A Cthulhu Mythos story. Start at the beginning.

A Cthulhu Mythos story.  Start at the beginning.
A Cthulhu Mythos story set in Miskatonic University in modern times. . If you're new, start at the beginning.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Chapter 3


Gretchen Marsh watched the man walk out of the class room.  He had offered help without asking anything in return.  Was that normal here?  She knew outsiders that didn’t know about Innsmouth would treat her different, but this was very unexpected. 
She gathered her books and notebooks in her arms and walked out into the hallway.  No one gave her dirty looks or sneered with insults as she passed by.  It was almost like she was a normal person. 
She walked out into the beautifully overcast day and hurried to the building that David had shown on her map.  She found her next class easily enough.  It was similar to the last class in that the teacher went over the outline of the course and explained what was expected of them. 
The professor was funny and gave a little lecture on the importance of astronomy and did an act that he was begging them to not withdraw from the course because the professor was crazy.  She had to cover her mouth to keep from showing her smile. 
Why did she do that?  Father wasn’t here.  He hated “frivolity” in his house, but she was no longer under his roof.  

She lowered her hand and smiled.  Let them see. 
After class she went to find the pool.  She asked the young lady at the nearby shop where it was and the girl told her right where to find the pool and even smiled.  
Very different from her home.
It was a very new looking facility and much larger than the one at the high school.  She saw a group of girls standing in a group and walked over. 

“Swimming?”  She asked.
“You’re in the right place!  You on the team?” A girl with short blond hair asked.
“I am.”
The girl had a strange expression on her face that Gretchen couldn’t read. 
“Oh, well.  Great!”
Soon the coach came in.  She had met her before when she came to her high school to see her ability for herself. 
Coach Mikelson handed out uniforms, a jogging suit, a swimsuit, goggles, cap, towel and gym bag.  Then she told them to go get changed.  
She took the suit and tried to hide her disgust.  After three years of performing in such immodest attire she still hadn't gotten used to it.
The other girls didn’t seem to pay her any attention to her which was still much better than outright hostility. 
When they were ready they walked back out to the pool.  She held her towel in front of her, clutched to her chest.  Her long hair was tucked up under the cap and her goggles were on her forehead. 
The coach went through a speech about what she expected from them and then started them on some basic warm up exercises.  They were rudimentary but essential.  She heard some of the other girls complain about how basic it was.  Basic didn’t mean useless.  They should have known better. 
“Alright, ladies.  Now that we’re suitably warmed up, I want to see what you can do.  Almost as important, I want you to see what each other can do.  Two laps, there and back again, fastest time, free style.  Use your strongest stroke.  I want to see your best.”
They each got on their block and waited for Coach to blow the whistle.  As soon as the whistle sounded, Gretchen was off and in the water.  She dolphin kicked as far as was permissible and then butterfly stroked the rest of the way.  She didn’t look and so she had no idea how the others were doing. She didn't care either. She only cared about doing the best she could do.
She touched the far wall and quickly twirled around and headed back the other way. 
She was good in a small town high school, but these swimmers were drawn from the best around the country.  There was no possible way that she was as good as they were. 
But she never quit and she kept swimming.  She could hold her breath for an abnormally long amount of time and practically swum the entire length without coming up for air. 
When she reached the starting edge she touched it and pulled herself into it so she could lean on the edge.  The coach was standing right there with a smile on her face. 
Gretchen turned around and saw that the others were only half way back.  She had beaten them by a great deal. 
In the locker they still wouldn’t speak to her but now the look in their eyes was different.  It wasn’t contempt but more threatened, like an animal trying to bluster away a predator. 
She smiled to herself as she felt the curved knife in her dress pocket.  If any of them tried to get too close to her and rough her up, she would have a surprise for them.  Unlike her parents she had no desire to hurt anyone, but she would if she had to.  They thought she was prey, but they’d have a nasty surprise waiting for them if they acted upon that. 

