It must have been some imp of the perverse — or some sardonic pull from dark, hidden sources — which made me change my plans as I did. I had long before resolved to limit my observations to architecture alone, and I was even then hurrying toward the Square in an effort to get quick transportation out of this festering city of death and decay; but the sight of old Zadok Allen set up new currents in my mind and made me slacken my pace uncertainly.
I had been assured that the old man could do nothing but hint at wild, disjointed, and incredible legends, and I had been warned that the natives made it unsafe to be seen talking with him; yet the thought of this aged witness to the town’s decay, with memories going back to the early days of ships and factories, was a lure that no amount of reason could make me resist. After all, the strangest and maddest of myths are often merely symbols or allegories based upon truth — and old Zadok must have seen everything which went on around Innsmouth for the last ninety years. Curiosity flared up beyond sense and caution, and in my youthful egotism I fancied I might be able to sift a nucleus of real history from the confused, extravagant outpouring I would probably extract with the aid of raw whiskey.
I knew that I could not accost him then and there, for the firemen would surely notice and object. Instead, I reflected, I would prepare by getting some bootleg liquor at a place where the grocery boy had told me it was plentiful. Then I would loaf near the fire station in apparent casualness, and fall in with old Zadok after he had started on one of his frequent rambles. The youth had said that he was very restless, seldom sitting around the station for more than an hour or two at a time.
A quart bottle of whiskey was easily, though not cheaply, obtained in the rear of a dingy variety-store just off the Square in Eliot Street. The dirty-looking fellow who waited on me had a touch of the staring “Innsmouth look”, but was quite civil in his way; being perhaps used to the custom of such convivial strangers — truckmen, gold-buyers, and the like — as were occasionally in town.
Reentering the Square I saw that luck was with me; for — shuffling out of Paine Street around the corner of the Gilman House — I glimpsed nothing less than the tall, lean, tattered form of old Zadok Allen himself. In accordance with my plan, I attracted his attention by brandishing my newly-purchased bottle: and soon realised that he had begun to shuffle wistfully after me as I turned into Waite Street on my way to the most deserted region I could think of.
I was steering my course by the map the grocery boy had prepared, and was aiming for the wholly abandoned stretch of southern waterfront which I had previously visited. The only people in sight there had been the fishermen on the distant breakwater; and by going a few squares south I could get beyond the range of these, finding a pair of seats on some abandoned wharf and being free to question old Zadok unobserved for an indefinite time. Before I reached Main Street I could hear a faint and wheezy “Hey, Mister!” behind me and I presently allowed the old man to catch up and take copious pulls from the quart bottle.
I began putting out feelers as we walked amidst the omnipresent desolation and crazily tilted ruins, but found that the aged tongue did not loosen as quickly as I had expected. At length I saw a grass-grown opening toward the sea between crumbling brick walls, with the weedy length of an earth-and-masonry wharf projecting beyond. Piles of moss-covered stones near the water promised tolerable seats, and the scene was sheltered from all possible view by a ruined warehouse on the north. Here, I thought was the ideal place for a long secret colloquy; so I guided my companion down the lane and picked out spots to sit in among the mossy stones. The air of death and desertion was ghoulish, and the smell of fish almost insufferable; but I was resolved to let nothing deter me.
About four hours remained for conversation if I were to catch the eight o’clock coach for Arkham, and I began to dole out more liquor to the ancient tippler; meanwhile eating my own frugal lunch. In my donations I was careful not to overshoot the mark, for I did not wish Zadok’s vinous garrulousness to pass into a stupor. After an hour his furtive taciturnity shewed signs of disappearing, but much to my disappointment he still sidetracked my questions about Innsmouth and its shadow-haunted past. He would babble of current topics, revealing a wide acquaintance with newspapers and a great tendency to philosophise in a sententious village fashion.
