Monday, October 31, 2016

And now, for Halloween . . . the conclusion of THE AVATAR STONE!!!

WAIT!!! If you didn't read last week's entry, you will be starting this eerie story of Lovecraftian horror halfway through.  Scroll down and read last week's blog post first, THEN start here . . . and prepare to be creeped out!  BWUHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                                                      THE AVATAR STONE (Part 2)

“If I could have your attention, please, this is Captain Collins,” his voice crackled over the 1MC a few moments later.  “There is a large, amphibious creature of unknown origin loose onboard the ship.  All we really know about it is that it has tentacles and teeth and likes to use both.  If anyone thinks I’m joking, come take a long look at what’s left of Ensign Landry and Lieutenant Harris.  This thing killed them both – and it is extremely dangerous!  If you see it, report its location to the bridge immediately.”  He paused for effect, then continued. “I’m not even sure if bullets will hurt it, but I want all weapons qualified personnel to report to the small arms locker and the landing force locker immediately for weapons issue.  This is for your defense only – if you spot the thing before it spots you, don’t be John Wayne! Report its location and stay clear.  Again, this is not a joke and this is not a drill.  Mister Thompson or I will be on the bridge at all times.  This thing must be stopped, men, or it will kill again.  That is all.”

Thus began the most difficult twelve hours of my life.  Nothing was seen or heard of the creature, but the men remained on alert.  A few still persisted in thinking of the whole thing as a joke, but the Captain made sure the two corpses were available for viewing by anyone who didn’t believe him. Shortly before sunset, another was added to their number.  A lone radioman, shredding classified materials in an auxiliary space, was found dead, his severed hand still grasping the hatch-handle of the space.

As night drew on towards dawn, I suddenly turned to the Captain as he sat, a stern colossus, in his deck chair.

“Sir, did you send that message to Professor MacDonald at the Miskatonic?” I asked him.

“Yes, I did,” he replied.  “Let me make sure it was transmitted.”  He leaned forward and hit the button on the ‘bitch-box’ that connected the bridge with the major workspaces on the ship.

“Radio, bridge,” he said.  “This is the Captain. Did that long flash message go out yet?”

There was no reply, so he pressed the button again.

“Radio, bridge, did my message go out yet?” he asked.

Still nothing.  I knew my radiomen were competent enough to answer the CO if he called, and I turned pale at the next thought that entered my mind.

“Good God, Captain, do you know how many AC vents there are in the radio shack?” I said.

His eyes widened in horror.

“Shit!” he exclaimed.  “XO, take the conn!”

We pounded down the ladder from the bridge to the second deck, and then raced down the portside passageway, he with his .45 and me clutching my saber in one hand, praying we wouldn’t be too late.  The CO pressed the cypherlock combo on the door, and it opened with an electronic buzz and click.  I pushed it wide and gagged at the sight that met my eyes.  Four men had been on watch in the space, and not one of them was left alive – or in one piece.  At my feet lay the corpse of RM3 Gates, an amiable young man who was always there with a joke to cheer me out of a foul temper.  His arms were both gone, ripped from their sockets with nightmarish strength.  Beyond him lay the headless body of Chief Reid, recognizable only by his khaki uniform, amid the dungaree-clad bodies.

Then we heard it.  As long as I live, I shall never be able to shut out the sound of that bubbling, gurgling, obscene laughter from my memory.  I hear it in my nightmares to this day.  Advancing into the radio shack, we saw the monster we had been seeking. 

How can I describe it?  A good five feet tall, it looked like an unholy mixture of squid, dragon, and ape created by a mad sorcerer.  A single leering eye glared at us above a mouth lined with row after row of needle-sharp teeth, and tentacles or feelers wriggled from its monstrous face.  It was a nightmare, an abomination, something that had no place in a sane world – and yet, in every detail, it was a living duplicate of the monstrous statue I had picked up at the little shop in Kowloon.

It regarded us silently, with a terrible sentience, its feelers waving gently about its face, its rubbery claws clenching and unclenching.  I advanced until I was between it and the ventilation shaft it had entered through, cutting off its escape.   I tightened my grip on the saber, praying that some arcane power from the Elder Sign had rubbed off on it. Was the avatar able to sense it?  If so, it gave no indication that it felt endangered.  Instead, it burbled forth its obscene laughter again, and spoke those hideous words  that I recognized from my dreams of the titanic underwater city:  “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah-agl fhtagn!”  Then it lowered its nightmare head and charged at me.

The Captain’s .45 roared in my ear as he emptied his clip into the monster with no visible effect.  Why I stood my ground I do not know to this day.  Rage at the deaths of my friends, paralyzing fear, fascination, courage – I think I felt them all in the second it took the avatar of Cthulhu to reach me. As its bloodstained claws reached for me, I cried out in revulsion and swung the saber with all my strength.  There was a flash of light, an inhuman wail of agony, and the sharp smell of ozone filled the air, as though lightning had struck in the crowded space. To my amazement, I saw the monster retreating across the compartment, stinking green fluid spurting from the stump of its claw, which lay on the deck flopping and wriggling like a wounded spider.  I crushed it beneath my heel and advanced, barely noticing that my blade was glowing with an unearthly light and colors that were not part of any normal spectrum. 

Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out the Elder Sign we’d found in Waite’s safe.  The starstone shone like a small sun, bathing the room in its radiance.  The creature shrieked and raved, but I was between it and the nearest vent, and it could not get past me.  I found myself crying out loud in a tongue I did not know as I swung the blade again.  Two of the waving tentacles fell to the deck.  The bizarre, bubbling scream sounded again.  I lunged forward, plunging my saber deep into that burning red eye.  The light brightened and intensified, blinding the Captain and I for a moment.  The scream echoed from the monstrous maw again, and I could make out the words “Cthulhu” and “Yog-Sothoth” in that dreadful cry or prayer, whatever it was.  Then the hideous thing slumped to the deck, its life ended.  Very little of it must have been solid matter at all, as we understand it, for in moments all that remained of it was a foul-smelling green ichor that mingled with the blood of the men on the deck.

I wiped the blade clean on the sleeve of an old jacket and slid it back into my belt.  Then I looked at Captain Collins and smiled.

“It’s over,” I said. 

If only I had known the horror was just beginning!

The next day we held a burial at sea for the men who had been killed, and swore the crew to secrecy about what had happened.  I spent the day compiling all the evidence I could gather in order to convince higher authorities that the event had actually happened, but I was troubled and nauseous all day.  That night, the nightmare came to me again, stronger and more troubling than before.  A titanic underwater city, its inhuman architecture wrapped in seaweed, the building blocks too huge to have ever been moved or shaped by human hands.  I was aware of an upheaval, a rising of this submarine ruin, until  the tip of its highest peak stood above the waves, as it had done before down through the ages when the stars were right.  As I drew nearer, I saw that the largest structure of all was on top of this mountain.  I stood at its base and tried to make out the inscription at the top of the massive door – and when I succeeded, it drove me screaming back to consciousness.  Relieved as I had been to destroy the avatar, I realized then that it was just an image of a greater evil that still lived on.

The next night I had the same dream again, but this time I saw the thing that had driven me to wakefulness the night before. On the door, hundreds of feet high, was the image of the mighty squid-dragon himself, Great Cthulhu.  Rumbling from inside the depths of this tomb or temple was a deep and blasphemous incantation, of which I could make out only two words: “Cthulhu ftaghn!”

When I woke the next morning, exhausted and covered in sweat, I found that two men had gone insane during the night.  One of them, a dreamy Yeoman named Carroll, had screamed something about the gates of hell opening up, and had run down the passageways of the ship for a half hour before he could be subdued, screaming of watery demons coming to devour him.  The other, a second class signalman named Jameson who wrote poetry in his spare time, had calmly sat down at the mess table, taken a fork, and plunged it first into one eye, then into the other.  He was not expected to live.

I noticed when I got to the bridge that our heading was changed, and when I turned to the Captain he handed me a long message, then returned his gaze to the waters ahead.  I relieved the Officer of the Deck, and then settled into the command chair to read the long paper; it had come in over fleet broadcast the night before and was addressed exclusively to our ship.  It was from Professor MacDonald at Miskatonic University.

Captain, it read, It was wise of you to contact me.  I realize that the creature running loose on your ship is your chief concern at the moment, but let me assure you that the danger it poses is minor compared to the hideous menace to all human life which I greatly fear has awakened.  The so-called ‘Cthulhu cult,’ although very secretive and difficult to trace, has been exceptionally active this year.  For the first time in over forty years, the stars have aligned themselves again to wake the blasphemous being who slumbers in the cursed city of R’lyeh. The last time Cthulhu woke, in 1926, it was a very brave Norwegian seaman who stopped him from destroying the world by striking him with his own ship while Cthulhu was still weak from his slumber.  This did not destroy the monster, but weakened him enough that when the city sank again beneath the waves it carried Cthulhu with it before any of the other great Elder Beings sleeping there could be revived.  Now I fear it is once more the duty of a God-fearing, seagoing man to quell this threat.  You must make all speed for the following coordinates –

I stopped reading for a moment and asked the duty quartermaster if that were indeed our heading, and he nodded that it was.  I continued reading MacDonald’s message.

“As young Waite’s will may have told you, his family has been under the Innsmouth curse ever since Captain Obadiah Marsh brought the secret of the Deep Ones back to Innsmouth with him a hundred years ago.  I gave him the Elder Sign he wore, and it alone kept him from answering the call of the Deep Ones before now.  All the Innsmouth folks feel it, once they learn of their heritage.  I am glad he left the other Elder Sign for you, for it alone is guaranteed to be effective against Great Cthulhu himself, if he has indeed woken and recalled his full power.

Listen!  There is a great door at the peak of the mountain which has risen above the waves at these coordinates.  Ask any of your more imaginative crewmen; they will have dreamed of it.  He always reaches for the minds of artists, poets, writers, and madmen.  This is how the cult has been preserved from the dawn of time.

There is one other thing that might help.  I have delved deeply into the Necronomicon, and I did find the command in the sixth chapter which Waite referred to. It is in the tongue of the Great Old Ones, and it may or may not have some power over Cthulhu once he wakes up.  It is what they said when they imprisoned him long eons ago.  The Deep Ones worshipped Cthulhu in the days of his power, but in the time of his slumber they have come to hate and fear him.  They have kept vigil over R’lyeh for long centuries, but they are powerless now, for they have lost their Elder Signs, and I fear they may revert to Cthulhu worship when he has fully returned to life.  Here is the command:

“Tsaggith ngai R’lyeh ftaghn Cthulhu gwdlka Ashrothin!”


Loosely translated, it means: “To dead R’lyeh Great Cthulhu returns to slumber.” There is little else I can tell you, Captain.  Be strong and courageous; my prayers are with you.

Walking over to the navigation console, I checked our position. 