The rest of the day went by her schedule and she didn’t have any more trouble finding her classes. 
After the last class she went back to her room.  There was nothing else to do.  She had an hour before dinner started in the cafeteria and no homework.  She lay in her bed thinking about the events of the day. 
Already life here was so drastically different than what she had known.  It was a completely alien way of living and she loved it. 
When it was time she went to the cafeteria and showed her student I.D.  There was much more food here than the high school cafeteria.  She could choose anything she wanted! 
One food she did not choose was fish.  If she never had to eat fish again she could die happy. 
Since it was her first night here, she’d celebrate.  She got some pizza and a chicken sandwich and a glass of something called Mountain Dew.  The student in front of her in line got it and Gretchen liked the pretty, sparkling green of it. 
She found a table by herself and sat there observing the other students as she ate.  In high school she always sat alone.  As daughter of the high priest it was below her to mingle with the normal people and even less to mingle with the outsiders.
Then a girl walked up to her table.  She wore jeans with rips in them so she must be poor, a tight t-shirt with a cartoon girl on it with pink hair, nose, lip and brow piercings and short black hair.
“Hi! Is this seat taken?”  The strange girl asked. 
Gretchen shook her head and the girl sat down. 
“I’m Beth.  It’s my first semester here.”
It took a moment for Gretchen to realize that Beth now expected her to introduce herself.
“I’m Gretchen Marsh.  It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
For some reason this made the girl smile even more.
“Your first time here too?”  Beth asked.
“What’s your major?”
“I haven’t decided yet.  And you?”
“Art!  I’m an art major though I do dabble in theater.”
She tried to think of something to say.  The girl talked fast and didn't leave much time for thinking.
“I have an art class tomorrow.  I am rather fond of painting,” Gretchen said.
“I love sculpture and photography, but yeah, painting’s fun too.  I gotta say that you don’t look anything like all the others here.”
“I’m sorry.”
“No! It’s awesome! I’m glad to find at least one person that doesn’t try to look like anyone else.”
She had never thought that standing out could be considered a good thing. 
“I thought people mistrusted and feared people who did not fit in with the norm,” Gretchen said.
“That they do!  That’s why I try to do it.” 
“But, are you not conforming to a degree?”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, well…I mean, I’ve seen others with such piercings and clothing.  It appears to be some sort of sub culture, but a culture nonetheless.”
“Damn, Gretchen.  You got me.  I never really thought of it like that.  I’m glad I decided to sit here.  Now I got to think of something else to do to stand out.”
“I’m sorry.”
“No, this is awesome.  Sometimes we miss the obvious in ourselves, right?”
“I don’t intend to be different.”
“That’s what makes you special.”
She then dug in her pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. 
“What art class you got tomorrow?”  Beth asked.
“Painting I at 1:00pm.”
“Me too!  I guess it was destiny that we be friends.”
Friends?  She had never had a friend before.  Was this how friends were made?  It seemed much simpler and quicker than she would have imagined.    
After dinner with Beth, Gretchen went back to her room and pulled out one of the books she had brought from the mansion’s library.  It was a 1902 copy of “Les Miserables.”  She doubted her parents even knew it was there or they might have thrown it out.  They didn’t allow her to read book by outsiders.  They didn’t like her getting useless notions stuck in her head.  

But the library did have a few books and she read them every chance she got.  In high school she read before, during and after class.  She read on the bus and at lunch.  She’d check out books from the school’s library and occasionally get on the internet. 
Before, books had been her only window in to the outside world.  But once she managed to get on line, the world exploded in size, complexity and wonder. 
Maybe there was a way to get on line?  Perhaps the University’s library had computers?
She took out her map and looked for the library.  Once located she hurried out her door and down the stairs.  She didn’t have to hide her search for knowledge.  Now she could go anywhere and do anything. 
The library was the oldest looking building here, made of dark stone with giant pillars out front and a black dome on top.  Ivy crept up the sides and the whole place seemed darker than the rest of the campus.
Inside looked more like a museum than any library she had seen.  It was old, polished wood floors, but in much better shape than the Marsh Mansion. 
There were shelves and shelves of books and in the middle of the library were rows of computers. 
She hurried to the first computer and typed in her name and student ID number for the password.
Then, like that, she was on the internet and didn’t have to look over her shoulder. 
She looked up news to find out what was important to people.  There was a lot of complaining about their leaders.  Openly criticizing their leaders?  They were allowed to do that?
She spent the rest of the evening there, looking up anything that came up.  One site would have an interesting link to something else and she’d click on that and so on and so on.
As the library closed up she made her way to the exit. 
But something caught her eye and she turned to look.
There was a heavy door with no windows and a sign above it that said “Rare and unusual book collection.” 
Behind those doors she knew was one of the few copies of the Necronomicon in existence.  Her father talked about it and wanted to come see it for himself.   That wasn’t the only book filled with ancient horrors and wonders.  The knowledge of Miskatonic’s rare book collection was priceless.  

She hurried past the door, not wanting anything to do with the books to be found there. 
That night she dreamed. 
She often dreamed, horrible, mad dreams. She dreamed of sunken R’lyeh rising from the waves.  The twisted, unnatural forms of the buildings and their unearthly stone.  She dreamed of a great storm with continent shattering winds that accompanied Cthulhu’s awakening. 
She heard Father and his Esoteric Order of Dagon’s infernal chanting in the back of her mind.  This was the thing they sought.  They wanted Cthulhu to awaken.
She didn’t know if it was prophetic or a desire sent out by Cthulhu’s dead dreams.
In her dreams she thankfully never saw Cthulhu, but she did hear him on occasion and she’d wake up in a cold sweat. 
She looked at the clock. 3:00 Am. Always the same time.
Gretchen didn’t go back to sleep until much later and when the alarm went off, she felt more tired than if she had stayed up all night. 
She took a shower and kept her hair dry with a cap.  She combed it out, dressed in one of her many but similar dresses, though this one was so dark it was almost black, and went to class.  She had never been very fond of large breakfasts, especially when her family often had fish. 
Her first class that day was Latin.  She already knew a good deal of Latin, but they made her take Latin I anyway.  At least she wouldn’t have to study terribly hard. 
A part of the course would be reading parts of the Bible in Latin.  She had never read the Bible and wondered what it was about.  All the other books seemed so normal.  There were no Book of Eibon, or Unaussprechlichen Kulten.  No great mysteries.  Perhaps those were in later courses. 
She sat in the back and when asked to repeat something in Latin, she’d respond and the professor would compliment her in her pronunciation. 

