is Sunday. Captain Hoek rigged church, this morning, and read from Proverbs, a certain desperation in his voice; but most of the crew remained well apart from the ceremony, staring with hollow eyes in the dull light of the overcast morning; with a cast of face both unreceptive and obscurely ashamed.

#

June 26, 1806

It called for some persuading—they were strangely uninclined—but I have taken a meal with Dr Bessemen, Rufe Gaddle, and Reverend Mothe. The Doctor and Gaddle seemed to share an unvoiced mutual understanding–something dire, judging by their expressions, and the dark glances they exchanged, their resonant silences. The pastor seems to be at odds with them over some matter he does not wish to evince in my presence.

“Have you not heard a sort of droning from below decks and aft?” I prompted, as we sat over our watered-down after dinner porto. “And other sounds I could not identify, a kind of squawking, a squeaking sound that almost seemed to form words? I went to investigate and found the way blocked by Leseur. He turned me back and refused to explain. The fellow was more forbidding than ever—the only one of us not to avail of the ship’s razors since our rescue. A bit of beard is quite natural but he is as shaggy as an old bear. And the look in his eyes! Like a bear indeed—but a bear with a toothache!” Thus I tried to disarm them with levity, to ease the taut atmosphere and perhaps provoke confidences. But my attempts at humor at Leseur’s expense were met with sullen stares from Gaddle and the doctor—who was quite noddingly drunk—and a long sigh from the Reverend.

At last the Reverend said, “Indeed I have heard the noises of which you speak.” He gave the other two a vinegary look of accusation. “Perhaps someone else might share their knowledge of these…sounds.”

“Why,” said the doctor, after a pull at his porto, “they are but sea chantys. And you heard a cat, the ship’s cat. How they do like to tease the poor brute.”

Sea chantys! I most certainly had heard nothing of the sort. But I could draw them out no further, and after some grudging speculation about the weather and hope for a landfall, we adjourned.

I then went to the deck for some air, and met a man there I must describe. I find myself bemused by this most peculiar individual, a man the hue of coal who has only just emerged after several days in his cabin, and who now strides the deck as freely as any of the whites: one Louis Nukanga, an “associate in business” of the Captain.

Nukanga wears a fine suit of clothing, and his head is shaved bald. His only departure from European dress is the copper on his wrists, bracelets that one only sees when he lifts his arms to some task or gesture, and the sleeves fall back. I found myself staring at them as he approached the rail close by me and raised a spy glass to scan the western horizon, just at sunset.

“The island, I feel its loom,” he said (to himself, though I stood close beside him at the rail). “The island…” So he muttered as he peered through the spyglass. He said something more in his own language—I know not what, precisely, but it had the sound of frustrated longing.

It was then that I saw the bracelets, and made out the figures carved upon them. On the underside of the wide bracelet clasping his left wrist was a graven image of a creature I at first supposed some cephalopod of the deep, until I beheld its lower body that was almost like a man’s; the other bracelet showed the image of a thing like a great scaled worm, with the face of a man, and tentacles bristling here and there—rude spirits of the African continent, I’m sure. The images seemed to spring out at me from the bracelets. I seemed to see both too easily, as if they drifted from their metal hosts and floated upon the air. Under each image was writing in a script I could not read; I have seen samples of ancient Sumerian, and while it was not Sumerian perhaps it was not so different. Strange, for that land was far north of the equatorial Africa from whence Nukanga sprang.

I pressed him for an account of his provenance. He hails from the jungles two days march inland of the Gulf of Guinea, a place “not so far south of the Niger River”, so he told me, where he had struck a deal with a Frenchman named Galange who was in partnership with Captain Hoek. A freed slave, educated by his Master in England, Nukanga had returned to a place called, “to freely translate, the Uneasy Mountain.” Here was the home of his youth, but he found the entire village in bondage to M. Galange, who was searching for treasure, commanding a small but well-armed cadre of Dutch and French brigands to force labor upon the natives. At gunpoint, Nukanga’s people dug shafts into the mountain, fruitlessly searching for rumored wealth.

“The search was wont to kill my people,” said Nukanga grinning, “So I showed Galange where he and Hoek could get what they desired, in exchange for a special arrangement for myself…Of course, I have promised them another treasure, in another place, on their return. If I did not, they would have cut my throat as I slept, so that I would not trouble them for my share…but Galange will do no more harm—he has gone from the ship…In a sense.”