Toward the end of the second hour I feared my quart of whiskey would not be enough to produce results, and was wondering whether I had better leave old Zadok and go back for more. Just then, however, chance made the opening which my questions had been unable to make; and the wheezing ancient’s rambling took a turn that caused me to lean forward and listen alertly. My back was toward the fishy-smelling sea, but he was facing it and something or other had caused his wandering gaze to light on the low, distant line of Devil Reef, then showing plainly and almost fascinatingly above the waves. The sight seemed to displease him, for he began a series of weak curses which ended in a confidential whisper and a knowing leer. He bent toward me, took hold of my coat lapel, and hissed out some hints that could not be mistaken,
“Thar’s whar it all begun — that cursed place of all wickedness whar the deep water starts. Gate o’ hell — sheer drop daown to a bottom no saoundin’-line kin tech. Ol’ Cap’n Obed done it — him that faound aout more’n was good fer him in the Saouth Sea islands.
“Everybody was in a bad way them days. Trade fallin’ off, mills losin’ business — even the new ones — an’ the best of our menfolks kilt aprivateerin’ in the War of 1812 or lost with the Elizy brig an’ the Ranger scow — both on ’em Gilman venters. Obed Marsh he had three ships afloat — brigantine Columby, brig Hefty, an’ barque Sumatry Queen. He was the only one as kep’ on with the East–Injy an’ Pacific trade, though Esdras Martin’s barkentine Malay Bride made a venter as late as twenty-eight.
“Never was nobody like Cap’n Obed — old limb o’ Satan! Heh, heh! I kin mind him a-tellin’ abaout furren parts, an’ callin’ all the folks stupid for goin’ to Christian meetin’ an’ bearin’ their burdens meek an’ lowly. Says they’d orter git better gods like some o’ the folks in the Injies — gods as ud bring ’em good fishin’ in return for their sacrifices, an’ ud reely answer folks’s prayers.
“Matt Eliot, his fust mate, talked a lot too, only he was again’ folks’s doin’ any heathen things. Told abaout an island east of Othaheite whar they was a lot o’ stone ruins older’n anybody knew anything abaout, kind o’ like them on Ponape, in the Carolines, but with carven’s of faces that looked like the big statues on Easter Island. Thar was a little volcanic island near thar, too, whar they was other ruins with diff’rent carvin’— ruins all wore away like they’d ben under the sea onct, an’ with picters of awful monsters all over ’em.
“Wal, Sir, Matt he says the natives araound thar had all the fish they cud ketch, an’ sported bracelets an’ armlets an’ head rigs made aout o’ a queer kind o’ gold an’ covered with picters o’ monsters jest like the ones carved over the ruins on the little island — sorter fish-like frogs or froglike fishes that was drawed in all kinds o’ positions likes they was human bein’s. Nobody cud get aout o’ them whar they got all the stuff, an’ all the other natives wondered haow they managed to find fish in plenty even when the very next island had lean pickin’s. Matt he got to wonderon’ too an’ so did Cap’n Obed. Obed he notices, besides, that lots of the hn’some young folks ud drop aout o’ sight fer good from year to year, an’ that they wan’t many old folks around. Also, he thinks some of the folks looked durned queer even for Kanakys.
“It took Obed to git the truth aout o’ them heathen. I dun’t know haow he done it, but he begun by tradin’ fer the gold-like things they wore. Ast ’em whar they come from, an’ ef they cud git more, an’ finally wormed the story aout o’ the old chief — Walakea, they called him. Nobody but Obed ud ever a believed the old yeller devil, but the Cap’n cud read folks like they was books. Heh, heh! Nobody never believes me naow when I tell ’em, an’ I dun’t s’pose you will, young feller — though come to look at ye, ye hev kind o’ got them sharp-readin’ eyes like Obed had.”
The old man’s whisper grew fainter, and I found myself shuddering at the terrible and sincere portentousness of his intonation, even though I knew his tale could be nothing but drunken phantasy.