Then was art class and Beth was there but now she had blue hair. 
“Like it?”  Beth asked.
“It’s indeed different.”
Beth sat beside her on stools as they sat in a half circle in front of the professor.  She was a woman that dressed in oddly bright colors and unkempt hair and she spoke on and on as if there weren’t anyone else in the room.  Despite her strange appearance she taught in a very logical and organized fashion. 
Gretchen was surprised to learn that art was far less subjective than she had imagined. 
“What did you think?” Beth asked after class. 
“I’m intrigued.  I think I may like this art class.”
“I think I will too.  Come on, let’s go have lunch.” 
They went to the cafeteria and had a pleasant lunch together.  Beth apparently loved to talk.  She talked about all the art she was going to do and the plays she was going to be.  Already her theater class had an assignment to start reading old plays from the school library to gain an appreciation of the older classics. 
“What are you doing after classes?” Beth asked.
“Read in my room or go to the library to get on the internet.”
“Great, I’ll meet you in the library at four.”
Then Beth was off before she could say anything else. 
Next up was Western Lit I.  This class she felt a little nervous about because that nice man would be there.
She walked into class early and again she was the first one there.  She found a seat in the back and sat down.  It wasn’t long before David came in.  He saw her and took a seat next to her.  
She was curiously glad to see him.
“How’s your classes so far?”  He asked. 
“I’ve really enjoyed them.  I believe I will like attending the University.” 
“I think so to. It’s a lot different than being in the Army.  No one’s yelling at me and I didn’t even shave this morning.”
“You were in the Army?”
“Surprised?  I don’t seem the type?”
“I’ve never met a soldier before.”
“Really?”  He asked with a look on his face that showed confusion as if she had something very out of the ordinary. 
There were so many subtle things about outsiders that she simply didn’t understand and probably never would.        

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Chapter 2


Three years ago David Thornton was in Iraq fighting for his life in a giant cemetery filled with crowded stone boxes that made him feel like some kind of American Godzilla in an Arab city.  The little mausoleums, tombs or whatever they were, were all over and provided great cover for the insurgents hidden somewhere inside that all wanted to kill him.
Two hours before they had been briefed that a “death cult” was holding up in the cemetery preparing to strike against Coalition targets.
“These aren’t your typical Muslim insurgents.  These men make your average Jihadi look like Mister Rogers,” their captain had said. 
“Who are they, then?”  One of the Platoon sergeants asked.
“We’re not sure exactly.  We do know that they are called the “Soldiers of Heaven” and are targeting both Shiite and Sunni clerical leaders.  These are bad men, gentlemen.  Not even our Iraqi allies really know who these freaks are.  Reports of animal and even human sacrifice are going around.  Whatever the case, they have to be stopped.  They’re amassing a large arsenal and are planning something big.  We just got word that they’re in a cemetery fifteen clicks south of Najaf.  They’re breaking into tombs.  And don’t ask because I don’t know why.” 
The whole mission had a strange feeling to it.  Instead of the usual banter of jokes, sexual insults and impersonations of leadership, they were quiet as they loaded their magazines and checked their gear.  Something was definitely in the air and David knew he didn't like it. 
Their attack force consisted of three platoons, about ten contractors, four men in suits that no one would explain who they were or why they were there and about a half dozen Arab “interpreters.”  The interpreters only talked to the men in suits and he only heard them speak Arabic. Not very good interpreters.
As news came down their sergeants gathered them in small groups as they prepared. 

“We just found out that they have a small compound near the cemetery.  It was a big farm of some kind.  They killed the people living there and took it over.  They may retreat there so we’re moving in to block their path of retreat,” Sgt. Alans said.
“So, when they start losing, they’re all going to come straight at us,” Spc. Brown said.
“That’s an accurate assessment,” Alans said.  
"Wonderful," someone said from behind him.
“Do they have more men in the compound?” Spc. David Thornton asked.
He wasn’t eager to be sandwiched by two hostile forces. 
“We don’t know but I think we can assume so.” 
The answer turned out to be ‘yes,’ but not in the way they had imagined. 
The assault on the forces in the cemetery started right on time for once.  They moved in at 1900 and made their way through the twisting maze of the cemetery.  David had his goggles on and his M4 shouldered and ready to rock.  They could only move in lines and when they finally found a small open space they set up position.  He ducked behind a tan mausoleum and kept his eyes open.  His M4 was resting on top of the crypt, the red dot turned on and ready to go.
Somewhere up ahead he heard shouting in Aarabic and a second later gunfire erupted.  It was a sudden explosion of dozens of guns going off at once.  He could see the flashes, but not the people doing the shooting. 
These guys weren’t like the typical insurgent that fired his AK-47 randomly over his head and then quickly ran for safety to call it a day.  These guys seemed to be standing and fighting. 
“They’re not budging. Let’s move in!” their lieutenant shouted. 
It was a classic “L” shaped movement.  Their two forces formed an “L” to prevent friendly fire. The made their way to battle and quickly became engaged. 
These men didn’t fight like insurgents.  Whoever they were had real training.  He saw one of the bearded madmen reload his AK with a speed that would impress his old Drill Sergeant. 
A bullet whizzed past his ear and he brought the glowing red dot on his carbine up and fired at one of the fanatics that was wearing a dark grey turban and a filthy red scarf. His shots found their target and the man jerked back.  He looked down at the two wounds in his chest and then looked up and right into David’s eyes.  
The look of hatred and furry in the fanatic’s eyes was almost inhuman.  Then the man raised his AK to fire at him and David put two more rounds into his center of mass.  This time he went down. 
All around him people were shooting and shouting.  He looked for another target and found one man with a light machine gun hiding behind a then slab of stone from a broken tomb.  David fired through the stone and hit the machine gunner in the head.  

