Lure of the Deep
©2002 Volk-Oboroten -- all rights reserved
If I was truly sane and awake, my experience earlier today was one which no man has ever experienced before. It confirmed all the fears which had coagulated in my mind, driving me to the edge of sanity. Nightmare and terror filled my mind, driven there by an ancient evil.
But first, I need to recall how it all started, only three days ago. A new psychologist had just been hired by the university, assigned to start experimental research with a strange device transported south from Massachusetts, a machine which would soon became the source of unspeakable horror.
Before continuing, I must pause, for fear that the hideous repetition of these events should unbalance my brain. Was it only my imagination? But I can still hear his voice, a mellow, educated voice which seemed vaguely Bostonian in accent. A voice which sounded quite out of place on the West Coast of Florida, especially in a small college town.
"Where is my assistant?" queried a haughty voice from a locked room. How I wish I'd never responded to that dread summons!
"Johnson! Professor Peaslee wants to see you!" ordered another voice.
"Is this about the device they dragged in yesterday?" I asked timidly, as I walked up the stairs, unaware that Peaslee's machine was the center of an arcane plot. "The thing that was shipped down from Massachusetts?"
As the door opened, Professor Waldo Peaslee glanced down, seeking to avoid eye contact with me, for, as I would soon learn, he deeply despised humans. "Did you add the salt water to the device? I understand we shall not need a heater, for the water has been drawn directly from the Gulf of Mexico... So different from home, to visit a place where the seas are warm."
"Yes," I replied hastily, shaking at the knees as I was somehow intimidated by his mere presence. "Everything is ready for your isolation tank experiment."
"Jessup converter," he muttered, showing irritation at my statement. "This device is no mere isolation tank, for it has been used to conquer time and space by means of mind-projection. When I left Miskatonic University to work here, I knew that I was destined to achieve greatness!"
Peaslee's companion, Dr. Mortimer Thurston, then began to talk, happy to expound on his knowledge of the converter's history. "It's amazing that we are able to perform such valuable research at this facility! The last tests were done at Harvard Medical School, when Dr. Jessup was seeking tenure there. It's a shame that he didn't continue his work, but Professor Peaslee was able to assemble his journals into a coherent record with the assistance of his colleagues."
"At Arkham Asylum?" I asked, vaguely recalling second-hand stories about bizarre research into human deviancy that Peaslee had done there.
"Of course," replied Mort. "They have great expertise in dealing with both the criminally insane and metaphysically strange. Moreover, they recently received a research grant from Bruce Wayne, a noted philanthropist, to further their studies of unbalanced madmen. Some of their research proved quite helpful in explaining how the converter actually worked, as Jessup's recordings were mighty hard to decipher. He said many things which were very strange."
Peaslee abruptly glared at us, although his eyes at the same time seemed somehow distant, lost in secret thoughts. "All humans are strange," he declared, furrowing his brow. "I do not understand my own species. Indeed, there are times and occasions in which I do not think I ever will understand them. But the Jessup converter may allow me to achieve new clarity."
"You intend to use it yourself?" I asked, shocked at the Peaslee's comment. It was rumored that researchers had gone completely mad after using isolation tanks, due to exposure to psychedelic drugs, like ketamine and LSD. Wasn't this sort of experimentation illegal? Was Peaslee a disciple of Timothy Leary?
"Mark, you should know better than to ask Dr. Peaslee that sort of question," scolded Mort. "It's hard to maintain objectivity if you get involved in your own experiment. Just consider Jessup's wild ravings, after he was found naked in the zoo. Do you really think he devolved into a quasi-simian creature?"
"I'm not sure what to think..."
"That's not surprising, as you are a mere graduate student. Some specialists have spent years studying the converter! It allows one to access altered states of consciousness, in a manner quite unlike any other scientific instrument."
"But didn't some of the experimental subjects go crazy after prolonged use?" I protested, "How dangerous is this isolation tank? Could it really cause bodily alterations?"
"Of course not!" scoffed Mort. "How can you believe the delusional ravings of undergraduates, who were merely out to get more money!"
At this point, Peaslee interrupted Mort, saying softly, in a hypnotic voice "At Miskatonic, we've found that nothing's wrong with making a small sacrifice for knowledge. What could be better than to devote yourself to a higher cause, one worthy of your very life?"
But what cause? I tremble now, recalling the hideous secret which Waldo Peaslee had concealed. If only I had believed the ugly reports of his unholy powers! Some knew of his eldritch ability to influence the thoughts and acts of others, but few thought it was more than idle fantasy. If only that were true! But no one then suspected that he was intimate with occultist groups, nameless bands of abhorrent hierophants who served undead demons!
Heading outside after the conference, I talked to Dr. Thurston again, eager to be away from the eerie green eyes of Professor Peaslee. Merely talking in his presence was an unsettling experience, for the slightest glimpse from his eyes felt like a piercing dagger, baring all of the hidden secrets of one's soul. I hoped Mort would help me understand the upcoming experiment, little knowing that it was beyond the ken of mortal men.
