Some possessions you shouldn't
Alan Young watched the new prisoners being herded through the gates of the compound by the fishmen. Young couldn't help but shudder as his eyes swept across the monstrous half-human, half-aquatic creatures that ruled this isle. But he was not really interested in the fishmen. The latest captives, interested him more. Perhaps there might be one or two that would stand up before Farrel and his band of cutthroats. Alan grew bitter and a quick survey.
Everywhere there was fear. They all cringed in horror from the fishmen. Not that he blamed them, for not only were the monsters terrible to the sight, but they were quick to anger, and their inhuman cruelty had sent more than one unfortunate to an untimely death. But there was not even a spark of anger, of rebellion. More slaves to stumble under the lash of Farrel, until they were summoned as one of the Chosen. Young felt his own nerves tighten in fear. Better to die by one's own hand than suffer to be one of the Chosen! Better than letting "her" face than horror.
"Her" was the one girl in the entire group who had caught his eye. She was young and fair, with long dark hair and flashing eyes. The shipwreck of the night before and the ensuing capture by the fishmen had not dimmed her beauty. She stood in the center of the small group, staring about in curiosity.
There was another in the group who caught Young's attention. He was a giant of a man, more than six feet in height, and huge of shoulder and chest. His arms were massive, the size of a normal man's thighs. his face was scarred and rugged, covered with a thick black beard. But the man's face was empty. There was an unnatural fear in his eyes. He continually shook his head as if trying to cast off some unholy dread. From time to time, he would hold up his right hand and stare at something that was not there. His fingers were bare.
At that moment, Farrel and his henchmen swaggered down to the gates. A few guttural, exchanged words with the fishmen, and the creatures left. Then Farrel turned and looked the new prisoners over. As he did, Young, for the hundredth time, studied the man.
He was titanic. Once he had been a sailor, but his ship had been wrecked here like many before and since. Farrel stood nearly seven feet tall and weighted well over three hundred pounds. He was the strongest man Young had ever seen. The fishmen, sensing this strength, had made him master of the camp. He was exempt from being one of the Chosen. In fact, he was soon put in charge of selecting who was to be the sacrifice each week. That power, backed up by his incredible strength, had made him ruler of the compound. Young had once seen Farrel break the neck of a man who had disputed his rule with one twist of his giant hands.
The giant looked over the new captives. There were eight of them, survivors of the latest shipwreck off the island's reef. The fourth shipwreck in the last eleven months, since Young's own ship had gone down. The fishmen had some diabolical power, the power of their God, The Dweller in the Deep, that lured ships to this island and their destruction. In that fashion, they kept the population of the compound steady.
Farrel spoke, "My name is Farrel. I rule this compound. It's a stockade, around a mile in diameter. We raise our own food here and everyone is expected to lend a hand in helping raise the crops. I'm the boss here and what I say goes. The other facts," and the man chuckled, "you'll learn in short order. Do what I tell you to and you'll be okay. Otherwise, I'll kill you!"
No one doubted that the man meant what he said. Quietly, the new group started to drift apart. There were other people about who had come to the gate to see the new prisoners and they were more than willing to help the new captives adjust. Anything to get news of the outside world.
Farrel walked over to the girl that Young had noticed. He whispered something to her and then laughed. The girl turned red. She spun away from him and began walking away in the opposite direction. The sailor laughed again and caught her by the arm. The girl moved like lightning. An open palm caught the giant square in the cheek.
Young started forward, but there was no need to try and intervene. Farrel and let go of the girl and had stepped back from her. "You'll be sorry," he promised her in a low voice. "You'll be sorry when the time comes to make the Choosing."
The girl just stared at the man in disgust until he abruptly turned from her and walked away. His cronies followed him. In a few minutes the only people by the gate were Young, the girl, and the man who kept staring at his hands.
Young limped up to the girl. He was a well-built, blond-haired man with shining blue eyes. His leg had been broken when his ship had wrecked and it had never been properly set, so he now walked with a limp. The man smiled at the girl. She stared at him with distrustful eyes.
"My name is Alan Young," he declared. "And I have no desire to rape you."
The girl smiled for a second. "I'm Anise Van and glad to hear that." Then her mood changed. "Who does that ruffian think he is! And what was that remark about 'the Choosing'?"
Young was no longer smiling. "He's Farrel and he rules this place. And there is no way out of that fact. The Choosing is a little ritual we go through each week. Farrel is in charge of it. You see, the fishmen maintain this little colony for a specific purpose. They like us. Alive. As food!"
"Worse," continued Young. "They are ghouls. They rip the flesh off human beings still alive. Once a week Farrel picks out a member of the colony to satisfy their hunger. That person is devoured alive by the fishmen. Otherwise," and he laughed without humor, "they leave us completely alone."
Silently, the other man had walked over to the two of them. His eyes held a more rational look, but every few minutes he kept looking down at his hands. "Why do you allow this to go on? there seem to be a number of people in this compound. Why don't you fight?"
"Against the fishmen!" Young stared at the man. "They are twice as strong as a normal man. They don't use weapons and they don't have to. They could rip us to pieces without even trying."
