A short story by Miro Siegel
We had rolled into the storm over night; an indefatigable maelstrom it was, pummeling and destructing our small, antiquated journeymans vessel and striking down the shaky fire in our hearts. We saw a land mass out in the distance, however even my most junior of crew knew that this distant boon was as unattainable as the stars above. The wood began to crumble under the immense pressure of the ocean, and as footing grew progressively less steady, men began to topple over the side of bow. Some even fell straight through the once sturdy foundation, falling into the rolling void below, never to be seen again as they rapidly became consumed by the insatiable lust of the abyss, and the unthinkable horrors therein.
With one final push, the ship collapsed in on itself and began its slow descent to its final resting place; the densely populated shipyard. A dark, deathly place, where not even the light of the sun can illuminate the suffocating blackness. A place where many voyages have ended, and where the ghouls of the sailors have nothing to haunt, except the minnows when they seldom do come.
I saw one of my men get crushed in between the mast of the boat, and like a bear trap, he was left incapacitated, squirming in the decaying structure of the once buoyant transport as it dragged him into the seemingly bottomless reality below, where otherworldly beings rest without fear of the spasmodic assault of humanity. I saw the fear in his eyes, the pleading, inane denial. He was attempting to negotiate with every deity he knew of, but they all frowned upon him, for after all you can’t cheat death. His head sunk with the rest of the ship.
I had accepted my fate. I was to plummet into the depths with the men who had entrusted me with their lives. For the poor, young men I had led to death, I would be captain once again, this time however, our expedition was down the river of Styx. I clenched the helm one last time as I felt the cold, murky water envelope my body and weigh down my coat.
I awoke not in the blackened nether of the underworld, but in a dimly lit alcove in a dank cabin. A small woman in the corner of the room noticed my lucidity and quickly came to my side.
“Where is this?” I asked her, still feeling uneasy despite the steady foundation of solid land.
“This is the port town of Dhoruba.” She responded. Noticing my puzzled face, she continued. “You’ve never heard of it?”
I shook my head. “What happened to me?”
“You washed onto shore gripping a piece of debris from your ship. You’re fortunate to be alive, grievous injuries and all.”
I looked down and examined my body. As the caretaker had said, I had many egregious wounds; a massive incision on my arm, a rather colorful set of bruises on my legs, and a horrible laceration running up my chest.
“Were there any others found?”
She shook her head. It was a question that didn’t need to be asked, (the several other beds in the structure were empty) but I did anyways.
“If fortune truly smiled upon me, she would have let me meet my end with the others.”
I made a motion to get out of bed and the nurse tried to stop me. “Please mister, you must rest. Your injuries are beyond grave.”
“My life ended along with the ship and her crew. I would be blessed if my abrasions proved fatal.” I muttered as I shook her off and shambled to the door. I dropped my once coveted gold pendant on the table by the door as a symbol of gratitude, sure that it would prove to be substantial payment. It once shimmered and shined but now it only pulsed like strangled dreams.
Twentysix men left this mortal coil last night, but a fate worse than death is to live a life bereft of meaning or significance. Such was the life I was currently living. Aimlessly, I shuffled down the muddy cobblestone road, hoping to encounter some sort of break in the ever present malevolence.
The storm raged on even now, and more than once the virulent soil underfoot sucked and grabbed at my boots. By the time I had reached the docks of this unceremonious port town, my legs were covered in the earths unrelenting assault, and if it wasn’t difficult enough to traverse these streets with battered knees, less than advantageous circumstances ensured it.
I stood on the docks overlooking the ocean for some time. The storm showed no signs of ending anytime soon. I inched closer to the edge of the pier cautiously, in fear of the forceful gales that might overthrow me if I were too reckless, and there I remained, standing on the precipice of the deep blue oblivion in which I should be resting bloated and oblonged.
Seemingly rendered furious by my reflection, the storm increased in severity, forcing me to take shelter in a muggy tavern just off the promenade. It was a depressive scene; the facilities, while suggesting that it was once almost opulent, now was left in a state of depressing decay. The place smelled of cheap alcohol. I approached the keeper of this heterogenous den and pressed one of my last pieces of value on the counter; a heavy, solid gold coin. It garnered the custodians attention and I began to speak.
“How long has this storm been tormenting this town?” I asked him.
“For longer than even the most astute historians would care to remember.” He murmured. “For the denizens of Dhoruba, the storm is a part of our daily lives, and has been for countless generations.”
“Can’t be good for business.” I muttered under my breath.