"Aren't you worried, Mort?" I asked. "If students use this device and get injured, the university could be subject to considerable liability? Weren't his experiments at Miskatonic..."
"Don't worry!" replied Dr. Thurston. "We don't need to use any drugs, for the isolation tank is the ultimate Freudian couch. It exposes the inner being if employed properly... err... it's a legal and safe way to achieve a psychedelic state. I've even tried it myself... sorta reminded me of an Indian sweat lodge I tried... or that time I met a yogi in Uttar Pradesh."
"But I'm still concerned. I haven't heard of any lawsuits... but didn't some students just vanish after using Jessup's device? Without a trace!"
Mort laughed, evidently not appreciating my apprehension about the tank.
"What about the stories that Jessup changed his physical structure?"
"It's all in the head! C'mon, I had a similar experience myself," explained Mort, trying to settle my fears, "A couple years ago, after a long trip in the tank, I regressed myself just like Doc Jessup... I jumped out of that water a-hootin' and a-hollerin', completely sure I was an ape-man... Half hour later or so, I returned to normal reality, and told the attendants what I'd seen... I'd turned into a prehominid, swung up the branches of a tree, and then tried to scare away a hungry leopard... beatin' my chest an' all. It was lots of fun, but some folks just don't get it... One guy even said he'd kick me in the ass if I did it again!"
Dr. Thurston then walked away, chuckling about his story. I'd heard it several times before, as well as other farfetched accounts of Mort's exploration of the far reaches of the mind. It all seemed a bit out of character for a man who claimed to be a serious scientist. But at least Mort was never involved in truly sinister schemes like Professor Peaslee.
The next day, I arrived at the laboratory early in the morning, feeling a sense of lingering, lurking menace. Two students waited at the door, peering down through the windows. Had they seen the advertisement promising payment to volunteers for a sensory deprivation experiment? I was very surprised that we'd gotten a response after only one day.
"Hi, I'm Jezebel O'Sidhe," said the girl. "Has Professor Peaslee arrived? You see, my friend's here to enroll in the tank program."
"He keeps odd hours, so I imagine he's already inside. Just knock on his door on the lower floor. It's clearly marked," I responded, after slowly opening the door, unnerved by the eerie blue color of her hair. Even stranger, her locks of hair were twisted in odd snake-like curls, making me think of Medusa. Or perhaps, they reminded me of the arms of a giant cephalopod.
As she walked down the stairs, I glanced at her companion, who presumably would be our first volunteer. As he was standing on a hill above me, I spotted his feet first. At once, I was startled by their size. Simply enormous! He must have been wearing size 17 shoes.
As I pried my eyes away from his abnormal features, he started to talk "Jez told me about your program at the temple last night. Once I heard about the money, I decided to sign up at once, 'cause financial aid got cut this semester. Also, I wanna get on the swim team."
"What's your name," I asked, trying to appear friendly. If only I'd known what dreadful things would transpire as a result of this chance meeting! But was Joe's appearance merely an ordinary event, or had he been drawn to the building by unseen forces?
"I'm Joe Marsh," the tall student replied. "Where do I fill out the forms? I really need to sign up, 'cause Coach Gilman says I need to get some issues settled... says I could use some help from your shrinks, to get a killer edge for competition."
"I'm sure your friend will get the papers from Professor Peaslee," I replied, studying Joe's unusual form. Or perhaps it wasn't that unusual for someone trying out for the swim team. He had surprisingly elongated limbs, with big hands, almost as disproportionate to his torso as his feet were to his legs. Joe looked athletic, but not especially so, as his muscles seemed very stretched and streamlined rather than bulky. His close cropped hair suggested that he'd recently shaved his head for a meet, just like the others who were trying out for the Barracudas.
At that moment, the door to Professor Peaslee's office opened, as Jezebel happily capered down the stairs. "I'm so thrilled to see someone from Arkham!" she exclaimed. "Perhaps he'll give me his recommendation for the graduate study program in thaumaturgy at Miskatonic."
"What's so great about Arkham?" asked Joe. "I heard it rains all the time up there. I'd never want to go to a school in New England! Especially 'cause my cousins live up there, a few miles out of Boston... They're real weirdos!"
"But it's just wonderful in Arkham," pronounced Jezebel. "If you got an invitation to go to Miskatonic, you'd be eternally sorry if you went somewhere else. It's the most hallowed center of learning in America, only minutes away from an ancient Temple of Dagon."
The hinge on the rusty door creaked as Dr. Thurston emerged, holding a ledger with a large stack of papers. "Joe, we understand you'll be a perfect subject for our study. Indeed, Dr. Peaslee says he's acquainted with some of the New Hampshire Marshes... um, relatives of your mother. Just sign these forms and we'll start this evening, after your classes end."
He soon followed Jezebel into the small room, eager to enroll in the testing program. I recall little of subsequent events that morning, except that Dr. Peaslee was oddly pleased when Joe told him that both of his biological parents had vanished long ago. He hadn't seen them for years, spending most of his childhood in foster homes. Why was this so important? Did Peaslee think foster parents were unlikely to question the validity of Joe's waivers?