“Wal, Sir, Obed he larnt that they’s things on this arth as most folks never heerd about — an’ wouldn’t believe ef they did hear. It seems these Kanakys was sacrificin’ heaps o’ their young men an’ maidens to some kind o’ god-things that lived under the sea, an’ gittin’ all kinds o’ favour in return. They met the things on the little islet with the queer ruins, an’ it seems them awful picters o’ frog-fish monsters was supposed to be picters o’ these things. Mebbe they was the kind o’ critters as got all the mermaid stories an’ sech started.
“They had all kinds a’ cities on the sea-bottom, an’ this island was heaved up from thar. Seem they was some of the things alive in the stone buildin’s when the island come up sudden to the surface, That’s how the Kanakys got wind they was daown thar. Made sign-talk as soon as they got over bein’ skeert, an’ pieced up a bargain afore long.
“Them things liked human sacrifices. Had had ’em ages afore, but lost track o’ the upper world after a time. What they done to the victims it ain’t fer me to say, an’ I guess Obed wa’n’t none too sharp abaout askin’. But it was all right with the heathens, because they’d ben havin’ a hard time an’ was desp’rate abaout everything. They give a sarten number o’ young folks to the sea-things twice every year — May–Eve an’ Hallawe’en — reg’lar as cud be. Also give some a’ the carved knick-knacks they made. What the things agreed to give in return was plenty a’ fish — they druv ’em in from all over the sea — an’ a few gold-like things naow an’ then.
“Wal, as I says, the natives met the things on the little volcanic islet — goin’ thar in canoes with the sacrifices et cet’ry, and bringin’ back any of the gold-like jools as was comin’ to ’em. At fust the things didn’t never go onto the main island, but arter a time they come to want to. Seems they hankered arter mixin’ with the folks, an’ havin’ j’int ceremonies on the big days — May–Eve an’ Hallowe’en. Ye see, they was able to live both in ant aout o’ water — what they call amphibians, I guess. The Kanakys told ’em as haow folks from the other islands might wanta wipe ‘an out if they got wind o’ their bein’ thar, but they says they dun’t keer much, because they cud wipe aout the hull brood o’ humans ef they was willin’ to bother — that is, any as didn’t be, sarten signs sech as was used onct by the lost Old Ones, whoever they was. But not wantin’ to bother, they’d lay low when anybody visited the island.
“When it come to matin’ with them toad-lookin’ fishes, the Kanakys kind o’ balked, but finally they larnt something as put a new face on the matter. Seems that human folks has got a kind a’ relation to sech water-beasts — that everything alive come aout o’ the water onct an’ only needs a little change to go back agin. Them things told the Kanakys that ef they mixed bloods there’d be children as ud look human at fust, but later turn more’n more like the things, till finally they’d take to the water an’ jine the main lot o’ things daown har. An’ this is the important part, young feller — them as turned into fish things an’ went into the water wouldn’t never die. Them things never died excep’ they was kilt violent.
“Wal, Sir, it seems by the time Obed knowed them islanders they was all full o’ fish blood from them deep-water things. When they got old an’ begun to shew it, they was kep’ hid until they felt like takin’ to the water an’ quittin’ the place. Some was more teched than others, an’ some never did change quite enough to take to the water; but mosily they turned out jest the way them things said. Them as was born more like the things changed arly, but them as was nearly human sometimes stayed on the island till they was past seventy, though they’d usually go daown under for trial trips afore that. Folks as had took to the water gen’rally come back a good deal to visit, so’s a man ud often be a’talkin’ to his own five-times-great-grandfather who’d left the dry land a couple o’ hundred years or so afore.
“Everybody got aout o’ the idee o’ dyin’— excep’ in canoe wars with the other islanders, or as sacrifices to the sea-gods daown below, or from snakebite or plague or sharp gallopin’ ailments or somethin’ afore they cud take to the water — but simply looked forrad to a kind o’ change that wa’n’t a bit horrible arter a while. They thought what they’d got was well wuth all they’d had to give up — an’ I guess Obed kind o’ come to think the same hisself when he’d chewed over old Walakea’s story a bit. Walakea, though, was one of the few as hadn’t got none of the fish blood — bein’ of a royal line that intermarried with royal lines on other islands.
