The Dunwich Father by Joshua Reynolds

In your dreams, a city rises out of the green. The buildings are curved and straight at the same time, if such a thing is possible, edges and corners flowing . . . bending . . . twisting . . . like anemones in the current. They are built of something cool and green, which pulses like the rise and fall of lungs. Things . . . slither and creep among the green, voices like writhing upon the oceans gentle current, welcoming you down . . . scaly fists spread . . . a thousand arms open wide to enfold you among the green.

A shriek from your own throat awakens you, dragging you from the mossy bed of your subconscious, and flinging you from the narrow motel bed to the faintly soggy carpet. You shake your head, clearing it of cobwebs and seaweed, and untangle yourself from the sweat-stained sheets which followed you to the floor. You lurch upwards and stumble to the begrimed and cracked window of the run-down motel room in which you are spending the evening. With fumbling fingers, you wrench the venetian blinds upward, exposing the stormy night outside.

Rain hammers the pane, and distant thunder rumbles. The lightning cracks and reveals the town of Innsmouth down the road, illuminating that sad corpse of a town in its sickly yellow light. You run shaking fingers through your greasy hair, and lean your pounding head against the window, eyes fixed upon the distant ocean . . . upon Devil's Reef.

Behind you, in the filthy bathroom, something splashes in the overflowing tub. Your child has awakened from its scaly dreams, disturbed by your scream, and croaks whimperingly for you to come and protect it from the storm and the lightning and the thunder. Your child . . . and hers.

You have come back to find her. Her name is Absinthe Marsh. She thinks she is home. She thinks you will never find her. She is wrong on both counts.

Your name is Saul Whateley . . . and you have come to take your wife home.

Saul Whateley entered the bathroom with its sickening green upon green colors and knelt beside the tub and stroked the scaly thing that lay amid the rusty waters. One skinny arm, covered in glittering scales and rubbery flesh, reached from under the water and grasped his hand tightly. "Da . . . da . . . ugh . . . pthagn . . . ma . . . ma . . .," it croaked, lipless mouth gaping, exposing needle teeth as its larynx struggled to make itself understood. The batrachian head, with its crests and heaving gill slits and bulging eyes, rubbed against Saul's hand.

Tears rolled down the man's rough features, flowing down the network of worry lines that blanketed his face. "I know . . . I know, boy. I miss yer maw, too. But don't yew worry none . . . we'll find her . . . an' we'll be a family again. I promise yew. Now yew jes' rest, lie back in the water . . .," he murmured, laying the thing's head back down in the warm waters and bending over to kiss its rough pebbly forehead. "Good night son."

Innsmouth was a dead town. Saul had a way with dead things and as such recognized them when he saw them. Innsmouth was fairly buried and rotting in his opinion. He strode down Main Street, his long legs moving slower than normal to allow his son to keep pace. Bulky clothing swathed his child's form and a wide cap kept his head all but completely hidden. Little Jacob trundled along, appearing as little more than an ambulatory clothes pile. Scaly fingers tipped with wicked claws peeked from beneath one voluminous sleeve and began to toy with the scarf around his lower features. Saul swatted the fingers lightly. "No, boy. Yew leave yer clothes alone . . . yew know th' sun'll dry out yer skin . . . yer ma would kill me dead if'n I let yew get like that." A burbled hiss was his only reply as Jacob grasped his hand suddenly and pointed to their left at a shadow-ridden building.

The degraded old Masonic lodge sat like some corrupt and bloated toad on the edge of the muddy green, paint peeling and mortar cracked and wrinkled. A hand painted sign, much abused by the passage of years proclaimed this bastion of decrepitude as being the meetinghouse for "The Esoteric Order of Dagon".

Saul narrowed his eyes in concentration as he sounded out the words on the crude sign. "Hunh. Good eyes boy. Yer maw was alla time goin' on 'bout some feller named 'Daygawn,' an I'll bet granddaddy Wilbur's gold that's where he is at," Saul growled, patting his son's head. "Let's go introduce ourselves to mister 'Daygawn' . . . maybe he kin help us ter find yer maw's hidin' place."