In the evening I returned to the back of the psychology building, troubled by the ghastly pallor of the nearly full moon, fungoid and fantastically gibbous. Its withering, leprous light shone across the quad, drenching the dead grass with an eerie, stark white color, making the pillars resemble old, dry bones of long-dead beasts. I was glad to go inside, especially when I found that Dr. Thurston was already preparing Joe for his first tank trip.
"Put your shoes and socks over here, Joe" Mort said, as Professor Peaslee carefully gathered electrode wires, needed to monitor EEG signals during the experiment. After removing his immense shoes, Joe smiled at Jezebel, who was waiting outside in the room. He then stood next to the tank door, waiting patiently as Peaslee attached the electrodes to his scalp. "You may be a bit disoriented after your first tank trip, so Jezebel's agreed to make sure you get back to the dorm safely," continued Mort. "But don't worry, for we're sure this will be an enjoyable experience. Just relax and clear your mind."
As Joe climbed into the tank, I turned down the lights in the room, to reduce the chance of any ambient light leaking into the water. This was unlikely, as only small holes were present in the isolation tank, for the EEG wires and sound cables. But one couldn't be too careful, as Peaslee insisted that he wanted to duplicate the conditions in Jessup's laboratory.
After Mort closed the heavy door, Peaslee began to speak to Joe on the microphone, "Just let yourself float," he said in a soft voice.
"Cool. You've got salt water in here," said Joe's voice in the microphone, as he splashed some water. "I've been trainin' so much that I start sinkin' in the pool. Not enough body fat. Y'know, they really should let us do laps off the beach..."
"Place your hands on your side with the elbows pointing out. Concentrate on your breathing and forget everything else. Soon, you will reach another level of consciousness."
"Whatever you say, Doc..."
Time passed. How much time, I'm not sure, as the horrific events which soon occurred made this period merely a blur in my memory. I decided to talk to Mort, trying to find out how long this experiment should last. "Didn't Jessup spend months in an isolation tank before anything interesting happened?" I asked quietly. "Surely, you don't plan to use drugs? It's been said that Jessup added an untested chemical to his tank, made from a dangerous fungus he found somewhere in Mexico. That's when he claimed to have his first primal experience."
"No," responded Mort sharply. "It won't take long, for Dr. Peaslee has brought a special substance found only in Innsmouth. He assured me that it's quite potent. Indeed, it may be especially relevant here, for Waldo is certain some of Joe's relatives lived in that town."
"Why is..?" I started to ask, but was soon distracted by Jezebel, who walked toward the tank carrying a flashlight. As she neared the tank, she frantically scribbled on a piece of paper, drawing some kind of baleful sigil.
"The time is right," declared Professor Peaslee, as he suddenly rose from his chair. "Hold the Elder Sign against the door, Miss O'Sidhe." Jezebel abruptly stopped writing and held her crudely sketched image in the air, right in front of the isolation tank. I gasped when I saw the paper depicted a five pointed star with a flaming eye in its middle. What could this be?
"Now, we will discover the truth," proclaimed Peaslee, as Jezebel began to quietly chant something in a strange tongue. "We must strip ourselves, as far as possible, of our preconceptions about the relative place of Homo Sapiens in the scheme of nature. Many things exist on levels far beyond human understanding, having experience of real truth."
Confused by Peaslee's statement, I asked, "What sort of truth?"
Glancing down at the EEG monitor, Peaslee paused, noting a sudden increase of activity. Then, he answered my question. "You will soon find out, when Mr. Marsh reports his experience. In the province of the mind, what is believed to be true becomes true, within certain limits to be found experimentally. These limits are further beliefs to be transcended. For in the province of the mind, there are no limits. That is the truth I wish to reveal."
Mort then turned on the microphone so we could all hear Joe describe his mental experience. "I'm looking down at the ocean, floating above the waves."
Oh great, I thought, they must have added drugs to the water. And I thought Dr. Peaslee was a reputable scientist! Hadn't researchers stopped doing this sort of thing decades ago?
Joe's strangely monotonic voice continued to report his visions, "It's amazing. I've always loved to swim, but have never felt as one with the sea as now!"
"What do you feel?" asked Mort, noting a sudden jump in the EEG meter.
"Great! I really know the joy of moving swiftly and sensuously through the water," said Joe, who suddenly began to breathe erratically, in abrupt bursts. "I'm diving, leaping, turning, twisting in really real joy! Swirling through the water... one with the cosmos."
"Embrace your heritage," intoned Peaslee solemnly. "Did you know that your parents both had ancestors from Innsmouth? They would want you to go into the sea. Feel the water!"
Joe didn't seem to notice the professor's comment, for he was eager to report his sensations. "I've tried to meditate when doing laps, but never felt this sort of relaxation. It's like there's warmth flowing out of the water into me. Pure energy."
"Perhaps it is activating your chakras, Joe" suggested Mort. I immediately recalled Mort's obsession with Hindu rituals, for he believed they could be used to tap unused portions of the brain. "Focus on the heat! Let it flow up to the top of your head."