“We are still three hundred miles or more away,” I said.  “How do you propose to destroy this thing once we arrive?”

Captain Collins smiled at me grimly.

“Any way I can, Mister,” he said.  “Be he god or devil, he’ll find a five inch shell hard to deal with!”

I stayed at the bridge for the next day and a half by the Captain’s side, doing my best to ignore the rumors that were sweeping the ship.  Some of the crew thought we had gone mad – the XO fell into this category, and we had to physically subdue him to prevent him from taking the ship away from us.  Others said we were on our way to destroy a secret Soviet installation that was producing monsters like the one that killed half our radiomen.  One persistent Bosun’s Mate insisted we were on our way to Subic Bay for a surprise port call!  But those who had seen the avatar and the bodies of its victims knew that we were on our way to destroy a similar evil.

Well into the second day, we came across a mighty stone pillar which stood up high out of the ocean.  It was carved of deep black basalt, and dripped with green slime.  Its geometry was all off – no matter how hard I stared at it, or from what angle, I could not tell if it was cubic, cylindrical, or many-sided.  It seemed to somehow be all three at once.  The Captain ordered the ship to General Quarters as we slowly steamed in the rapidly shallowing waters towards an island peak looming in the distance.

By evening we were five hundred yards offshore, and the CO and I stood on the signal bridge, studying the long-sunken city through the high powered binoculars.  Titanic monoliths reared their heads everywhere; statues and effigies of bizarre and evil things no man had ever seen alive dominated most of the buildings.  The angles were outlandish; reflecting no earthly geometric pattern – one minute obtuse, the next acute, it hurt the eyes to stare at them for too long.  The captain had one ship’s photographer busily snapping pictures of the dead city, and I asked why.

“The brass in Washington will be anxious to know the reason why I took my ship hundreds of miles off course and lost ten lives.  Maybe this will show them why,” he explained.

At this moment the mists that shrouded the peak of the island lifted, and we gasped as we beheld it – the massive door, hundreds of yards high, that held the image of the monstrous squid/dragon/ape that we had learned to despise.  The photographer snapped another picture, and then the captain pressed the button on the intercom connecting him to Gunnery Plotting.

“Focus your fire on that massive door on the side of the mountain,” he said.  “I want it down!”

The sleek barrel of our five-inch gun mount adjusted itself and settled into position with a series of mechanical clicks that seemed extremely loud in the still waters.

“Ear protection on!” barked the Captain, and everyone up topside donned the heavy metal ear covers that never could completely block out the roar of the guns.

“Stand by for the first round,” called the CO.  Then he pressed the mike button again.  “You may fire at will, Mister Langley,” he said.

There was a moment of hesitation, and then an orange blossom of fire shot from the barrel of the gun, and the signal bridge shook with the recoil.  Watching the great portal through the binoculars, I saw the massive stone slab shatter, huge shards falling as the top half of the door was broken to rubble by the shell’s impact.

The Captain spoke again.

“Lower the angle point five degrees and give it another round,” he said.  Once more the gun roared, and the lower portion of the great door exploded into huge chunks of broken rubble.  The Captain stood immobile on the deck, feet planted apart, his eyes narrowing as he glared at the massive cavern we’d uncovered.

“All right, Cthulhu, you bastard,” he said.  “Come and take your medicine!”

And Great Cthulhu came.  Merciful God, it came!

The XO, who had escaped the confinement we’d placed him under when he tried to take the ship from Captain Collins, had made his way up to the signal bridge at just that moment.  He went utterly mad at the sight, collapsing to the deck gibbering and weeping.  A signalman who had been staring through a pair of binoculars screamed and threw himself fifty feet into the sea, which was suddenly teaming with fishlike creatures that swam like men.  They latched on him and dragged him under right away.

Collins stood his ground as the blasphemous shape heaved itself up out of the cavern, towering hundreds of feet high. It was inconceivable that anything could be so big!  The massive tentacles about the head waved in horrible unison as the Elder God, member of a race that filtered down from the stars when the earth was young, saw the source of the attack on his lair.  Then with a roar that blasted the hearing from my ears for a few seconds, it lumbered down the side of the mountain towards the shoreline – and us.

“Gunplot, Bridge,” the Captain said.  “Hit that thing, and keep hitting it! Everything we have – HE, incendiary, white phosphorous, the works!  Kill it!”

The gun roared, and Great Cthulhu roared back.  When the shell hit, a huge chunk of his upper body splattered across the island like foul green rain, but almost immediately the liquid ran up those titan legs, and reformed itself into the missing flesh, so that Cthulhu stood before us just as he was.

“Keep firing!” snapped the Captain as it advanced again.

I was paralyzed with fear for a moment.  The horror of the avatar was nothing, a child’s copy at best, of the monstrosity it represented.  Insanity yawned in my mind like a black pit, hungry for my mind and soul.  But then my sense of duty and self-preservation kicked in, and the beginnings of an idea formed in my mind.

“It’s too powerful, sir!” I shouted.  “Listen! You speak the command over the bullhorn, and I’ll attach the Elder Sign to one of our HE shells.  If that doesn’t stop him, nothing will.  I’m headed for the ammo magazine now.  Give me a minute, and then read the spell.”

His eyes lit up with a fierce hope. 

“Go!” he said.  “It’s already advancing again!”