“Walakea he shewed Obed a lot o’ rites an’ incantations as had to do with the sea things, an’ let him see some o’ the folks in the village as had changed a lot from human shape. Somehaow or other, though, he never would let him see one of the reg’lar things from right aout o’ the water. In the end he give him a funny kind o’ thingumajig made aout o’ lead or something, that he said ud bring up the fish things from any place in the water whar they might be a nest o’ ’em. The idee was to drop it daown with the right kind o’ prayers an’ sech. Walakea allowed as the things was scattered all over the world, so’s anybody that looked abaout cud find a nest an’ bring ’em up ef they was wanted.
“Matt he didn’t like this business at all, an’ wanted Obed shud keep away from the island; but the Cap’n was sharp fer gain, an’ faound he cud get them gold-like things so cheap it ud pay him to make a specialty of them. Things went on that way for years an’ Obed got enough o’ that gold-like stuff to make him start the refinery in Waite’s old run-daown fullin’ mill. He didn’t dass sell the pieces like they was, for folks ud be all the time askin’ questions. All the same his crews ud get a piece an’ dispose of it naow and then, even though they was swore to keep quiet; an’ he let his women-folks wear some o’ the pieces as was more human-like than most.
“Well, come abaout thutty-eight — when I was seven year’ old — Obed he faound the island people all wiped aout between v’yages. Seems the other islanders had got wind o’ what was goin’ on, and had took matters into their own hands. S’pose they must a had, after all, them old magic signs as the sea things says was the only things they was afeard of. No tellin’ what any o’ them Kanakys will chance to git a holt of when the sea-bottom throws up some island with ruins older’n the deluge. Pious cusses, these was — they didn’t leave nothin’ standin’ on either the main island or the little volcanic islet excep’ what parts of the ruins was too big to knock daown. In some places they was little stones strewed abaout — like charms — with somethin’ on ’em like what ye call a swastika naowadays. Prob’ly them was the Old Ones’ signs. Folks all wiped aout no trace o’ no gold-like things an’ none the nearby Kanakys ud breathe a word abaout the matter. Wouldn’t even admit they’d ever ben any people on that island.
“That naturally hit Obed pretty hard, seein’ as his normal trade was doin’ very poor. It hit the whole of Innsmouth, too, because in seafarint days what profited the master of a ship gen’lly profited the crew proportionate. Most of the folks araound the taown took the hard times kind o’ sheep-like an’ resigned, but they was in bad shape because the fishin’ was peterin’ aout an’ the mills wan’t doin’ none too well.
“Then’s the time Obed he begun a-cursin’ at the folks fer bein’ dull sheep an’ prayin’ to a Christian heaven as didn’t help ’em none. He told ’em he’d knowed o’ folks as prayed to gods that give somethin’ ye reely need, an’ says ef a good bunch o’ men ud stand by him, he cud mebbe get a holt o’ sarten paowers as ud bring plenty o’ fish an’ quite a bit of gold. 0’ course them as sarved on the Sumatry Queen, an’ seed the island knowed what he meant, an’ wa’n’t none too anxious to get clost to sea-things like they’d heard tell on, but them as didn’t know what ’twas all abaout got kind o’ swayed by what Obed had to say, and begun to ast him what he cud do to sit ’em on the way to the faith as ud bring ’em results.”
Here the old man faltered, mumbled, and lapsed into a moody and apprehensive silence; glancing nervously over his shoulder and then turning back to stare fascinatedly at the distant black reef. When I spoke to him he did not answer, so I knew I would have to let him finish the bottle. The insane yarn I was hearing interested me profoundly, for I fancied there was contained within it a sort of crude allegory based upon the strangeness of Innsmouth and elaborated by an imagination at once creative and full of scraps of exotic legend. Not for a moment did I believe that the tale had any really substantial foundation; but none the less the account held a hint of genuine terror if only because it brought in references to strange jewels clearly akin to the malign tiara I had seen at Newburyport. Perhaps the ornaments had, after all, come from some strange island; and possibly the wild stories were lies of the bygone Obed himself rather than of this antique toper.
