Horror & Dark Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

Advertisement

Fiction

Houses Under The Sea

1.

When I close my eyes, I see Jacova Angevine.

I close my eyes, and there she is, standing alone at the end of the breakwater, standing with the foghorn as the choppy sea shatters itself to foam against a jumble of gray boulders. The October wind is making something wild of her hair, and her back’s turned to me. The boats are coming in.

I close my eyes, and she’s standing in the surf at Moss Landing, gazing out into the bay, staring towards the place where the continental shelf narrows down to a sliver and drops away to the black abyss of Monterey Canyon. There are gulls, and her hair is tied back in a ponytail.

I close my eyes, and we’re walking together down Cannery Row, heading south towards the aquarium. She’s wearing a gingham dress and a battered pair of Doc Martens that she must have had for fifteen years. I say something inconsequential, but she doesn’t hear me, too busy scowling at the tourists, at the sterile, cheery absurdities of the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company and Mackerel Jack’s Trading Post.

“That used to be a whorehouse,” she says, nodding in the direction of Mackerel Jack’s. “The Lone Star Cafe, but Steinbeck called it the Bear Flag. Everything burned. Nothing here’s the way it used to be.”

She says that like she remembers, and I close my eyes.

And she’s on television again, out on the old pier at Moss Point, the day they launched the ROV Tiburon II.

And she’s at the Pierce Street warehouse in Monterey; men and women in white robes are listening to every word she says. They hang on every syllable, her every breath, their many eyes like the bulging eyes of deep-sea fish encountering sunlight for the first time. Dazed, terrified, enraptured, lost.

All of them lost.

I close my eyes, and she’s leading them into the bay.

Those creatures jumped the barricades

And have headed for the sea

All these divided moments, disconnected, or connected so many different ways, that I’ll never be able to pull them apart and find a coherent narrative. That’s my folly, my conceit, that I can make a mere story of what has happened. Even if I could, it’s nothing anyone would ever want to read, nothing I could sell. CNN and Newsweek and The New York Times, Rolling Stone and Harper’s, everyone already knows what they think about Jacova Angevine. Everybody already knows as much as they want to know. Or as little. In those minds, she’s already earned her spot in the death-cult hall of fame, sandwiched firmly in between Jim Jones and Heaven’s Gate.

I close my eyes, and “Fire from the sky, fire on the water,” she says and smiles; I know that this time she’s talking about the fire of September 14, 1924, the day lightning struck one of the 55,000-gallon storage tanks belonging to the Associated Oil Company and a burning river flowed into the sea. Billowing black clouds hide the sun, and the fire has the voice of a hurricane as it bears down on the canneries, a voice of demons, and she stops to tie her shoes.

I sit here in this dark motel room, staring at the screen of my laptop, the clean liquid-crystal light, typing irrelevant words to build meandering sentences, waiting, waiting, waiting, and I don’t know what it is that I’m waiting for. Or I’m only afraid to admit that I know exactly what I’m waiting for. She has become my ghost, my private haunting, and haunted things are forever waiting.

“In the mansions of Poseidon, she will prepare halls from coral and glass and the bones of whales,” she says, and the crowd in the warehouse breathes in and out as a single, astonished organism, their assembled bodies lesser than the momentary whole they have made. “Down there, you will know nothing but peace, in her mansions, in the endless night of her coils.”

Tiburon is Spanish for shark,” she says, and I tell her I didn’t know that, that I had two years of Spanish in high school, but that was a thousand years ago, and all I remember is and por favor.

What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?

I close my eyes again.

The sea has many voices.

Many gods and many voices.

“November 5, 1936,” she says, and this is the first night we had sex, the long night we spent together in a seedy Moss Point hotel, the sort of place the fishermen take their hookers, the same place she was still staying when she died. “The Del Mar Canning Company burned to the ground. No one ever tried to blame lightning for that one.”

There’s moonlight through the drapes, and I imagine for a moment that her skin has become iridescent, mother-of-pearl, the shimmering motley of an oil slick. I reach out and touch her naked thigh, and she lights a cigarette. The smoke hangs thick in the air, like fog or forgetfulness.

My fingertips against her flesh, and she stands and walks to the window.

“Do you see something out there?” I ask, and she shakes her head very slowly.

I close my eyes.

In the moonlight, I can make out the puckered, circular scars on both her shoulder blades and running halfway down her spine. Two dozen or more of them, but I never bothered to count exactly. Some are no larger than a dime, but several are at least two inches across.

“When I’m gone,” she says, “when I’m done here, they’ll ask you questions about me. What will you tell them?”

“That depends what they ask,” I reply and laugh, still thinking it was all one of her strange jokes, the talk of leaving, and I lie down and stare at the shadows on the ceiling.

“They’ll ask you everything,” she whispers. “Sooner or later, I expect they’ll ask you everything.”

Which they did.

I close my eyes, and I see her, Jacova Angevine, the lunatic prophet from Salinas, pearls that were her eyes, cockles and mussels, alive, alive-o, and she’s kneeling in the sand. The sun is rising behind her and I hear people coming through the dunes.

“I’ll tell them you were a good fuck,” I say, and she takes another drag off her cigarette and continues staring at the night outside the motel windows.

“Yes,” she says. “I expect you will.”

 

2.

The first time that I saw Jacova Angevine—I mean, the first time I saw her in person—I’d just come back from Pakistan and had flown up to Monterey to try and clear my head. A photographer friend had an apartment there and he was on assignment in Tokyo, so I figured I could lay low for a couple of weeks, a whole month maybe, stay drunk and decompress. My clothes, my luggage, my skin, everything about me still smelled like Islamabad. I’d spent more than six months overseas, ferreting about for real and imagined connections between Muslim extremists, European middlemen, and Pakistan’s leaky nuclear arms program, trying to gauge the damage done by the enterprising Abdul Qadeer Khan, rogue father of the Pakistani bomb, trying to determine exactly what he’d sold and to whom. Everyone already knew—or at least thought they knew—about North Korea, Libya, and Iran, and American officials suspected that al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups belonged somewhere on his list of customers, as well, despite assurances to the contrary from Major-General Shaukat Sultan. I’d come back with a head full of apocalypse and Urdu, anti-India propaganda and Mushaikh poetry, and I was determined to empty my mind of everything except scotch and the smell of the sea.

It was a bright Wednesday afternoon, a warm day for November in Monterey County, and I decided to come up for air. I showered for the first time in a week and had a late lunch at the Sardine Factory on Wave Street—Dungeness crab rémoulade, fresh oysters with horseradish, and grilled sanddabs in a lemon sauce that was a little heavy on the thyme—then decided to visit the aquarium and walk it all off. When I was a kid in Brooklyn, I spent a lot of my time at the aquarium on Coney Island, and, three decades later, there were few things a man could do sober that relaxed me as quickly and completely. I put the check on my MasterCard and followed Wave Street south and east to Prescott, then turned back down Cannery Row, the glittering bay on my right, the pale blue autumn sky stretched out overhead like oil on canvas.