So it was, taking fifty yards at a stride, raving and gibbering like Azathoth, the blind god of Chaos.  I opened the hatch and pounded down the ladder three decks and ran to the magazine as quickly as my legs would take me, missing what happened next.  Captain Collins picked up the bullhorn, and shouted as loud as he could the words from the Necronomicon:  “Tsaggith ngai R’lyeh ftaghn Cthulhu gwdlka Ashrothin!”

The massive beast stopped, as if its unearthly mind were registering astonishment for perhaps the first time in its long existence.  The command still had some power of compulsion, for the huge form remained still, there in the shallow water that still covered most of the ancient city. 

Meanwhile, I had made it down to the magazine and explained to the chief Gunner’s Mate what it was I wanted him to do.  He looked at me strangely, and then took another look at the behemoth through his scope, as it stood like a statue in the shallows.

“I don’t know what good that thing will do when an HE shell doesn’t even slow that monster down,” he said, “but I’ll still attach it!”

He lifted a seventy pound shell as easily as if it were a small child and unscrewed the nose, placing the star securely in next to the detonator.

“Hurry, man, that thing won’t hold forever!” I snapped, looking through the scope.  Already I could see Cthulhu’s massive tentacles beginning to squirm again. 

“Go on back to the bridge, sir,” the Chief said sharply.  “I’ll have this thing attached and ready to fire by the time you’re there.”

Reluctantly I left and scrambled up the ladders to the signal bridge.  Great Cthulhu had not advanced, but he was swaying on his mighty legs, obviously fighting the power of the spell, his huge feelers waving the air around his gaping maw.  Suddenly the spell broke and with a roar that shook the entire ship,  he surged forward.   I screamed then, I think.  What man wouldn’t, at the sight of that mountain of obscene flesh bearing down on him.

“Fire now or we’re all dead!” the Captain shouted into the mike, and in response, the gun roared.  I saw Great Cthulhu draw himself up to his full, hideous height as the shell struck in the center of his enormous three-lobed eye. 

There was a second scream, a wail that reached to the stars and beyond, where the blind idiot god Azathoth himself must have heard it.  The entire form of Cthulhu dissolved into fine green droplets, which in turn were caught up into the sky in an unearthly beam of light that came, not from the setting sun, but from the darkling east, where a single red star shone like a burning eye near the horizon.  In a moment, all the remnants of Cthulhu shot skyward, towards the outside whence he came, never to return to earth again, I prayed.

Then I heard a sound that chilled my blood – echoing up from the waters all around us, from underneath the waters all around us, as the Deep Ones witnessed the departure of their hated god, and the other imprisoned Elder Beings beneath the city shrieked in horrible empathy.  Then the peak of dead R’lyeh burst into fiery lava, and with a rumble the ancient city began to sink beneath the waves.

“Main control, Bridge!” the Captain barked into the intercom.  “Get us out of here!  Full reverse!”  He then turned and looked at me with a grim smile.  “Well, Thompson, either you and I will get a medal out of this, or we’ll wind up in the loony bin.  I hope those pictures turned out!”


          After a lengthy inquiry before a board of Admirals and the Secretary of the Navy, the entire crew of the Davison was reassigned under the strictest warnings of secrecy.  Those who broke their oath spent the rest of their careers at postings like Diego Garcia and McMurdo Naval Air Station in Antarctica, while those who kept their silence were rewarded with choice duty stations and early promotions.  Eventually both Captain Collins and myself were awarded a letter of commendation from the Chief of Naval Operations, after we each spent a year at remote duty stations.  Until now, the only other person I revealed these events to was Professor MacDonald at Miskatonic University.  I had only one question for him after he finished grilling me for every detail I could recall of the whole episode.

          “Did we really kill it?” I asked.

          “No,” he said. “But you destroyed Cthulhu’s earthly form, and he can never return here again, unless certain rites are performed when the barriers that separate his world and ours are at their weakest. Even then, he will be but a shadow of his former power and terror.  But there are other Elder Gods out there, buried in the deeps and deserts, and there will always be wild and evil men who worship them and try to release them from their prisons.  ‘As a foulness shall you know them,’ said the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred.  Men like you and I must always be on the lookout for them.”

          Years passed.  MacDonald died on the job, in his beloved Miskatonic library, of natural causes.  Captain Collins and I went our separate ways.  He attained three star rank and held the office of Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, before his career ended.  I also was promoted to three stars shortly before I retired. But a little over a year after the “Avatar Incident,” which remained classified until last month, we met in Arkham by chance and went together to the old cemetery at Federal Hill, where the new marble monument we had raised in memory of Daryl Waite stood like a proud icon.

          “He’s not really dead, you know,” I said after we had stood there awhile.

          “I know,” said Collins.  “And – as repulsive to our eyes as the Deep Ones are, I can’t help but be a little comforted that he is out there with them.  Maybe, someday, their world and ours will meet, and we can dwell together in peace, now that they are freed from the tyranny of Cthulhu’s hold on them.”

          Then we turned, arm in arm, and went down the hill into misty and legend-shrouded Arkham, and there this story ends.




Tuesday, October 25, 2016

THE AVATAR STONE - A Tale of the Cthulhu Mythos

Every American horror writer, it seems, goes through a phase where they are fascinated by the powerful works of Howard Philips Lovecraft, the creator of the "Cthulhu Mythos".  I started reading Lovecraft's works in high school and loved them from the very first.  So it was only natural, as I wrote my short stories in college, that I make at least one attempt to imitate the master's style, and contribute a tale to the eerie legacy of Great Cthulhu . . . this one is pretty long, like THE DERELICT, so I'm going to break it in two.  As always, please comment and let me know what you think!