Joe laughed for a moment and then splashed water in the tank. What was he doing? This experience was becoming very strange for me, as it seemed far removed from any scientific experiment I'd ever heard about. Very irregular!
"I feel it!" said Joe, in a excited voice, panting for breath, "It's like there's an intense burst of heat at the top of my skull, tearing it open... I dunno... maybe a third eye. Changing me into something else."
Professor Peaslee grinned broadly, making me uneasy, for I'd rarely seen him express any emotion. He spoke into the microphone in even tones, trying to guide Joe's experience, "Let yourself go... You must understand -- a human being is a biorobot with a biocomputer in it, the brain. But we are not that brain and body. It can be reprogrammed by changing your essence... you'll be drawn off into a prehuman world... a place which existed millions of years ago."
Joe gurgled for a moment, making me wonder if he had swallowed some water. What was Peaslee talking about? I recalled that Jessup's experiments had involved some sort of primordial regression, seeking to learn more about the origins of mankind. Some claimed that ancient genetic memories could be awakened by entering unusual states of consciousness.
"I'm looking up at the beach," said Joe. "Furry things... like Bigfoot, or the skunk ape."
"Those are protohumans, beings barely above the simian mental level," stated Peaslee. "You're experiencing events from long ago, when the Great Old Ones ruled this planet. What else do you see? Is there anything else in the water with you?"
"A green dolphin!" exclaimed Joe. "No... it's a whole pod. We're swimming along the shoreline... up and down through the surf... I can hear them."
"Anything else?" asked Peaslee again, sounding somewhat frustrated. "Do you see any buildings? Creatures with scales holding spears? Things with giant tentacles?"
Joe suddenly made an odd whistling sound, but began talking again, "There's a dolphin looking directly at me... I hear him... No, it's like a feeling, right at the top of my head... Expanding... flowing through the inside of my body... He's describing my body with a single sound..! I feel at home here, floating in the waves."
As Peaslee frowned, Mort began to talk, "We need to know more! I believe we can tap the collective unconscious here, learning what the Earth Coincidence Control Office is planning. You see, Joe, they're the guys who run the Earth and program us, though we're not aware of it. Making us evolve to new levels."
"Rrrrbbt," said Joe, making an odd sound deep in his throat, "The others are here, swimming out from the reef... ready to drive the fish... we must bring food to the city!"
"Atlantis?" asked Mort, as his eyes grew wide. "Can you see the city?"
"No!" exclaimed Peaslee, displaying his displeasure. "Joe's heredity ties him to the ancient underwater city of R'lyeh. His true sire sleeps there, still dreaming."
Joe didn't hear their words, for he was evidently deep in his vision, "I'm moving my claws across the water... with the others... ready to feed, moving schools of fish along the reef... Cccllkkk... Chrrrr... " He suddenly gasped for air, making an odd chirping sound. Then, he slowly resumed talking: "It's like... I'm one of them..! Cccckkk... must feed... Eh... Ahhhh... Yhaaaa... Ah! E'Yaaaahhhh..."
His inhuman shriek startled me! What was going on? Had Joe overdosed on some drug?
"Quick, get him out of the tank," ordered Dr. Thurston. Jezebel promptly opened the door, letting us see Joe, tightly grasping a bar on the side of the tank with his right hand. She rushed to his aid, extending her hand to persuade him to climb out. He made a few odd grunts deep in his throat, but started to follow her, slowly emerging from the water.
"Look at that!" exclaimed Mort, staring down at Joe's face, as he removed the EEG wires. "Maybe Jessup was telling the truth! It's all wrong..! Just look... his eyes are protruding from his skull and his neck has stretched out by several inches! Let's take X-rays to see if there are any more physical changes... before he reconstitutes. So we can have proof!"
"Mr. Marsh has been through enough tonight," observed Professor Peaslee, feigning sympathy for his victim. "You can't expect results after only one experiment, Doctor Thurston! We need to repeat this before worrying about detailed medical testing. But first, take a blood sample... Correction -- Have Johnson do it! I'll need to analyze it for something... an unusual substance that's been documented only in studies of the Marsh family."
A few minutes later, I bent down to stick a needle in Joe's arm. I had to move carefully, for Joe was hunched over, holding his hands against the floor. Jezebel steadied his hand, allowing me to move in.
What was that? As I drew the blood, Joe made a bizarre sound. As I took the needle out, he gargled, making an animalistic growl, a hoarse bark which somewhat reminded me of a bullfrog croaking. It was so strange!
Then I looked at the blood. It was green! No... it seemed to change colors, at first looking blackish, but then shifting to a more normal red hue. This couldn't be right!
"Ah, yes... that's exactly what I expected," said Professor Peaslee. "I'll need to look at that tonight. You're dismissed... Miss O'Sidhe will escort Joe back to the dorm."
"B- b- bbut," I stammered, "That blood's not natural! Shouldn't we do more tests? I'm afraid he might be sick... Why, this drug could even threaten his life!"
"The blood is the life," said Professor Peaslee, in a mystic mood. "But in this case, his greenish ichor is life eternal. When I studied the Marsh family, I discovered..."
