For Stanley C. Sargent, Mentor
Peter A. Worthy
Stan wrote the last reply to the editor of an online magazine with whom he'd been corresponding, critiquing a story. He finished browsing through the remainder of his e-mail messages and yawned deeply. It was late Sunday night and he'd been so busy over this past weekend that he was absolutely worn out and desperately in need of some sleep. He'd spent most of his time since early Friday evening on a story for Bob Sogoth, who edited Creak of Cthulhu magazine. He was anxious to put the finishing touches to it. It would be the last story featuring two of his favourite creations, the 'old fart' Deep Ones, as he called them, Jeb and Martin.
He was sorry that it would be their last appearance. He enjoyed writing about them, but they had to go, however, as the present Innsmouth tale required he retire them to the undersea haven of Y'ha-nthlei. He shut down the computer and stretched out his arms as he yawned, idly making his way to the bedroom. He'd add the last touches to the tale tomorrow morning, deciding how to dispose of the tale's shoggoth in the denouement as well. Stan climbed into bed, uncomprehending and oblivious to what he had done.
At first, he slept soundly enough, but then odd, indistinct noises emanating from the other rooms bothered his slumber. He remained undisturbed by the shuffling of feet and the muted guttural whispers that took place just outside his door, even the inexplicable stink of fish wafting through the room. He managed to ignore all these annoying disturbances and eventually fell into a deep, somewhat troubled yet dreamless sleep.
Half asleep, he did get up once in the night to use the toilet, only to find a fish obliviously swimming in the bowl. Stan dismissed the unusual occupant of his lavatory as a product of
his overwrought imagination. He simply noted its presence, relieved himself, and swiftly returned to his still warm bed. Stan made himself comfortable again, wondering dreamily why the hallway carpet felt wet underfoot, but then quickly forgetting all about it as he dozed off again.
When Stan woke in the morning, he was still feeling rough. There was the same pungent stink of fish in the air from during the night. In addition, he was sure he could hear the sound of something being scraped repeatedly and he was positive it was coming from his living room. Confused and a touch wary, he dressed hurriedly and rushed to the doorway only to be greeted by a sight that stunned him completely.
There, on his now thoroughly soaked couch, sat two rather frumpy characters with bulging eyes! Both distractedly whittled his own small piece of wood, their efforts periodically punctuated by spitting wads of tobacco juice onto the carpet in lieu of a spittoon. Stan could only stand there in shocked disbelief, his mouth silently opening and closing in turn.
After a few moments, one of the casual pair noticed the shocked Stan standing rigidly in the doorway. "I've an idee you'll be catchin' a mess o' flies if'n you stand there with your trap open like that, Bub. Ain't that likely the case, Martin?" The speaker winked at Stan conspiratorially.
The other figure, knee-deep in wood shavings simply responded with a "Yep," without bothering to pause in his whittling endeavours.
Stan stepped out of the doorway. I'm dreaming, he thought, obviously that was the answer, just as he had imagined the fish in the toilet bowl, too. Simply nothing more than aspects of a multi-faceted dream reflecting his concern over the Innsmouth tale he was working on.
Determined that this was the case, he decided to check it out, going back to the bathroom and lifting the lid of the toilet seat to see if the fish was still there. As he had suspected all along, there was no fish. What he hadn't been expecting to be there was a somewhat befuddled, ever-changing mass of jelly-like substance that was attempting to move about in there, until it noticed him watching.
The creature stared back at him with its many eyes, as if awaiting some explanation as to just how the hell it had ended up in this tiny space. Mouths, eyes and many other appendages and orifices formed and dissolved, as it patiently looked him over. Some more erotically risque protuberances in its gelatinous anatomy left Stan transfixed momentarily, instilled with a mix of awe, delight and envy. He suddenly realised what he was looking at. The shoggoth from the waters off Innsmouth was lurking in his toilet bowl. He found himself thinking that he had better not try and use the lavatory in the near future. No telling what might pop up next if he did. He shivered. A mouth formed and reached out towards him. Thinking quickly, he grabbed a nearby packet of toilet rolls, shoved them into the mouth, and forced
the toilet seat down on the weird creature.
"What next?" he wondered aloud. Would he find Old Man Marsh
swimming in his pond? Was Zadok Allen at large, raiding the drinks' cabinet?
"Unlikely. The shoggoth ate 'im, if'n you recall. I got 'is watch if yer want it."
Stan spun round to find the two Deep Ones leaning against the wall opposite the bathroom door, watching him with more than mild amusement. As they continued their automatic whittling, wood chips and splinters buried the hall carpet, in two spots in his house.