Suddenly the fanatics all began chanting something in unison.  Whatever it was, it didn’t sound like Arabic.  As the fanatics continued to fight their chanting grew louder.  He didn’t understand a word of it be he began to recognize that they were saying the same few phrases over and over again.  It was a phrase that would be forever etched into his mind.
It was also starting to give him a headache.  
"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!"
There was an hour to go before sunset but it seemed to him that the sky was darkening.  The sound of gunfire began to fade away, not decrease, just that the sound was fading away as the chanting grew louder and louder. 
One of the chanting fanatics charged at him with a curved sword raised above his head.  Who the hell still used swords?
He raised his weapon but his arms weren’t responding.  It was as if he were underwater and everything but the cultist was moving too slow. 
The fanatic brought his scimitar down and struck his M4, knocking it out of his hands and to his surprise, cutting a large gash through the receiver. 
Spc. Brown stepped up and fired his SAW light machine gun right into the fanatic’s belly.  The muzzle flash was like a strobe light going off in his face and all he saw was the enraged, tattooed face of the cultist and the glint of flying brass from the SAW. 
The fanatic fell away with blood and smoke pouring from his stomach and Brown reached down to help him up. He was carrying a lot of gear so even if his knees hadn't felt weak after the brush with death, he probably would have needed help.
"Thanks, man," he said weakly.
The chanting had ceased and so had the gun fire.  The fanatics were all dead.  None of them had tried to run.  They all gathered in the clearing where the fanatics had been digging. David didn't know what the hell was going on.  Whoever these freaks were, they were not ordinary insurgents.
“What were they looking for?”  David asked. 
The men in suits and their “interpreters” moved in and they were ordered to immediately attack the compound while the suits and interpreters stayed behind. 
They used a Bradely IFV to smash down the front gate of the compound.  Its 25mm chain gun opened fire on the compound’s main building as the troops rushed in behind it.  Alpha and Bravo platoons went in to secure the main building once the Bradely was done with it and his Charlie Platoon moved in to secure a side building with boarded up windows.  

It was night and everything had the glowing, gray-green look of night vision.  Since his M4 had been destroyed he was using a captured RPK which was basically an AK turned into a machine gun. 
David lined up beside the front door as number two man.  He’d be the second one in.  Once they were all in position, Avery, with the shotgun, blasted the door’s lock and they rushed in.  Johnson moved right so David moved left.  His corner was clear and he heard the others say “clear.” 
While remaining on alert he began to scan the rest of the room.  It was a large, open, tiled room with pillars running down each side like a church.  On the far side was a thick curtain. 
The curtain covered a door and the door led down to a basement. 
Memories of what they found in the basement woke David up with a jolt.  He scrambled to sit up and realized that his heart was pounding a like a death metal drummer.
He found himself in the small apartment just off Miskitonic University's campus.  It was cheap and he got the place to himself.  He had a car, a black Dodge Magnum, but gas wasn’t cheap so if he could walk he’d walk. 
The clock said 5:46am.  Three hours until his first day of class.  Orientation was pointless.  Just give him his map and schedule and he was good to go.  Maybe all that was for the students who had never been away from home before.
He had seen one girl bawling her eyes out.  It wasn’t like she was being sent off to a hellish desert where tattooed freaks were trying to kill her. What a soft bellied wussy civilian.
Still, even he had to admit that this was strange.  No one was here to yell at him or wake him up before dawn.  If he messed up it wouldn’t cost lives.  There were no more mandatory inventories to do or inspections of his living space. He was free and he was loving it.
To celebrate his freedom he had grown out a goatee and let his hair grow out long. (Well, long for army standards.) Why?  Because he freaking could. 
He had only been out of the Army for three weeks.  After eight years he was finally free and it felt odd.  It was weird to be back home with mom and dad, but now he was in a new place where he’d be surrounded by people his age that wanted to learn and party with equal energy. 
David wasn’t sure how this was really going to be.  He moved in yesterday, set up his TV and X-box, went to a Wendy’s and spent the night playing video games.  He knew where his classes were and he had his lap top ready to go, but he didn't know what to really expect from students and professors.
Breakfast.  He was awake so he needed something to eat.  His fridge was empty and all the kitchen stuff was still packed away in the few boxes he had brought. 
He took a shower and dressed in blue jeans, a Rob Zombie T-shirt and a black jacket.  The University didn’t allow him to carry on campus, so he left his 9mm Beretta in his apartment and went to the Mexican place he saw down the road.  