The innkeepers face was one of much honesty, however in his eyes I detected something that can only be described as some other worldly corruption.
“Can you direct me to the place where I can purchase passage out of this gray, bleak town?”
“Such a place does not exist. There are no vessels in this town capable of braving the furious seas ahead.”
“What about land transport? Surely there must be caravans or convoys capable of taking on another passenger.”
“Dhoruba is nestled in the valley between the steepest mountains this side of the earth. Forget about foot travel, let alone wagon travel. Mister… Excuse me, what is your name?”
“Mister Duessel, you’re the first outsider to come into this town for eighty odd years.”
“And it looks like I’m not going anywhere any time soon. Show me to a room.” I said while tapping the coin on the bar shelf.
“Certainly.” He exclaimed as he led me up the stairs to one of the chambers. The banister was rotting and I nearly tumbled down the steps.
The room was simple if a little antiquated, but it would do. I handed him the coin. “This should more than cover my cost.”
He snatched it quickly from my hand. “Yes, Mr. Duessel. You’re free to stay as long as you wish.”
He left the room and I quickly clasped the deadbolt of the door to the wall and got into bed. The nurse was right in her assumption, what I needed most was rest. I slowly descended into the depths of sleep, a place where only the pale faces of the drowned and maimed reign.
I awoke from an uneasy dream in a start when the lightning struck and the thunder loomed overhead like an emissary of doom. The gates of slumber were now closed to me (as I had slept deep into the night), so I decided to depart from my blighted dwelling and explore the austere slums in the adjoined neighborhood.
Trying to leave out of the main entrance was futile, as the large decaying doors were padlocked shut. After some time of searching, I uncovered a door leading to the back alley hiding behind a stack of ale barrels. I shoved them aside and exited through the doorway. I made sure to close the door behind me; while I doubt there’s anything worth burglarizing inside, the rain holds space for no one, and if the inn wasn’t plagued by legions of mold already, the relentless downpour would undoubtedly provide it.
I began to wander again, not quite sure what I was searching for but certain that I was pursuing something of indescribable value. As I trekked up a grim side street, I saw many curtains and clothes obscure the dim light from the windows as I passed, and many a judgemental glance caught my eye. I learned quickly to watch myself when a brick was tossed from the roof of a dilapidated shed, and when I narrowly dodged the incoming projectile, I heard a cacophony of cackles and guffaws, alongside a handful of insults and slurs.
It wasn’t long before I found the derelict lighthouse on the peak of of the slope. To a veteran sailor like myself, there is no church or abbey holier than this temple of light, and when I saw that this was a dark, corrupted altar, I felt the overpowering need to repair it to it’s rightful state. With the guidance of this celestial shrine, my crew would not have been swallowed by the encroaching water. Just the thought was enough, and without hesitation I blasted the door down with all of my might, and slowly limped up the winding stairs. The beacon itself, once an artifact of illumination, now seemed to exude pure pestilence and decay. I felt sick but made a promise to the countless seafarers who rest underneath the raging waters and eternal torrent, that I would return and restore this sacred pillar.
I retreated to the lodge, hoping the innkeeper would be able to point me in the direction of a nearby supply depot, for even the most valiant of efforts rely on tempered iron and a steady arm. He was able to give me the address of a small locale a few streets away. I then inquired about the lighthouse I had discovered in that horrid neighborhood, and almost like a demonic possession, the glint in his eyes shifted and his posture became aggressive.
“If I find you near that damned tower, you best believe I’ll put you in the ground. We don’t take kindly to outsiders snooping around. Do you understand, or will I have to get my maul?”
In a cold sweat, I nodded my head and quickly left for the resource depository. I went along my business more cautiously now; the innkeeper showed restraint, presumably for the gold coins in my possession, and I doubt other townsfolk would display the same amount of control.
The stockpile was rather limited, and lacked many of the tools I deemed necessary for repairing the lantern. If I was to restore the lustrous shine of the lamp, I would need to be rather creative with my amenities. With the last of my funds, I purchased a few wooden planks, a couple of sheets of scrap metal, an antique wrench and hammer, a sack of nails and a small drum of oil.
On the way out I solicited for a wheelbarrow to hoist my merchandise, and before I left the shelter of the warehouse, I pulled my hood over my head to obscure my unfamiliar face from glancing eyes.
I heaved the wagon up the slope with little incident; no derogatory slurs, no mocking eyes in the rotting wooden lattices, and most importantly, no acts of hostility. Upon arrival to the watchtower, I glanced up and down the road multiple times before I began unloading my resources to ensure that I wouldn’t have unwelcome guests later on. It didn’t take long to unpack, and I began my repairs immediately, hoping my efforts went unnoticed.