I handed Zadok the bottle, and he drained it to the last drop. It was curious how he could stand so much whiskey, for not even a trace of thickness had come into his high, wheezy voice. He licked the nose of the bottle and slipped it into his pocket, then beginning to nod and whisper softly to himself. I bent close to catch any articulate words he might utter, and thought I saw a sardonic smile behind the stained bushy whiskers. Yes — he was really forming words, and I could grasp a fair proportion of them.
“Poor Matt — Matt he allus was agin it — tried to line up the folks on his side, an’ had long talks with the preachers — no use — they run the Congregational parson aout o’ taown, an’ the Methodist feller quit — never did see Resolved Babcock, the Baptist parson, agin — Wrath o’ Jehovy — I was a mightly little critter, but I heerd what I heerd an, seen what I seen — Dagon an’ Ashtoreth — Belial an’ Beelzebub — Golden Caff an’ the idols o’ Canaan an’ the Philistines — Babylonish abominations — Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin —.”
He stopped again, and from the look in his watery blue eyes I feared he was close to a stupor after all. But when I gently shook his shoulder he turned on me with astonishing alertness and snapped out some more obscure phrases.
“Dun’t believe me, hey? Hey, heh, heh — then jest tell me, young feller, why Cap’n Obed an’ twenty odd other folks used to row aout to Devil Reef in the dead o’ night an’ chant things so laoud ye cud hear ’em all over taown when the wind was right? Tell me that, hey? An’ tell me why Obed was allus droppin’ heavy things daown into the deep water t’other side o’ the reef whar the bottom shoots daown like a cliff lower’n ye kin saound? Tell me what he done with that funny-shaped lead thingumajig as Walakea give him? Hey, boy? An’ what did they all haowl on May–Eve, an, agin the next Hallowe’en? An’ why’d the new church parsons — fellers as used to be sailors — wear them queer robes an’ cover their-selves with them gold-like things Obed brung? Hey?”
The watery blue eyes were almost savage and maniacal now, and the dirty white beard bristled electrically. Old Zadok probably saw me shrink back, for he began to cackle evilly.
“Heh, heh, heh, heh! Beginnin’ to see, hey? Mebbe ye’d like to a ben me in them days, when I seed things at night aout to sea from the cupalo top o’ my haouse. Oh, I kin tell ye’ little pitchers hev big ears, an’ I wa’n’t missin’ nothin’ o’ what was gossiped abaout Cap’n Obed an’ the folks aout to the reef! Heh, heh, heh! Haow abaout the night I took my pa’s ship’s glass up to the cupalo an’ seed the reef a-bristlin’ thick with shapes that dove off quick soon’s the moon riz?
“Obed an’ the folks was in a dory, but them shapes dove off the far side into the deep water an’ never come up . . .
“Haow’d ye like to be a little shaver alone up in a cupola a-watchin’ shapes as wa’n’t human shapes? . . . Heh? . . . Heh, heh, heh . . . ”
The old man was getting hysterical, and I began to shiver with a nameless alarm. He laid a gnarled claw on my shoulder, and it seemed to me that its shaking was not altogether that of mirth.
“S’pose one night ye seed somethin’ heavy heaved offen Obed’s dory beyond the reef’ and then learned next day a young feller was missin’ from home. Hey! Did anybody ever see hide or hair o’ Hiram Gilman agin. Did they? An’ Nick Pierce, an’ Luelly Waite, an’ Adoniram Saouthwick, an’ Henry Garrison. Hey? Heh, heh, heh, heh . . . Shapes talkin’ sign language with their hands . . . them as had reel hands . . .
