Innsmouth

October 6, 2009

The Beginning

I can scarcely begin to recount the tale of the incredible and terrifying ordeal that has led up to the situation in which I presently find myself. After emerging from the nightmare that was Newham, each breath I draw is as a precious gift, or perhaps a ponderous burden; only time will tell which is the more accurate assessment. Time, and the resolution of the unfathomable horror that I am presently witnessing.

But where to begin? I suppose with the grim conclusion of my previous entanglement. Once I escaped from Newham, I fled through the wild bosom of nature in a daze, hardly sure of which direction I went or what I would encounter. Each fragile leaf and delicate twig was as a monster to me, so crazed was I from what I had previously seen. While I have never been of a womanly nature, in retrospect I cannot but think that I was hysterical in the truest sense of the word, half-mad and incapable of the slightest shred of rational thought.

But after a time, my faculties began to return to me. The shadow of Newham retreated and I could scarce believe that I had witnessed such horrors. It is ever the prerogative of mankind to rationalize away that which confounds the sensibilities, to peer into the crooks and crevices of memory and find reasonable explanations for unreasonable events. And so it was that I gradually became convinced that I had mistaken simple mass hysteria for the esoteric and the supernatural, that the mayhem and murders were the product of deranged minds rather than–no, I could not bring myself to think of what else it might have been.

As if in response to my epiphany–oh, that it had been one, and not my own wishful thinking!–I found a set of railroad tracks leading north through the tall grass that surrounded me, and rays of hope pierced my cloudy contemplations. Civilization could not be far! I had only to follow these tracks and I would soon be among my kinsmen, fully awakened from the impossible dream that I had fled only hours–days? weeks?–earlier. It did not occur to me to wonder why the railroad was clearly not in use, overgrown and rusted as it was. This was a sign that the end of my troubles was near.

My newfound optimism gave me the energy to push myself at a faster pace than I had previously traveled, and so it was that just before sunset I found myself at the outskirts of a quaint fishing village. At least, I thought it was quaint at the time. The buildings huddled together as if for warmth, and most were dilapidated, the old wood warping and cracking with time and the stone chimneys crumbled into the roofs of the homes next to them. By contrast, looking down into the center of the town, the homes and shops were in good repair and freshly painted, as if a revival were occurring that had yet to reach the outskirts. Increasingly heartened by the prospect of a hot meal and a clean bed, I raced down the rolling, winding streets toward the square that seemed most likely to contain the objects of my desire.

I eventually crossed a rickety metal bridge over a broad river to find myself in the previously noted square, which was actually more of a semicircle with the river as the straight edge. Before me were a number of cheerful shops and, to the far right just on the water, a tall white building with a sign proclaiming it to be the Innsmouth Arms Bed and Breakfast. This, then, must be the town of Innsmouth; for some reason, this incited in me a quiet sense of dread, which I dismissed as a remnant of my previous turbulent emotions. With the first genuine smile I had been able to muster since Newham, I entered the inn.

The lobby was paneled in wood and decorated with an assortment of medieval weapons mounted on plaques, as well as a full suit of armor; I assumed they were replicas rather than antiques, but could not be certain. A small front desk sat before one wall, while the other held a table with a teapot and a plate of cookies. It took a strength of will I had not known I possessed to ring the bell at the desk rather than rapaciously devouring the sweets, and to then patiently await the arrival of the inn’s night clerk. He turned out to be a friendly fellow of advancing age, and I immediately took a liking to him.

He explained that he had only recently moved to the town, like so many others who now lived there. Tales were told of the previous inhabitants, how there had been a series of secretive raids and arrests that had left Innsmouth virtually uninhabited, and how there had once been a number of crumbling, worm-eaten homes along the waterfront that had been burnt and demolished by the government. Only now was the town beginning to recover as new people moved in and repaired the worn buildings or constructed new ones, and soon it was hoped that this could become a popular tourist destination, and a lucrative fishing location once the docks and fisheries were reconstructed.

I had no money with which to secure a room, but the good man kindly offered to let me stay the night pro bono, and said he would speak to the local bus driver in the morning about allowing me to delay payment until we reached a town with a more sizable bank from which I could withdraw the required amount. He took my intense gratitude in stride, and laughingly indicated that no one else was using the rooms at present, so it was hardly an imposition. No doubt noticing my overwhelming fatigue, he contrived to guide me to a clean but sparsely decorated room on the third floor, whereupon I thanked him profusely and, almost immediately after his departure, found myself deep in the restorative waters of sleep.

Little did I know what awaited me, and the villagers, in the dark recesses of the coming night.

* * * * *

The First

I awoke to the sound of shattering glass and shouting outside the hotel. For a moment I feared that I was back in Newham, and terror overwhelmed me so that I could not move. Gradually, I became aware of my surroundings, and the memory of recent events returned to me. But what could be happening outside?

Peering through the window, I saw an assemblage of people in the square below me. Some carried lanterns, some torches, and some… some appeared to be brandishing weapons. I could not hear what was being said, but the sound of raised voices carried well enough. What was happening? What were they doing? And why did this feel so familiar?

A sudden knock at the door startled me out of my contemplation. It was the night clerk.

“Sorry to disturb you, Mr. Warrick, but the other folks sent me to fetch you. We’re having a spot of trouble and we want everyone in one place for now,” he said.

“What trouble?” I asked, trying to keep the tremor out of my voice.

“We-ell,” he said, hesitating. “Best you come outside and see for yourself.”

I accompanied him down the stairs and out into the street, where the crowd was alternating between hushed whispers and fervent shouts. On the ground, at the center of the gathering, were two bodies.

I cannot say now what convinced me that the creatures I saw before me were dead. There is something about a man who is alive–call it a life force, or an aura, or a soul if you will–that is missing from one who is no longer among the living. As I drew closer, I saw that one of the bodies was a young girl, modestly dressed in a blouse and long skirt. Her skin was pale in the flickering light from the lanterns and torches, and as my eyes surveyed her still form, I saw that she had bled to death from some wound covered by her clothing. As for the other…

My heart froze in my chest as my gaze fell on the inhuman entity that lay before me. The form was vaguely humanoid, and yet that appearance seemed to be fading even as I watched. Skin as white as bone glistened faintly, as if covered in some liquid, but the texture was not so much like skin as it was like the flesh of a shark. What had seemed like the head was an almost translucent mass from which tentacles only slightly thicker than fishing lines extended, draping themselves over the still form. The creature had no face, and my stomach turned to think that once it had passed as human. But the most horrifying part, which even now threatens to drive me into unconsciousness as I think on it, were the hands. The fingers had shrunk into mere vestigial stubs, and where the palms should be, instead there were gaping maws filled with row after row of sharp, pointed teeth.