Thank the stars, he thought, I put my shoes on before coming down this morning. Feeling that he'd taken enough, Stan yelled. "Look, I don't know what the hell is going on here ..."
"Well, knaow, don't that beat all?" Martin interrupted. "That makes three of us that's lost in a frog, er fog. Ain't that so, Jeb?"
"Ayah," Jeb confirmed. "We was 'spectin' we'd be swimmin' with our kin in the glory of Y'ha-nthlei by now. This sure as shootin' ain't Y'ha-nthlei, t'ain't near damp enough, which 'uz the first clue that came to me, and ..." Jeb never got to finish as Martin clonked him on the back of the head.
"Leastways, no one can accuse yer of havin' any brains, Jeb." Martin smirked. "Ne'er mind him, son, he ain't had both fins in the water since the holocaust o' 1928, if'n yer git my drift."
Stan recognised the gesture Martin made behind Jeb's back to mean Jeb was either a little crazy, not all there, or both. Stan suddenly realized Martin was looking closely at him.
"Hold ever'thing!" Martin exclaimed. "Naow I rec'nise yer. Why sure! It's plain as the tail on my ass. You're one of Joe's kin. Yer got the Sargent look."
Stan felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck and suddenly he felt very chill indeed. Martin was suggesting he was related to Joe Sargent, the surly Arkham-to-Innsmouth bus driver from Lovecraft's "The Shadow Over Innsmouth." He shook his head violently in abject denial.
"I am not Joe's boy, neither is this Y'ha-nthlei. You are not real. Now get out of my hallway, my mind and preferably out of my life."
Before Martin could stop him, Jeb piped in again. "Mebbe he ain't related to Joe, but Joe's cousin Abigail used to throw fits, just like this feller's doin' naow. You 'member Abby and
Moses Sargent o' Dun'ich, don't yer? I recall how she pert' near croaked one night when Moses came home drunk as a tadpole, smellin' o' some she-toad ..."
"Out! Out! Out!" screamed Stan as he turned and stalked off.
By that evening, not only was Stan unwillingly convinced they were real, but he was also close to sticking his unwelcome tenants in the oven. Martin had spent most of the day between Stan's fish tank and garden pond. Apparently he had been communicating somehow with the fish therein; asking them if they knew the way back to Innsmouth or Y'ha-nthlei. The results were negligible. Meanwhile, Jeb had been having fun watching the TV, until some old gangster movies came on. All through them he wanted to know why 'swimming with the fishes,' as many of the actors made references to, be bad. He and Martin enjoyed swimming with the fishes off Innsmouth, and the fully changed Deep Ones off of Devil Reef. Why threaten someone with such an exhilarating experience? Moreover, of course, there was still the inhabitant of the toilet. That was still off limits.
During the day it had sent forth one of its many fluid-like, forever altering pseudopodia out of the lavatory bowl and had eaten every last bar of soap in its quest for more toilet rolls, having evidently now developed a taste for them. Stan was simply grateful that the shoggoth hadn't seen his legs and decided to form its own and come out to go walkabout around the house. He was also amazed on his last trip to inspect his bathroom and its lurker, that it had been attempting to clean many of its teeth, having watched Stan do so earlier on. Nevertheless, it had encountered little success. Its teeth never being in one place long enough to apply the toothbrush and paste to. So, instead, it had devoured the toothpaste, brush and drunk all the mouthwash instead. The sight of the shoggoth attempting to gargle had been terrifyingly amusing.
Surely Lovecraft had never suffered so at the hands of his own literary creations? No Great Old Ones sleeping, dead but dreaming in his bed. No Marshes, Ornes or Waites parked in his house all day, booing and spitting tobacco at the telly every time a federal agent appeared on the screen. Surely there had been no frozen Elder Things lurking in his freezer only to awake when he went to get his lunch.
Stan had to remind himself that HPL wouldn't have had a TV or a freezer. He decided to get something to eat, rather than try and sort this out on an empty stomach. Martin and Jeb's faces, when he took a frozen fillet of sole out of the freezer for lunch, showed hurt, accusational looks. They didn't have to call him a cannibal. It was in their stares as they glowered at him from their sofa seats.
"Well? Don't you guys eat fish?" he argued hopelessly. "There's enough here for all of us if you want some ..."
"Bite yer tongue, youngin'! You wouldn't eat anythin' reminded you of yer own lovin', white-gilled mother, naow would yer?"
"Er yer brother?" Jeb wryly accused. "Fish is our kin, distant tho' they may be."
Martin continued, "Just as you and yer kind is. And tho' we's aware o' rumours to the effect that us Deep Uns is evil, human-eatin' murderers, 'tain't a word of it true, nary a word! I swear on Cthulhu's barnacl'd tower."