As he ate a Chorizo breakfast burrito he got on his laptop and looked for a wireless signal.  He needed a good place to eat, do homework and relax, but he didn’t want an overpriced, trendy coffee shop full of people with jeans two sizes too small and angsty piercing on their face.  
He thought piercings were cool, he just didn’t like people who did trendy things to be different just like everyone else.  A person should know who they are before all else. If you didn’t know that you didn’t know anything.  
It turned out that the Mexican joint did not have wi-fi.  Lame.  He’d have to look elsewhere. 
So, instead he watched Venture Bros. until it was time for class. 
First on schedule was American History I.  It was a core class, but since he was also a history major it was the first step to getting his degree. 
All over he saw college students with back packs, skateboards, iPods and too tight or too loose clothing.  It all looked so fake, shallow and trivial.
He grabbed a Mountain Dew on one of the campus’s shops and went to class.  He was the first one there so he went and sat in the back.  He hated the feeling of having people behind him that he didn’t know.  

The room wasn’t like the brightly lit theater looking deals that the movies always showed.  It was a wooden room with old fashioned metal and wood desks.  It had white boards, a rack of maps, globes, a projector and that was about it.  Well, MU was an old school so he shouldn’t be surprised that they were old school. 
He opened his laptop and got the school’s wi-fi.  He browsed around for awhile until the first student besides himself arrived. 
It was a girl.  She was small, reed thin and pale, almost white skin.  She had large grey eyes that scanned the room taking every detail in.  Her hair was either platinum blond or outright white and it was simply parted in the middle and left to hang down, running over her shoulders like water.  Her simple clothes looked out of place, like from a slightly different time period but they’d probably be out of fashion then as well.  Beneath her ankle length gray dress were two black boots. Her face had a kind of sickly, elfish look to it.  He half expected her to have pointy ears.
The mousy girl looked around until her silver eyes landed on him and for a second she looked almost startled. 
He gave her a slight wave and she looked down to the ground.  Apparently she wasn’t a people person. 
The strange, out of place girl walked to one of the desks in the back row in the corner.  She was a back-rower as well. He could respect that.
David went back to looking up what bands were coming to concert in the area while other students trickled in.  Five minutes before the start of class a tall, middle aged man with glasses and a suit came in and began setting up at a lectern at the front of the class. 
At one minute before, the rest of the class poured in and found seats.  When the bell rang the professor closed the door and introduced himself.  He began telling the basic rules of the class in a dry, almost monotone voice and then continued on to hand out the class’s syllabus and he explained that as well.  The course would start with American Indians before Columbus and end with the assassination of Lincoln. 
David’s mother’s family was all from Virginia and he had lived in Richmond most of his life.  The Civil War was in his blood. He had grown up with the names of Lee, Sherman, Grant, Longstreet, Burnside and Picket. They were his childhood friends. 

Everyone had their laptops out except the out-of-place girl.  She used a notebook and pencil. 
When the bell rung everyone got up and began shuffling out of class.  He wasn’t surprised to see that the pale girl was still seated and intently studying a piece of paper in her hand. 
David had explored the campus fully when he had come up to find an apartment last month and basically knew his way around already.  He doubted very much if this girl knew where anything was. 
He was a sucker for a damsel in distress.  It wasn’t a horny 'he wanted to get laid' kind of thing, he just hated seeing women in any kind of trouble. 
David walked over and the girl didn’t notice him until he spoke which caused her to startle. 
“Hello, I’m David.  Need any help there?  Lost?”  He said and held out his hand. 
For a second the girl looked at his hand as if she didn’t know what to do with it, then slowly offered her own.  Her hand was skinny and a little cold. 
“Gretchen Marsh,” she said with a slight and odd sort of accent.  It was barely perceptible, but it was there. 
“Trying to figure out where to go next?” He asked.
She nodded while avoiding eye contact.Yeah, this girl needed some help.
“Let me see,” he said and she handed her schedule over. 
“Your next class is astronomy and it is two buildings down.”
He pointed in the general direction. 
Then he looked at her schedule a little closer.  She had some art classes, swimming, and she had the same “Western Lit I” class that he did.  That was on odd days and today was even.
“We have Western Lit together, he said.”
“Oh?  It appears that we do,” she said quietly.
“Good luck with everything.  I’ll see you around.”
“I do have one more question, sir.  Where might I find the cafeteria?”
He took out his map and showed her where they were and showed her where the cafeteria and the Student Union were.
“If you get lost, use the Student Union as a land mark.” 
“Thank you, sir,” she said with a shy smile. 
“You’re welcome.”
Then he went off to his next class.  He had two classes back to back, an hour off, another class, an hour for lunch and then two classes in the after noon.  It was a heavy work load but they were all intro classes and such so he could handle it.
The rain from yesterday was now more of a drizzle.  The sky was overcast and dark and would probably rain again.  That was okay.  After the cloudless skies of Iraq, he didn’t mind some clouds now and then. 