I must have swooned, because I found myself leaning heavily against a man I had not met before. He stared at me with open hostility that shook me to the core before shouting at the mob surrounding the bodies.

“This is ridiculous!” he yelled. “We found Ardor with the bodies, he says there was no one else with him, so the only explanation is that he did this!”

“Then why would I call for help?” the man who must have been Ardor replied. “Why wouldn’t I have just run away and left them there for someone else to find?”

“It was obviously part of your devious plan!” someone else shouted. “You were trying to deflect suspicion off you by reporting it yourself!”

Once again, the crowd erupted into incoherent arguments. Weapons were brandished threateningly here and there, while whispered conferences were held in some corners. I watched in horror and amazement at how quickly a town of perfectly reasonable people could turn against each other. But then, I thought bitterly, this was not my first experience with such a situation.

The attention of the masses slowly turned to someone approaching from the north, someone screaming inchoately as she approached. One of the other villagers met her and tried to calm her down, but she kept screaming until finally he slapped her across the mouth. The front of the woman’s dress was covered in blood, but judging by the reaction of the man who held her, it wasn’t her own. She seemed to whisper something to the man, who looked back at the crowd, his eyes widening.

“Nerissa is dead,” he announced, his voice devoid of emotion. “She says she was gutted like a fish.”

Every pair of eyes turned to look at Ardor. He tried to back away but he was surrounded.

“I wasn’t even there!” he shrieked. “I was on the other side of town!”

“How do you know where Nerissa died, Ardor?” someone asked.

“I don’t… she just came from… you can’t possibly believe…” But his cries fell on deaf ears.

“She was killed in her workshop,” the man said. “Apparently she was building some kind of machine that looked like a human.”

The arguments began anew, the volume and pitch increasing rapidly until a hunched figure stepped into the center of the circle.

“Look, y’all,” a soft voice interjected. It was the town’s priest, who ran a hand through his thinning hair. “We can’t just go around practicing vigilante justice. Captain,” he said, looking at a tall, imposing man, “Why don’t you take Ardor down to the station and lock him up until we can get a hold of the folks down at County and see about getting him a fair trial?”

There were some sour looks and murmurs of agreement. The police captain escorted the trembling Ardor in what I presumed was the direction of the jail. I do not know what happened to him, as I never saw him again. Perhaps he was one of the lucky ones.

I hope that I may live to find out.

* * * * *

The Second

The mob, satisfied that justice of a sort had been done, began to disperse. I was preparing to return to the hotel when one of the townspeople approached me, grinning jovially.

“Haven’t seen you around heah, mister,” he said, holding out a hand for me to shake. His palms were dry and hot, as if he were feverish. “I’m part of the town watch. It’s a bit like being a policeman only we don’t do the serious policing, we just keeps an eye out for things as might be a problem. Hope you don’t mind if I ask yer a few questions?”

I shrugged noncommittally. After my recent ordeal, and the sight of that horrifying creature lying dead before me, I was not feeling particularly talkative. But I imagined that refusing to indulge the man would be a cause for suspicion, and I had already seen how the people of this town dealt with the suspicious. The watchman said he lived across the river on Fall Street, near the old Baptist church, and so we began the walk down Federal Street toward the church green.

The worn street was dimly lit by gas lamps positioned sporadically on either side of the road, but the light barely pierced the darkness that had fallen like a shroud over the town. The shops and homes on this side of the river were shabbier and more worn than the ones on the other side, with wooden porches collapsing in on themselves and holes visible in the wood shingled roofs that no doubt attracted animals looking for safe nesting areas. I mused that this must be what the new townspeople had encountered upon moving to the area, and wondered how they could have seen something beneath this drab exterior that could have been worth recovering and rebuilding. A sudden chill passed over me, but I could not put a name to it, and so I concentrated on watching the figure of the man before me as we made our way toward his home.

Along the road in front of me, I saw the spires of two churches looming over the surrounding buildings, blacker than the sky behind them. I wondered that neither was topped with the large iron cross that typically marked it as a house of worship–perhaps they were unused? A third building, slightly shorter than the others, seemed to be in much better repair, so I asked the watchman what building that was.

“That’s the ol’ Mason meeting hall,” he remarked. “Doesn’t get used much anymore, since the troubles with the government.” The closer we were, the more I marveled at the dilapidated pillars, like those of a Greek temple. But it certainly didn’t look unused; in fact, it looked as freshly painted as the homes and shops on the other side of the river. More curiously, I thought I could see a faint light from within, obscured by thick curtains over the tall windows that faced the green circle on which it and the other churches sat. I mentioned this to him, and he looked toward it as if seeing it for the first time.

“Seems as you’re right,” he muttered in surprise. “Don’t that beat all. I should maybe see about that…”

We began to walk toward the hall, when the harsh crack of gunshots echoed over the river. I froze like a startled animal. The man hesitated between continuing forward and racing toward the sound, when another set of gunshots rang out almost immediately to our north. With a shout, I ran south toward the river, only marginally conscious that I was in the middle of a broad street and should probably find some form of shelter. The sound of the watchman’s labored breathing dogged me as we both fled for our lives, unsure of what came behind us if anything.

As we approached the river, the glow of a lantern caught my eye just to the right of the bridge. My companion must have seen it as well, for although I kept moving straight ahead, he veered toward the source of the light. Hesitating, I turned back to follow him, as the thought of being alone outweighed my fear of what we might encounter.

A young man crouched beside a large mound that I slowly realized was a body. A wave of nausea passed over me and I fought, and failed, to contain the remains of the cookies I had eaten at the hotel so many hours before. The watchman was aghast, but appeared to be taking the discovery more calmly. His voice shook as he asked what had happened.

“I jus’ found him heah like this,” the man said. He sounded as stunned as we were. “I can’t… I mean, look at ‘im… look!”

Haltingly, the watchman and I drew closer, and the young man leaned in with his lantern. My mouth widened in horror and I was forced to clamp my hands over my mouth to keep from screaming. The dead body was completely covered in blood, its clothes and skin and hair soaked with it as if it had gone swimming in a lake of the vile substance. It was entirely impossible that so much blood should be contained in one body; it could not possibly have been entirely the victim’s.