Lewis B. Smith

(from the memoirs of VADM James Thompson, USN)


This story is dedicated to the memory of Howard Phillips Lovecraft,

the man who still inspires us all


(Editor’s Note:  I have been in the habit of reading Admiral Thompson’s journals and then writing a third-person account of the events concerned.  In this instance, however, Thompson’s own prose – written many years after the events described – was so superior to anything I could have come up with that I left it untouched except for some very minor editing here and there.)


          Hong Kong has long been my favorite port of call.  I have enjoyed numerous visits there, and once spent a fantastic month of leave prowling the bustling streets and narrow, shopfront alleys.  Hong Kong was also the place where the most terrifying incident of my adult life started (and my life is somewhat remarkable in the number of weird and horrible adventures it has contained).  It is of that horrible experience that I write now, and the years have not dimmed the stark fear it brought, or the nightmares which plague me to this day. 

          It was 1969, and I was for the first time holding the position of department head – operations officer, to be precise – on a warship.  It was a heady rush of responsibility for a man who had been a second-class gunner’s mate just a few years before.  The USS Davison, our old Destroyer Escort,  had been recalled to service in the escalating Vietnam War, and we had just finished three months’ worth of carrier escort and gunnery support off the coast of the Indochinese Peninsula.  Now we were pulling into Hong Kong for a well-earned three week port visit.

          Eager to do some shopping, I finished the last of the paperwork relating to our visit, gave the operations keys to the duty section leader, and hit the gangplank. I ignored the swarms of Lilith-eyed maidens plying their trade as close to the pier as the Shore Patrol would let them and headed for the Star Ferry to Kowloon to do some serious browsing.  I acquired early in life a fascination for artifacts of all sorts. As a boy, it was Indian arrowheads and Civil War relics; as a man, it was carvings and statuettes from every country I visited.  Today my home is a veritable museum of such artifacts.

          The best way to shop in Hong Kong is to get off the beaten track as quickly as possible.  I avoided the well-lit, garishly painted “sailor traps” and plunged into dark alleys with the fearlessness of the young and strong of limb.  Taking several quick turns and wandering down numerous side streets, I finally slowed my pace a bit and noticed a likely looking establishment on my left – a tiny shop precariously squeezed between a seedy motel and a pornographic bookstore. The windows were grimy, but I could see they were jammed with numerous bits of carved jade and ivory, as well as musty books, old records, and some mahogany bookends.  I pushed open the door, setting two tarnished brass bells ringing.  Would to God I’d gone drinking instead, with the other officers, or done my shopping on the other side of the bay!

          The proprietor came bustling out to greet me, and to my surprise, I saw he was British – a wizened old fellow with gigantic muttonchop sideburns and prominent yellow teeth.  Pinned to his threadbare waistcoat were several old and tarnished medals, among the British DSO and the French Medaille Militaire. A veteran of the First World War, I thought to myself.  His eyes took in my dress whites and lit up.

          “A Yank officer, bless me heart!” he cackled, rubbing his hands together.  “Ah, me dear sir, I’ve got many things to show ye!  Don’t get many Yanks in here – they all hit the bars and the brothels!”  His voice was smooth and mellow with age, and I thought he might be genuinely glad of some Caucasian company, not just eager to make a sale. 

“Is it books on the art of love ye’d be interested in?” he asked.  “I have here an old Chinese lithograph detailing over two hundred positions of -”

I interrupted him with a laugh.

 “If I was interested in that sort of thing I would have gone next door,” I told him.  Actually, I’d like to look at those old carvings in your window if you’d be so kind as to let me move those bookshelves out of the way.  I couldn’t see too clearly from outside, but it looks like you have some really nice jade and ivory pieces there.”

“By all means, Lieutenant, go ahead,” he replied.  I tuned out his chatter as I moved the shelves out of the way and slid back the dirty glass to reveal a jumble of carvings.  Dragons were much in evidence, the largest one about eight inches tall.  A nicely carved jade one caught my eye and I immediately pulled it out for a closer look.  It was badly cracked on the other side, though, so I returned it to the shelf and pulled out an ivory sailing ship.  At this moment a dusty old book which had been leaning against the corner fell outwards, revealing a dark green statuette behind it.  Ignoring the old man’s shouts to be careful with his merchandise, I pulled it out and held it up to the light.

It was a fascinating thing. The material was a very dark jade unlike any I’d seen before, but I only noticed that later.  The carving itself occupied all my attention at the moment.  A solid base perhaps four inches square, supported a hideous image, a pagan idol perhaps, grotesque and covered with tentacles and teeth.  On its back rested a pair of folded, bat-like wings, and a single burning eye leered at me from above a tooth-lined mouth.  Its outline was altogether bizarre, calling to mind some of the blasphemous Elder Beings painted by Webber to illustrate the only American edition of The Necronomicon.  Along the base of the statue were carved some very worn and obscure runes, completely strange to me, even though I had read numerous books of arcane lore during my studies at Miskatonic University two years before.  Overall, the squatting creature depicted in the carving bore features of squid, ape, and dragon, as well as some that were wholly alien.

Strangest of all, though, was a smooth, five-pointed, starlike object suspended from the creature’s neck by a fine gold chain.  This item was carved out of a light greenish-grey material much like soapstone but harder, and bore the faint pattern of seemingly random dots in its center.  The whole thing was so delicately crafted, down to the last detail – one could easily imagine it moving to a shambling, half-sentient life – not a pretty thought!