"It's almost eleven!" interrupted Jezebel. "We've gotta go back soon. Joe will feel great after he takes a shower. He'll come back to the dorm with me... Everything'll be just fine."
The next morning, I was still shaken by the things I'd seen and heard during the experiment. Had I really seen the blood change colors? What about Joe's face? It had looked positively inhuman! I could even swear that his nostrils grown together, forcibly shut like those on some abominable sea creature. Disbelieving my eyes, I decided my imagination must have run wild -- Joe had just put some noseplugs on before going in the tank. That's all I saw.
Still contemplating these things, I heard a knock on my door. Responding to the frantic rapping, I turned the knob.
"Glad you're here" said Joe nervously. "I wanna talk to you... ummm... 'Bout last night! It's really freaky... Figured you might be able to explain."
"About what? I believe Professor Peaslee is in charge of this program."
"No! Not him!" Joe exclaimed, bolting inside as he closed the door. "I reckon he's some kind of mad scientist, doin' stuff to me."
"Peaslee is a bit unorthodox," I responded, noticing Joe's unblinking eyes glaring at me.
"Yeah... but I dunno what happened. I can't remember it. Everything's blank... until I was at the dorm inside Jezebel's room."
"You don't remember what you saw while you were in the isolation tank?" I asked. Then, I noticed his last comment. Oh great! Had he just split up with his girlfriend?
"Nah... just bits and pieces... somethin' about the ocean and dolphins. But what happened with her was so weird! Like some kinda spell! I gotta find out!"
What was I supposed to do? Did he want some sort of psychological help, assistance with a troubled relationship? I hated to get involved in this, but felt I should say something, for he was obviously very upset. "You were in the Jessup converter for a long time. Side effects..."
"No... eeeh... rrrrb," he started to mumble, but then cleared his throat. "I think it's happenin' again! Peaslee did somethin' to me... tried to change me!"
"Change you? How? Dr. Thurston said these things are purely mental," I said, nervously recalling the blood sample. Could my memories have been real!
"Ccclllkk... chhrrr... Errr," said Joe, gargling again, and making a high pitched squeak, "I think it's one of those TG sex change things..."
"Really? What do you mean?" I said, feeling morbidly curious.
"Last night, she took me back to her room. I was feelin' real weird and she told me I needed to take a shower, to get the salt off... I took off my shirt."
"What? You thought you were growing breasts?" I asked, interrupting him. Glancing at his chest, I saw nothing unusual. Perhaps Joe was just recalling a vivid hallucination.
"No... it was different... You see, Jezebel's one of the temple maidens. They've got a real rep 'round campus. Lots of guys wanna go with them..."
Recalling the peculiar religious cult which had become popular on campus, I asked, "So she's joined the Esoteric Order of Dagon? Did she try to recruit you as well? She told me you met her at the temple." Perhaps that's what had Joe upset. She dumped him when he wouldn't join her cult. The maidens were said to be extremely seductive, using flirty fishing to get impressionable students to worship Dagon. But if someone rejected their overtures, they could become extremely cruel and vindictive.
"Nah... you gotta understand, the maidens... well, they don't wanna stay maidens... Once they're ineligible, they can get higher rank at the temple... after the ritual."
"Well... umm, after I took my shirt off, she started stripping off her clothes too... She got me to stand in the middle of her room, next to that weird idol... some kinda frog thing... and started chanting, grabbing my hand."
"I don't see how this could possibly be related to our experiment."
"Jus' wait... We started dancing together, holding hands, half naked... I really wanted her right then, but she was thinkin' about other stuff... pawin' at that Frog God of hers..."
"I'm really not interested in your religious differences. Please explain what this has to do with Professor Peaslee."
"I started feeling really hot... sticky and uncomfortable... Anxious too, I mean, she'd gone down to her bra and panties... then she said she was ready for me... And I..."
He suddenly stopped talking, looking very uneasy. Joe looked pained for a moment, struggling to describe his experience. His face even seemed a bit green for a second.
"Well... I unzipped my pants... and ummm... it wasn't there!"
"Really? Ummm... have you gone to a doctor? You should have this checked..."
"You don't believe me! I knew no one would believe me! You see, when I looked... there was just a slit! Nothing else... But it's back now, just like nothing happened!"
"Please calm down, Mr. Marsh. Is there anything else you want to mention? I'd like to help you with your problem."
"Just look at my legs... there's almost no hair there... same thing on my arms... I'm sure Peaslee did it! You've gotta believe me."
Looking skeptically at him, I said, "Well, it's clear that there's very little hair on your body, but isn't that because you shaved it off? For the swim meet?"
"Yeah... Coach said we should shave down to get the feel of the water. But this is different! It's like there's no hair at all! Peaslee must have done it to me!"
"I really don't have much training in endocrinology," I replied, "You should see someone else if you're worried about hormonal imbalances."
"But there's more," Joe continued. "On my face... When I ran out of her room, I felt it, totally smooth... no beard... and the skin's peeling off too... You gotta help me!"
"Too much time in the salt water," I suggested. "Maybe you didn't wash it all off after leaving the tank."