“To find this, after what happened to iamtheaznman…” the young man mumbled.

“What happened to iamtheaznman?” the watchman interjected sharply.

“We found him a few minutes after the other bodies got wrapped up in the square,” said the man. “He hadn’t come when he was called and some people went to find him. He was…” He took a deep breath as the blood ran out of his face. “All his insides were outside, and his arms and legs had been torn clean off. All in pieces he was. I was in the hotel when they found ‘im.” He put a hand over his eyes as if to cover his memory of the sight. “They’d just… stuffed him in a bag. Weren’t even a big bag. And poor minigunwielder was there with the body, crying these greasy gasoline tears.”

“What?” the watchman cried. “What do you mean, gasoline?”

“He weren’t even human,” the young man whispered. “Some kind of mechanical thing, like the one that poor dead girl was working on. He looked human enough, but he was all broken when we found him. Sounded like a car when the engine’s gone bad. And then all out of nowheres they says he went crazy.” He fell silent, so the watchman pressed him further.

“He… well, he grabbed a hammer and started wailing on hisself with the claw end, tearing out gears and pistons and other bits–that’s how they figured he was one of them row-buts. The whole time he was gibbering in some weird language all full o’ numbers and words that din’t make a lick o’ sense. He pulled out his own tinny metal heart and he stuck in right in his own mouth and chomped down, but I guess it broke the jaw cause then he couldn’t talk anymore. And finally in the end, after he’d torn himself apart just as bad as iamtheaznman, he put that claw right through his own eyes and collapsed in the corner. But that weren’t all.” He looked down again at the body before us, his voice cold. “Apparently someone as cared heard about the machine and decided to go after poor Lignisse. The police’re still trying to noodle that one out. Maybe those shots mean they found who’us responsible.”

“But the shots came from two different places,” I murmured. “Were there two criminals loose?” We sat in silent contemplation for a moment. Finally, the watchman spoke.

“I don’t know what’s going on here,” he said, “but I’ll be damned if I’m going to wait around to find out. I’m going back to my place to lock the doors and keep an eye out for trouble.” He appraised me coolly. “I was keen on having a talk with you, mister, but now I’d just as soon leave yuh to yer own devices, if it’s all the same to yuh.”

As angry and bewildered and afraid as I was, I could not muster up an objection. And so the two men left me there on the banks of the river, unsure of what to do. Would that I had fled the town then instead of staying with the hope of lasting until dawn.

* * * * *

The Third

Bewildered and abandoned to my own devices, I stumbled across the river and found myself once again in the town square. Two men stood in the eaves of one of the shops, but were so engrossed in their discussion that they did see or hear me approach. Once I was close enough to listen in on their conversation, I realized that one of them carried a pistol and the other a rifle. They held their weapons casually, as if they were as used to firing them as they were to shaving or lighting a match. Such nonchalance was unfamiliar to me, and I felt the black wing of fear once again fluttering in my stomach. I hid myself in the shadows as they spoke.

“I’m for thinkin’ we should go after jdarksun next,” one said. “After that incident with the fella up by the ol’ Marsh place, he’s lookin’ right suspicious.”

“I was more worried about that Professor fellah… Moriarty, weren’t it?” the other one said. “Strange type to be wanderin’ around here, snoopin’ after who knows what.”

“We-ell,” the first said, as if rolling the word on his tongue, “might be best that we split up again and take them both. Quick and clean, like before.”

The second man nodded. “Shame about that girl, though. And the other two fellahs. At least you got the one critter stuffed.”

“Collateral damage,” the man said darkly. “We got to stop these things before…” He took a deep breath. “Weren’t right, what happened to my ma and your sister. We hafta make sure it don’t happen again.”

With a wordless nod, the other man turned and walked toward the ocean. The first stood silently for a moment, then walked down the road almost immediately in front of me and vanished across the bridge.

My heart raced. These two men had spoken of cold-blooded murder as if they were ordering a meal. I could not fathom what unspeakable horror could so corrupt the minds and hearts of seemingly rational individuals and warp them into practicing such vigilante justice. They must have been the originators of the shots that the watchman and I had heard earlier; this thought chilled me to the bone. It is one thing to wonder at the mysterious villains who could kill their brethren without remorse, and it was something altogether more terrifying to see the faces of the men, to hear their calm, reasoned discourse, and to imagine that all men carried inside them something that was capable of such callousness and brutality.

In a daze, I wandered to the south side of the street and stared vacantly into the windows of a drug store. It was closed, clearly, and yet there was a flickering light inside that was similar to a spluttering candle and yet different in some way I could not place. Leaning against the door, I realized that it was open, and I stepped inside to investigate the source of that mystery.

I found it between a row of shelves: the body of a robed figure, contorted as if it had died of an apoplectic fit. Looking closer, I noted deep burn marks on every visible portion of his skin, and his eyes had been all but melted in his skull. Hardly knowing what I was doing, I reached toward the corpse and was rewarded with a shock of electricity that stung but did not harm me. Who could have done such a thing? Horrified, I backed away and nearly knocked over a mirror that rested atop one Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn of the shelves. I caught it just in time, and surveyed my own haggard expression with surprise and dismay. I also noted the reflection of another body crumpled in a corner. Turning to inspect it, I saw a wickedly curved dagger discarded on the floor nearby, covered in blood. It did not take a great deal of deduction to determine that the person had been eviscerated. I held up my hands to block the sight, realizing that I still held the mirror.

Behind my reflection in the glass, a dark, smoke-like figure appeared. I immediately looked behind me, but I was alone in the store. My brows furrowed in confusion. Gazing into the glass again, I saw the figure coalesce into a twisted shape that writhed and oozed like a mound of worm-filled earth in humanoid form. I longed to scream but my breath had frozen in my throat. I could not run or even move away. I could only watch the figure creep ever closer and raise a squirming arm toward my defenseless back.

Finally, I broke free of the paralysis that had overtaken me. With a shout, I threw the mirror at the storefront glass and leapt forward. As the mirror shattered, I felt an explosion behind me and was instantly pelted with grime. I glanced over my shoulder to see that the creature had been blown apart and was now merely a sodden pile of dirt. Had I overcome it? The earth did not move, and my racing heart began to slow as my breath came to me in longer, steadier inhalations.

That was when he stumbled towards me. One of the townspeople–I remembered seeing him in the crowd earlier. His skin had a greenish hue, and he held out an arm to me as if in supplication.