Chapter 1

                                                 Gretchen, Innsmouth                                                        

Her ‘natural talent’ for swimming got Gretchen Marsh out of Innsmouth and into college.  She had thought that her parents would object and object strongly, but to her surprise they had quickly agreed.  Father gave her a sermon and many rules and orders to follow, but in the end she was allowed to go. 
And she couldn’t wait to leave Innsmouth.  It was a small, rotten, crumbling little town along the shore of New England.  It was a place where all the sagging houses were the same paint-less, old, gray.  The sky was gray, the ocean was gray, the ground was gray and even the people were gray.  If that were the worst of it though, Gretchen Marsh would have counted herself very lucky.  

It was a place where visitors never came.  The towns around them avoided them as if they had the plague and the natives of Innsmouth preferred it that way.  
She would have preferred to not be there.
She remembered when Child Services came to Innsmouth and told her father (he’s the mayor among other things) that Innsmouth had to start bussing their children to public school in the neighboring towns because Innsmouth had no schools, no records of any of their children ever attending school and no one qualified to home school. 
She didn't, but other children hated the idea of being forced to meet with outsiders but father said that they had to go to public school to avoid attention of the government.  Back in the 20,s Innsmouth had been raided and the town had never forgotten. 
For Gretchen though, the news was a blessing.  This was finally her chance to see what lay outside the small, lifeless town and its cold grey waters.  It was a chance to see how others lived.
It was also a chance to get away from the evil that permeated every inch of the horrible town. 
Once at high school she worked as hard as she could to get good grades.  During gym the coach was surprised to find that she was the best swimmer in the class…by a large margin.  The next day she was a member of the high school swimming team.  She won every competition but they didn’t make her team captain.  Though she won them state, they didn’t like or trust her because she was from Innsmouth. 
The talent scout however had no such biases.  He wanted her for the Miskatonic University Swim Team.  She hadn’t made a single friend in high school but she had managed to impress the one person that actually mattered. 
Gretchen stood out in front of the general store along Innsmouth’s Main Street.  The old, abandoned hotel stood across the cracked road.  There were more weeds and mud than actual asphalt here.  

Many of the people that walked by gave her the evil eye but they didn’t dare say anything out loud.  They didn’t like the idea of her being willing to go out and mingle with outsiders, but she was the daughter of the High Priest and that kept their mouths closed.  So they glared at her with their broad, fish-like faces and large, unblinking black eyes. 
It was the “Innsmouth look,” something she hadn’t inherited from her father.  In looks she took after her mother: her birth mother.  The woman Father was married to was not her birth mother.  Her real mother had been an outsider and she got her small, petite frame and narrow face from her.  She had never admitted it openly, but she detested the fish faces of everyone around her and was glad she did not resemble them.  She did have grayish skin and dark eyes though. 
Her white hair blew in front of her face and she tucked the loose strand behind her ear.  A dark grey storm was looming over the ocean, threatening to come to shore and bring torrential rain with it.  

She took a while to look at the sea.  That was something she would miss.  The ocean was perhaps the only thing she liked about Innsmouth, though what lay beneath the waves was a different matter. 
Her parents weren’t there to see her off, only her twelve year old little sister, Hannah.  She had a round, oval face with large, black eyes and a shark like grin.  She was always grinning with a maniacal look on her face.
“You will be back for the summer solstice, right?”  Hannah asked.
“I will try.”
“You have to be. The stars aren’t yet right, but one day they will be. It would be good to learn what we might.  Father said he will teach us the Ceremony of Dark Waves.”
“He’ll teach you.  He’s already taught you more than he has ever taught me.”
“Not true.  Either one of us can become High Priestess on Father’s death.”
She didn’t want to admit to her little sister that she had no desire to be the High Priestess of the Esoteric Order of Dagon.  If she ever spoke what she really felt they’d throw her in a hole where no one would ever remember her or they’d do far worse.  She’d seen it happen. 
She still remembered the screams coming from the basement of the church. 
Finally the old bus came into view.  The driver always hurried threw and only stopped long enough to open and close the doors before he was off again.  Like most outsiders that were native to the area, he had an obvious fear or mistrust of Innsmouth.  She couldn’t blame him.  After seeing what she had seen, he had every reason to be fearful of her town. 
“This is my bus,” Gretchen said and picked up her two suit cases.  