"But it happened to my hands too... I was barely able to turn the doorknob... You see, I think my fingers have grown shorter... I dunno how it could happen in one night."
Joe extended his hand so I could examine it. Indeed, his palm seemed huge compared to his digits. Or was it something else? His fingers curled closely together, like they were held in place. Webbing? Yes, his hand made me think of some aquatic...
"Look at the color," he declared. "Pale... not like my hands normally look"
Struck by the abnormal tinge of grayish-blue, I said "To be honest, that hue reminds me of a dolphin's flipper. It's quite remarkable."
"Dolphin!" he exclaimed. "A dolphin... yeah, that's what I remember seeing in the tank... I was in the waves, with a pod of green dolphins... swimming to the reef."
"We have a detailed journal of your comments, if you need to refresh your memory, Joe."
"No... I get it now! It's like Peaslee wanted me to turn... errrb... think I was becoming a dolphin! That would explain what happened with Jezebel."
"OK... so, you're not worried about suddenly becoming female..."
"I remember it all now! The city. Chasing the fish... Chrrr... the others... Rrrrrbb... they want me to join them... Eeeyyyaaahh... head out to sea..."
His speech rapidly degenerated into croaking sounds, mingled with odd whistles and clicks. Just like last night! Had his brain been addled by the experiment?
But there was something else! His face was changing. His lips protruded and his ears seemed to somehow shrivel into his skull. Joe appeared quite unaware of these alterations, for he seemed to be in a deep trance. His watery blue eyes bulged out of his narrow head, vacantly staring into the distance. Bits of hair dropped off the top of his head, exposing greenish scales.
Looking down, I saw something odd happen to his neck. It was rapidly expanding, becoming even with his shoulders. Also, it was buckling. Forming creases? Perforations? Yes, the skin on his neck was folding over upon itself, forming parallel ridges. How strange!
At that moment, the door to my room swung open. Jezebel rapidly walked in, smiling at me. "Ahh... so that's where Joe ran off to. I thought he might be here."
"Ummm... I don't think you want to see him. He's been through some cha..."
However, I couldn't dissuade her from coming closer. To my surprise, she wasn't not dismayed by Joe's appearance, but seemed oddly pleased. "The Innsmouth Look!" she proclaimed, "Wow! After I swore the third oath to Dagon, I hoped to meet some of the Deep Ones, but never dreamed I'd receive this sort of blessing."
"Blessing? What are you talking about?"
"Never mind. Joe's coming back with me. We've got things to do... together. Stuff he was supposed to do last night. I'm sure he'll be in a better mood now."
She waved her hand and Joe suddenly followed her, moving in a shambling gait. He followed her out the door, lunging forward on his huge feet. Or was he hopping? Perhaps he was... the awful thought sent a chill through me, for he made me think of a giant, repellent frog!
Moving outside, I watched Joe and Jezebel head down the sidewalk, horrified by his now sub-human appearance. Before she closed the door, I got a glimpse of his scalp, completely bald of any hair. Even worse, his skin was coming apart along his arm, exposing squamous tiles, very much like the scales on the side of a gargantuan fish.
Perhaps I was going mad! I decided to go to Professor Peaslee's office, hoping to clear my head. Peaslee had been working on the blood samples. At least that was something I could relate to. Something logical. Not something unreal, like people turning into monsters.
Nearing Peaslee's door, I realized that someone else was inside. Dr. Thurston? No, it couldn't be him, for this man had a gruff, overbearing voice.
"Is the stuff ready? I've gotta win that swim meet next month."
"Coach Gilman, I assure you that the samples will be ready shortly. Remember, you must be very careful about the dosage..."
"I don't care, just make sure they swim fast after I inject the stuff... That's what counts... Plus, can it be detected? I mean, they have random screening at most places... You wouldn't want to get caught dealin' this stuff, Waldo."
"That's Professor Peaslee to you. And remember, this isn't an ordinary drug. I'm sure no one will find out, for I'm the only one who has done much research on this substance. It's really quite interesting. Back in Innsmouth, everyone is very fond of the water, swimming out to Devil's Reef almost every day. You see, this substance allows them to be almost amphibious..."
"I don't care! Just make sure it's ready for the Barracudas' first meet."
"It will be ready next week. But one more thing... one of the students who has applied to join your team, a Mr. Joseph Marsh... I'm afraid he will be doing some personal work for me, so he won't be able to swim for the Barracudas."
"Heck, I figured Joe was a head case... sure hope you straighten him out... But remember, I'm counting on you! I need 'em to swim like fish at the meet!"
"By Father Dagon, I swear the Barracudas shall triumph over all of their foes."
Coach Gilman then walked out the door, carrying some sort of vial in his hand. I ducked beyond a nearby alcove so as not be seen, and was very relieved when the swim coach walked down the corridor in the opposite direction. What sort of unholy business was he involved in? I'd heard about steroids in sports, but this must be something far worse!
After Gilman left the building, I foolishly decided to confront Professor Peaslee. "What's going on here? Tell me the whole truth! I won't be a part of your monstrous experiments anymore! They're completely out of control! What you did to that student... it was just horrible... changing him into some frog-fish thing... Now you're planning to infect others!"