“Help…” he coughed. Blood trickled down his mouth and onto his shirt. I stepped away in horror and he fell to the ground, doubled over in pain. As I watched, an insect, like a large grasshopper, crawled out of his mouth. As a crack in a dam soon releases a flood, that first insect was followed by others, wriggling from his nose, dragging themselves from his ears, escaping from his every orifice and then swarming over him so that I hoped against hope that he was already dead. His body convulsed, and soon the locusts–for at last, I recognized them for what they were–were bursting from beneath his very skin and returning to feast on it.

I did not wait to see whether they would give me their attention once they finished their feast. I ran toward the hotel and threw open the door, closing it behind me and hoping against hope that I was not destined for death this night. How could I have escaped Newham only to find myself embroiled in another nightmare? Was this evil to follow me until the end of my days?

If only I had known then what I know now, I would have realized that these fears were as nothing compared to what was to come.

* * * * *

The Fourth

As I sought to contain my terror, I realized that it was becoming easier to do so, as if it were some animal that I was slowly beginning to tame. I gazed at the interior of the hotel, which had seemed so comforting when I first arrived, only to feel repulsed by the abundance of weapons that now surrounded me. And yet, a part of me was interested, even attracted. The glint of steel was almost hypnotic, and I found myself reaching out to grasp one of the elegant sabers that hung enticingly on the wall before me.

“Been through a lot, that blade has.” The voice of the night clerk pierced my reverie as cleanly as a knife thrust. I lowered my hand quickly, ashamed, and yet unaccountably angry that I had been interrupted.

“I wasn’t here for the troubles that came before,” the man continued, watching me from beneath hooded eyes. “But my son was. One night another traveler, much like yourself, passed through this town, and that night…” His eyes hardened like coal into diamonds. “That night my son went mad. I found him in the grocery store, hiding among empty boxes in the stock room, and I took him home. One moment he would be moaning to himself, crying, and the next he would tear at his own flesh with his bare hands, screaming in a language I didn’t understand. I cared for him as best I could, but one day I left him to pick up some food, and when I came back, he was dead. Swallowed his own tongue.”

“Why are you telling me this?” I asked.

“I came here for answers,” he said. “The government wouldn’t give them to me. My son couldn’t. And so here I am. And what I have found here…” To my surprise, he shuddered.

“There is a war,” he said softly. “And we all must choose a side. Each of us living in this village has the power to save or damn. Even,” he said, looking up at me, “you.”

“And which side are you on?” I whispered.

He looked away then, at the suit of armor that stood stiffly at attention against the far wall. The passion that had filled him a moment before seemed to vanish like a flame in a hard wind. He looked older, then, and a bud of sympathy bloomed in my heart. “All I wanted was revenge,” he murmured. “But how do you avenge yourself against a shadow, a nightmare lurking in the corners of the night? I had only just begun to find what I came here for, and now…” Again he turned his gaze on me, but his eyes were empty and cold. “Now you are here, and all these things are happening so quickly that I have no time even to think!” He took a step toward me, and I retreated. His body seemed to be growing, taking up more space in the small room.

“You are the lynchpin,” he hissed, and his eyes had narrowed into slits. “The keystone. The anchor. All of this began when you arrived. The pieces are in place, and I have not even learned the rules of the game!” I backed away again as he pressed forward. “You are here too soon, and you have deprived me of my vengeance!”

He leapt at me, his fingers curved into claws that searched for my throat. I fought him off as best I could, but he was possessed by a madness I could not fathom. His teeth were sharp as a badger’s, not human at all, and they tore into my hand as I pushed him away with it. That cold, detached part of me that had surfaced earlier arose in me once again; I reached back over my head to grasp the sword that I had admired upon entering. Blinded as he was with rage or insanity, he did not even have time to react as I drove the blade downward and into his skull.

His blood spurted onto my face and chest and the floor behind the clerk. He spasmed once and fell, his weight tugging the sword from my nerveless grasp.

I do not know how long I stood motionless over the corpse. I had never killed a man before, not even in Newham. The blood pounded in my ears like the sound of waves in a conch shell. And then, outside, I heard a lone rifle blast ring out–from where, I could not say. It wrenched me out of my stupor, and I stumbled toward the window, peeling back the curtain to see what there was to see.

No gun-wielding vigilante presented himself. Instead, a man crept cautiously along the other side of the square, looking around as if he were hearing things that I could not. I think he saw me, then, because he began to run toward the hotel. As soon as he left the shelter of the fish dealer’s shop, the rain began.

Only it wasn’t water that fell from the sky, it was fire.

Tongues of flame shot to the ground, but appallingly, they were not aimless. They flew like arrows toward the man that had left what must have been safety under the awning of the shop, and I watched as the bright flashes struck him, consumed him as if he were made of tinder. His flesh blackened and melted, his eyes shrank and sizzled into marbles, and soon even his bones cracked from the heat of the flames that battered relentlessly at what had once been a man. By the time the fires abated, only a pile of white ash was left.

Then, I realized that I had not been watching the conflagration alone. Near the south side of the square, a figure emerged from the darkness. It looked like a perfectly normal man, dressed in some kind of work apron apparently made of thick leather and wearing a set of goggles on the crown of his head. But as he was more clearly illuminated I saw that in his left hand he carried a human head, its eyes rolled back and its mouth agape. I must have moved or made some noise, because the man looked directly at me and shouted at someone behind him, then began to walk towards the hotel.

I did not stay to find out who he was or what his intentions were. Pulling the sword free from its fleshy scabbard, still coated, as I was, in the blood of the night clerk, I ran through the halls until I came to the back door, pushed it open, and fled into the night.

* * * * *

The Fifth

Without even knowing who–or what–pursued me, I raced northward as quickly as I could, and soon found myself facing the banks of the river that cut through the center of Innsmouth. I did not know how far west the river might travel, but I was not certain that it would be any safer to make for the bridge and try my fortune on the other side. Paralyzed with indecision, I was confronted by the sound of footsteps behind me.

I was surprised to see, not the ominous man with the bodiless head, but a figure concealed within a robe so dark blue as to be black. I could not see his face, if indeed it was a man who stood before me. I gripped my sword tightly, but did not raise it for fear that I would precipitously antagonize one who might mean me no harm. For I know not how long, we faced each other in silence, I regarding him warily and he, for all that I could tell, regarding me impassively. At last, he broke the silence with a voice like a man with consumption.

“Why do you fear us?” he wheezed. The question caught me off guard.

“I don’t… I don’t even know who you are…” I sputtered. He laughed, a wet, gurgling laugh like water in a plugged drain.