I close my eyes, and that afternoon isn’t something that happened three years ago, something I’m making sound like a goddamn travelogue. I close my eyes, and it’s happening now, for the first time, and there she is, sitting alone on a long bench in front of the kelp forest exhibit, her thin face turned up to the high, swaying canopy behind the glass, the dapple of fish and seaweed shadows drifting back and forth across her features. I recognize her, and that surprises me, because I’ve only seen her face on television and in magazine photos and on the dust jacket of the book she wrote before she lost the job at Berkeley. She turns her head and smiles at me, the familiar way you smile at a friend, the way you smile at someone you’ve known all your life.

“You’re in luck,” she says. “It’s almost time for them to feed the fish.” And Jacova Angevine pats the bench next to her, indicating that I should sit down.

“I read your book,” I say, taking a seat because I’m still too surprised to do anything else.

“Did you? Did you really?” and now she looks like she doesn’t believe me, like I’m only saying that I’ve read her book to be polite, and from her expression I can tell that she thinks it’s a little odd, that anyone would ever bother to try and flatter her.

“Yes,” I tell her, trying too hard to sound sincere. “I did really. In fact, I read some of it twice.”

“And why would you do a thing like that?”

“Truthfully?”

“Yes, truthfully.”

Her eyes are the same color as the water trapped behind the thick panes of aquarium glass, the color of the November sunlight filtered through saltwater and kelp blades. There are fine lines at the corners of her mouth and beneath her eyes that make her look several years older than she is.

“Last summer, I was flying from New York to London, and there was a three-hour layover in Shannon. Your book was all I’d brought to read.”

“That’s terrible,” she says, still smiling, and turns to face the big tank again. “Do you want your money back?”

“It was a gift,” I reply, which isn’t true and I have no idea why I’m lying to her. “An ex-girlfriend gave it to me for my birthday.”

“Is that why you left her?”

“No, I left her because she thought I drank too much and I thought she drank too little.”

“Are you an alcoholic?” Jacova Angevine asks, as casually as if she were asking me whether I liked milk in my coffee or if I took it black.

“Well, some people say I’m headed in that direction,” I tell her. “But I did enjoy the book, honest. It’s hard to believe they fired you for writing it. I mean, that people get fired for writing books.” But I know that’s a lie, too; I’m not half that naïve, and it’s not at all difficult to understand how or why Waking Leviathan ended Jacova Angevine’s career as an academic. A reviewer for Nature called it “the most confused and preposterous example of bad history wedding bad science since the Velikovsky affair.”

“They didn’t fire me for writing it,” she says. “They politely asked me to resign because I’d seen fit to publish it.”

“Why didn’t you fight them?”

Her smile fades a little, and the lines around her mouth seem to grow the slightest bit more pronounced. “I don’t come here to talk about the book, or my unfortunate employment history,” she says.

I apologize, and she tells me not to worry about it.

A diver enters the tank, matte-black neoprene trailing a rush of silver bubbles, and most of the fish rise expectantly to meet him or her, a riot of kelp bass and sleek leopard sharks, sheephead and rockfish and species I don’t recognize. She doesn’t say anything else, too busy watching the feeding, and I sit there beside her, at the bottom of a pretend ocean.

I open my eyes. There are only the words on the screen in front of me.

I didn’t see her again for the better part of a year. During that time, as my work sent me back to Pakistan, and then to Germany and Israel, I reread her book. I also read some of the articles and reviews, and a brief online interview that she’d given Whitley Strieber’s Unknown Country website. Then I tracked down an article on Inuit archaeology that she’d written for Fate and wondered at what point Jacova Angevine had decided that there was no going back, nothing left to lose and so no reason not to allow herself to become part of the murky, strident world of fringe believers and UFO buffs, conspiracy theorists and paranormal “investigators” that seemed so eager to embrace her as one of its own.

And I wondered, too, if perhaps she might have been one of them from the start.

 

3.

I woke up this morning from a long dream of storms and drowning and lay in bed, very still, sizing up my hangover and staring at the sagging, water-stained ceiling of my motel room. And I finally admitted to myself that this isn’t going to be what the paper has hired me to write. I don’t think I’m even trying to write it for them anymore. They want the dirt, of course, and I’ve never been shy about digging holes. I’ve spent the last twenty years as a shovel-for-hire. I don’t think it matters that I may have loved her, or that a lot of this dirt is mine. I can’t pretend that I’m acting out of nobility of soul or loyalty or even some selfish, belated concern for my own dingy reputation. I would write exactly what they want me to write if I could. If I knew how. I need the money. I haven’t worked for the last five months and my savings are almost gone.

But if I’m not writing it for them, if I’ve abandoned all hope of a paycheck at the other end of this thing, why the hell then am I still sitting here typing? Am I making a confession? Bless me, Father, I can’t forget? Do I believe it’s something I can puke up like a sour belly full of whiskey, that writing it all down will make the nightmares stop or make it any easier for me to get through the days? I sincerely hope I’m not as big a fool as that. Whatever else I may be, I like to think that I’m not an idiot.

I don’t know why I’m writing this, whatever this turns out to be. Maybe it’s only a very long-winded suicide note.

Last night I watched the tape again.

I have all three versions with me—the cut that’s still being hawked over the internet, the one that ends right after the ROV was hit, before the lights came back on; the cut that MBARI released to the press and the scientific community in response to the version circulating online; and I have the “raw” footage, the copy I bought from a robotics technician who claimed to have been aboard the R/V Western Flyer the day that the incident occurred. I paid him two thousand dollars for it and the kid swore to both its completeness and authenticity. I knew that I wasn’t the first person to whom he’d sold the tape. I’d heard about it from a contact in the chemistry department at UC Irvine. I was never sure exactly how she’d caught wind of it, but I gathered that the tech was turning a handsome little profit peddling his contraband to anyone willing to pony up the cash.

We met at a Motel 6 in El Cajon, and I played it all the way through before I handed him the money. He sat with his back to the television while I watched the tape, rewound and started it over again.

“What the hell are you doing?” he asked, literally wringing his hands and gazing anxiously at the heavy drapes. I’d pulled them shut after hooking up the rented VCR that I’d brought with me, but a bright sliver of afternoon sunlight slipped in between them and divided his face down the middle. “Jesus, man. You think it’s not gonna be the exact same thing every time? You think if you keep playing it over and over it’s gonna come out any different?”