Nevertheless, it fascinated me, and I was determined to add it to my collection.  I asked the old man where he’d gotten it.  For a moment, he studied it, and then spoke slowly.

“That’s about the oldest thing in my shop, by my reckoning.  I guess it were nigh on thirty years ago that a Chinese fisherman brought that piece in – said he’d dredged it up in his nets in the South China Sea.  I did a little research and found that stretch o’ocean floor has been submerged for twenty million years. Could be it fell off’n a passing ship, though.  Ugly enough, ain’t it?  The fisherman let me have it for a song – he said it were jinxed; for no sooner had he dredged it up than a storm came along that pretty near swamped his old trawler.  Said he seen things in the water during that storm that didn’t look like no fish the gods ever put there, too!  Me, I don’t put no stock in it, but I still don’t like the thing.  I’ll let’chee have it for five American dollars.”

I was prepared to pay five times that for it, so I gave him the money without haggling, picked up a few other items of interest, and went on back to the ship to stow them in my locker before joining some of the other officers and the Captain at a popular pub.  I promptly forgot about the statue until the day after we put out to sea, when I invited my good friend, Lieutenant (j.g.) Waite, up to my stateroom to view all my purchases.  He was an intelligent young officer who had graduated from Miskatonic while I was studying naval history there after my first tour in ‘Nam.  A solid officer with a good head for maneuvers and tactics, he would’ve gone far in the service had it not been for the events that followed.

His family originally hailed from Innsmouth, a half-deserted old ghost town on the Massachusetts coast with many dark stories connected to it.  He’d taken me up there once to show me his ancestral home, but had refused to answer any of my questions as to why his family had suddenly left eighty years before.

He was looking with some indifference at the other pieces when I pulled the unique statue out with a flourish.  He glanced at it, and then paled, his stare growing into an uncomfortable silence.

“What’s wrong, Daryl?” I asked him when he had not spoken for at least a full minute.

“Where did you get that thing?” he asked in a low voice.

“A tiny little antique shop way off the beaten path,” I said.  “I always shop away from the well-known areas – you get better deals that way!  It looks like something straight out of the Necronomicon, doesn’t it?” I asked with a laugh, although few people ever spoke of that hellish volume with a smile.

He looked at me strangely.

“You couldn’t have said it better,” he said.  “It should be safe, though – as long as the Elder Sign remains attached.”

It was my turn now to give him a strange look.

“Elder Sign?  What on earth are you talking about?” I asked.

“Jim,” he said with a sigh, “I am one of the few people who has read the Miskatonic’s copy of the Necronomicon from cover to cover.  I’ve also seen the ancient Pnakotic Fragments that are kept under lock and key, and I’ve even read the Cultes de Ghoules.  My professors let me study that far because they knew my family was under the Innsmouth curse, and we had to protect ourselves.   Look at this!”

He reached under his T-shirt and pulled out a fine gold chain, with an identical, although somewhat smaller, soapstone star hanging from it.

“I think you read a bit too far into those creepy old books, my friend,” I said.  “Even the professors at Miskatonic are now admitting that the whole Chtulhu myth cycle is just a primitive, ancient religion and nothing more. Look!”

I removed the chain from the idol’s neck and shoved it into his hands.

“See?” I said.  “Nothing! You’re getting way too worked up over a hunk of carved jade, Daryl!” 

Actually, I did feel something – was it a slight lowering of the room’s temperature, or just the scent of dead fish wafting in from the sea?  Whatever it was, I was not going to admit to noticing it in front of my nervous companion. He did not calm down, but instead grew more agitated.

“Fool!” he snapped.  “Put that back!  I tell you, I recognize the runes on this statue.  They are from the Pnakotic manuscripts, and they go farther back than all recorded history!  Old professor MacDonald even said that they may predate our species.   God, the shopkeeper was lucky they didn’t get separated all these years.  Please, Jim, put it back!”

“OK, OK,”  I said in exasperation, taking the statue from his hands and trying to slip the chain back over its malformed neck.  The touch of the cold stone startled me – or was it, as I originally thought, that the stone abomination had actually squirmed in my grasp for a split second? No matter the cause, the result was the same – I dropped both statue and star to the deck.  The heavy jade image landed on top of the soapstone star and crushed it to fragments.  Waite cried aloud in anguish.

“It has destroyed the Sign! After all these years, it is free again!”

“Daryl, you yo-yo,” I laughed.  “I just dropped them both and the statue landed on top, that’s all. Don’t get so upset over nothing.  This little monstrosity is a carved hunk of rock and nothing more!”

“I hope you’re right,” he said with a shudder.  “But for your own safety, and my peace of mind, put this on it.”  He drew his own soapstone star from around his neck and deliberately placed it over the idol’s.  Again I got the very brief impression of movement, of the myriad tentacles squirming in horrible unison. Judging from my friend’s expression of disgust, he felt it too.  But when I picked up the statue and returned it to my locker, I only felt the smooth, age-polished stone.

Waite left my quarters shortly afterwards, and we put Hong Kong Harbor far behind us.  We were both busy with our respective jobs – we were scheduled for a month of intensive radar and weapons drills before returning to hour homeport in Yokosuka, Japan for upkeep.  But little by little, rumors filtered back to me – conversations between enlisted men before they were aware of my presence, finally even whispers in the wardroom when Waite came in for supper.  The lieutenant was looking strange, and acting even stranger.

His eyes, always large, had begun to bulge noticeably, and he never seemed to shut them anymore.   He was also losing his hair, and some sort of scaly eczema was developing on his back, according to his roommate, Ensign Landry.