“Always so quick to fear what you do not understand,” he said. “From our first unjustly punished impulse in Eden, we have ever been plagued by the need to know, and the fear of not knowing. We drew dragons and monsters on the unexplored areas of maps, then bit by bit we conquered those lands, charted them, named them, and so they no longer frighten us, and we no longer populate them with dangerous myths. We climb to the summits of mountains to define the places where they separate from the darkness. We dig deep into the lands below the earth to uncover the hidden gold and gems beneath, and bring them into the light where they can be cut and shaped to our whims. But still we fear, for still there are things that we do not know, places that we have not explored, creatures that we have not caught and pinned and cataloged for our own pathetic sense of security. If mankind knew what slumbered beneath the fathomless depths of the ocean, they would see that the monsters on the maps were not a nameless fear, but a warning.” He looked up at me then, and I saw the flicker of something shine beneath the cowl of his robe. “A warning… or a summons for those who were not afraid of the darkness.”

As from the bottom of a well, I heard myself ask, “Why are you telling me this?”

“Your coming was not an accident,” he said. “You have been led here by forces beyond your comprehension, so that we who have waited patiently for your coming might reclaim that which was stolen from us.”

“Stolen… what… who are you?” I whispered.

“We are the children of the Deep Ones,” he answered. Then he cocked his head to the side as if puzzled. “But do you know who you are?”

Of course I did! I was Mathieu Warrick, and I was here because I had survived Newham, and at that moment I resolved that I would survive this, too, whatever the cost. And yet…

“What do you want from me?” I demanded. My tone must have surprised him, because he laughed again. And then he said something in a language I did not understand, but that seemed to creep over my skin like an army of worms.

“Seed of the seed, blood of the blood, dream in the eye of the mother who sleeps in Y’ha-nthlei. The lost one shall return, and the father shall honor his coming with death.”

His words chilled me to the marrow of my bones. It was as if he had spoken a riddle whose answer I could not begin to fathom, and which held no promise of hope in its unraveling.

He took a step toward me, and I backed away, toward the river. A glance behind me warned that I would plunge into the rushing waters if I moved much further, and so I raised the sword in front of me.

“Don’t come any closer,” I warned. Again, he laughed, and took another step. I brandished the weapon menacingly, but he continued to laugh and move closer. Finally, with a hoarse shout, I leapt away and began to run parallel to the river, toward the bridge. I heard his steps behind me, and just as I reached the town square, I felt a moist touch at the nape of my neck.

Then, without warning, there was a loud thud and the touch vanished. I ran a few steps more and glanced back to see that I was no longer being pursued. The robed figure was curled up on the ground, and standing over him was a man I recognized from the crowd that had gathered when the first two bodies were found what seemed like eons ago. In his hand, he held a large cudgel, with which he proceeded to methodically beat the man–if it was a man–who had chased me. Soon, other townspeople stepped out of the shadows, watching the violence in satisfaction. One of them approached me and held out a handkerchief, which I gratefully accepted.

“You all right, mister?” the young man asked. I shuddered, then nodded.

“It’s been a long night,” he continued. “And it’s not over yet. But I feel like we’re winning, ya know?”

“Is it a game?” I murmured, remembering what the night clerk had told me. “Who are the players? What sides are we on?”

“Well,” he said, “I believe I’m on your side, mister, if you’re on mine.”

The man with the cudgel finished his grim work and approached me. “You’re lucky we found you when we did. It’s been a grim night, I don’t mind telling you, a very grim night. The dead are piling up like Judgment Day’s upon us.”

“More dead?” I said, and he nodded.

“We found one fellah near an old church on Main Street, all covered in boils and looking like he’d scratched hisself to death. Then the police found another o’ them machine things and shot him up good, and another one just up and blew like a busted steam engine. And then there was the buddy of that fellah,” he said, gesturing at the corpse he had so calmly battered to death. “Police shot him up, too.”

“See?” the young man interjected. “I told yuh we were winning!”

I wished I could share his enthusiasm, but the words of the dead figure echoed through my mind, and I felt no peace. The lost one shall return… What could it mean?

And whose side was I on?

* * * * *

The Sixth

Were these the innocent residents of the town? Were these the gentle lambs bred for sacrifice? Were these the meek who had been promised the earth? It could not be so.

We strode en masse from door to door, a collective angel of death, and each time we were not answered, we forced our way in and meted out bloody justice. The first to fall was Thetheroo, struck down by club and axe, bones shattering as he held his arms over his head to protect himself. Then Dac Vin, cringing in the corner of his home; his blood sprayed against his whitewashed walls as his throat was cut by a long butcher’s knife. Others followed, one after another, men and women paralyzed by fear judged guilty of far greater crimes and immediately sentenced and executed.

But there were others who met the mob as it made its deadly way north along Federal Street. They came with their own weapons, blade and bludgeon clutched in white-knuckled fists, ready, even eager to participate in the grim work. Their faces were emotionless, as if they were mere puppets going through motions while their master pulled their strings. I could not bring myself to speak out, but I feared these people more than the miserable creatures whose lives we were stealing one by one.

We finally reached the church green, and an argument began as to which building should be examined first. Some members of the group wished to explore the old Mason hall, others preferred to start with one of the two churches, and still others did not think that anyone would be in the buildings and that they should move on to other homes.

The argument ended when the sound of chanting was heard coming from the Mason hall. Slowly, carefully, we moved toward the towering oak doors. Then, without warning, a man dressed in black opened the door and slipped out, coming face to face with torches and lanterns and above all, weapons aimed directly at him.

The man who had saved me earlier was the first to speak. “What all is going on in there, eh, Oatway?”

Oatway hesitated. “Don’t you know, Typhus?”

“If I knew, I wouldn’t be asking,” he snapped. His tone surprised me; he had been quite calm until now.

“The cultists are massing,” Oatway replied. “They are sacrificing one of the townspeople to bolster their waning power.” He swallowed loudly. “It is a futile effort. Their demon lords are only concerned with their own selfish ends.”

“You seem to know quite a lot about them,” Typhus733 said. “Why might that be?” Everyone watched Oatway expectantly. I wondered which “them” he meant.

To my surprise, Oatway smiled. “So it is you, then,” he said softly. “To think that I have finally found you, and it will avail me naught.” A murmur went up within the mob as the two men faced each other.

