Even More Nasty Stories
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by Brian McNaughton
Description: Twenty-one more tales of horror and dismay from Horror's master, Brian McNaughton. The Bram Stoker Award-winner returns with freakishly felicitous stories, funny and horrific at the same time.
eBook Publisher: Wildside Press, 2000 Wildside Press
eBookwise Release Date: June 2002
22 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [281 KB]
Reading time: 175-245 min.
The Doom That Came to Innsmouth
Grandma had been a bootlegger, according to a family joke that we didn't share with her when we visited the nursing-home I did . . . once. "Is it true that you got busted by Eliot Ness, Grandma?"
I asked, wise-ass kid that I was. She started carrying on about "Loch Ness," and getting very worked up, because that place was important to her religion.
"You got a golden crown waiting for you there, Joe, a crown that outshines the sun," she croaked in her liquid way, a way that nobody but me understood half the time. Even when I got the words, I wasn't always sure what they meant.
My name isn't "Joe," by the way, it's Bob, Bob Smith, but she always got me confused with her brother that she adored, Joe Sargent, long ago passed over. Ignored or even mocked by the bitchy attendants who kept her strapped in her bed, she clung to a pathetic scrap of pride that her brother -- or I -- used to drive a dinky bus in Massachusetts that connected the Back of Beyond with the Middle of Nowhere.
She thought it was a big deal that he had been allowed to hobnob with "outside folk." Her religion had been dead set against contact with non-believers, and only a few special people were allowed to "swim beyond the school," as she called any travel outside of Innsmouth. She bitterly regretted that she had been forced to swim way beyond the school and, what with one thing and another, never swam back.
Her life was pretty dismal. She was brought up in the strict cult that owned her hometown, not much of a town at its best, but she'd loved it. She never recovered from the shock when the Feds invaded and trashed her birthplace. Mom theorized that it was a Prohibition raid that got out of hand when some deputies recruited from nearby towns grabbed the chance to express their prejudice against Innsmouth people. They roughed them up a lot, I guess, but to hear Grandma tell it, they herded people into cellars and set fire to the houses, then opened up with tommy-guns on anyone who tried to escape. But this was the United States of America, after all, and I was sure she had confused real events with movies about Nazis.
They sent her to a camp in Oklahoma, where she said a lot of people died of "separation from the Great Mother," which meant they missed the ocean. Swimming was a sacrament to these people.
Franklin D. Roosevelt inherited the mess when he came into office in 1932 and was reportedly horrified, although he had bigger problems on his mind at the time. Even though a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, Marcus Allen Coolidge, tried to prevent or delay their release, the president just closed the camp with as little fuss as possible, leaving the inmates to find their own way home. I guess having a few hundred more bums on the road during the Great Depression seemed preferable to letting J. Edgar Hoover run a concentration camp.
Funny thing about that: Grandma insisted that Hoover had Innsmouth blood, that he had "the look," and that he persecuted his own people because they reminded him of a heritage he rejected. But she was always claiming famous people as "really one of us," Gloria Swanson and Edward G. Robinson, for instance. The only famous person she claimed to be certain about was Albert Fish, a cannibal and serial child-killer who went to the electric-chair in 1936.
She tried to make her way back east by hopping freight-trains, a pretty rough way for a woman to get around, though not all that uncommon in those days. It was not the most direct way to get anywhere, and with stops at jails and hobo-jungles, with detours that took her from Louisiana to Minnesota, she finally gave up when she got to Seattle. It was the wrong side of the continent, she said, but it was near an ocean.
There she met a fisherman named Newman, a bastard who married Grandma for no other reason than the universal superstition that her people had a way with fish. You can say "Innsmouth" to a trawlerman from Norway or Japan and, if he's old enough, you'll get a startled look of recognition, even though he usually doesn't want to talk about it. Newman used to take her along on his boat as a good-luck charm. When he didn't catch anything, he would beat her.
Grandma started to go round the bend after Mom was born, but it was fifteen years before Newman put her away. Mom left home not long after, and I was twelve years old before she made an effort to locate her mother and visit her.
I nagged her into doing it, because I have always been intensely curious about my roots. As far back as I can remember, I felt different from other people. I used to daydream about the magnificent welcome I would get when my real parents -- the King and Queen of Mars, maybe -- tracked me down. I had night-time dreams of flying, or maybe swimming, through the stupendous galleries of a twilight city like nothing I had even heard about on earth. I believe I had those dreams even before I was exposed to some of Grandma's wilder ravings.
For Mom, the reunion was shattering. "God, she's ugly! And she's crazy as a bedbug." Mom shivered with loathing. "And she smells." She cried all the way home on the bus. Later I would sometimes catch her looking at me in a strange way, as if trying to decide whether I was starting to take after Grandma.
She wanted nothing more to do with her mother. I believed she would have forbidden me to visit her if I asked, so I never asked. Knowing I was different, I learned early to protect my secrets and wriggle around the rules made for other people. In case you think I'm bragging, nobody even suspected me when I finally helped her escape, to say nothing of other things I've managed to get away with. But in those days I got to see Grandma once or twice a month by making up stories or skipping school to walk and hitchhike my way to the nursing-home, which was way out near Issaquah.
I didn't think she was ugly, I thought she was beautiful, so sleek and graceful in her old-fashioned way. Her huge eyes would transfigure her face when she talked about her home and her beliefs and seemed actually to be gazing on the vasty deep. I didn't think she was completely crazy, either, not when her stories raised echoes from my own dreams. As for smelling bad, that was the fault of the attendants, but I would raise hell whenever I went there until they cleaned her up and tended the sores from her restraints. Even when I was a kid, people knew I meant business when I looked at them in a certain way.