I registered his words but distantly; it was his grin that transfixed my attention. His teeth were covered in copper, and each one, I saw in the ruddy gleam of the setting sun, was inscribed with one of the unknown letters of the sort etched into his bracelet. What did his grin spell out?

“You try to read my teeth, eh?” he said, chuckling, lowering his spyglass. “These names you cannot read; their alphabet you are not likely to know. They are names you may yet wish to call out! You may wish to call them… and implore, yes implore for their mercy!” His eyes were glittering with a contained, cruel mirth as he spoke. “But you do not know how to cry out to them, to call for mercy, mercy!”

Stung by his contempt, which he hardly troubled to conceal, I felt constrained to reply, somehow. “I call on no deities, sir, neither yours nor those of my own land,” I declared. “I am a man of the new era, a man who values Reason, and such men, the hope of the world, deny all superstitions—meaning no disrespect to your beliefs.”

“Superstitions? If you meet a god, will you then believe?”

“Yes, if I recognize his godliness! But there are those who claim to bear gods within them—I have heard of such things, in the West Indies, a practice called voudoun—and to meet this ‘god’ is to meet a man deluded!”

“I do not speak of such,” he said, snorting dismissively, collapsing the spyglass with a sharp report of metal on metal. “I speak of…but soon enough, soon enough…” And with that he turned away, muttering in quite another language, and went below. So ended my interlocution with Mr Nukanga!

Only a few heartbeats later I was joined by the captain, who had been drinking with Dr Bessemen. “Your Bessemen cannot hold his liquor—one bottle, or mebbe it was two, and he babbles without sense, and then falls to snore!” He clutched the rail and in his drunkenness seemed to sway in exact counterpoise to the swaying of the westering ship, his upright body like the inverted working of a pendulum. “My friend,” he said, breathing a gust of spirits upon me, the unlit pipe wagging in a corner of his mouth, “what think ye of Nukanga?”

“He seems a strange mix of the learned and the superstitious! And he spoke obscurely of an island…”

“An island? Did he now?” He turned and peered into the gathering gloom, and sniffed the air. “I believe I can smell it. Land.” He removed the pipe and called up to the lookout in the crow’s nest. “Ho! You there! Do you see land to the west? An island?”

“I do not, captain!” came the reply.

“Well watch close! We need the water, damn you!”

He then addressed me, while swaying in place and packing the pipe with tobacco he kept loose in a weskit pocket. “I do not trust Nukanga…he is a Jonah! Since he came on board the winds blow us always west, no matter how we beat and tack, tack and beat. Always west and even south! And our route is north and east!”

“For my part, I am glad the wind has taken you out of your way, for I’d have perished on the sea otherwise. But perhaps you are concerned to protect your cargo, captain? We are driven into the sea-lanes of privateers by these winds…”

“My cargo?” He looked at me suspiciously. “What do ye know of that?”

“Nukanga says he helped you find a treasure, but he did not say what treasure…”

“Aye, if he said so much, it can’t matter if ye know—and you seem an honest man. I would trust you, for I have need of someone to tell my mind. There are few enough—perhaps there is no one—I can trust…Come!”

He staggered away and I followed. We made our way below decks, the captain swearing when he nearly fell going down the ladder. The captain catching up a lantern along the way, we wended a narrow, malodorous corridor, descended two more ladders, each deck’s passageway more noisome than the last, until we came to a locked room. Here a sailor leaning on the bulkhead nodded in sleep, musket clutched against him, keeping some sort of watch.

“Idiot pig!” The captain bellowed, snatching the musket and slapping the hapless fellow so that he stumbled sputtering away. “Ye sleep when I pay you to guard my cargo? Ach, I should hang you!”

Some time a-fumbling later, the captain found his key and unlocked the heavy padlock and bade me come in. Within the low-ceilinged hold were a row of five goodly chests. “In the other hold, below, there is crude tin, copper, and other ores, but here is the real treasure! Now let your eyes feast, Mr Caleb Ward!”

He unlocked the nearest of the chests and flung its lid back. At first I thought it filled with rough rocks of quartz, but when he lifted the lantern over the chest I saw the blue glimmerings, as if from a multiplicity of eyes, shining back from the pure hearts of the gems. “Diamonds!” I cried.