“Wal, Sir, that was the time Obed begun to git on his feet agin. Folks see his three darters a-wearin’ gold-like things as nobody’d never see on ’em afore, an’ smoke stared comin’ aout o’ the refin’ry chimbly. Other folks was prosp’rin, too — fish begun to swarm into the harbour fit to kill an’ heaven knows what sized cargoes we begun to ship aout to Newb’ryport, Arkham, an’ Boston. ’Twas then Obed got the ol’ branch railrud put through. Some Kingsport fishermen heerd abaout the ketch an’ come up in sloops, but they was all lost. Nobody never see ’em agin. An’ jest then our folk organised the Esoteric Order o’ Dagon, an’ bought Masonic Hall offen Calvary Commandery for it . . . heh, heh, heh! Matt Eliot was a Mason an’ agin the sellin’, but he dropped aout o’ sight jest then.
“Remember, I ain’t sayin’ Obed was set on hevin’ things jest like they was on that Kanaky isle. I dun’t think he aimed at fust to do no mixin’, nor raise no younguns to take to the water an’ turn into fishes with eternal life. He wanted them gold things, an’ was willin’ to pay heavy, an’ I guess the others was satisfied fer a while . . .
“Come in’ forty-six the taown done some lookin’ an’ thinkin’ fer itself. Too many folks missin’— too much wild preachin’ at meetin’ of a Sunday — too much talk abaout that reef. I guess I done a bit by tellin’ Selectman Mowry what I see from the cupalo. They was a party one night as follered Obed’s craowd aout to the reef, an’ I heerd shots betwixt the dories. Nex’ day Obed and thutty-two others was in gaol, with everybody a-wonderin’ jest what was afoot and jest what charge agin ’em cud he got to holt. God, ef anybody’d look’d ahead . . . a couple o’ weeks later, when nothin’ had ben throwed into the sea fer thet long . . . ”
Zadok was shewing sings of fright and exhaustion, and I let him keep silence for a while, though glancing apprehensively at my watch. The tide had turned and was coming in now, and the sound of the waves seemed to arouse him. I was glad of that tide, for at high water the fishy smell might not be so bad. Again I strained to catch his whispers.
“That awful night . . . I seed ’em. I was up in the cupalo . . . hordes of ’em . . . swarms of ’em . . . all over the reef an’ swimmin’ up the harbour into the Manuxet . . . God, what happened in the streets of Innsmouth that night . . . they rattled our door, but pa wouldn’t open . . . then he clumb aout the kitchen winder with his musket to find Selecman Mowry an’ see what he cud do . . . Maounds o’ the dead an’ the dyin’ . . . shots and screams . . . shaoutin’ in Ol Squar an’ Taown Squar an’ New Church Green — gaol throwed open . . . — proclamation . . . treason . . . called it the plague when folks come in an’ faoud haff our people missin’ . . . nobody left but them as ud jine in with Obed an’ them things or else keep quiet . . . never heard o’ my pa no more . . . ”
The old man was panting and perspiring profusely. His grip on my shoulder tightened.
“Everything cleaned up in the mornin’— but they was traces . . . Obed he kinder takes charge an’ says things is goin’ to be changed . . . others’ll worship with us at meetin’-time, an’ sarten haouses hez got to entertin guests . . . they wanted to mix like they done with the Kanakys, an’ he for one didn’t feel baound to stop ’em. Far gone, was Obed . . . jest like a crazy man on the subjeck. He says they brung us fish an’ treasure, an’ shud hev what they hankered after . . . ”
“Nothin’ was to be diff’runt on the aoutside; only we was to keep shy o’ strangers ef we knowed what was good fer us.
“We all hed to take the Oath o’ Dagon, an’ later on they was secon’ an’ third oaths that some o’ us took. Them as ud help special, ud git special rewards — gold an’ sech — No use balkin’, fer they was millions of ’em daown thar. They’d ruther not start risin’ an’ wipin’ aout human-kind, but ef they was gave away an’ forced to, they cud do a lot toward jest that. We didn’t hev them old charms to cut ’em off like folks in the Saouth Sea did, an’ them Kanakys wudn’t never give away their secrets.