The other man growled deep in his throat. "For the first time in my life, powerless. And doomed to die."
Young stared at the man curiously. "You could probably remain alive for a few months at least. Farrel always can use a strong man to help him maintain his rule. You could keep alive as long as he liked you."
The other man made a face. "Morgan Smith work for a ghoul? Better to die immediately. Not that it matters. Without my ring I'll be dead within a week. A week to live." The man's voice rose in rage, "After centuries, but a week left to live!"
Anise Van stared at Alan. Smith had begun to mutter crazily to himself. The young man and woman stepped back a few paces. The girl shook her head in disbelief.
"I don't know what has happened to that man. On board ship he didn't seem to know the meaning of the word fear. The crew seemed to know him. Tough, dangerous men, they all feared him. And then, after the shipwreck, he just seemed to go to pieces. Keeps on about his ring."
Young shook his head. "I don't know. Nor do I really care. This island is hell. You'll find out quick enough. Come on, I'll take you to the cabins. You and your friend will need a place to sleep.
A day passed. Alan and Anise spent all of their time together. The man, alone and unhappy with the rest of the people marooned on the island, many who could not speak English, was delighted by the girl's company. Unwittingly, he was falling in love with her. And she could not hide the fact that she was strongly attracted by him. But like a shadow over them was Farrel's promise to the girl. And that night was to be the night of the Choosing!
Smith had become more rational, but no less mysterious. He kept on muttering about his lost ring, The Seal of Nyarlathotep. All that Young could learn from the man was that the ring had been given to the man by his father. He raved that it had certain magical properties, but what they were, he would not say.
For hours at a time the man would sit, staring into a mirror, closely examining his hair and beard. He just sat there, praying to some unknown entity with a vaguely Egyptian-sounding name. The Dark Messenger, Nyarlathotep. Even-sounding prayers, most of them in some strange language that no one recognized.
The night was swiftly approaching. Young went from person to person in the compound, trying to find someone to help him stand up against Farrel. But the giant sailor had everyone frightened into submission. Finally, Young came to Smith.
"Smith. Listen to me, man. Farrel is going to feed Anise to the fishmen tonight. For them to eat her alive. Anise, your friend. I need your help in stopping him. I need your help. Dammit, man, won't you even listen!"
Smith turned to Young, his eyes filled with fear. "My hair, Young, my hair! It is turning grey! I'm growing old!"
young started in disbelief. Smith was not mad. Yesterday, his hair had been black, without a trace of silver. Now it was lined with streaks of white. And there were wrinkles on his face and hands, where yesterday there were none. The man was growing older by the hour.
The giant looked at Young. "Now you see. Now you know why I am afraid. Youth. I've been young longer than you can imagine. I've never feared growing old. Now, I've lost the Ring, The Seal of Nyarlathotep. And my body is starting to age. To age! If I don't find that ring, I'll crumble to dust!"
Alan Young clenched his hands in horror. What was happening was beyond his comprehension. A sudden scream brought the young man back to his surroundings.
"Anise!" he shouted, recognizing her voice. "Farrel must have her!"
It was not yet time for the fishmen to come to the gate of the stockade for their weekly sacrifice, but the giant sailor was in a black mood. He had sent two of his men after the girl early, in order to have some "fun" with her before giving her to the monsters.
Alan reached the gate just as Farrel was ripping the girl's makeshift dress from her body. With a cry of rage, Alan rushed at the sailor. For a second he managed to land a few lucky punches on Farrel. The man was forced to drop Anise and defend himself.
Young was no match for Farrel. Within a few minutes the smaller man, hampered by his shorter reach and limp, was a battered and bloody wreck. Alan tumbled to the ground at the gate of the stockade. Farrel stepped closer, his two huge fists raised high over his head, a savage expression on his face.
"I knew that you would give me trouble some day, Young. Well, I'm not going to bother saving you for the fishmen. Your girl friend will serve them. I'll kill you myself!"
"Not until you kill me first," came a voice.
Farrel roared and turned. Alan was just barely able to raise his head and stare. There, where Farrel had left the bruised Anise, stood Morgan Smith. In one hand the man clutched a huge branch. He stood in front of the girl to protect her from Farrel.
"You'll have to kill me first," the man repeated, his voice low with anger.
Farrel laughed and moved forward. Alan was horrified by the change that had taken place in Smith in but a few minutes. His hair was nearly completely white. His huge body seemed bent and twisted with age. His once powerful arms did not seem to have that same measure of strength. With every move he grew a little older.
Farrel, unarmed, rushed at Smith, who swung his tree branch before him. The sailor was quick for his tremendous size. One powerful hand swept out and grabbed the branch. With a wrench he pulled it out of Smith's grasp. With the other arm he knocked Smith to the ground.
With a roar Farrel lifted Smith over his head with one titanic sweep of his arms and sent the man flying across the earth. Morgan groaned and struggled weakly to his feet. Alan knew that the man in his weakened condition could not stand much more of that pounding. But he stood bravely there, waiting for the sailor to move.