“And you should have heard him screaming in his sleep the other night!” said the garrulous young Texan. “Some words in a language I’d never heard before, and don’t want to hear again!  It was weird!  Do you think he might have some sort of drugs stashed away somewhere?”

“That’s enough!” interrupted Captain Collins.  He was a tough officer, stern and fair, with little tolerance for gossip.  “Lieutenant j.g. Waite is having some medical problems, a recurring skin condition, nothing more.  If there is any scuttlebutt going around contrary to that, it’s up to you officers to squelch it, not perpetuate it!” He fixed each of us with an icy stare at that last phrase.

That night, after finishing my watch, I woke up to see Waite standing over me, his eyes seeming to glow softly in the dark.  I called his name softly, but he did not acknowledge me.  Moving slowly and deliberately, like a sleepwalker, he moved to my open locker.  I scarcely recognized the man I’d sat and talked to just a few days before.  His eyes, in addition to the unnatural glow, were bulging hideously and seemed to have grown, if such a thing were possible.  His hair was indeed thinning, and I could see the scaly eczema creeping up the back of his neck, giving him a bizarre, almost reptilian look.

He stared over at me for a moment or two to see if I was asleep (my eyes were in the shadows and he couldn’t tell I was watching him), and then he took the statue from my locker and lifted the star-stone from its neck.  He held the thing in front of him, and then paused.  For a moment his appearance returned to normal, and he blinked twice.  Then that strange otherness imposed itself once more, and he dropped the necklace to the floor and ground it under his heel.  With a final glance at me, he replaced the statue and left my stateroom.

Afterward, the cool air and the gentle rocking of the ship overpowered my senses, and I lapsed into a strange dream of titanic underwater cities, and fishlike beings that swam through them, paying homage to the great Elder Gods from outside, who slumbered still in the deeps of the sea.

When I awoke at 0600 hours, I felt strangely drained.  The smell of rotting fish seemed to pervade the entire ship.  Listlessly, I stumbled down the passageway towards the showers, towel in hand.  Then, suddenly, an ear-splitting scream jerked me fully awake. 

I ran down to Waite’s stateroom, whence the cry had come, and found the Captain and the Chief Corpsman straddling the struggling, bug-eyed form of my friend.  Of the talkative ensign who shared his stateroom, a ripped and bloodied corpse was all that remained.  Blood was everywhere – except on Waite’s struggling form.  When he saw me, he threw off the Captain and the Chief and grabbed me by the shoulders.

“The statue!” he screamed.  “You must destroy it – it is an avatar – aaggh! N’gai yog rl Cthulhu vor R’lyeh! They are pulling at my mind – the Deep Ones calling!  I had to destroy the sign – they told me to.  I tried to fight, but they are too strong!  Throw the image overboard and they will subdue it – it’s your only hope!  Already he wakes! Look at poor Landry – do you think I did that to him?  It came in here and ripped him up as I watched . . . it MADE me watch.  Read the sixth chapter of the Necronomicon – it will tell you how to lay the avatar to rest once it has been awakened.  But it calls to Great Cthulhu – and God pity us all if he should answer!  Professor MacDonald – he knows! He has read the accounts of the last time Cthulhu awoke. Throw the statue over the side – the Deep Ones can put it to rest.  NO!! I am not – I will not!  Aaargh!  Yog-Sothoth, HELP ME!”

I trembled to hear my friend invoke the name of that hideous deity, but then an even greater horror rooted me to the spot.  As the three of us watched, frozen in terror, a hideous transformation shook Waite’s body.  With a ripping sound that echoes in my nightmares to this day, the skin of his face tore away.  His bulging eyes, huge and fishlike, now stared at us in agony from a green, scaly face.  Rows of sharklike teeth glittered in his gaping mouth, and he reached his hand towards me – a hand that was already sprouting long claws and growing webs between the fingers.  His back hunched and his arms seemed to shrink as his legs grew longer and more powerful.  The back of his khaki trousers ripped apart, revealing a long, scaly tail.

We all stood there, stunned, unable to move.  Then Daryl Waite – or what had once been Daryl Waite – gave me a last, tortured look and spoke one more time.

“He awakes!  They call me to join them! The Elder Sign – use it!” 

I shall never forget those tortured, croaking syllables as long as I live.  As soon as he finished speaking, he left the room in a motion that I can only describe as a hop.  That sudden move broke the paralysis that held us.

“After him!” cried Captain Collins.  He scrambled out the hatch, and we followed, but Waite’s froglike gait outdistanced us rapidly. He headed straight for the ladder that led topside, bowling over a terrified messcook, and emerged from the skin of the ship onto the deck.  With the three of us on his heels, he reached the lifeline and vaulted over it into the sea.  I reached the rail first, and wish to this day that I hadn’t.  For there were others in the water, waiting to meet him, even more shocking and alien in their form than he had become.  They helped him swim away after fixing us with their hellish glares for a moment first.

The Captain gave me a long, hard glance as they disappeared into the deep.

“I don’t know how much you know about this, Mister Thompson,” he said in a grim voice, “but you are going to tell me everything.”

So after we had hastily concocted a story to tell to the crew, we went to the Captain’s cabin and I gave him the full story – my buying the statue, Waite’s wild words when he first saw it; and his sneaking visit to my cabin the night before.   Then I gave him my theory.