I’ve watched the tape more times than I can count, a couple hundred, at least, and I still think that’s a good goddamned question.

“So why didn’t MBARI release this?” I asked the kid, and he laughed and shook his head.

“Why the fuck do you think?” he replied.

He took my money, reminded me again that we’d never met and that he’d deny everything if I attempted to finger him as my source. Then he got back into his ancient, wheezy VW Microbus and drove off, leaving me sitting there with an hour and a half of unedited color video recorded somewhere along the bottom of the Monterey Canyon. Everything the ROV Tiburon II’s starboard camera had seen (the port pan-and-tilt unit was malfunctioning that day), twenty miles out and three kilometers down, and from the start I understood it was the closest I was ever likely to come to an answer, and that it was also only a different and far more terrible sort of question.

Last night I got drunk, more so than usual, a lot more so than usual, and watched it for the first time in almost a month. But I turned the sound on the television down all the way and left the lights burning.

Even drunk, I’m still a coward.

The ocean floor starkly illuminated by the ROV’s six 480-watt HMI lights, revealing a velvet carpet of gray-brown sediment washed out from Elkhorn Slough and all the other sloughs and rivers emptying into the bay. And even at this depth, there are signs of life: brittlestars and crabs cling to the shit-colored rocks, sponges and sea cucumbers, the sinuous, smooth bodies of big-eyed rattails. Here and there, dark outcroppings jut from the ooze like bone from the decaying flesh of a leper.

My asshole editor would laugh out loud at that last simile, would probably take one look at it and laugh and then say something like, “If I’d wanted fucking purple I’d have bought a goddamn pot of violets.” But my asshole editor hasn’t seen the tape I bought from the tech.

My asshole editor never met Jacova Angevine, never listened to her talk, never fucked her, never saw the scars on her back or the fear in her eyes.

The ROV comes to a rocky place where the seafloor drops away suddenly, and it hesitates, responding to commands from the control room of the R/V Western Flyer. A moment or two later, the steady fall of marine snow becomes so heavy that it’s difficult to see much of anything through the light reflecting off the whitish particles of sinking detritus. And sitting there on the floor between the foot of the bed and the television, I almost reached out and touched the screen.

Almost.

“It’s a little bit of everything,” I heard Jacova say, though she never actually said anything of the sort to me. “Silt, phytoplankton and zooplankton, soot, mucus, diatoms, fecal pellets, dust, grains of sand and clay, radioactive fallout, pollen, sewage. Some of it’s even interplanetary dust particles. Some of it fell from the stars.”

And Tiburon II lurches and glides forward a few feet, then slips cautiously over the precipice, beginning the slow descent into this new and unexpected abyss.

“We’d been over that stretch more than a dozen times, at least,” Natalie Billington, chief ROV pilot for Tiburon II, told a CNN correspondent after the internet version of the tape first made the news. “But that drop-off wasn’t on any of the charts. We’d always missed it somehow. I know that isn’t a very satisfying answer, but it’s a big place down there. The canyon is over two hundred miles long. You miss things.”

For a while—exactly 15.34 seconds—there’s only the darkness and marine snow and a few curious or startled fish. According to MBARI, the ROV’s vertical speed during this part of the dive is about thirty-five meters per minute, so by the time it finds the bottom again, depth has increased by some five hundred and twenty-five feet. The seafloor comes into view again, and there’s not so much loose sediment here, just a jumble of broken boulders, and it’s startling how clean they are, almost completely free of the usual encrustations and muck. There are no sponges or sea cucumbers to be seen, no starfish, and even the omnipresent marine snow has tapered off to only a few stray, drifting flecks. And then the wide, flat rock that is usually referred to as “the Delta stone” comes into view. And this isn’t like the face on Mars or Von Daniken seeing ancient astronauts on Mayan artifacts. The lowercase “d” carved into the slab is unmistakable. The edges are so sharp, so clean that it might have been done yesterday.

The Tiburon II hovers above the Delta stone, spilling light into this lightless place, and I know what’s coming next, so I sit very still and count off the seconds in my head. When I’ve counted to thirty-eight, the view from the ROV’s camera pans violently to the right, signaling the portside impact, and an instant later there’s only static, white noise, the twelve-second gap in the tape during which the camera was still running, but no longer recording.

I counted to eleven before I switched off the television, and then sat listening to the wind, and the waves breaking against the beach, waiting for my heart to stop racing and the sweat on my face and palms to dry. When I was sure that I wasn’t going to be sick, I pressed eject and the VCR spat out the tape. I returned it to its navy-blue plastic case and sat smoking and drinking, helpless to think of anything but Jacova.

 

4.

Jacova Angevine was born and grew up in her father’s big Victorian house in Salinas, only a couple of blocks from the birthplace of John Steinbeck. Her mother died when she was eight. Jacova had no siblings, and her closest kin, paternal and maternal, were all back east in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and Maryland. In 1960, her parents relocated to California, just a few months after they were married, and her father took a job teaching high-school English in Castroville. After six months, he quit that job and took another, with only slightly better pay, in the town of Soledad. Though he’d earned a doctorate in comparative literature from Columbia, Theo Angevine seemed to have no particular academic ambitions. He’d written several novels while in college, though none of them had managed to find a publisher. In 1969, his wife five months pregnant with their daughter, he resigned from his position at Soledad High and moved north to Salinas, where he bought the old house on Howard Street with a bank loan and the advance from his first book sale, a mystery novel titled The Man Who Laughed at Funerals (Random House; New York).

To date, none of the three books that have been published about Jacova, the Open Door of Night sect, and the mass drownings off Moss Landing State Beach, have made more than a passing mention of Theo Angevine’s novels. Elenore Ellis-Lincoln, in Closing the Door: Anatomy of Hysteria (Simon and Schuster; New York), for example, devotes only a single paragraph to them, though she gives Jacova’s childhood an entire chapter. “Mr. Angevine’s works received little critical attention, one way or the other, and his income from them was meager,” Ellis-Lincoln writes. “Of the seventeen novels he published between 1969 and 1985, only two—The Man Who Laughed for Funerals [sic] and Seven at Sunset—are still in print. It is notable that the overall tone of the novels becomes significantly darker following his wife’s death, but the books themselves never seem to have been more to the author than a sort of hobby. Upon his death, his daughter became the executor of his literary estate, such as it was.”

Likewise, in Lemming Cult (The Overlook Press; New York), William L. West writes, “Her father’s steady output of mystery and suspense potboilers must surely have been a curiosity of Jacova’s childhood, but were never once mentioned in her own writings, including the five private journals found in a cardboard box in her bedroom closet. The books themselves were entirely unremarkable, so far as I’ve been able to ascertain. Almost all are out of print and very difficult to find today. Even the catalog of the Salinas Public Library includes only a single copy each of The Man Who Laughed at Funerals, Pretoria, and Seven at Sunset.”