“Quiet! Never so loud, ye hear?” he hissed. “Rough they are, but diamonds right enough. Five chests full! All mine, and Nukanga’s—Galange has gone missing from the ship, I do not like to guess at how it happened. So he will not share the diamonds—so sad! And Nukanga offers four times as many in another place—but only when he is paid, he says, in Amsterdam! It was in Galange’s mind, before we left the village, to make Nukanga tell of this other place—to use ropes and fire to make him tell. But I have no belly for torture, and who knows what friends the man might have, for he has cozened to some in civilized places! So I bear Nukanga, though he sneers and speaks in dark cupboards to the men, speaks things I don’t know.”

He shook his head. “Things…I don’t know.”

He tried to light his pipe on the lantern, and repeatedly failed. In the end I held the lantern for him while he puffed the pipe alight—I was fearful of fire on the wooden ship, after what had happened to the Feveringale. Another kind of fire, a blue fire, glimmered in the chest of rough gems. The diamonds, I confess, made my heart pound. So many! And I was so poor! But I had been raised austerely and was unable to think of larceny, but for a fitful moment.

“Captain,” I said, “I am indeed awed. You will be a rich man! But surely there are mysteries on this ship—there is murmuring, there is something like a chant, late at night, heard in the deep aft…Seeing this treasure, perhaps the mystery is solved. Could not the sounds I heard be a crew in conspiratorial colloquy? Could they not be thinking of making this treasure their own?”

“Eh?” He turned and looked at the door, then hastened to close the chest. “Ye think I would trust them? They don’t know! They think it’s all tin and copper ore. Ye have seen, and Nukanga, and none other! For this crew are not the men we took with us to the interior. Those men wait for us at the village of the Uneasy Mountain.”

“What then, is the trouble with the crew, captain? Is it my imagination?”

“As to that ye have heard— they do something aft, and below, in the orlop! O, aye, there is a sickness on this ship, a slow, infectious madness, like a man crying out in fever…while there is no fever! And something has taken our own doctor, and four of my best hands!”

“But with respect, Captain Hoek, are you not master of your ship? Surely you can penetrate this mystery by demanding an explanation; by entering the orlop where these rites are held, and seeing for yourself!”

“Had I courage… Something about the business affrighted me, so I sent the doctor, that night, as the storm rose…and where is he now? It was that very night he went missing, with them others! The crew say those five was swept o’er board. Myself, I think something…something other.”
“What other, Captain?”

“Ach, my head hurts, I speak strange things when the drink begins to wear off. Have ye not noticed how many crew are hiding below, saying they are sick? How few remain to work the ship? I have almost no one left to turn to–and I say this: if you would find out what goes on below, you would find me grateful.”

He would say no more. But I determined to do as he requested. I shall write a great story for the newspaper—I sense it coming!

#

I wrote out the previous entry two hours ago. It seems an age.

After I spoke to the captain, I went, on deck to stand brooding by the aft rail. A strong wind blew from the east, filling the sails, driving us west, ever west, at about seven knots. I had heard one of the hands say that it seemed if the captain tried to tack, the wind shifted, to continue pushing the vessel west, as if actively, deliberately frustrating his efforts!

The wind in my face, I watched as the failing light seemed to soak into the glimmering white tips of waves, to re-emerge in the luminescence of the Pelican’s wake. Like diamonds!

I beheld something, then, disporting in the seam the ship cut in the sea. Dolphins? Seals? Sometimes I thought so, other times I thought they were more disturbing shapes; I thought I saw a buckle here, upon one, a strip of cloth trailing from another. There were at least three of them, sometimes I thought there were more. Whenever I supposed I had distinguished their shape, it would seem to change, skirled and washed in the dark sea, and I was again unsure of the creature’s form. The thought came that they might be sharks, with bits of human victims trailing from their jaws…

Then a light opened on the stern of the ship, close to the waterline. It was as if a hatch—something I’ve never seen so low on a ship before—had been opened. Lamplight shone on the water and I looked eagerly to try to see what creatures followed in our wake, but as if aware of my scrutiny, they dropped back into shadow…I thought I saw something, before they went—a human face, staring up at me from the water. Perhaps a dead man, caught in some old fishing line…

I thought to tell the captain—but then the chanting began, the sound coming from that same square of light, the anomalous hatch on the stern. I could not make out what was said. Sometimes I thought I heard, repeated amidst the gibberish, “Dagon…thool-hew…dagon…thool-hew…”

And the inchoate shapes in the wake of the ship seem to hiss and thrash in response. I heard a sibilant squeaking from them—like a dolphin trying to form words, and failing.