“Sir, I’ll confess my knowledge of arcane lore is nowhere near what Waite’s was, but I think I have an idea of what it is that he was trying to prevent.  Have you ever heard of the Innsmouth Curse, or the Cthulhu cult?”

“I do recall some wild tales, years ago, about folk from Innsmouth breeding with things from the sea,” he said reflectively.  “That story’s been circulating up and down the Massachusetts coastline for a century or more, but I never held any truck with it. Although, come to think of it, I ran across a classified report in the COMSUBLANT archives years ago when I was shredding old documents.  A submarine fired a spread of torpedoes into a reef near Innsmouth to ‘sanitize a severe biological hazard’ back in the thirties.  I never really connected the two stories before, though.  Now as far as the Kthew-whatchamacallit goes – that sounds like bad Latin to me.”

Then I filled him in on the scant lore I recalled from glancing through the musty, ill-preserved copy of the Necronomicon at the Miskatonic Library, and what I knew by rumor of the Pnakotic manuscripts.

“Cthulhu himself was a tremendously destructive water elemental,” I explained.  “Sort of a Poseidon from outer space, who dwelt on a great island city long ago, and was worshipped by ancient humans, and possibly other races, as a god.  The Great Old ones, a race from beyond the stars, managed to sink the island of R’lyeh where Cthulhu slept and imprison him there forever, using the star-shaped stones called Elder Signs.  But at certain times, when the stars are right and certain sacrifices are made, or if an avatar awakens, the sunken city rises.  Then Great Cthulhu can be awakened from his slumber to terrorize the world again.  That last part is mostly conjecture, because I didn’t read that portion of the Necronomicon very closely.”

The Captain looked at me with a skeptical air. I was racking my brain, trying to remember every bit of arcane lore about the Cthulhu Mythos I had ever heard, but I had hit my limit.

“My advice would be to contact Professor MacDonald at the Miskatonic,”  I told him.  “He knows more about this stuff than anyone alive.  If we just throw the stone overboard, the Deep Ones Waite told us about might silence it – and they might not.  They worship Cthulhu, according to some legends, but they also fear him.  I don’t want to take the risk.  We have to lock the stone up, though – it might come to life and kill again.”

“You don’t think Waite killed Landry, then?” he asked.

“No way,” I replied.  “There was no blood on his hands or on his body.  Besides which, there is not a man aboard strong enough to do that to another man with his bare hands.  That statue must be linked in some way to the life of Cthulhu himself.  We’ve got to find it and stop it.”

“Maybe if we search through Waite’s personal gear we’ll find something else to throw a little light on the situation,” said the Captain.

“Good idea, sir” I said, and we went to his stateroom.  The body of Ensign Landry had already been removed and stored in the reefer decks.

His personal belongings were few, and they revealed little to us.  I had almost despaired of finding anything useful when the CO began twirling the dial of Waite’s personal safe.

“Waite and I, and the Weps Boss, are the only ones with the combo to this,” he said.  “It contains all the classified ASW publications and maybe some of his papers as well.”

Captain Collins’ guess was correct, for behind the thick, plastic-bound publications was a small wooden chest with a note on the top that read:


“It sounds almost as if he were expecting this,” Collins said, looking at me.

He took the key which was taped to the side of the box and opened it.  Inside was a long document entitled “Observations on the Innsmouth Phenomena”, laboriously typewritten many years ago, judging from the weathered look of the pages.   As the CO lifted it from the box, I saw to my wonder another object lying beneath it.  It was another one of the star-shaped Elder Signs!

“He could’ve protected himself with this,” I mused.  “I wonder why he didn’t.”

“The manuscript looks like it was typed up fifty years ago,” said Collins.  “He may not have even known the sign was in there, or he may have forgotten about it.  Or maybe . . .” his face grew sad, and I asked what he was thinking.

“If those things were pulling at his mind, he might have deliberately blocked out the knowledge of it so we would have a weapon to fight back with.  If that’s true, I find my respect for Mr. Waite growing,” he concluded.

“However it got here,” I said excitedly, “with it we can silence the avatar and cast it into the sea!”

“You’re right!” he said.  “Let’s go!”

We ran down the passageway to my stateroom. As we rounded the corner, Collins stopped short with a grimace.  Leading from the door of my room and on down the corridor was a trail of stinking green slime mixed with bright red blood. I ran to the door and looked in, already fearing what I would find.  There lay my bunkmate, Lieutenant Harris, the ship’s navigator, his body torn asunder and scattered across the room.  Hardened as I was by a rough combat tour in Vietnam three years earlier, I still gagged at the sight of Harris’ head tossed into one corner, his eyes staring blankly at us.  What horror had they seen in their last few seconds of life?

Collins grabbed my arm and dragged me from the sickening sight. 

“We must follow its trail!” he snapped, and I nodded in mute agreement. But before leaving, I stepped into the room and retrieved one article from my locker – my regulation U.S. Navy Officer’s Saber.   I took the greenish Elder Sign and carefully rubbed it up and down the blade, and said what I can only call a prayer to the Great Old Ones who came from outside before the earth’s crust had fully cooled. 

“If any memory of you yet lingers in the desolate places you once inhabited, help me destroy this abomination you once controlled!” I said.  With that, I left the pitiful remains of my fellow officer and followed my Captain.

The trail of green slime came to a sudden halt in the next passageway.  Looking up, I saw that the grill which covered a large ventilation duct had been ripped away, and the remnants of the creature’s foulness dripped from the torn edges. I looked at the CO, and he gave me a grim smile.

“We’ll have to warn the crew,” he said.