During the two years I knew her, Jacova only mentioned her father’s writing once that I can recall, and then only in passing, but she had copies of all his novels, a fact that I’ve never seen mentioned anywhere in print. I suppose it doesn’t seem very significant, if you haven’t bothered to read Theo Angevine’s books. Since Jacova’s death, I’ve read every one of them. It took me less than a month to track down copies of all seventeen, thanks largely to online booksellers, and even less time to read them. While William West was certainly justified in calling the novels “entirely unremarkable,” even a casual examination reveals some distinctly remarkable parallels between the fiction of the father and the reality of the daughter.

***

I’ve spent the whole afternoon, the better part of the past five hours, on the preceding four paragraphs, trying to fool myself into believing that I can actually write about her as a journalist would write about her. That I can bring any degree of detachment or objectivity to bear. Of course, I’m wasting my time. After seeing the tape again, after almost allowing myself to watch all of it again, I think I’m desperate to put distance between myself and the memory of her. I should call New York and tell them that I can’t do this, that they should find someone else, but after the mess I made of the Musharraf story, the agency would probably never offer me another assignment. For the moment, that still matters. It might not in another day or two, but it does for now.

Her father wrote books, books that were never very popular, and though they’re neither particularly accomplished nor enjoyable, they might hold clues to Jacova’s motivation and to her fate. And they might not. It’s as simple and contradictory as that. Like everything surrounding the “Lemming Cult”—as the Open Door of Night has come to be known, as it has been labeled by people who find it easier to deal with tragedy and horror if there is an attendant note of the absurd—like everything else about her, what seems meaningful one moment will seem irrelevant the next. Or maybe that’s only the way it appears to me. Maybe I’m asking too much of the clues.

***

Excerpt from Pretoria, pp. 164-165; Ballantine Books, 1979:

 

Edward Horton smiled and tapped the ash from his cigar into the large glass ashtray on the table. “I don’t like the sea,” he said and nodded at the window. “Frankly, I can’t even stand the sound of it. Gives me nightmares.”

I listened to the breakers, not taking my eyes off the fat man and the thick gray curlicues of smoke arranging and rearranging themselves around his face. I’d always found the sound of waves to have a welcomed tranquilizing effect upon my nerves and wondered which one of Horton’s innumerable secrets was responsible for his loathing of the sea. I knew he’d done a stint in the Navy during Korea, but I was also pretty sure he’d never seen combat.

“How’d you sleep last night?” I asked, and he shook his head.

“For shit,” he replied and sucked on his cigar.

“Then maybe you should think about getting a room farther inland.”

Horton coughed and jabbed a pudgy finger at the window of the bungalow. “Don’t think I wouldn’t, if the choice were mine to make. But she wants me here. She wants me sitting right here, waiting on her, night and day. She knows I hate the ocean.”

“What the hell,” I said, reaching for my hat, tired of his company and the stink of his smoldering Macanudo. “You know where to reach me, if you change your mind. Don’t let the bad dreams get you down. They ain’t nothing but that, bad dreams.”

“That’s not enough?” he asked, and I could tell from his expression that Horton wished I’d stay a little longer, but I knew he’d never admit it. “Last night, goddamn people marching into the sea, marching over the sand in rows like the goddamn infantry. Must of been a million of them. What you think a dream like that means, anyway?”

“Horton, a dream like that don’t mean jack shit,” I replied. “Except maybe you need to lay off the spicy food before bedtime.”

“You’re always gonna be an asshole,” he said, and I was forced to agree. He puffed his cigar, and I left the bungalow and stepped out into the salty Santa Barbara night.

***

Excerpt from What the Cat Dragged In, p. 231; Ballantine Books, 1980:

 

Vicky had never told anyone about the dreams, just like she’d never told anyone about Mr. Barker or the yellow Corvette. The dreams were her secret, whether she wanted them or not. Sometimes they seemed almost wicked, shameful, sinful, like something she’d done that was against God, or at least against the law. She’d almost told Mr. Barker once, a year or so before she left Los Angeles. She’d gone so far as to broach the subject of mermaids, and then he’d snorted and laughed, so she’d thought better of it.

“You got some strange notions in that head of yours,” he’d said. “Someday, you’re gonna have to grow out of crap like that, if you want people round here to start taking you seriously.”

So she kept it all to herself. Whatever the dreams meant or didn’t mean, it wasn’t anything she would ever be able to explain or confess. Sometimes, nights when she couldn’t sleep, she lay in bed staring at the ceiling, thinking about the ruined castles beneath the waves and beautiful, drowned girls with seaweed tangled in their hair.

***

Excerpt from The Last Loan Shark of Bodega Bay, pp. 57-59; Bantam Books, 1982:

 

“This was way the hell back in the fifties,” Foster said and lit another cigarette. His hands were shaking and he kept looking over his shoulder. “Fifty-eight, right, or maybe early fifty-nine. I know Eisenhower was still president, though I ain’t precisely sure of the year. But I was still stuck in Honolulu, right, still hauling lousy tourists around the islands in the Saint Chris so they could fish and snap pictures of goddamn Kilauea and what have you. The boat was on its last leg, but she’d still get you where you were goin’, if you knew how to slap her around.”

“What’s this got to do with Winkie Anderson and the girl?” I asked, making no effort to hide my impatience.

“Jesus, Frank, I’m getting to it. You want to hear this thing or not? I swear, you come around here asking the big questions, expecting the what’s-what, you can at least keep your trap shut and listen.”

“I don’t have all night, that’s all.”

“Yeah, well, who the hell does, why don’t you tell me that? Anyway, like I was saying, back about fifty-nine, and we was out somewhere off the north shore of Molokai. Old Coop was fishing the thousand fathom line, and Jerry—you remember Jerry O’Neil, right?”

“No,” I said, eying the clock above the bar.

“Well, whatever. Jerry O’Neil was mouthing off about a twelve-hundred pounder, this big-ass marlin some Mexican businessman from Tijuana had up and hooked just a few weeks before. Fish even made the damn papers, right. Anyway, Jerry said the Mexican was bad news and we should keep a sharp eye out for him. Said he was a regular Jonah.”

“But you just said he caught a twelve-hundred pound marlin.”