“This is ridiculous,” another man said, stepping forward. He raised his pistol and leveled it at Oatway’s head, pulling the trigger without hesitation. The shot was true, and Oatway’s skull exploded outward, staining the doors of the Mason hall with his brains and blood.

A darkness fell then, thicker than the night in which we already stood, obscuring the moon and stars and even the lanterns and torches of the crowd. A cry went up; people stumbled about blindly, falling over each other, and some shrieked in pain. I fell to my hands and knees and crawled in what I thought was the direction of the churches on the other side of the green. I could feel the motions of others around me, but I was mercifully untouched.

I finally came to an opening and fell into it gratefully, hoping that I could lie in wait until the mysterious blackness had lifted. Then I felt someone stumble in front of me, grunting with some kind of effort that I could not see. He seemed sure of his footing somehow, and I wondered where he might be going. With a courage I had not known I possessed, I followed the sound of his steps down a flight of rough stone stairs. By the time I reached the bottom, either the darkness had been lifted, or I had gone so deep that it had not penetrated the layers of I knew not what above me.

I came to be in the vasty bowels of a cave, no doubt somewhere beneath one of the churches. My way was lit by thick red candles dripping wax like blood onto the wrought iron pedestals that supported them. Ahead, I could hear a single voice rhythmically chanting, though in what language I could not be coaxed to say. I would have fled back to the surface had I not known in vivid detail what already awaited me there, and so I pressed forward into the darkness, and the guttural sounds grew louder until I at last arrived at a horrifying sight.

Before me was a gathering of townsfolk, or so I thought; a cursory examination showed that they were in fact wax figures apparently molded to resemble residents of the town. A raised dais before me supported a crude stone cauldron, behind which stood a figure that I recognized as Typhus. In one hand, he held a curved knife that glinted in the flickering light, and in the other–no, I could not believe it, though the very fact stood before me as plainly as a shadow in daylight. When I saw the lifeless body of Oatway on the ground, my nightmarish fears were confirmed.

In his other hand, Typhus held the raw, bloody heart of the dead man.

“The time has come, worshippers of the Demiurge!” he bellowed. “I have studied the Book of Eibon, the last teachings of Zon Mezzamalech, and at last we shall gain the wisdom of the gods who died before the Earth was born! Tonight, we shall summon forth Ubbo-Sathla and recover the stone tablets that will show us the way to the stars!”

I recoiled in horror, pressing myself against the wall of the cave until my arms were scraped raw by the bare rock. Powerless to intercede, I watched as he threw the gory organ into the cauldron, then drew a gray crystal from beneath his robes.

The horrific chanting began anew as Typhus held the crystal aloft. It glowed with a sickly pale light that engulfed the cauldron and, no doubt, its disgusting contents, until with a hideous shriek, he thrust the crystal into the stone vessel and all was mercifully silent.

But the reprieve was not to last. From the unseen depths of the earth arose a sound as of the very foundations of the world groaning with effort. The mad demon-worshiper gazed down into the depths of the cauldron and cackled with delight.

“He comes!” he shrieked. “Behold, the Unbegotten One, Ubbo-Sathla!”

A shapeless mass flowed over the lip of the cauldron, viscous as glue and yet apparently possessed of some unfathomable intelligence. It poured onto the stone floor and spread like a swarm of ants toward the wax figures; upon reaching them, it oozed up and engulfed them completely. I retreated further, fearing that the wave would come for me next.

But that was not to be. Upon consuming the figures, a sound between a gurgle and a groan issued from the cauldron. Typhus733 watched in delight as a giant limb, like a crude tentacle or a pseudopod, rose and groped about blindly. It finally found the man and coiled around him as he shrieked in apparent ecstasy, his eyes rolling back into his head. From his open mouth, an endless host of tiny creatures emerged, and as I watched his skin became dry and dessicated as an empty corn husk. The viscous mass that poured over the wax figures now retreated, covering Typhus like a cocoon. With inexorable slowness, the pseudopod dragged the corpse down into the cauldron and disappeared.

I stood silently for I know not how long, my breathing shallow, my mind hardly able to grasp the horror that I had just witnessed. And yet a part of me was satisfied, even grimly pleased. The rest of me, after recovering from the initial shock, finally found the strength to propel me back toward the stairs from whence I had come, hoping against hope that I would not be returning to a lightless surface thick with the dead.

* * * * *

The Seventh

Men, it has been well said, think in herds; so too do they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one. As I emerged from the strange underground cavern into which I had crawled, I saw several bodies lying in the church green, where they had been shot or trampled or beaten or stabbed to death, no doubt in the oppressive darkness that had fallen upon the death of Oatway. My rational mind would have scoffed at such ideas before, but now they seemed natural, even reasonable. And where I might once have felt sorrow, remorse, even pain at the sight of the dead, instead I coolly appraised the scene and noted that the survivors appeared to be making their way down to the waterfront. Shifting my grip on the sword in my hand to hold it more comfortably, I set out to meet them.

The crowd stood at the base of a tongue of sand that curved around the shore like a protective arm, forming a breakwater against the rough seas of the Atlantic Ocean. Making its slow way out toward the open water was a small boat, its oars manned by a dark figure lit from the front by a small oil lantern. I was too far away to see his face, but I could hear one of the policemen calling out to him.

“Egos!” he said. “We know you killed Gorilla Salad! Come on back or you’ll be sorry!”

Egos shouted back, “I never killed nuhbahdy! Yuh’re all gone out yar minds! Ah’ll row clean tuh Arkham and send back the real puhlice!”

This struck me as the most reasonable thought that anyone had had all night, and yet the townspeople began to scream and throw rocks toward him. None, however, dared to venture out on the bar of sand. None except the policeman.

“I’m giving you to the count o’ three!” he said. Egos ignored him, rowing as hard as he could manage, glancing back over his shoulder to make sure that he was not going to hit the rocks.

“One…”

From somewhere to the north, I heard a sudden scream cut off almost as quickly as it occurred.

“Two…”

To the south, there was an explosion from what looked like an old warehouse.

“Three!”

Egos wasn’t looking at the policeman when he finished counting, and so he was caught in the back of the head by the shot from the man’s rifle. As he fell, he must have kicked his lantern over, because soon bright orange flames licked at the bottom of the boat, spreading up the leg of Egos’ dead body until he and the boat were engulfed in flames. Everyone watched as the boat slowly keeled over and sank into the black waters before us. But I… I was looking back at the town.

It seemed so peaceful from here. And yet, at the top of a hill along the river, I saw a robed figure raise a lantern. Watching. Waiting.

For me.