Hannah looked to the bus and gave a typical Innsmouthian scowl.  Like everyone else in town, she hated the sight of anything from the outside world. 
“Don’t talk to them, Gretchen.  Don’t make friends.  Don’t let them corrupt you from your true destiny,” Hannah said. 
“I won’t.”
“Promise me.  We’re daughters of Dagon and Mother Hydra.  Do not forget that.”
“I won’t.”
She looked one last time to see if her parents would be there to send her off.  She hated them and knew they were wicked people, but they were still her parents.  Disappointed and relieved at the same time, she saw that they weren’t there. 
Gretchen hurried across the road to where the bus would stop.  Her suitcases were heavier than she had anticipated and she barely got to the stop before the bus did.  For a second she wondered if the bus would have hit her if she had been slower. 
The bus door folded open with a creak and the sour looking man eyed her. 
Without saying a word of greeting to each other she picked up her cases and struggled up the narrow, steep steps.  He closed the door as soon as she was clear and began driving off.
“Arkham?”  She asked.
“Two dollars to station.  You’ll take another bus from there.”
She reached in her purse and pulled out two crumpled dollars.  Money was not an issue.  The town looked bleak and penniless, but they were literally swimming in gold.  She didn’t need the swimming scholarship.  Her family had enough gold from the sea to buy the university several times over.
She was the only passenger on the bus and she took her seat near the window.  She watched the grey, decrepit town of Innsmouth disappear from view.  The sandy, marshy lands that surrounded the town stretched out for miles in each direction.
This felt strange.  She had never really been by herself before.  Even in high school, when she was along, she had been surrounded by people. 
She was leaving all of it behind and going someplace she had never been before.
This all felt very strange.  For the first time ever she’d be able to drop her act, the character she always played.  No longer will she have to proclaim a faith she wanted no part in.  She’d be able to be herself honestly.
If only she knew who she was. 
At home she had to be the perfect daughter of the High Priest as her family and the town expected her to be.  At high school she had to shun outsiders because other children of Innsmouth would be watching. 
Not that she had to shun them.  They were perfectly able to shun her without any help.  No one wanted to be seen talking to someone from Innsmouth.  The kids from Innsmouth were never part of the school.  The way they dressed, acted and even their appearance were so different.  They really did look…different.  

The bus rolled and bumped along until the gray marshes turned into green woods.  Small towns and gas stations passed by.  The bus would occasionally stop and a new passenger would get on.  Gretchen didn’t have the “Innsmouth look” like the others from home, but she must have looked strange enough because each new passenger stayed clear of her.  They must have suspected where she was from. 
No one talked to her the whole bus ride.  It was fine.  She was used to it and even if they did want to talk, she wouldn’t know what to say to them.  She had never had a real conversation with an outsider. 
After a two hour bus ride they came to the final station.  She hauled her heavy luggage from the bus and looked for a ticket booth.  There were people hurrying all around her and none of them gave her a second glance.  An electric information board showed times and destinations of different busses.  She tried to make sense of it but couldn’t.
 She wandered around for a few minutes until she found the ticket booth, tucked inside the station next to a little shop that sold sodas, candy bars and magazines.
“Um…I need a ticket to Arkham,” she said. 
The old woman with the curly hair behind the glass looked something up on her computer.   
“Ten dollars and it leaves in fifteen minutes.  Bus 43B,” the woman said without looking at her. 
Gretchen sifted through her wad of cash until she found a twenty, the smallest bill she had and gave it to the woman.  After getting her changed and ticket she walked over to where bus 43B was.  She climbed in and handed her ticket over to the driver who was eating a sandwich.
“Yeah, take a seat.  We’ll be leaving in a few,” the man said. 
He didn’t look at her funny or with any hint of suspicion and for the first time Gretchen felt that she was closer to being herself. 
She wanted to say ‘thank you,’ but her own nervousness and lack of experience chocked the words in her throat and so she silently found her seat in the back.  No one in Innsmouth ever said ‘thank you.’  Some of them couldn’t even speak anymore.  She had heard it used for the first time in high school and had never had a chance to use it herself. 
The sky was growing darker and she knew it would rain soon.  She hadn’t packed an umbrella. 
She looked around the bus, a much bigger, fancier and comfortable bus than the small, noisy, drafty thing that came through Innsmouth.  The bus even had individual air conditioning, reading lights and small TV’s spaced around so anyone could see.  She had never thought to put TV’s on buses!
Fifteen minutes and six passengers later the bus rolled out of the station and headed toward Arkham, where Miskatonic University was. 