Alan's clutching hands came in contact with something hard and cold in the sand. The man looked down and stared in disbelief. This object had not been there a few minutes before. It was a huge ring, ornately carved, with three shining stones set in an upraised triangle resembling a strange, three-pronged eye. A ring! It could only be the one that Smith had lost. How it had gotten here was beyond Young. He didn't care.
"Smith!" he cried, raising his arms. "Here!" and he threw the heavy ring to the other man.
Farrel, his men, Anise, and Alan, all watched Morgan Smith with curious eyes. The man seemed to have forgotten the sailor. He ignored all those in the clearing. His hands clutched the ring thrown to him with a near religious ecstasy.
"The Seal," he howled. "The Ring of Nyarlathotep!"
"Die, you damn idiot!" cried Farrel and leapt at the man.
But Smith was on the move. He nimbly dodged Farrel and back up against the gate. With a grin, he cried, "Now feel the power of the Dark Messenger!" and slipped the ring onto the fourth finger of his right hand.
Every eye was on Morgan Smith. The man stepped forward. His back seemed to straighten. He stood taller. Young blinked. Morgan's hair was slowly changing color. The gray and silver streaks were darkening. The man's chest was actually swelling before the eyes of all assembled. Morgan Smith was growing younger with each step he took.
Farrel came rushing forward, but this time Smith was ready to meet him. The two men smashed together with an audible crunch. Smith's arms wrapped around Farrel's chest in a bear hug. The sailor pounded Smith on the back and on his head with powerful sledgehammer blows. But Morgan shrugged them off and began to squeeze.
The sailor shrieked in agony. His men rushed forward, but it was too late for them to do anything. Morgan Smith's arms constricted in a deadly grip. Farrel's back snapped with a crack like that of rotting wood. His killer dropped the dead man and faced his cohorts.
The three thugs hesitated and that was their undoing. Morgan Smith waded into them, his giant fists swinging. There was death in those hands. One man fell back, his face smashed into bloody ruin. Another dead before he hit the ground. The last man turned and ran. Smith laughed and let him escape.
Smith walked over to Young and helped the man to his feet. Together, the two of them went to help Anise. The girl was bruised, but otherwise all right.
Young could not help but marvel at the change in Smith. The man radiated energy. It was like standing next to a live volcano. With each movement, he seemed to grow stronger.
The man laughed, and it was the laugh of a god or a devil. "The Ring was without my constant drain of energy for days. It has been storing its power. That backload is all mine tonight. This day I am the most powerful man on Earth!"
Alan did not even bother asking the man how the ring got to where he had found it. He instinctively knew that the sea could never hold that powerful symbol. When Smith had needed it, by some dread summons, it had come to him.
"The fishmen!" screamed Anise, breaking the mood.
They came, twenty strong, towards the gate. While they had been talking, the creatures had been plodding forward. But now they were running at the trio. They could spot the lifeless bodies of their aides. Only the fact that the monsters had no weapons had saved the lives of the three, but the fishmen were enraged and the flimsy gate would not hold them for long.
"Back!" cried Morgan Smith, sweeping the two behind him.
Up went his arms. Smith's eyes seemed to burn with unholy fire. He began to chant in a deep voice. A chant in an unknown language, but with ominous sounds. Alan and Anise back away from Smith, cold chills running up their spines.
Amazingly, the fishmen stopped. They seemed to recognize the chant. One of their own number leapt forward, its arms raised up in imitation of Smith. It, too, began to chant. In a creaking, inhuman voice, in a strange, unknown language.
A wind sprang up out of nowhere. Huge, dark storm clouds were growing. Smith and the fishmen were both chanting at the top of their lungs. Lightning bolts flashed in the darkness. Huge peals of thunder rang in the air, but could not drown out the terrible cries of the two.
Behind the crowd of fishmen a giant figure, fifty feet tall, was forming out of the darkness; a huge, fish-like monster, with waving arms and a mouth full of huge teeth; an indistinct but evil figure, the Dweller in the Deep, God of the fishmen.
But above Morgan Smith there hovered a figure of darkness as well, more substantial and more horrible in form that the Water God; flying, horned figure, with strangely octopoid body. An unusual horror that Alan knew must be Nyarlathotep, the god that Smith worshipped.
Lightning flashed, again and again. Bolts of pure energy flickered down, smashing into the fishmen! Without mercy, again and again, killing all that stood before their god. And as they died the cloudy figure slowly vanished back into the night; the power of Nyarlathotep defeating that of the Dweller of the Deep.
Smith's body was covered with sweat and he was trembling as he turned to the waiting pair. With the destruction of the fishmen, the flying thing above his head had vanished. The man grinned at Anise and Alan.
"A ship should be along within the next few weeks. I think it would be a good idea if we remain silent about the fishmen and Farrel. They would never believe you anyway."
Alan nodded slowly. He would have no trouble convincing the rest of the people in the stockade of that fact. They would be too happy on learning of their freedom to protest. Nor would they dare upon realizing the power of Morgan Smith.
As Alan and Anise walked back to the cabins, Young could not help but wonder at the strange turn of events. That strange ring of Smith's. And the one unanswered question, one that he doubted if he would ever learn the answer to: How old, just how old was Morgan Smith!
Created: June 27, 1997; Current Update: August 9, 2004