A chill spread out from the back of my head, to seep corrosively down my spine, seeming to drain all firmness from it, and I clutched the rail that I might remain standing.

“Come, this is foolishness!” I told myself. “Go now and see what is below and do not let your imagination play upon you! You wish a story to tell—here is one waiting to be found out!”

So I made myself go below, in search of the orlop…stopping momentarily at my cabin for that dueling pistol. I once more had to summon strength of will to continue my undertaking, for I had a sudden persuasive desire to lock the door of my cabin from within and sit on my hammock with that pistol in my hand, my eyes fixed on the door, the gun at ready…

No sir, I told myself. You will not hide from adventure. It is what you came to sea to find.
Thence I set out, making my way, lantern in hand, down two ladders and along the passage toward the stern—toward the orlop.

Just a few paces outside the door to the orlop I found my way blocked, once more, by Leseur, who seemed to huddle into the dim shadows of the narrow passage like a tunnel spider in its den. The light from my lantern seemed to shy from him; to quail just short of him. I was determined, this time, that he would not deter me—and a feverish curiosity was beginning to replace the fear that had crawled from that primeval cranny at the back of my brain, my inquisitiveness tugged by the droning chant from beyond the closed orlop door.

“Leseur—move aside, if you please!” I said, trying to keep the quavering in my hands from reaching my voice. “I have this night entered into Captain Hoek’s service and he has sent me to make certain inquiries in the orlop.”

When Leseur spoke, the sound seemed to come, muffled, from the base of his throat, and a sickly reek came with it, something more alien than a man’s foul breath—and it was a smell I thought I recognized. I had caught it once before…

“You may not pass unless Nukanga says aye.”

“Move aside I say! I have a pistol, as you see—and I will make use of it!”

He turned and put a hand on the door—and there seemed a splaying in the spread of his fingers, as if each was melting into the next. I felt a shivering ring out from his contact with that door; it resonated through the damp timbers of the old ship, so that its seams worked in response, oozing with seawater; I was obscurely aware that water was pooling, very slowly, at my feet. Then the door opened; a glutinous yellow light silhouetted Nukanga from behind: a dark figure but for his teeth shining copper-red in the feebler light of the lantern I held. I leaned to peer around him, but could scarcely make out the room beyond; I glimpsed a great coil of rope, the outlines of a group of men seated on it, their backs to me, facing that anomalous hatch in the stern. The hatch, hastily built, had been of recent devising. And there was the smell of compressed seawater and decayed fish and living muck, that distinctive reek from the bottom-most trench of the sea…
I knew then where I had smelled it before—that day in the launch, just before we were sighted by the Pelican.

“So — you have come to us? I thought you would,” said Nukanga. “Come a little closer and look, Caleb Ward…”

Leseur grudgingly pressed aside—there was just enough room to squeeze past him, an inexpressibly disgusting process, to slip into the orlop after Nukanga. I looked scrutinized the semicircle of crew. There were Brackin and Sparks and Gaddle and Milford and Van Murnk and two others, Hoek’s crewmen, I had seen when I first came…and Bessemen.

But Bessemen was lying upon the deck, curled on his side, within the circle of rope on which the others sat, and he was not alone. He was clutched against a being not quite twice his bulk, a thing green-black and wetly slick; a creature with the proportions of a human woman but at its throat were gills, and in place of human eyes were round yellow orbs on the two sides of its oblate head; in place of hair on its head were tresses of slender fins; its mouth…

O it’s hard to write it; for that means I must again invoke the picture; I must once more see that lamprey mouth, that great round fibrous, membranous sucker clapped over Bessemen’s eyes and forehead, sucking, and pulsing; taking and replacing…and Bessemen squirmed in the thing’s grip, struggled to escape, his hands clawing, his bare feet scrabbling at the deck, finding no purchase, no escape. He was like a feeble child trying hopelessly to wrest free even as it was strangled by a brutish overpowering mother.

And Bessemen’s nether parts, too, were entangled with the thing, were penetrated and penetrating, but of this I cannot bear to speak. I stared and choked and turned away, covering my eyes, even as the men seated on the coil of rope persisted in their chant, gurgling and squeaking syllables no human mouth was made to express, invocations interspersed with the litany, Thool-hew eck dagon, thool-hew eck dagon!