“Yield up enough sacrifices an’ savage knick-knacks an’ harbourage in the taown when they wanted it, an’ they’d let well enough alone. Wudn’t bother no strangers as might bear tales aoutside — that is, withaout they got pryin’. All in the band of the faithful — Order o’ Dagon — an’ the children shud never die, but go back to the Mother Hydra an’ Father Dagon what we all come from onct . . . Ia! Ia! Cthulhu fhtagn! Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah-nagl fhtaga —”
Old Zadok was fast lapsing into stark raving, and I held my breath. Poor old soul — to what pitiful depths of hallucination had his liquor, plus his hatred of the decay, alienage, and disease around him, brought that fertile, imaginative brain? He began to moan now, and tears were coursing down his channelled checks into the depths of his beard.
“God, what I seen senct I was fifteen year’ old — Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin! — the folks as was missin’, and them as kilt theirselves — them as told things in Arkham or Ipswich or sech places was all called crazy, like you’re callin’ me right naow — but God, what I seen — They’d a kilt me long ago fer’ what I know, only I’d took the fust an’ secon’ Oaths o’ Dago offen Obed, so was pertected unlessen a jury of ’em proved I told things knowin’ an’ delib’rit . . . but I wudn’t take the third Oath — I’d a died ruther’n take that —
“It got wuss araound Civil War time, when children born senct ‘forty-six begun to grow up — some ’em, that is. I was afeared — never did no pryin’ arter that awful night, an’ never see one o’— them — clost to in all my life. That is, never no full-blooded one. I went to the war, an’ ef I’d a had any guts or sense I’d a never come back, but settled away from here. But folks wrote me things wa’n’t so bad. That, I s’pose, was because gov’munt draft men was in taown arter ‘sixty-three. Arter the war it was jest as bad agin. People begun to fall off — mills an’ shops shet daown — shippin’ stopped an’ the harbour choked up — railrud give up — but they . . . they never stopped swimmin’ in an’ aout o’ the river from that cursed reef o’ Satan — an’ more an’ more attic winders got a-boarded up, an’ more an’ more noises was heerd in haouses as wa’n’t s’posed to hev nobody in ’em . . .
“Folks aoutside hev their stories abaout us — s’pose you’ve heerd a plenty on ’em, seein’ what questions ye ast — stories abaout things they’ve seed naow an’ then, an’ abaout that queer joolry as still comes in from somewhars an’ ain’t quite all melted up — but nothin’ never gits def’nite. Nobody’ll believe nothin’. They call them gold-like things pirate loot, an’ allaow the Innsmouth folks hez furren blood or is distempered or somethin’. Beside, them that lives here shoo off as many strangers as they kin, an’ encourage the rest not to git very cur’ous, specially raound night time. Beasts balk at the critters — hosses wuss’n mules — but when they got autos that was all right.
“In ‘forty-six Cap’n Obed took a second wife that nobody in the taown never see — some says he didn’t want to, but was made to by them as he’d called in-had three children by her — two as disappeared young, but one gal as looked like anybody else an’ was eddicated in Europe. Obed finally got her married off by a trick to an Arkham feller as didn’t suspect nothin’. But nobody aoutside’ll hav nothin’ to do with Innsmouth folks naow. Barnabas Marsh that runs the refin’ry now is Obed’s grandson by his fust wife — son of Onesiphorus, his eldest son, but his mother was another o’ them as wa’n’t never seen aoutdoors.