“Yeah, sure. He could haul in the fish, this chunt son of a bitch, but he was into some sort of Spanish voodoo shit and had these gold coins he’d toss over the side of the boat every five or ten minutes. Like goddamn clockwork, he’d check his watch and toss out a coin. Gold doubloons or some shit, I don’t know what they were. It was driving Coop crazy, ‘cause it wasn’t enough the Mexican had to do this thing with the coins, he was mumbling some sort of shit non-stop. Coop kept telling him to shut the hell up, people was trying to fish, but this guy, he just keeps mumbling and tossing coins and pulling in the fish. I finally got a look at one of those doubloons, and it had something stamped on one side looked like a damn octopus, and on the other side was this star like a pentagram. You know, those things witches and warlocks use.”

“Foster, this is crazy bullshit. I have to be in San Francisco at seven-thirty in the morning.” I waved to the bartender and put two crumpled fives and a one on the bar in front of me.

“You ever head of the Momma Hydra, Frank? That’s who this chunt said he was praying to.”

“Call me when you run out of bullshit,” I said. “And I don’t have to tell you, Detective Burke won’t be half as understanding as I am.”

“Jesus, Frank. Hold up a goddamn second. It’s just the way I tell stories, right. You know that. I start at the beginning. I don’t leave stuff out.”

***

These are only a few examples of what anyone will find, if he or she should take the time to look. There are many more, I assure you. The pages of my copies of Theo Angevine’s novels are scarred throughout with yellow highlighter.

And everything leaves more questions than answers.

You make of it what you will. Or you don’t. I suppose that a Freudian might have a proper field day with this stuff. Whatever I knew about Freud I forgot before I was even out of college. It would be comforting, I suppose, if I could dismiss Jacova’s fate as the end result of some overwhelming Oedipal hysteria, the ocean cast here as that Great Ur-Mother savior-being who finally opens up to offer release and forgiveness in death and dissolution.

 

5.

I begin to walk down some particular, perhaps promising, avenue and then, inevitably, I turn and run, tail tucked firmly between my legs. My memories. The MBARI video. Jacova and her father’s whodunits. I scratch the surface and then pull my hand back to be sure that I haven’t lost a fucking finger. I mix metaphors the way I’ve been mixing tequila and scotch.

If, as William Burroughs wrote, “Language is a virus from outer space,” then what the holy hell were you supposed to be, Jacova?

An epidemic of the collective unconscious. The black plague of belief. A vaccine for cultural amnesia, she might have said. And so we’re right back to Velikovsky, who wrote “Human beings, rising from some catastrophe, bereft of memory of what had happened, regarded themselves as created from the dust of the earth. All knowledge about the ancestors, who they were and in what interstellar space they lived, was wiped away from the memory of the few survivors.”

I’m drunk, and I’m not making any sense at all. Or merely much too little sense to matter. Anyway, you’ll want to pay attention to this part. It’s sort of like the ghost story within the ghost story within the ghost story, the hard nugget at the unreachable heart of my heart’s infinitely regressing babooshka, matryoshka, matrioska, matreshka, babushka. It might even be the final straw that breaks the camel of my mind.

Remember, I am wasted, and so that last inexcusable paragraph may be forgiven. Or it may not.

“When I become death, death is the seed from which I grow.” Burroughs said that, too. Jacova, you will be an orchard. You will be a swaying kelp forest. There’s a log in the hole in the bottom of the sea with your name on it.

Yesterday afternoon, puking sick of looking at these four dingy fucking walls, I drove down to Monterey, to the warehouse on Pierce Street. The last time I was there, the cops still hadn’t taken down all the yellow crime scene-do not cross tape. Now there’s only a great big for-sale sign and an even bigger no-trespassing sign. I wrote the name and number of the realty company on the back of a book of matches. I want to ask them what they’ll be telling prospective buyers about the building’s history. Word is the whole block is due to be rezoned next year and soon those empty buildings will be converted to lofts and condos. Gentrification abhors a void.

I parked in an empty lot down the street from the warehouse, hoping that no one happening by would notice me, hoping, in particular, that any passing police would not notice me. I walked quickly, without running, because running is suspicious and inevitably draws the attention of those who watch for suspicious things. I was not so drunk as I might have been, not even so drunk as I should have been, and I tried to keep my mind occupied by noting the less significant details of the street, the sky, the weather. The litter caught in the weeds and gravel—cigarette butts, plastic soft-drink bottles (I recall Pepsi, Coke, and Mountain Dew), paper bags and cups from fast-food restaurants (McDonalds, Del Taco, KFC), broken glass, unrecognizable bits of metal, a rusted Oregon license plate. The sky was painfully blue, the blue of nausea, with only very high cirrus clouds to spoil that suffocating pastel heaven. There were no other cars parked along the street, and no living things that I noticed. There were a couple of garbage dumpsters, a stop sign, and a great pile of cardboard boxes that had been soaked by rain enough times it was difficult to tell exactly where one ended and another began. There was a hubcap.

When I finally reached the warehouse—the warehouse become a temple to half-remembered gods become a crime scene, now on its way to becoming something else—I ducked down the narrow alley that separates it from the abandoned Monterey Peninsula Shipping and Storage Building (established 1924). There’d been a door around that way with an unreliable lock. If I was lucky, I thought, no one would have noticed, or if they had noticed, wouldn’t have bothered fixing it. My heart was racing and I was dizzy (I tried hard to blame that on the sickening color of the sky) and there was a metallic taste in the back of my mouth, like a freshly filled tooth.

It was colder in the alley than it had been out on Pierce, the sun having already dropped low enough in the west that the alley must have been in shadow for some time. Perhaps it is always in shadow and never truly warm there. I found the side door exactly as I’d hoped to find it, and three or four minutes of jiggling about with the wobbly brass knob was enough to coax it open. Inside, the warehouse was dark and even colder than the alley, and the air stank of mould and dust, bad memories and vacancy. I stood in the doorway a moment or two, thinking of hungry rats and drunken bums, delirious crack addicts wielding lead pipes, the webs of poisonous spiders. Then I took a deep breath and stepped across the threshold, out of the shadows and into a more decided blackness, a more definitive chill, and all those mundane threats dissolved. Everything slipped from my mind except Jacova Angevine, and her followers (if that’s what you’d call them) dressed all in white, and the thing I’d seen on the altar the one time I’d come here when this had been a temple of the Open Door of Night.

I asked her about that thing once, a few weeks before the end, the last night that we spent together. I asked where it had come from, who had made it, and she lay very still for a while, listening to the surf or only trying to decide which answer would satisfy me. In the moonlight through the hotel window, I thought she might have been smiling, but I wasn’t sure.

“It’s very old,” she said, eventually. By then I’d almost drifted off to sleep and had to shake myself awake again. “No one alive remembers who made it,” Jacova continued. “But I don’t think that matters, only that it was made.”

“It’s fucking hideous,” I mumbled sleepily. “You know that, don’t you?”