Stan had floundered, thinking himself lucky he hadn't fancied calamari. Just what would he do with them? How and why had he been burdened with the odd pair? He despaired. He was 47 and had been writing for just over two and a half years now, and in all that time, he had never heard of anything like this before.
That afternoon, in desperation, he'd found himself trying to book them tickets on a plane to Boston. He'd planned to hire a car to take them to Innsmouth via Arkham before he realised what he was doing. Hadn't he created them? They surely couldn't be real? They were nothing more than his memories of his maternal grandfather combined with his imaginative interpretation of the Deep Ones of Lovecraft. There had to be something that he could do to rid himself of the old hybrids and the lavatorial tenant.
Jeb and Martin finally fell asleep sprawled all over the couch, snoring loudly. Stan made a final check in the bathroom to ensure the shoggoth was still there. Deciding he now had some peace and quiet, he went to his computer and set about finishing the story for Bob. It was while rereading the piece to pick up the thread again that he noticed the mistake. He must have been more tired than he thought last night. As he read, he realised that he had done nothing with the shoggoth, Jeb or Martin. They had simply vanished from the story. Was that why they had appeared here, written out of their environment and with nowhere else to go? Is that why the trio from the rotting ex-seaport had turned up in their creator's home? He had to know if he could change the situation. That night he wrote as if possessed.
A loud cawing and an unwelcome warm splat of something soft woke Stan from a deep sleep. He felt bruised, wet and extremely uncomfortable. He looked at his chest; a gull had emptied its bowels on his shirt. Damn it, he thought. Then something else came to mind. A sea gull? Now he paid more attention to his surroundings.
He was on a wide, cobbled street. He could hear the sea, and all about him were rotting, derelict shadow-haunted buildings. The one before him, for example, had the legend ESOTERIC ORDER OF DAGON emblazoned above its entrance.
"Innsmouth! I'm in Innsmouth! How in the world did I get here?" He hadn't written this, what was happening?
"Mornin' to ya there, Mister Stan."
He turned around and found Jeb and Martin leaning against some old sea wall, again whittling happily away at their never deteriorating chunks of wood. Both the Deep One hybrids were smiling with extreme mischief.
"It's a cryin' shame 'bout that there 'gull takin' 'vantage of yer by crappin' on yer shirt like that." smirked Jeb.
Martin, however, seemed more concerned. "Better come with us, lad. Best yer not make a spectacle o' yerself in front o' those what don't cotton to strangers."
He followed the pair as they silently rushed him through the
streets, out on the wharf and into a grand old mansion.
"Obed's house!" Stan gasped.
Martin hushed him hurriedly and nodded. "He 'ain't got much use fer it no more, not wur he's gone. No on else comes here noaw, 'ceptin' us."
Jeb built a warming blaze in the fireplace. Martin rustled up some musty smelling towels and blankets, and surprisingly, a new set of clothes.
While they fussed about the place, Stan came to terms with being in Old Man Marsh's study. He was in a chair probably used by the sea captain after his return from Ponape, from which he had brought the first Deep Ones to this place.
After Jeb and Martin returned, Stan fumbled through his old clothes and found some roughly folded pages from his unfinished story. The pages were covered in a semi-legible scrawl and a sentence here and there was crossed out, only to have a different line of text added. He guessed what had happened.
"You two wrote over this, didn't you?"
The pair looked down at their feet, as they shuffled to and fro nervously.
"Well, Jeb here, he woke and come across yer sleepin' on yer fancy typewriter and, well, he picked up yer story with the 'tention o' tryin' his hand at a bit o' editin', just like that there Wonshull feller used ter."
"I am a' editor, trust me," said Jeb meekly in an attempt to sound justified.
"'Fore yer knaow it, we wuz back 'ere in Innsmouth, just like before, 'cept course, you wuz here with us too this time."
Stan was, to say the least, annoyed, but that wasn't going to
help him out of this predicament.
"I knaow yer a-trifle put out 'bout all this, Stan, but we just wanted to come on home is all. Jeb 'ere, 'e didn't think you'd end up 'ere too." Martin tried an attempt to pacify the obviously much displeased Stan.
"Hey, yer cud always go see Joe, now though, if'n yer of a mind to," interjected Jeb.
Martin slapped his cohort around the back of his head again. "Shut yer hole, Jeb," Martin chastised. "Yer not a-helpin' none."
Stan's face softened. "Look guys, I do understand. Really, I do, but I want to be home too. My home. You belong here, I don't ..." It was then he noticed the pair looking ashamed and
shuffling their feet. "Guys?" He looked at them enquiringly, a quizzical look on his face.