Saul and Jacob mounted the crack-riddled steps of the old building to the hardwood door, with its tarnished decorations and sigils. Saul knocked once, hard and strong. He could hear the echo reverberate through the wood of the door. As he was about to knock again, the door slowly creaked open, guided by unseen hands. A fishy smell, stinking of brine and rotting seaweed billowed forth as the portal yawned open, followed by a hooded head of obscene proportion and dimension. "Yesss . . . ?" the cowled figure croaked, its head tilted as if to catch Saul's scent. Saul stepped back a little, hand waving to clear his nostrils of the stench from within, and replied, nodding his head in a friendly manner.

"Yeah, I was wonderin' if'n yew could help me . . . is mister 'Daygawn' at home? I powerful needs ta talk to him."

"Father Dagon is everywhere my son . . . IA! He watches over us all . . . just as he does great Cthulhu in sunken R'yleh. IA! But as his priest, I can answer any questions of faith you may have . . . mister . . . ?" The figure gurgled, waving gloved hands in exposition.

"Erm . . . Whateley. Saul Whateley. Actually, my question weren't about faith so much as my wife. She done used to be a member at this here church, an I was jus' wonderin' if'n anyone had done seen her here abouts lately?" Saul stammered as he was confronted by the spectacle.

"Her name my son?"

"Absinthe. Absinthe Marsh."

Absinthe? Absinthe Marsh! You're that Whateley! From Dunwich!" the priest hissed in surprise and shock, jerking back.

"Yessir. Saul Whateley, jes like I said. So yew've seen her then?"

"No! Leave! She's not for the likes of you, Whateley . . .," the priest croaked, attempting to slam the ancient door in Saul's face, but a booted foot caught it before it could click home. Saul bulled the door back open, exerting his massive strength and easily bowling over the smaller man. One big hand clamped on the back of the squirming priest's neck and Saul lifted him bodily from the damp and moldy floor.

"Yew ain't very polite fer a priest," he growled, shaking the man like a rat, and dislodging the cowl from his round skull. Pop eyes glared with a mixture of fear and anger from a subtly malformed skull. He was as bald as an egg, and his flesh had taken on squamous markings, like brownish stains at certain points. Saul dropped the smaller man in disgust. "Now yew sit there an' tell me where my wife be . . . or I'll make yew sorry, little man," he said, cracking his knuckles for emphasis.

The ugly little priest chuckled hideously. "You're too late, clod . . . the Lady has returned to her family, and even now prepares to join her eldest kin below in great R'lyeh, as handmaiden to Father Dagon and Mother Hydra. As it was destined to be."

Saul only snarled in reply, his clenching fingers latching onto the edge of a nearby pew and crumbling the old wood like tin foil, dust slithering between his digits. "When? Where?" he grated gutturally, his eyes blazing. Little Jacob, sensing his father's overwrought state waddled in suddenly, and placed a scaly hand upon Saul's pants leg. A tentacle writhed from within the boy's coat and wrapped around the big man's thigh.

"Guh . . . Da . . . pthagn . . . IA . . . IAIA . . . Muma . . . ruchkt . . . ruchkt . . . ," Jacob cooed soothingly. Saul looked down, and the fire in his eyes died down to embers as he rubbed his son's hand. The priest looked in revulsion at the boy.

"Abomination. Mutant filth," he hissed.

Saul gritted his teeth and yanked the other man to his feet. "Quiet. Now show me where she is."

No . . . you can't make me . . ."

"Oh, yes, I can . . .," Saul sneered as he snapped the priest's thin arm like a matchstick, the bone protruding from sickly flesh like a gravestone from a churchyard. "Now show me . . . or I break the other 'un," he finished over the other's shrieks.

East of Innsmouth, there are cliffs that slump hatefully over Devil's Reef. In the light of the moon, they cast a tarry shadow over the dark waters making them appear as nothing so much as an oil slick that never ended. Devil's Reef clawed at the sky from the center of that black liquid, all covered in barnacles and scaly croaking things.