Since I was so different from other people, it stood to reason that my religion must be different from theirs, so I embraced Grandma's. I only wish I'd listened harder and understood more, and that Grandma's ordeal hadn't left her so confused. The story about the beautiful princess sleeping under the sea, waiting for me to wake her with the stones and the baptism, fueled my teen-age masturbation fantasies. I hated to consider the possibility that this was all wrong, that Grandma had mixed up her religion with the story of Sleeping Beauty.
Even though I searched every library and old bookshop in Washington and Oregon, even though I wrote dozens of letters to professors and churchmen, I never found any solid information about the beliefs and practices of the Esoteric Order of Dagon. Maybe there just weren't any more Dagonites.
Maybe I was the last one.
"My Grandma's brother used to drive this bus."
The driver glanced at me with annoyance.
"Not this bus, I mean, one that traveled the same route between Newburyport and Innsmouth in the old days, before--"
"See that sign? Don't talk to the driver," he said in the flat, Yankee way that reminds me of ducks quacking.
"You still don't much take kindly to Innsmouth folks around here, do you?"
"Sure, we do." At last I got a sort of smile out of him in the rear-view mirror as he added, "Because there ain't any."
I believed him. It was hard to imagine a romantically ruined town and its otherworldly cultists in this wasteland of strip-malls and Dairy Queens, where summer shacks had been converted into year-round homes for people who couldn't afford trailers. In this clutter that had been dumped willy-nilly onto a strangled marshland, you knew you were nearing the sea only when the junked automobiles in the yards gave way to junked boats, when the handwritten, cardboard signs in the windows said Live Bait instead of Beauty Salon.
The last of the other passengers had got off at a mall with a K-Mart a few miles back. I had studied them all guardedly for any resemblance to Grandma, or maybe to myself, but they were nothing but long-chinned, quacking Yankees in John Deere hats or pastel hair-rollers. Nobody but me was going all the way to Innsmouth. I would have liked to ask the bus driver if he thought I had "the look," but maybe his attitude said it all.
My own look is pretty damned odd, ever since alopecia hit me like a truck last year. Some people with the disease can brazen it out: Yeah, I got no hair, no eyebrows, no eyelashes, this is how I look, so fuck you, Jack. I admire such people, I even like their clean, smooth appearance, but I have spent my lifetime trying to blend in, so that's not my way. Besides, I couldn't have done that even if I'd wanted to, not after the onset of psoriasis a few months later. A perfectly bald head might go unremarked, but a perfectly bald, peeling head draws jeers in the street from children.
One alternative is to use false hair, and that might pass muster if you are rich enough to afford a very good rug and have the skill and patience of a makeup-artist. I wasn't rich. Pop had called himself an entrepreneur, which meant he would start doomed businesses and run them, or get me to run them -- like the famous Ice Kween Ice Kreem Co. -- until he got bored or they failed. After he died and I sorted out his disastrous affairs, I was left with a second-hand record shop in one of Seattle's more blighted areas, which I hung onto because I thought it would be a good way to find girls. I hadn't realized that it's mostly guys who buy old records. Correction: mostly guys who shoplift them.
A second alternative is to look for miracle cures. The first doctor I consulted had told me the brutal truth, that my hairlessness was hereditary and incurable, tough luck. He was more hopeful but no more helpful about the rash, which he said I would have until it went away. That didn't stop me from going around in my cheap wig, often-crooked eyebrows and ruddled face to every charlatan in the phone book.
None of them helped, but a Dr. Errol, who went to the trouble of asking for my medical and personal history, had heard about Innsmouth. He was up on all the angles of squeezing money out of patients, insurance companies and the government, and he urged me to apply for assistance under the Kennedy-Keaton Act. I didn't imagine it would be as simple as filling out a form and cashing a check, but I was floored by what I did get by registered mail within two days:
Pursuant to provisions of the Federal Reparations Act of 1962, as amended in 1994, which offers compensation to residents of Innsmouth, MA, or their legal heirs or assigns for actions by agents of the U.S. Government on or about February 14, 1928, et seq., you are required to present yourself to the Field Office of the U.S. Public Health Service, 291 N. Eliot St., Innsmouth, MA 01939-1750, in order to duly process your claim. Failure to appear is punishable by a fine of not more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000) and/or imprisonment for up to five (5) years.
Food, lodging and appropriate clothing will be provided for approximately ten (10) days while you undergo such tests and interviews as are required by law. Additionally, you are permitted to bring any personal effects which may be carried in a case no larger than 40X30x7.62 cm. and weighing no more than 2.3 kg. The importation of photographic equipment, audio or video recording devices, firearms or other weapons, alcohol, tobacco, combustible materials or controlled substances into the Facility is prohibited by law and punishable by a fine of not more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000) and/or imprisonment for up to five (5) years.
At the time of your induction into the Facility, you will be required to present your birth certificate, Social Security card and photographic ID (Passport, state driver's license, or Other deemed acceptable by the Examiner), current bank and credit-card statements, along with any documentation in the form of personal letters, diaries, family photographs, etc., that may relevate to your claim. Additionally, it is required that you complete the enclosed Questionnaire, Medical Release Forms and Waiver of Liability and return them, duly signed and notarized, to the above address, postmarked no later than five (5) business days from receipt of this communication.
Failure to comply with this notice or any of its provisions, or with any rules, regulations or provisions not explicitized herein, is punishable by a fine of not more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000.00) and/or imprisonment for a period of up to five (5) years.
(signed) I.M. Saltonstall, M.D.
U.S. Public Health Service.
Copyright © 2000 by Brian McNaughton