* * * * *

The Eighth

The crowd stood silently staring out over the cold waters of the ocean, and the blackness of the open sea stared back. It was nearly impossible to determine where the water ended and the sky began. Sometime during the long, bloody trek from home to home, a storm had rolled in and dense clouds blotted out the moon and stars. I thought of beginnings and endings. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. The policeman who had shot Egos made his way back to the mainland and stomped the sand off his boots.

“Well,” he said conversationally, “I guess that’s the last o’ them. Maybe now we can head home and get some rest before–“

“Are you so sure of that, officer?” a voice interjected. A dozen eyes turned to see a sloppily dressed man with strange goggles and wild hair sticking out in all directions. He smelled vaguely of sawdust, and was clutching something in his right hand.

“Easy there, Ianator,” the policeman said. “You got summat to say?”

Ianator twitched nervously and surveyed the crowd, his eyes finally resting on me. “We don’t know who that stranger is, for one,” he said. “And we don’t know if anyone else here is one of those demon-creatures in disguise. I…” He seemed to choke on his own words. “I killed one of them, but there could be more. There could be more…”

“So what do you suggest?” The officer’s tone was low and even, but I sensed the menace crouched behind his words.

“There is only one way to be sure,” Ianator whispered. “They killed my friends, my family… there is only one way to be sure.” He opened his coat, exposing a row of dynamite strapped to his waist. The object in his hand, then, must have been the detonator. The gathered crowd began to back toward the dark waters that lapped eagerly at the shore. Tears rolled down Ianator’s face as he raised the trigger.

A shot rang out, and Ianator collapsed to the ground. Behind him stood the other policeman, who lowered his smoking pistol to his side.

“That,” he said, “was just about enough of that.”

A cheer went up, and people rushed forward to embrace him and clap him on the back. I was not possessed of their sudden joviality; a cold tremor passed through me, and I found myself searching for the robed figure that I had seen standing next to the river. Not sighting him, I slipped quietly into the shadow of the homes that lined the waterfront and began to make my way back toward the church green. This fight, I knew, was not over.

No street passed straight from my present location to my destination, and so I walked west toward Federal Street. To my left, an old refinery loomed over the river and what used to be the town square; some awareness in me stirred, and I knew that it had belonged to Obed Marsh, the patriarch of the town and… something more. Something I could not yet name.

As I approached the old town square, one of the townsfolk stepped out of the shadows. Something about the angle of his head troubled me, but I held my tongue.

“You will come with usss,” he hissed. As he spoke, I realized that his mouth was not moving, it was merely hanging open.

The man lunged at me, and I raised my sword in defense. He must have been as surprised as I was, because he ran straight into it almost to the hilt. And yet, as he collapsed, I could have sworn he looked almost at peace. That was when I saw the creature that was attached to his neck, and which now spasmed, because it too had been skewered by the blade. It looked like a starfish, only elongated, with the top arm stretching from the nape of the man’s neck into his hair, and the other arms apparently clinging to the man’s arms and legs. As I watched, the demon shrank and shriveled until only a skeleton remained, and then even that crumbled into chalky dust and blew away in an intangible wind.

I did not stop to investigate further, but renewed my climb towards the main street of the town. I passed more bodies as I walked; one, I was sorry to note, was the watchman who had almost taken me in before. He had been cut open from chin to navel, his organs splayed out over the filthy ground. But I had no time for grief.

I had an appointment to keep, but with who or what, I would not know until I arrived. And after that… the fates would decide.

* * * * *

The Ninth

The church green was deserted, the corpses that had littered the ground before growing colder as the night progressed. As devoid of life as the scene appeared, the doors to the Mason hall were wide open, as if inviting me inside. I mounted the steps one by one, apprehension and eagerness battling within me for supremacy. Would this be the end of my search? Would I finally come to know my purpose in finding my way to this town? What would that purpose be?

Inside, the hall bore some resemblance to a church, with rows of benches lining both sides of an aisle that led up to a raised platform at the front of the room. A black marble slab as big as a coffin dominated the platform, but there was enough room behind it for a man to stand. And so one stood, watching me approach with a faint smile on his face, which was covered with blood.

Unfortunately, another man also shared the room with us, but he was no longer with us in this world. He lay atop the altar, his intestines draped over the side like an altar cloth. I did not doubt that it was his blood that painted the mouth of the other man.

“The prodigal son,” the man said. “Promised to the children of the Deep Ones since the destruction of the town drove some into the waters, and the rest into hiding. Until now.”

“Who are you?” I demanded.

“My name is Varcayn,” he said. I waited for some further explanation, but when none was forthcoming, I asked, “What do you want from me?”

“Either your life, or your death,” he answered enigmatically, still smiling. “The choice is yours.”

I watched him silently, still not sure what he meant. Even so, some part of me yearned to join him, compelled as if by the very blood that ran through my veins. I fought the impulse, reminding myself of the other figure that occupied the room with us. Was this even a man who stood before me, speaking to me, asking me to make a choice that I could not understand?

“My life is my own,” I replied. “How could I give it to a monster such as you?” Rage suddenly infused my voice. “How many of these people have you killed tonight? First Newham, now this? Will I ever be pursued by madness and death?”

“Is that your choice, then?” he asked. “Know that I offer you the immortality that is your birthright, and that by denying me, you deny yourself and your brethren that right.”

“I know nothing about what you are offering me!” I cried. “But I know that you are a fiend and a murderer, and I will not ally myself with such a creature!”

“Am I so much worse than the innocent people of this town?” he said. I could not answer. I had seen so many things tonight, and in Newham, that I would not have imagined possible: neighbor killing neighbor, brother against brother… it was beyond endurance. And yet I had endured, and so had those people, despite their horrific deeds against each other in the name of security. Would that be enough? Could we face each other in the morning after this long, hellish night and still claim to be human beings?

“Yes,” I said. “You are the reason for all this. If not for you, all these people would be alive and living in peace.”

“I only sowed the seeds of fear and watched them ripen into beautiful, violent fruit,” he replied. “They did this to themselves. They were weak, and they have been culled.”

“I will never,” I spat, “be as inhuman and heartless as you and your kind.”

“Then,” he laughed, “you will die.”

As I watched, his skin stretched until it tore apart like poorly stitched clothing. Underneath, he was black as pitch, so dark that all light seemed to be absorbed into his body. His face ripped apart at the lips, and his head was made of the same stuff as the rest of him. Instead of eyes, he had a single black hole, and his mouth was a larger hole underneath it, fleshy and toothless. Rising from his back were two sooty wings that he shook free of their fleshy confines and spread out like those of some nightmarish bat. And, like a bat, he raised his head to the sky and loosed a high-pitched, terrifying shriek that shattered the glass in the windows overhead.