“Yeah, but so is the Crucifixion. So are bleeding statues of the Virgin Mary and images of Kali. So are the animal-headed gods of the Egyptians.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t bow down to any of them, either,” I replied, or something to that effect.

“The divine is always abominable,” she whispered and rolled over, turning her back to me.

Just a moment ago I was in the warehouse on Pierce Street, wasn’t I? And now I’m in bed with the Prophet from Salinas. But I will not despair, for there is no need here to stay focused, to adhere to some restrictive illusion of the linear narrative. It’s coming. It’s been coming all along. As Job Foster said in Chapter Four of The Last Loan Shark of Bodega Bay, “It’s just the way I tell stories, right. You know that. I start at the beginning. I don’t leave stuff out.”

That’s horseshit, of course. I suspect luckless Job Foster knew it was horseshit, and I suspect that I know it’s horseshit, too. It is not the task of the writer to “tell all,” or even to decide what to leave in, but to decide what to leave out. Whatever remains, that meager sum of this profane division, that’s the bastard chimera we call a “story.” I am not building, but cutting away. And all stories, whether advertised as truth or admitted falsehoods, are fictions, cleft from any objective facts by the aforementioned action of cutting away. A pound of flesh. A pile of sawdust. Discarded chips of Carrara marble. And what’s left over.

A damned man in an empty warehouse.

I left the door standing open, because I hadn’t the nerve to shut myself up in that place. And I’d already taken a few steps inside, my shoes crunching loudly on shards of glass from a broken window, grinding glass to dust, when I remembered the Maglite hidden inside my jacket. But the glare of the flashlight did nothing much to make the darkness any less stifling, nothing much at all but remind me of the blinding white beam of Tiburon II’s big HMI rig, shining out across the silt at the bottom of the canyon. Now, I thought, at least I can see anything, if there’s anything to see, and immediately some other, less familiar thought-voice demanded to know why the hell I’d want to. The door had opened into a narrow corridor, mint-green concrete walls and a low concrete ceiling, and I followed it a short distance to its end—no more than thirty feet, thirty feet at the most—past empty rooms that might once have been offices, to an unlocked steel door marked in faded orange letters, employees only.

“It’s an empty warehouse,” I whispered, breathing the words aloud. “That’s all, an empty warehouse.” I knew it wasn’t the truth, not anymore, not by a long sight, but I thought that maybe a lie could be more comforting than the comfortless illumination of the Maglite in my hand. Joseph Campbell wrote, “Draw a circle around a stone and the stone will become an incarnation of mystery.” Something like that. Or it was someone else said it and I’m misremembering. The point is, I knew that Jacova had drawn a circle around that place, just as she’d drawn a circle about herself, just as her father had somehow drawn a circle about her—

Just as she’d drawn a circle around me.

The door wasn’t locked, and beyond it lay the vast, deserted belly of the building, a flat plain of cement marked off with steel support beams. There was a little sunlight coming in through the many small windows along the east and west walls, though not as much as I’d expected, and it seemed weakened, diluted by the musty air. I played the Maglite back and forth across the floor at my feet and saw that someone had painted over all the elaborate, colorful designs put there by the Open Door of Night. A thick gray latex wash to cover the intricate interweave of lines, the lines that she believed would form a bridge, a conduit—that was the word that she’d used. Everyone’s seen photographs of that floor, although I’ve yet to see any that do it justice. A yantra. A labyrinth. A writhing, tangled mass of sea creatures straining for a distant black sun. Hindi and Mayan and Chinook symbols. The precise contour lines of a topographic map of Monterey Canyon. Each of these things and all of these things, simultaneously. I’ve heard that there’s an anthropologist at Berkeley who’s writing a book about that floor. Perhaps she will publish photographs that manage to communicate its awful magnificence. Perhaps it would be better if she doesn’t.

Perhaps someone should put a bullet through her head.

People said the same thing about Jacova Angevine. But assassination is almost always unthinkable to moral, thinking men until after a holocaust has come and gone.

I left that door open, as well, and walked slowly towards the center of the empty warehouse, towards the place where the altar had been, the spot where that divine abomination of Jacova’s had rested on folds of velvet the color of a massacre. I held the Maglite gripped so tightly that the fingers of my right hand had begun to go numb.

Behind me, there was a scuffling, gritty sort of noise that might have been footsteps, and I spun about, tangling my feet and almost falling on my ass, almost dropping the flashlight. The child was standing maybe ten or fifteen feet away from me, and I could see that the door leading back to the alley had been closed. She couldn’t have been more than nine or ten years old, dressed in ragged jeans and a T-shirt smeared with mud, or what looked like mud in the half light of the warehouse. Her short hair might have been blonde, or light brown, it was hard to tell. Most of her face was lost in the shadows.

“You’re too late,” she said.

“Jesus Christ, kid, you almost scared the holy shit out of me.”

“You’re too late,” she said again.

“Too late for what? Did you follow me in here?”

“The gates are shut now. They won’t open again, for you or anyone else.”

I looked past her at the door I’d left open, and she looked back that way, too.

“Did you close that door?” I asked her. “Did it ever occur to you that I might have left it open for a reason?”

“I waited as long I dared,” she replied, as though that answered my question, and turned to face me again.

I took one step towards her, then, or maybe two, and stopped. And at that moment, I experienced the sensation or sensations that mystery and horror writers, from Poe on down to Theo Angevine, have labored to convey—the almost painful prickling as the hairs on the back of my neck and along my arms and legs stood erect, the cold knot in the pit of my stomach, the goose across my grave, a loosening in my bowels and bladder, the tightening of my scrotum. My blood ran cold. Drag out all the fucking clichés and there’s still nothing that comes within a mile of what I felt standing there, looking down at that girl, her looking up at me, the feeble light from the windows glinting off her eyes.

Looking into her face, I felt dread as I’d never felt it before. Not in war zones with air-raid sirens blaring, not during interviews conducted with the muzzle of a pistol pressed to my temple or the small of my back. Not waiting for the results of a biopsy after the discovery of a peculiar mole. Not even the day she led them into the sea and I sat watching it all on fucking CNN from a bar in Brooklyn.

And suddenly I knew that the girl hadn’t followed me in from the alley, or closed the door, that she’d been here all along. I also knew that a hundred coats of paint wouldn’t be enough to undo Jacova’s labyrinth.

“You shouldn’t be here,” the girl said, her minotaur’s voice lost and faraway and regretful.

“Then where should I be?” I asked, and my breath fogged in air gone as frigid as the dead of winter, or the bottom of the sea.

“All the answers were here,” she replied. “Everything that you’re asking yourself, the things that keep you awake, that are driving you insane. All the questions you’re putting into that computer of yours. I offered all of it to you.”