Hour after hour I tinkered and dabbled by the dim light of the discharges, and to uninformed eyes I might be seen as a madman, babbling to himself under the gray squall. Every so often, I would indulge in the musings of my stomach and scavenge what little comestibles I could gather from the underbrush directly behind the lighthouse. As I gorged on the handful of berries and fruit I chortled; How did I get here? I was a prestigious sailor what seemed almost minutes ago, yet now I am nothing more than an unwelcome vagrant. I wiped off my hands with my handkerchief and scaled the tower once more.
Deep into the night I trifled with the beacon, and now I struggled to remain in the realm of the waking. I steeled myself and fought through the exhaustion, and kept on with my repairs. I was nearing completion, and estimated that I would finish my task early tomorrow morning. I began to set my wrench aside and roll out a decomposing mat I had found in the chamber of the tower, when I heard the sound of shuffling feet and dragging iron directly below me.
“I told you to stay away from this accursed place, you goddamn sea rat!” His yell echoed up the tower, rising to crescendo at the top. I could hear his heavy steps become louder and more violent as he ascended the winding steps. There was a distinct sound of metal that followed him, and then I knew undoubtedly that he had brought his maul. It was the innkeeper.
“There’s a reason this lighthouse doesn’t shine anymore! It’s to keep disgraces like you under the waves, pale and foetid!” He shrieked as he neared the peak.
“You’ll meet your crew soon enough!” He bellowed as he reached the top. He swung his maul at me, and I swiftly ducked under his arc. Having been a hardened sailor, I know my way around drunken brawls and boarding parties alike, so his sluggish assault was nothing threatening. Before he could raise it to swing again, I drove my fist deep into his face. He dropped the maul and I heard it skid down the hundred or so steps in a loud stupor.
The innkeeper recoiled, and then overpowered me and threw me onto my back. He grabbed the wrench off the floor and charged me down, but before he could strike me with it I threw my boots up and landed a solid blow to his stomach. He stuttered backwards with an unprecedented amount of force, and toppled over the guardrail lining the open platform. He was silent as he fell sixty meters to his certain death, and the thud of his body could only be heard over the storm very faintly. I rushed down the stairs to get to him before anyone else could.
I dragged his shaken remains into the refuge of the lighthouse, and retrieved his maul. With it, I began to excavate a grave behind the pillar. It took a few hours, due to inopportune circumstances, and once it was finished I quickly entombed him and returned to the tower. It was raining harder than I had ever seen, and the road below was a massive torrent. As I slept I feared that the inundation would wash away the lighthouse foundation, but I couldn’t ponder it too long, for while I still lived, I felt deathly and fatigued, and lost consciousness almost instantaneously.
I rose from bed what might have been four or five hours later to see a crowd beginning to form around the lighthouse. Their expression was one of much unease and restlessness, and then I knew that I had to finish my repairs as soon as I could. They had assuredly found the body of the man I had defenestrated. What a fool I was, a shallow grave in a storm served as much of a purpose as an open sepulchre. I kneeled down and began work immediately, for I knew that the puny stone portcullis would not keep out a mob angry and flailing.
An hour had passed in nonevent, and the beacon faintly glowed now. All that was left was to install the drum of oil and stoke the fire high, but the mass of people had grown more agitated and uneasy. Soon I fear they might forcefully enter the tower and set aside a fate worse than death for me.
I lit the fire with my tinderbox as the door fell to the relentless ramming of the riots below. The beacon shone a light brighter than I had ever seen, and within an instant the clouds cleared to reveal the unthinkable horror hiding in the sanctuary of the blackened clouds. My eyes recognized it as nothing more than a mucilaginous fog, but I sensed a malice so intense that my head pounded and my heart burst in my chest. The rain had finally stopped and never has sunlight instilled such a great dread in me.
The townsfolk had reached me and they grabbed my appendages and restrained me. I gazed emptily at their scourged features, and could now see the curse they all carried; protruding from each of their mouths was a malodorous tendril belonging to the eldritch monstrosity in the sky.
They subdued any attempt to escape, but I no longer kicked and screamed; my mind, in an act of self-preservation, departed from the scene minutes ago. I lay dormant as the alien intrudes my sanctity and places me in unholy communion with the outlandish and otherworldly, controlling me like a puppet in the futile soliloquy of this dank and abysmal life…