My legs shook, and I longed to run in fear, but I stood my ground. I had come this far, and I would face my fate, whatever it might be. The figure leapt onto the black marble slab and dove at me, vicious claws outstretched to rend me limb from limb.

A shot rang out, and the demon was knocked backward onto the floor. I threw myself to the side, between two of the benches. More shots followed, and I watched as the demon flinched and twitched and howled in pain. Finally, it lay still, and the corpse began to dissolve into the floor as if it were being washed down a storm drain.

I arose from the ground and gazed at the police officer who had saved me. He grinned crookedly at me, the hands that held the rifle shaking slightly.

“That sure was somethin’,” he said. “Good thing I found you when I did.” I nodded, unable to find my voice.

“We thought everything was all tied up in a bow, neat-like,” he continued. “But then Natik up and jumped on Infidel ‘n Law’nater, and we ended up shooting both of them. So we knew something was up. We saw you’d gone, so we spread out to find you, and here you are.”

“Yes, here I am,” I murmured. “And now what?”

That was when the earthquake began. The policeman and I stumbled out of the building as the ground shook violently. I thought I saw a bright light coming from the place where I had followed the demonologist before, and so I fled in that direction.

Suddenly, a man appeared before me–or, at least, I thought he was a man. His clothes were pure white, and he smiled at me the same way the demon had, but instead of horror, I felt some measure of peace. His eyes began to glow with some inner, fiery light.

“Know,” he said, “that this night is not over.”

He raised his head and bellowed towards the heavens, “I have returned to render judgment against those who have sinned. I am the right hand of the heavens and none who have turned their back to us shall escape this day.”

Could this mean that we would be saved? I wanted to place my trust in this figure, but knowing what I knew, I could not feel so optimistic. If this was not over, then they would still be coming for me.

But now, I felt more ready to meet them.

* * * * *

The Final

I watched in awe as Oatway began to walk down Federal Street toward the town square. It was difficult to look at him for too long, so glaringly white were his vestments. Tendrils of light drifted off him like curls of smoke, leaving wispy trails in his wake. He paid no attention to the buildings around him but moved forward without hesitation, as if he were a homing pigeon returning to his perch. Or perhaps more aptly, a hawk closing in on his prey.

I followed him down the street and across the bridge, the river swirling madly below us. In the center of the town square, one lonely figure stood, hidden by dark robes.

“The game is over, Toxic Toys,” Oatway said. “I have returned to cleanse the town of your kind forever.”

The man glared at me desperately, his eyes lit by Oatway’s illuminated form. “You can still be one of us!” he shouted. “We can be immortal! Will you throw that away in favor of the pathetic illusion of humanity that you’ve created for yourself?”

“Silence, sinner!” Oatway roared. “You have been judged, and you have been found wanting. The justice of the divine does not slink about in shadows to strike at the backs of its foes. Behold, the power of the Light!”

Oatway stretched out his arms as if to embrace Toxic, and from his back six luminous wings spread, so dazzlingly white that I had to shield my eyes with my arm. He opened his mouth and a deafeningly loud, clear note sounded, aimed directly at the cringing cultist before him. I could not tell if the figure called Toxic screamed, but as I watched, he raised his face to heaven and froze, as still as a statue. Then, with unbearable slowness, he collapsed in on himself, and I saw that he had been converted into a pillar of salt.

A cry arose from the hotel, and a man emerged. He seemed to be struggling with something, but he was alone. His expression alternated between fear and rage.

“Fear not, KingMole,” Oatway said softly. “The Light has not turned his face from you. You are forgiven for killing Pavek, for you knew not what you did. You shall be cleansed of the demon that possesses you.” Gently, he laid his hand on KingMole’s forehead, and the man’s face immediately fell slack. He slid to the ground and lay quietly, his chest rising and falling as if he had slipped into a deep, restful sleep.

Then, another townsperson stepped out of the grocery store. With an inhuman cry, he rushed at Oatway, curved knife in hand. Before he had gone a few feet, he fell to his knees, clutching at his throat, and crumbled to dust.

“My poor Cheez,” Oatway said. “It was too late for you. Would that you had fought harder, I might have been able to save you as well.”

We stood in silence as the clouds cleared overhead, and the stars once again peered down from the night sky. Oatway’s brightness began to dim, and he folded his brilliant wings somehow so that they were no longer visible.

“My work here is done,” he said, turning to look at me. “I will return to my eternal rest, content that this town has at last been relieved of its demonic burden. Except…” His eyes bore into mine, and I trembled with a fear I could not name.

“Except what?” I asked.

“The final choice is still yours,” he said. “You are the last of the line of Obed Marsh. He and his kin live beneath the black waters of the ocean, consorting with evil creatures that have preyed on man since before the moon was set in the night sky to drive away the darkness. As long as you live, you will be their link to the surface world.”

“What do you mean,” I whispered, half wishing that I could remain in ignorance.

“They will seek to perpetuate their lineage through you, and your children, and your children’s children until the end of time,” he replied gravely. “Only you have the power to end his reign of terror on this town forever.”

Without another word, he grew darker and more insubstantial until he vanished completely. I could hardly breathe; my chest was heavy with the meaning of what he had told me. At last, I understood the strange compulsion that had brought me to this town, and that had led me to this, my ultimate choice.

And so ends my tale, as I lay on the bed back in my room in the hotel, for I had kept the key with me all this time without realizing it. The roar of the sea is echoing in my ears so that I can hardly think. It calls me, even now, as I hurry to finish writing this. It is almost time, I know, for my decision to come to fruition. I must admit that, after all that I had seen, I still hesitated to follow what I knew was the better course, but how could I become one of the unspeakable creatures that had plagued me all through this long night? No, that had plagued me all my life, though I had vainly sought to deny it? It was unthinkable.

Even now my hand grows weak, and I am hardly able to clutch the pen. This is a fitting place to end, I think. So many blades on the walls, all eager to be blooded. But I used the one that had served me so well all this time; it had killed demons before, and so it was only proper that it should kill one now. But know that I am not a demon. I did not die as one of them. I made my choice, and as my blood flows onto the sheets and stains them with my life, know that my blood is red and pure and I will not succumb to the darkness even as I breathe my last brea

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