And now there was a sound like water breaking against stone, and something heavy and soft and wet, dragging itself across the concrete floor, and I thought of the thing from the altar, Jacova’s Mother Hydra, that corrupt and bloated Madonna of the abyss, its tentacles and anemone tendrils and black, bulging squid eyes, the tubeworm proboscis snaking from one of the holes where its face should have been.

Mighty, undying daughter of Typhaôn and serpentine Ecidna—Urda Lernaia, gluttonous whore of all the lightless worlds, bitch bride and concubine of Father Dagon, Father Kraken —

I smelled rot and mud, saltwater and dying fish.

“You have to go now,” the child said urgently, and she held out a hand as though she meant to show me the way. Even in the gloom, I could see the barnacles and sea lice nestled in the raw flesh of her palm. “You are a splinter in my soul, always. And she would drag you down to finish my own darkness.”

And then the girl was gone. She did not vanish, she was simply not there anymore. And those other sounds and odors had gone with her. There was nothing left behind but the silence and stink of any abandoned building, and the wind brushing against the windows and around the corners of the warehouse, and the traffic along roads in the world waiting somewhere beyond those walls.

 

6.

I know exactly how all this shit sounds. Don’t think that I don’t. It’s just that I’ve finally ceased to care.

 

7.

Yesterday, two days after my trip to the warehouse, I watched the MBARI tape again. This time, when it reached the twelve-second gap, when I’d counted down to eleven, I continued on to twelve, and I didn’t switch the television off, and I didn’t look away. Surely, I’ve come too far to allow myself that luxury. I’ve seen so goddamn much—I’ve seen so much that there’s no reasonable excuse for looking away, because there can’t be anything left that’s more terrible than what has come before.

And, besides, it was nothing that I hadn’t seen already.

Orpheus’ mistake wasn’t that he turned and looked back towards Eurydice and Hell, but that he ever thought he could escape. Same with Lot’s wife. Averting our eyes does not change the fact that we are marked.

After the static, the picture comes back and at first it’s just those boulders, same as before, those boulders that ought to be covered with silt and living things—the remains of living things, at least—but aren’t. Those strange, clean boulders. And the lines and angles carved deeply into them that cannot be the result of any natural geological or biological process, the lines and angles that can be nothing but what Jacova said they were. I think of fragments of the Parthenon, or some other shattered Greek or Roman temple, the chiseled ornament of an entablature or pediment. I’m seeing something that was done, something that was consciously fashioned, not something that simply happened. The Tiburon II moves forward very slowly, because the blow before the gap has taken out a couple of the port thrusters. It creeps forward tentatively, floating a few feet above the seafloor, and now the ROV’s lights have begun to dim and flicker.

After the gap, I know that there’s only 52.2 seconds of video remaining before the starboard camera shuts down for good. Less than a minute, and I sit there on the floor of my hotel room, counting—one-one thousand, two-two thousand—and I don’t take my eyes off the screen.

The MBARI robotics tech is dead, the nervous man who sold me—and whoever else was buying—his black-market dub of the videotape. The story made the Channel 46 evening news last night and was second page in the Monterey Herald this morning. The coroner’s office is calling it a suicide. I don’t know what else they would call it. He was found hanging from the lowest limb of a sycamore tree, not far from the Moss Landing docks, both his wrists slashed nearly to the bone. He was wearing a necklace of Loligo squid strung on baling wire. A family member has told the press that he had a history of depression.

Twenty-three seconds to go.

Almost two miles down, Tiburon II is listing badly to starboard, and then the ROV bumps against one of the boulders and the lights stop flickering and seem to grow a little brighter. The vehicle appears to pause, as though considering its next move. The day he sold me the tape, the MBARI tech said that a part of the toolsled had wedged itself into the rubble. He told me it took the crew of the R/V Western Flyer more than two hours to maneuver the sub free. Two hours of total darkness at the bottom of the canyon, after the lights and the cameras died.

Eighteen seconds.

Sixteen.

This time it’ll be different, I think, like a child trying to wish away a beating. This time, I’ll see the trick of it, the secret interplay of light and shadow, the hows and whys of a simple optical illusion—

Twelve.

Ten.

And the first time, I thought that I was only seeing something carved into the stone or part of a broken sculpture. The gentle curve of a hip, the tapering line of a leg, the twin swellings of small breasts. A nipple the color of granite.

Eight.

But there’s her face—and there’s no denying that it’s her face—Jacova Angevine, her face at the bottom the sea, turned up towards the surface, towards the sky and Heaven beyond the weight of all that black, black water.

Four.

I bite my lip so hard that I taste blood. It doesn’t taste so different from the ocean.

Two.

She opens her eyes, and they are not her eyes, but the eyes of some marine creature adapted to that perpetual night. The soulless eyes of an anglerfish or gulper eel, eyes like matching pools of ink, and something darts from her parted lips —

And then there’s only static, and I sit staring into the salt-and-pepper roar.

All the answers were here. Everything that you’re asking yourself . . . I offered all of it to you.

Later—an hour or only five minutes—I pressed eject and the cassette slid obediently from the VCR. I read the label, aloud, in case I’d read it wrong every single time before, in case the timestamp on the video might have been mistaken. But it was the same as always, the day before Jacova waited on the beach at Moss Landing for the supplicants of the Open Door of Night. The day before she led them into the sea. The day before she drowned.

 

8.

I close my eyes.

And she’s here again, as though she never left.

She whispers something dirty in my ear, and her breath smells like sage and toothpaste.

The protestors are demanding that the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) end its ongoing exploration of the submarine canyon immediately. The twenty-five mile long canyon, they claim, is a sacred site that is being desecrated by scientists. Jacova Angevine, former Berkeley professor and leader of the controversial Open Door of Night cult, compares the launching of the new submersible Tiburon II to the ransacking of the Egyptian pyramids by grave robbers. (San Francisco Chronicle)

I tell her that I have to go to New York, that I have to take this assignment, and she replies that maybe it’s for the best. I don’t ask her what she means; I can’t imagine that it’s important.

And she kisses me.

Later, when we’re done and I’m too exhausted to sleep, I lie awake, listening to the sea and the small, anxious sounds she makes in her dreams.

The bodies of fifty-three men and women, all of whom may have been part of a religious group known as the Open Door of Night, have been recovered following Wednesday’s drownings near Moss Landing, CA. Deputies have described the deaths as a mass suicide. The victims were all reported to be between twenty-two and thirty-six years old. Authorities fear that at least two dozen more may have died in the bizarre episode and recovery efforts continue along the coast of Monterey County. (CNN.com)

I close my eyes, and I’m in the old warehouse on Pierce Street again; Jacova’s voice thunders from the PA speakers mounted high on the walls around the cavernous room. I’m standing in the shadows all the way at the back, apart from the true believers, apart from the other reporters and photographers and camera men who have been invited here. Jacova leans into the microphone, angry and ecstatic and beautiful—terrible, I think—and that hideous carving is squatting there on its altar beside her. There are candles and smoldering incense and bouquets of dried seaweed, conch shells and dead fish, carefully arranged about the base of the statue.