It wasn’t long before rain started pelting the windows of the bus.  The road grew shiny and the sky darker.  Rainy days always made her feel more comfortable, more at ease. 
Then a movie started on the TV’s.  She had seen a few educational movies in high school but had never watched one for fun.  It was a cartoon.  She had never seen a cartoon before.  She sat mesmerized as she watched a story about an alien with a giant blue head try to act like a villain and fail miserably, eventually turning into the good guy in the process.   
She had no idea that cartoons could tell such stories and she felt remarkably like the blue guy in the movie.  She knew she needed to see that movie again.
The end credits were going when the bus began to pull into the Arkham bus terminal.  This station was even larger than the last one. 
When she exited the bus she almost tripped on her dress.  Her black boots splashed in the water sending cold water up her legs.  The rain was coming down in giant drops that soaked her before she could get under the overhang of the station.  Her stringy, white hair clung to her face and neck. 
She found the ticket booth easier this time.  She was becoming a professional traveler now!
“How does one get to Miskatonic University?”  She asked. 
The man was reading a magazine with movie stars on the cover.  She only knew they were movie stars because it said it in big red letters. 
“If ya don’t got a ride, you can walk or take a cab,” the man said. 
“A cab?”  She had no idea what a cab was. 
“Yeah, there’s a few taxis out front.  Just wave em down and they’ll give ya a ride.”
“Oh, okay.”
She knew what a taxi was!  Her brief moment of panic was over.
Gretchen walked outside before realizing that she had missed another chance at saying ‘thank you.’ 
She saw three yellow taxis lined up out front of the station.  She hurried over and waver her hand.  The first taxi opened and the man waved her over.  He held the door open and tossed her suitcases into the trunk.  

Inside the taxi smelled…different.  It didn’t smell like the sea salt and decay of Innsmouth and it didn’t smell of dust and sanitizer like the high school.  Whatever the smell was, it was strong.
“Where to?”  The driver asked once he was back inside. 
“Miskatonic University.”
“You a student?”
“Yes, sir.”
The taxi took off and they drove through the rain as the unfamiliar town passed by her window.  Her eyes were fixated at the sights that zoomed past her.  She saw stores of all kinds, restaurants and theaters, all brightly lit and new looking.  It all had a life to them that Innsmouth never had even on the brightest day.  
People were smiling, running, and laughing.  No where did she see the stooped, crawling, distrustful figures of her home town. 
“Where to on campus?”  The driver asked.
“Um…where would new students go?”
“Ah, I know.”
The driver passed a large stone sign that said “Miskatonic University.”  She sat up straight and looked around to take in every detail.  This was to be her new home.  This was how she would escape Innsmouth. 
The taxi pulled up in front of a large, stone, Gothic building with a banner that said “Welcome new students!”  Glowing, warm lights came from the windows and despite the rain there were students running in and out. 
“This is it,” the man said.
“How much do I owe you, sir?”
“Thirteen fifty.” 
She gave him another twenty and he gave her the change.  Then he ran out and helped her get her luggage out. 
“Good luck!”  He called out as he rushed to get back in his car and out of the rain. 
She hurried up the wide, stone steps to the giant wooden double doors.  A man held the door open as she rushed in.  

“Thank you!” She managed to get out.  
He smiled and nodded and then ran off.   
She could do this. 
There were several tables covered in forms, pens and plastic bags full of who-knows-what.  Smiling, healthy looking people sat behind each table.  Other students her own age were gathered in clumps, talking and looking at the papers on the tables. 
Not knowing what else to do she walked to the first table. 
“Um…I’m new here,” Gretchen said. 
“You’ve come to the right place.  First year student.  That’s always exciting,” the smiling woman said.
The woman found her name on a list and gave her a packet of paperwork to fill out.  After that she handed Gretchen one of the plastic bags with MU written on it in big red letters. 
“Inside you’ll find a map, your schedule, rules, student hand book, dorm key and other odds and ends,” the blond, smiling woman said.
“Where is my dormitory?” 
The woman showed her on her map and then pointed in the general direction. 
She found herself walking across an open field with old, brick and stone buildings lining either side.  It was pouring rain and she had given up on staying dry.  Once soaking wet there was no need to rush. 
Her long, gray dress clung to her legs and the ground squished beneath her boots.  She noticed that none of the other girls wore dresses, just like high school.  All she had were the handmade clothes from Innsmouth: shapeless, baggy clothing made to hide deformities and “signs of the Deep Ones.” 
Father had paid extra to get her a room to herself. 
“No daughter of mine will share rooms with an outsider,” Father said. 
“Outsider” meant any unbelievers which were considered sheep, ready for the slaughter.Though she didn't agree with the reasons, she liked having a room to herself. 

She trudged through the soggy, green field and followed the map she kept in the plastic bag to keep it dry. 
Eventually she found the dorm building and went up to the fourth floor.  Doors were open everywhere and girls were moving in, talking to their neighbors and making introductions.  Some wore so little clothing it was scandalous.  Some had their families there helping them move in. 
It was all light, life and noise. 
Her small room on the fourth floor was a clean, well lit, but Spartan little room, much smaller than her old room back at the Marsh’s mansion, but it was her room.  This was her new home. 
She even had her own bathroom, something the other students did not have. 
She left her baggage by the door and walked over to the one window.  It looked out over the green field that was the center of campus.  She knew it would look different in the sun, but even in the dark, rainy light, it was a more hopeful place than her town ever could be.  Already she knew she would like it here.  She would use the education and opportunities here to get as far away from Innsmouth as she could. 
Never again would she have to pray to that monstrous demon, Dagon.  Never again would she have to watch as some stranger was sacrificed to ensure another good year of fishing.  She would never have to pray to Mother Hydra or Cthulhu again. 
Yes, this was the start of her new life.