"Err, thang is, Stan," began Jeb.
Martin finished, "We daon't really want to be here neither, least not the way things is here naow, and seein' as wur in this together ..."
"What are you trying to say, Martin?"
"We want to go to Y'ha-nthlei."
"But you're here in Innsmouth. Y'ha-nthlei is just out there, beyond Devil Reef. You can get there, with little effort. All you have to do is swim ..."
The words died on his lips as he saw them both shaking their heads and a little sadness filled their too wide eyes becoming more and more apparent.
"Naw, Stan," said Martin. "We wuz readin' too, leasten I wuz. That out there, that's Mr. Lovecraft's Y'ha-nthlei." A mischievous sparkle came to light his toady eyes. "Visitin' with you, we see things different naow. If'n yer daon't mind my saying so."
"Different? How? Martin, what is it you two want exactly?"
Both the old Deep Ones smirked with glee, sidled up closer to Stan and whispered to him. "Us, we want our own Y'ha-nthlei." They told him of their dreams.
Miniature tridents shot through the water and made a satisfying damp clanking sound as they struck the mechanical row of rotating federal agents. Martin smiled, just his chance to even things up the worst excesses of the government men in those bad days in '28. He liked this shooting gallery but, then again, he was fond of the whole place. His favourite ride in Dagon's Abusement Park, the half-risen version of Y'ha-nthlei that both he and Jeb had contrived, however, had to be the Mermaid Toss. He'd nearly laughed until he croaked the first time he and Jeb had watched the mermaids throw steel balls from their tanks at the unsuspecting human customers who'd come to oggle at the 'freaks'; two of the slower runners had been struck dead on the spot! Martin had heard a couple of kids say they wanted to get stoned.
Martin and Jeb had never guessed humans could be so much fun!
The Eel Real was Jeb's favourite. An old friend of theirs controlled that particular ride, a somewhat greenish fellow called Hopfrog. The humans paid to get in there, too, thinking they were about to see some sort of exotic underwater dance with electric eels, but they had a surprise coming to them. Once inside, Hopfrog pulled a lever and the platform they stood upon dropped out from under them, dumping every one of them into the giant aquarium full of hungry sharks and electric eels on the hunt! Underwater microphones broadcast their yells and screams over loudspeakers for the benefit of the Deep One audience.
The fun never seemed to stop in this place! Too bad always so serious Barnabas and pompous ol' Obed weren't around to enjoy the water sports.
It wasn't all violent however. There were multi-coloured fish of all descriptions swimming everywhere in various huge tanks. Jeb spent hours at a time parked in a sea lounger, just watching them float by without a care in the world; he even joined them for a swim now and again. There were the sea horse races, and even a picture show palace that showed horror films all day and all night, including some of their favourites like, The Astounding She Creature, It Came from Beneath the Sea, and The Beast from 5,000 Fathoms.
This was the life, and they owed it all to that boy of Joe's. Martin knew Stan's denials were just modesty. He was a dickens of a writer. Jeb and Martin had told him what to write, and it had all come true once the story had been complete. This was truly their Y'ha-nthlei, not that shadowy, dull place from Mr. Lovecraft's story. This was truly heaven on Earth!
Stan was extremely pleased to be back in his own home again, alone. It had taken about a day to do the rewrite, incorporating all of Jeb and Martin's ideas, but it had been worth it to get back to some peace and quiet. Sure, some of it was downright evil, the way they planned to torture and kill innocent humans, but it was fiction after all, so no one would really get hurt. It was the nature of the Deep Ones and it couldn't be changed. Who was he to question the rights or wrongs of their culture?
He considered mentioning his adventure to Bob Sogoth or Jim Amble, but they'd either think he was joking or had been working far too hard. Come to think of it, he was beginning to wonder if the whole thing might actually have been just a hallucination, probably brought on from lack of sleep and his being too-deeply involved in his work. It did seem to be a little fantastic now.
He sighed and sat down to use the toilet in response to Nature's call. It wasn't until he'd finished his ablutions that he heard the coughing and spitting as if from many mouths beneath him. He peered between his legs, into the darkness of the toilet bowl to see a rather unhappy collection of ever-forming eyes staring back with a myriad of displeased, filth covered mouths. The shoggoth!
Stan had forgotten all about the shoggoth. It was floating upon the water and filth, now smiling at him with at least a hundred gaping maws. Screaming and swearing, Stan jumped up and ran off at top speed. All a panic, his trousers dangling about his ankles, in a mad rush for the computer ...
Created: September 18, 1997; Updated: August 9, 2004