“Ho ho, my little friend,” chortled Nukanga as I tried to claw my way from the orlop. “What is the matter? Hm? Do you suppose this man is the victim of a bestial predation?” He locked powerful hands on my shoulders and held me back with little apparent effort. “Not at all! He begged for this! He is but in the throes of transfiguration! And my friend—” He spun me about and looked me in the eye. “He will never die!”

The words struck to the aching quick of me. He will never die!

I wanted to run—but it was as if those words spiked me to the spot. “What?” I rasped. “What do you mean?”

“All men crave immortality–but immortality in this world comes with a price! But wait—what is this I see? For I am a magus of my people, and I see a man’s fate written in his eyes…”

He took the wrist of my left hand, and drew it close between us so that the lantern which I still held shone into my eyes. I blinked and tried to turn away. But with his other hand he took my chin in his big hand and turned my face to him. “Hold! I would look into your eyes…some gaze into a crystal ball to see a man’s living fate but I would look into these soft orbs and see…your death! I see you lying on a hammock of a ship, and I see blood streaming from your mouth! You clutch at your chest and you groan but there is no doctor to attend you! You die the death of your father and his father and his father before him! A cancer eats at you and will take you before this year is worn away! Look—see for yourself!”

And then he struck my forehead with the heel of his hand, and it was as if the vision he had of my death was carried in the blow, from his hand into my flesh and bone and into my brain where it rippled mockingly before my mind’s eye. I saw it clearly, more clearly than I see the paper on which I now scribble this account. I saw myself dying in a hammock, in a small, mold-splashed room; dying as my father had–all the signs of his death upon me. And I saw that it would be soon. And I knew the truth of this vision, as I would know the face of my own father, were I to behold him again. It was the truth of recognition. This was my death.

“But wait!” Nukanga said, as the image dissolved into his coppery grin, his exultant eyes. “That is your death as a man! And there is no escaping your death as a man! But if you were to become other than a man—then the curse of your destiny is lifted, and you will not die that death, you will not die at all…not if you become as those who come to Dagon!”

“No…” My heart shriveled with in me as I began to comprehend.

“Choose! Only choose! Dagon has seen you, from the wake of the ship! Dagon has looked into you from the depths of the sea and Dagon desires you! You are choice, something quite choice to Dagon! Come to Dagon, and live forever…or die alone, spitting blood in that damp, forgotten ship’s cabin…with no one to attend you, no one to pity you, no one to care!”

Then he let go of my shoulders and I staggered away, past Leseur, who was emitting a high pitched bark and a terrible stench—the sound, the smell, of his laughter.

#

June 27, 1806

It is morning and yet it is not morning.

Somewhere in this ashen mist, the sun has arisen. An etiolated light has diffused the mist. But it is scarcely like real day. We stalk the deck, looking to the West. Our eyes are burning and we can scarce see through the murk, but we sense the loom of the land; we smell stone and beach and fire and jungle.

“This is a volcano island,” said Hoek, beside me on the quarterdeck, peering through the mist, wiping his eyes, peering again. “The kind that gives out smoke but never erupts. Just smoke and smoke and it churns with the fog and this soup we have, to choke in, ye hear? So little wind. Hardly a breath! Would I could turn away from this—but we have need water, we have need supplies…” He looked at me as if he wanted to ask what I had learned in my foray the night before. But I shook my head and turned away and he grunted as if in some personal confirmation.
I could not bear to think about it, let alone talk of it. Only with an inner struggle was I able to force myself to make this written account.

One phrase keeps returning to my mind, this morning…

He will never die!

No. I will not listen to that voice. I would rather die than lose my humanity.

I attempted to seek counsel from the Reverend Mothe. But the pastor will not heed me; he kneels, praying—coughing and supplicating—beside the mainmast. He will respond to no one. He prays with the desperate ardor of one who begins to doubt that he is heard.

I feel safer in my cabin, now, scribbling away, though the candle gutters as if it might go out—but it is even harder to breathe here, somehow. I will go on deck, and see if, perhaps, the wind has changed.

#

I have been on deck, and I wish I had not gone. The sky was a little clearer—the wind blows from the east again, and has broomed some of the ashen sky; the island broods nigh, dominated by a dark cone nestled in jungle so green it is almost black; streams that emerge from the hills about the volcano running dark down to the sea, like streaks of blood.

We are still almost a mile out from the rocky cove. And we are moving in, despite all the Captain can do.

For after the voice that came from the sea, the Captain wanted to move away from the island.

It was a feeble voice, a squeak and a hoarseness, but Hoek claimed he recognized it. “That is…that is Galange! One of those who was lost overboard! Ach–do ye hear it?”