Saul shoved the priest onto his face when they reached the top of the cliff. The hideous little man lay where he had fallen, whimpering and vainly cradling twin shattered arms that lay at his sides, masses of limp, raw meat. Saul stepped over the trembling mass and advanced to the great fire that burned at the apex of the cliff, after motioning for Jacob to stay back. The flames were green, and threw odd shadows that writhed and clawed at one another. Others stood around the fire, some chanting in croaking cacophony, others merely swaying in a repugnant style. All wore cloaks or bulky clothing. Items to hide the squat, reptilian features all bore. One however, bore nothing about her cool, lithe shape. Her flesh gleamed wet and green in the firelight, and delicate gills pulsed softly in time to some silent music. The long brown hair he had so often run tender fingers through was all but gone now. In its place were crests and tiny fins. Only her face remained the same, all porcelain flesh and soft curves. But to him, she was as beautiful as he remembered.

"Absinthe . . .," Saul whispered, tears in his eyes. He started towards her, only to find his way blocked by two of her hulking kin. They leapt for him, fangs gleaming in wide mouths, claws flashing upon webbed paws. All three fell upon the muddy earth, a tangle of limbs and grunts of effort. They tore at him, shredding his faded work shirt into tatters and freeing the ring of tentacles that grew about his middle. One of the beast-men screamed as the tiny mouths set within the tentacles fastened greedily upon his bulbous throat. Saul fastened iron fingers around the other's skull and crushed it to a stinking pulp, his palms meeting behind the Innsmouther's bulbous eyes. Whateley tossed the carcass away, and wrenched the second creature away from his midsection. This one, too, he let drop at his feet. The flesh of the tentacles flushed rosy red and the stony hide of his torso flexed in odd ways in the dancing halo of firelight. "Absinthe!" he howled, the hair upon his neck standing upright like the spines of a porcupine.

Absinthe Marsh turned from her husband and glided towards the cliff edge. The rest of her kin moved between her and her former love. She did not even look at him as she prepared to dive from the ledge into the sin black waters below. Even as Saul hurtled forward, a swarm of her croaking brethren met him, bearing his massive form under through sheer numbers.

Then, suddenly, a tiny form scuttled forward, coat and hat thrown aside to reveal frog-fish face and form, as well as the yellow and gray flesh of its belly where a tiny copse of writhing tentacles grew. It bounded forward with tiny hops until it reached Absinthe.

"Ma . . . mama . . . rchkt . . . urrchkt . . . IAIA . . . pthagn . . . mama . . .," Jacob warbled, tiny talons gently touching her slender leg. Absinthe sank to her knees, her eyes gleaming with sorrow as she enfolded the boy in her arms and stroked the tentacles on his stomach. Then she stood and whirled from the boy and dove gracefully over the edge.

Jacob went to follow, but a strong hand held him back. Saul, his abnormal frame drenched in alien blood, hefted his shrieking child and gently rubbed his back, his tentacles entwining with the boy's.

"Shhhh . . . quiet now, boy. I know. I know. She's gone where we cain't follow, down into them deep reaches. I's hopin' she'd see what a fine lad yew has done turned out to be . . . and maybe she'd come back . . . fer yew, if'n not me. But it ain't yer fault . . . she loves yew . . . she jest warn't one o' them women is as ready fer motherhood." Saul placed the boy upon his shoulder. Jacob burbled sadly, his claws grasping his father's spiky hair.

"But don't yew worry none, lad . . . when th' stars is right, we'll see yer maw agin. When th' stars is right, we'll be a family agin."

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© 2003 Edward P. Berglund
"The Dunwich Father": © 2003 Joshua Reynolds. All rights reserved.
Graphics © 1998-2003 Erebus Graphic Design. All rights reserved. Email to: James V. Kracht.

Created: May 3, 2003; Updated: August 9, 2004