"You do not understand the nature of my work," Peaslee said slowly, while gazing into a vial filled with a viscous, green fluid. "Too many people think that humans are the only species of importance on this planet. Such arrogance! They even have the audacity to call this world 'Earth' when it's largely covered with water."
"No. I just refuse to follow human viewpoints. Consider the creatures of the sea -- what would they think of homo sapiens? One can imagine dolphins asking, 'Is man a god, a devil, or a lower animal, a creature from outer space, or just a dolphin that failed to get back into the seas?' Indeed, I greatly admire dolphins, for in many ways, they are superior..."
"He was growing gills! I don't know how you did it, but Joe Marsh is somehow transforming into a monster... something like the Creature from the Black Lagoon."
"You still don't understand. Humans are incapable of thriving in the sea, while dolphins live only in the ocean. But what would happen if a creature could survive in both worlds? Even dolphins must surface at times to breathe air, so they can't stay underwater indefinitely. Can you imagine what it would be like to be equally at home on the ocean floor as on a mountain top?
"No... all of this is rubbish! Gobbledygook and nonsense!"
Professor Peaslee laughed dismissively for a moment, but then resumed regaling me with tales of nonhuman intelligences from distant stars, "I believe that there are beings far greater than humans on this planet, entities which drive the evolutionary process. One might say that we are but an ant colony in their laboratory. They walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen, but still control the course of all life on this small world."
"So... aliens told you to do this?"
"Perhaps you could call them aliens... although the ultimate truth may be hard to explain in human terms. He tells me what to do, for I hear His thoughts in every waking moment. The wind gibbers with His voice and the earth itself mutters with His consciousness."
"Who? Where is he? Are there aliens in Florida?"
"He waits for me in his house at R'lyeh, dreaming. Even though He is dead now, one day He shall rise from the abyss and smite the surface dwellers! That is not dead which can eternal lie. When strange eons pass even death may die. Some day, an amphibious race will be dwell on all of this planet, not merely a portion, honoring the Great Old Ones. We will discover truths about ourselves, truths that will change each of us -- and all of us -- forever. Fhtagn!"
"Change all of us! You're conspiring with aliens to destroy humanity!"
"They do not want to destroy anything, although destruction may be an incidental byproduct of their experiments. Cosmic love is absolutely ruthless and highly Indifferent: it teaches its lessons whether you like them or not. You will learn to love..."
"No, I won't! I'm going to report what you've..."
At that moment, Peaslee jabbed a needle into my arm, shouting, "Iä! Shub-Niggurath! The Goat with a Thousand Young!" Stunned, I fell to the ground and blacked out. When I woke up, I found myself in the isolation tank room, with my arms bound to the sides of a chair.
"I see that the sedative has worn off just in time," said Professor Peaslee. "Mr. Marsh will be ready to emerge from the tank shortly, eager to head out to sea. It's too bad you couldn't see what Dr. Thurston found earlier, when he examined Marsh's new physiology."
"You're lying! He'd never work with you!"
At that moment, the top of the tank burst open. Dumbfounded, I watched a pair of clawed, webbed hands clamber up the railing. As the slimy creature approached me, it stared at me with its prodigious, bulging eyes. It didn't look remotely human, having but a shapeless hump that answered for a head. Its gill slits pulsated, making awful squishing sounds.
"As you can, he is fully amphibious now," said Peaslee.
The thing now walked out onto the floor, flopping about on its flat, slippery feet. Indeed, its whole body was quite froglike, covered with grayish green blotches, except for a white area along its belly. Other than its palpitating gills, it had no obvious features on its body -- no nose, ears, or anything which would make one think it had once been human. Its smooth skin shimmered in the light from the window, coated with gelatinous ooze like jellyfish slime.
Then, the monster looked directly at me! At first it was somewhat hard to tell what it was gawking at, for its fishlike eyes had no lids. It slowly opened its mouth, displaying rows of pointed teeth, like the razor-sharp jaws of a fierce piranha. Was it going to attack?
I struggled to get free, but couldn't budge as Peaslee had tied the ropes tightly. The fish-frog thing moved closer, slime dripping from its gaping maw. Reaching down with its enormous claw, it slashed the rope holding my left arm. Making a peculiar barking-bleating sound, it ripped the other rope restraining me away, tearing it asunder in an instant.
"No! Not now!" yelled Peaslee. "He's not ready yet. Why didn't you wait until sunset?"
I ran away, as fast as I could. Perhaps Joe Marsh was still somewhat human, deep down, for he'd rescued me from Peaslee's diabolical scheme. I just ran and ran...
"Enough of this! Do you really expect us to believe this fish story?"
"Haven't you seen the reports of people who've vanished? The campus police..."
"So... we're supposed to look for a fish... err... frogman? We'd be crazy to..."
"Please! I swear that it's all true! You must believe me!"
"Dr. Mort will be here shortly. We've told him about your..."
"Really! Then he can tell you all... errrrbt... cchhhhgghh..."
"What's that? Frog in your throat?"