“In name of God, arête! Turn back, Hoek.” Came the voice, a French tinge to it. Nom de Dieu! Do not surrender. Do not listen. All here is poisoned! Go back, j’implorer! In name of God…kill me! Fetch a musket and kill me!”

I thought to see a man writhing in the dark waves, about a cable ahead of us, but then again not a man, for he had round yellow lidless eyes, and hands that were not hands. And then there was a great splashing about him, and the man gave a cry of despair as other hands, webbed and clawed—hands so dark-green they were almost black, like the jungle about the volcano—clutched at him from all sides, and dragged him under.

Then he was gone. But we seem to hear him still crying, Fetch a musket and kill me!

The captain, his face gone whiter than his vessel’s sails, turned and shouted orders at the affrighted crew. “You there, wheel her about! We will tack, and turn about! We will lower a boat and pull the ship if we must…but we will not go to that island!”

So the few crewmen still willing to respond tried to turn about—and we had not gotten but a few strakes turned before there was a splashing and crackling from the rudder, and the Captain made haste to the stern. I followed him and looked over the rail…and saw that the rudder had snapped away. Or perhaps I should say, it had been snapped away. Something had torn it off. The ship was now drifting rudderless. And the wind was shifting, as if of its own accord…and driving us in toward the island.

Hoek went about the ship, trying to steer the ship by adjusting the sails—but nothing availed us. There was another force pushing us in: swimmers, many swimmers, not quite seen in the murk and dark water; we saw the splashing of their legs, their finny limbs, as they put shoulders to the hull of the ship and directed it into the dark stone arms of the cove.

“Do you fear this consummation?” Nukanga asked me, as he joined me at the bow of the ship…as the island loomed near. “Do not fear it. You do not wish to die young, alone, coughing blood like your father. Surrender to the god whom my people once knew—who many worshipped, in many places, and knew by many names! Once we were a seafaring people, who lived on the shores. But seeking to end the surrender of certain our children to the dark gods of the sea, the village elders took us inland to the Uneasy Mountain. Yet even in the shadow of the mountain were rivers, and upwellings from the stone. And here Dagon called to us, and said, Where you go, I follow! And so it will be with you, Caleb Ward—with Captain Hoek, and with this ship. Why do you think I brought them here? Do you suppose we were ever truly bound for Amsterdam? No, my friend. I have no interest in diamonds. My mother, my sisters, my only brother—all died in Galange’s mines before I arrived! I swore revenge! And to kill Galange and his men was not enough! Galange has already gone to serve Dagon!”

As he went on, I was aware of a struggle behind us—Captain Hoek and a few others shouting, ordering muskets to be used, weapons to be fired, and then someone sobbing that the muskets would not fire for the ash in the air; I heard the slipping wet sound of slick limbs and flippers on the deck as something crawled onto the ship from the sea; I smelled that unholy reek; heard the sounds of struggle, and claws on wood; I heard Reverend Mothe shrieking as he was dragged to the side…A sudden cessation of the shrieking, with the sound of two large objects splashing into the waves…

I did not turn to look. I simply gazed at the great black cone of the volcano and listened to Nukanga: “But you—you shall have an honored place at Dagon’s side!” declared Nukanga eagerly. “Hai! You amuse the god! And it is your only hope…of life! Choose, Caleb Ward…Choose! For those who do not submit to the transfiguration…will become food! And Dagon, and his minions, they eat slowly, my friend—so slowly! They take many months to consume a man…months of sleepless agony! Choose, Caleb Ward! Transfiguration and immortality—or the slow awful revenge of the people of the Uneasy Mountain! Choose!”

#

June 28 (?) 1806

Can scarcely write. Not sure how long ship aground. Others all taken. Scream in night. Some make other sounds. Soon, myself.

She changed me. Change almost complete. Words come hard. Forgetting old language. H’Beth K’hrauh-sug-uth! New words—yet very old. They come instead. Cthhulu Yog S’hruth Dagon!

Fingers changing. Hard to hold quill. The webbing between fingers; the new claws. My eyes do not focus well, out of water. The sea calls. Must answer.

The horror that is myself, new self—beyond expression. Cannot tell. Cannot say it.

Will seal journal in box with wax. Place this account in boat, set to drift. Perhaps warn others. Tell them: If choice given, choose well. Not as I chose. Choose carefully.

Choose death.

[end}