“We can’t remember where it began,” she says, “where we began,” and they all seem to lean into her words like small boats pushing against a violent wind. “We can’t remember, of course we can’t remember, and they don’t want us to even try. They’re afraid, and in their fear they cling desperately to the darkness of their ignorance. They would have us do the same, and then we would never recall the garden nor the gate, would never look upon the faces of the great fathers and mothers who have returned to the deep.”

None of it seems the least bit real, not the ridiculous things that she’s saying, or all the people dressed in white, or the television crews. This scene is not even as substantial as a nightmare. It’s very hot in the warehouse, and I feel dizzy and sick and wonder if I can reach an exit before I vomit.

I close my eyes and I’m sitting in a bar in Brooklyn, watching them wade into the sea, and I’m thinking, Some son of a bitch is standing right there taping this and no one’s trying to stop them, no one’s lifting a goddamn finger.

I blink, and I’m sitting in an office in Manhattan, and the people who write my checks are asking me questions I can’t answer.

“Good god, you were fucking the woman, for Christ’s sake, and you’re sitting there telling me you had no idea whatsoever that she was planning this?”

“Come on. You had to have known something.”

“They all worshiped some sort of prehistoric fish god, that’s what I heard. No one’s going to buy that you didn’t see this coming—”

“People have a right to know. You still believe that, don’t you?”

Answers are scarce in the mass suicide of a California cult, but investigators are finding clues to the deaths by logging onto the Internet and Web sites run by the cult’s members. What they’re finding is a dark and confusing side of the Internet, a place where bizarre ideas and beliefs are exchanged and gain currency. Police said they have gathered a considerable amount of information on the background of the group, known as the Open Door of Night, but that it may be many weeks before the true nature of the group is finally understood. (CNN.com)

And my clumsy hands move uncertainly across her bare shoulders, my fingertips brushing the chaos of scar tissue there, and she smiles for me.

On my knees in an alley, my head spinning, and the night air stinks of puke and saltwater.

“Okay, so I first heard about this from a woman I interviewed who knew the family,” the man in the Radiohead T-shirt says. We’re sitting on the patio of a bar in Pacific Grove, and the sun is hot and glimmers white off the bay. His name isn’t important, and neither is the name of the bar. He’s a student from LA, writing a book about the Open Door of Night, and he got my e-mail address from someone in New York. He has bad teeth and smiles too much.

“This happened back in ‘76, the year before Jacova’s mother died. Her father, he’d take them down to the beach at Moss Landing two or three times every summer. He got a lot of his writing done out there. Anyway, apparently the kid was a great swimmer, like a duck to water, but her mother never let her to go very far out at that beach because there are these bad rip currents. Lots of people drown out there, surfers and shit.”

He pauses and takes a couple of swallow of beer, then wipes the sweat from his forehead.

“One day, her mother’s not watching and Jacova swims too far out and gets pulled down. By the time the lifeguards get her back to shore, she’s stopped breathing. The kid’s turning blue, but they keep up the mouth-to-mouth and CPR and she finally comes around. They get Jacova to the hospital up in Watsonville and the doctors say she’s fine, but they keep her for a few days anyhow, just for observation.”

“She drowned,” I say, staring at my own beer. I haven’t taken a single sip. Beads of condensation cling to the bottle and sparkle like diamonds.

“Technically, yeah. She wasn’t breathing. Her heart had stopped. But that’s not the fucked-up part. While she’s in Watsonville, she keeps telling her mother some crazy story about mermaids and sea monsters and demons, about these things trying to drag her down to the bottom of the sea and drown her and how it wasn’t an undertow at all. She’s terrified, convinced that they’re still after her, these monsters. Her mother wants to call in a shrink, but her father says no, fuck that, the kid’s just had a bad shock, she’ll be fine. Then, the second night she’s in the hospital, these two nurses turn up dead. A janitor found them in a closet just down the hall from Jacova’s room. And here’s the thing you’re not gonna believe, but I’ve seen the death certificates and the autopsy reports and I swear to you this is the God’s honest truth.”

Whatever’s coming next, I don’t want to hear it. I know that I don’t need to hear it. I turn my head and watch a sailboat out on the bay, bobbing about like a toy.

“They’d drowned, both of them. Their lungs were full of saltwater. Five miles from the goddamn ocean, but these two women drowned right there in a broom closet.”

“And you’re going to put this in your book?” I ask him, not taking my eyes of the bay and the little boat.

“Hell yeah,” he replies. “I am. It fucking happened, man, just like I said, and I can prove it.”

I close my eyes, shutting out the dazzling, bright day, and wish I’d never agreed to meet with him.

I close my eyes.

“Down there,” Jacova whispers, “you will know nothing but peace, in her mansions, in the endless night of her coils.”

We would be warm below the storm

In our little hideaway beneath the waves

I close my eyes. Oh god, I’ve closed my eyes.

She wraps her strong, suntanned arms tightly around me and takes me down, down, down, like the lifeless body of a child caught in an undertow. And I’d go with her, like a flash I’d go, if this were anything more than a dream, anything more than an infidel’s sour regret, anything more than eleven thousand words cast like a handful of sand across the face of the ocean. I would go with her, because, like a stone that has become an incarnation of mystery, she has drawn a circle around me.

© 2003 by Caitlín R. Kiernan.
Originally published in Thrillers 2,
edited by Robert Morrish.
Reprinted by permission of the author.

Enjoyed this story? Get the rest of this issue in convenient ebook format!

Caitlin R. Kiernan

Caitlín R. Kiernan is the author of several novels, including World Fantasy and Shirley Jackson award-nominated The Red Tree and the Nebula and Bram Stoker award-nominated The Drowning Girl: A Memoir. She is a very prolific short-story author, and her stories have been collected in Tales of Pain and Wonder; From Weird and Distant Shores; To Charles Fort, With Love; Alabaster; A is for Alien; The Ammonite Violin & Others; Confessions of a Five-Chambered Heart; and the forthcoming The Ape’s Wife and Others. Subterranean Press has released Two Worlds and In Between: The Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan (Volume One), with a second volume planned. Kiernan was recently proclaimed “One of our essential dark fantasy authors” by the New York Times. Her current projects include her critically acclaimed Dark Horse comic, Alabaster. She lives with her partner in Providence, Rhode Island.