“Right naow Barnabas is abaout changed. Can’t shet his eyes no more, an’ is all aout o’ shape. They say he still wears clothes, but he’ll take to the water soon. Mebbe he’s tried it already — they do sometimes go daown for little spells afore they go daown for good. Ain’t ben seed abaout in public fer nigh on ten year’. Dun’t know haow his poor wife kin feel — she come from Ipiwich, an’ they nigh lynched Barnabas when he courted her fifty odd year’ ago. Obed he died in ‘seventy-eight an’ all the next gen’ration is gone naow — the fust wife’s children dead, and the rest . . . God knows . . . ”
The sound of the incoming tide was now very insistent, and little by little it seemed to change the old man’s mood from maudlin tearfulness to watchful fear. He would pause now and then to renew those nervous glances over his shoulder or out toward the reef, and despite the wild absurdity of his tale, I could not help beginning to share his apprehensiveness. Zadok now grew shriller, seemed to be trying to whip up his courage with louder speech.
“Hey, yew, why dun’t ye say somethin’? Haow’d ye like to be livin’ in a taown like this, with everything a-rottin’ an’ dyin’, an’ boarded-up monsters crawlin’ an’ bleatin’ an’ barkin’ an’ hoppin’ araoun’ black cellars an’ attics every way ye turn? Hey? Haow’d ye like to hear the haowlin’ night arter night from the churches an’ Order o’ Dagon Hall, an’ know what’s doin’ part o’ the haowlin’? Haow’d ye like to hear what comes from that awful reef every May–Eve an’ Hallowmass? Hey? Think the old man’s crazy, eh? Wal, Sir, let me tell ye that ain’t the wust!”
Zadok was really screaming now, and the mad frenzy of his voice disturbed me more than I care to own.
“Curse ye, dun’t set thar a’starin’ at me with them eyes — I tell Obed Marsh he’s in hell, an, hez got to stay thar! Heh, heh . . . in hell, I says! Can’t git me — I hain’t done nothin’ nor told nobody nothin’—
“Oh, you, young feller? Wal, even ef I hain’t told nobody nothin’ yet, I’m a’goin’ to naow! Yew jest set still an’ listen to me, boy — this is what I ain’t never told nobody . . . I says I didn’t get to do pryin’ arter that night — but I faound things about jest the same!”
“Yew want to know what the reel horror is, hey? Wal, it’s this — it ain’t what them fish devils hez done, but what they’re a-goin’ to do! They’re a-bringin’ things up aout o’ whar they come from into the taown — been doin’ it fer years, an’ slackenin’ up lately. Them haouses north o’ the river be-twixt Water an’ Main Streets is full of ’em — them devils an’ what they brung — an’ when they git ready . . . I say, when they git . . . ever hear tell of a shoggoth?
“Hey, d’ye hear me? I tell ye I know what them things be — I seen ’em one night when . . . eh-ahhh-ah! e’yahhh . . . ”
The hideous suddenness and inhuman frightfulness of the old man’s shriek almost made me faint. His eyes, looking past me toward the malodorous sea, were positively starting from his head; while his face was a mask of fear worthy of Greek tragedy. His bony claw dug monstrously into my shoulder, and he made no motion as I turned my head to look at whatever he had glimpsed.
There was nothing that I could see. Only the incoming tide, with perhaps one set of ripples more local than the long-flung line of breakers. But now Zadok was shaking me, and I turned back to watch the melting of that fear-frozen face into a chaos of twitching eyelids and mumbling gums. Presently his voice came back — albeit as a trembling whisper.
“Git aout o’ here! Get aout o’ here! They seen us — git aout fer your life! Dun’t wait fer nothin’— they know naow — Run fer it — quick — aout o’ this taown —”
Another heavy wave dashed against the loosing masonry of the bygone wharf, and changed the mad ancient’s whisper to another inhuman and blood-curdling scream. “E-yaahhhh! . . . Yheaaaaaa! . . . ”
Before I could recover my scattered wits he had relaxed his clutch on my shoulder and dashed wildly inland toward the street, reeling northward around the ruined warehouse wall.
I glanced back at the sea, but there was nothing there. And when I reached Water Street and looked along it toward the north there was no remaining trace of Zadok Allen.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11