"Ummm... No, it must just be from talking to you for so long."
Then, the investigator's door opened with a slow creak. Dr. Thurston entered hurriedly, wearing a peculiar vestment. Hanging from his neck, I saw an golden medallion, inscribed with odd designs. Some appeared to be sea creatures like dolphins, but others...
"I'm so sorry!" said Mort. "Professor Peaslee just told me about the accident at the laboratory. You were exposed to spores from rare fungus known to have mind-altering properties. I'll have to talk to you about it outside, for there may be some side-effects." Rushing out the door into the quad, glad to have Dr. Thurston's ear, I shouted, "Don't believe Peaslee! He's making monsters in there! Things which shouldn't exist!"
"You're very stressed out now," said Mort calmly. "Just relax. I'm quite happy now, for I just returned from a ceremony at the temple. I saw Jezebel there -- she's going to be a priestess soon, so she's very happy. You'll also be happy, when you realize the truth."
"Truth? What truth..? Rrrbbbb... Ccchhhhrrrr."
"Just stay calm. Jezebel's over here, by the path to the beach. She'll take you home shortly. You'll see. Everything's going to be all right."
Dr. Thurston then departed, as Jezebel slowly walked up to me. She seemed to positively glow with energy, her wild hair dangling like seaweed. However, it was held in place by a tall golden tiara, decorated with same aquatic symbols as Mort's medallion.
"I'm so glad to see you!" she exclaimed. "I've just been talking to Joe and he's really wants to talk to you tonight. About Professor Peaslee and some other things..."
"Joe Marsh?" I asked. "But isn't he... different now? I mean?"
"Oh, yes!" she exclaimed. "He's my husband. You can call me Jezebel Marsh now."
"What? I'm very confused. Didn't he... rrrbbbbt... I feel very strange."
"That's only to be expected. Just come with me down to the beach. The salt air will be good for you."
Soon, we were on the beach, gazing out into the sea. The waves, covered with soft foam, seemed very inviting, beckoning me to walk into the water. I felt a burning urge to follow the outgoing tide into the deep.
As the surf continued to pound the beach, I kicked my sandals off, for they felt uncomfortably tight. "So you're Mrs. Marsh now? I'm very surprised... errrbb... for I didn't realize you knew Joe before... ccchhhhrrrr... Only one day?"
"He's my true love, sent to me by Father Dagon and Mother Hydra. It's too bad you couldn't come to the temple to see our wedding, but I understand you were tied up."
Looking down at the sand, I noticed that my feet were elongating, stretching more every second. My nails were also growing longer and turning black, as skin began to transform into rubbery webbing between my toes. No! This couldn't be real!
"Joe saved me, in every way that a person can be saved, letting me appreciate the true power of the Great Old Ones. Besides, he's everything I've always wanted in a mate. For years, I've dreamed of spawning with someone who was tall, green, and slimy."
"Aaaarrgh... Stop this..! please... rrrrbbt." I tore off my shirt, feeling an intense burning feeling as scales erupted from my skin. A wave splashed water against my feet, as I felt uncontrollably drawn into the sea, pulled there by an inexorable force. "I don't want to look like... ruuuuhhhrrkk... ugly monster..."
"Ugly? Just look at my tiara, a gift from the other Deep Ones," Jezebel said, pointing to the strange golden ornament she wore, "I shall be mother to beings like you... umm, like what you'll become soon. I'll bid my hideous progeny to go forth and prosper, filling both the earth and the seas. Waiting for the day when the stars are right, and He rises from the waters."
"Noooo... Pleaseeeehhh... ahhh... E'yaaahhh... Make it stop! Iffhhhtttaggg..."
"You've almost got the word right! Fhhhtagn! Cthulhu Fhhhhtagn! Cthulhu Fhtagn! I'm glad Peaslee gave you the maximum dose, for it will make the transformation much easier," she said, pulling fragments of cloth off my shoulder, now sticky with a thick green fluid oozing out of my skin. "Your great-grandmother was from Innsmouth, so we just needed to activate the latent genes. Soon, you will learn to yearn for the soft, squeezing caress of undulating tentacles."
"Eeeeeh... yaaaah... rbbbttt... E'yaaah! Cthulhu fhtagn! Cthulhu fhtagn!"
"The others are waiting for you. Just head out beyond the breakers and they'll welcome you to Y'ha-nthlei. Joe said we're gonna wait until Peaslee has enough serum ready and then give the upper-earth men a choice. Join us or die! Then the world shall fall under the clinging grip of the Great Old Ones reborn. Only those who serve them shall survive."
Swimming out through the churning waves, I thought only of the marvels of the sea. Diving down to the cyclopean columns that ringed Y'ha-nthlei, I knew I'd soon feel the darkness of the black abyss. Dwelling amidst wonder and glory in the lair of the Deep Ones, I'd await the call to battle with the other servants of Cthulhu. For soon, our Lord would rise from his tomb at R'lyeh, ready to lead us onto the land, so that all of the Earth might once again fall beneath the sway of his mighty tentacles.
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn! Cthulhu fhtagn! Cthulhu fhtagn!