Gretchen sat back on the bed and leaned against the wall as the movie played. Her friends were taking everything that had happened much better than expected, but she wished they hadn’t had to experience it in the first place.
She wondered if her being near them put them in danger as well or if her presence saved them from a destruction they were heading towards on their own.
David was watching the old moving and smiling. He was clearly enjoying it. He was not at all like the outsiders from high school. He was how she had always wanted people to be. He accepted her, didn’t mock her and even liked her different ways. He was certainly far more handsome than the men from Innsmouth.
If they could even be called men. The “Innsmouth look” wasn’t just a simple genetic trait from a small gene pool. Even her father was transforming and preparing to return to the sea.
She would never do that. She would remain human until the day she died.
There was something more than just David’s kindness and attractiveness and it wasn’t something she could understand exactly. Whatever it was, she liked being around him. His presence made her happy.
But would he be safer if he wasn’t around her?
Beth had fallen asleep with an empty bottle of Mountain Dew in her hand.
“Did you like shooting today?” David asked in a whisper.
“Yes, very much so.”
“I’m glad. If there are more…horrible creatures out there, maybe you should carry something and learn to use it.”
“I do want something.”
She knew her powers were weak compared to many of the threats that existed in this and other universes.
“Maybe this week I’ll take you to a gun store and help you pick something out.”
“I’d like that.”
When the movie ended they went their separate ways. He walked off to his apartment across the way and she began walking to her dorm.
Even at night the campus felt alive. In the distance she’d see a room with a light on and loud music playing from it. A car would pass by with shouting students.
Gretchen liked to walk over the green. At night dew would collect on the thick grass and sparkle from the nearby streetlamps.
Then she noticed a man was following her. He was walking a good distance behind her but he was walking fast. When she looked behind her she saw that he was looking right at her. He wore a football jacket and looked to be about twice her weight.
She sped up. There was something wrong about this situation. Whatever the man wanted, she wanted nothing to do with it. She didn’t want trouble.
Images of him strangling her entered her mind. She hoped it was her own imagination and not something else. Others in her family had had precognitive dreams and visions. She never had before but she didn’t want this to be her first.
She had never touched a man before and felt that this was exactly what this football player wanted. She had seen copulation during the ceremonies and it held no mystery for her, but it also didn’t hold any charm. Still, she knew what horrors could be caused by such activities.
“Hey, I’m lost! Can you tell me where Laynard Street is?” The man called out.
“No, sorry,” she called back.
“Come on, I just want to talk.”
His voice sounded closer and when she looked back she saw that he was now jogging to catch up.
“Leave me alone,” she said and began jogging as well.
“You running from me, bitch?”
Then she heard the pounding footsteps of running and without looking back she began to run as well.
She was a great swimmer and her legs were in shape, but somehow that had never translated to running and she was usually one of the slowest in gym class. She always felt sluggish on land.
Her blood was surging and her lungs were struggling to keep the oxygen going. How did this happen? Why would this man want to hurt her?
Thoughts of dying flashed through her mind as she ran. She couldn’t die here. She’d use every power she had. But she also didn’t want to hurt the man. She knew ‘normal’ people didn’t want to hurt others and she wanted to be like that.
Also, if she did something unnatural to him that could lead to questions and attention, neither was something she wanted.
For his own sake, she hoped she could outrun him.
Suddenly the footsteps sounded right behind her and she felt powerful hands grab her shoulder. Instantly she felt herself slam into the wet grass and the air knocked out of her.
“Stop running!” The man said.
He was now on top of her, straddling her stomach and holding her arms down.
Then she realized she had a problem. Her hands couldn’t touch him. He had no contact with her skin at all. She suddenly wished she didn’t have her jacket on. She paralyzing spell required her to touch him and she didn’t know how to cast it at a distance yet.
She was a lousy future High Priestess of Dagon. (Not that she’d ever become that if she had a choice.)
Her mind began frantically searching for a spell that could stop him without killing him.
“Why’d you run? Huh? Afraid of what a real man can do? I bet you aint never had it before. I’m going to show you a good time,” he said with breath that reeked of liquor.
He bent down and licked her check. Her stomach heaved as everything he implied rushed through her mind. There was something else as well, something vaguely familiar about all this, like she had been here before, only it was dark and wet. Something much worse than this drunken man.
What? Where did all that come from? She momentarily forgot the man on top of her as she tried in vain to recall what had just entered her mind.
He began kissing her neck and talking about things she didn’t understand but knew were bad.
Her legs tried to get into position to kick him off but he was too high up on her stomach, squeezing the breath out of her. Her two arms were no match for his one. He had her pinned and she wasn’t going anywhere. She just had to wait for an opening to touch him and use her paralyses spell.
It was a spell normally used to keep sacrificial victims in place: not one she had ever thought she’d need. So she wasn’t proficient with it enough to cast it at a distance or say it silently.
Then his hand came up her shirt and began feeling her stomach. Nausea almost overcame her as his intentions became clearer.
“Get off of me!” She yelled.
His hand came up and began chocking her. It was so sudden and so powerful that she could barely think. Her free arm useless hit him. Stars began to dance in her vision.
He would choke her to death or worse, leave her alive.
She couldn’t stop him without harming him and if she didn’t do something immediately she wouldn’t be able to do anything at all.
The only thing her weakening mind could think of was a spell her father had personally trained her to do: Leech Life, the Tchu’unku life draining curse.
Her free hand grabbed his head and in her mind she said the words that were older than the earth itself.
The man went rigid and his eyes went wide. A gasp escaped his mouth as she felt his life force poring into her. It was warm, almost burning but she held on. Some used it to prolong their life well beyond what was natural. She had never planned to use it.
As he let go of her neck she gasped for breath and her mind cleared. If she let him live, he’d know what she could do and she couldn’t allow that. Now that she had started it, she was committed. So, she hung on until the end.
As the last of the man’s life force drained into her, she let go and crawled out from under him.
She was panting and her heart was racing.
That vile fiend. What sort of man would try to do that to a woman? Scoundrel!
She kicked him in the head and then kicked him again.
As she ran back to her dorm she felt tears running down her cheeks. She was shaking by the time she got the keys into the lock.
It wasn’t just what the man had tried. It was something else. For the first time she felt memories that she didn’t know existed hidden away in the deep areas of her mind.
What’s wrong with me?
She didn’t sleep at all that night. In the morning she was sitting in her bed with her knees tucked under her chin. She had tried to dig up the memories and see what was hidden there, but the harder she dug the further the memories seemed.
There was a knock at the door. It startled her from her thoughts.
“Gretch? You in there?” Beth’s voice said through the door.
She wanted to call out but she didn’t think she’d be able to maintain her composure. She felt her checks. They were still wet. Something was very wrong with her. If Beth saw her like this she’d worry and ask all manner of questions that she didn’t know the answers to.
So she sat there until Beth eventually gave up and left. She felt bad for that but didn’t have a choice.
She got up after a while and took a shower. A good shower or bath always seemed to calm her down. She changed into some of her new clothes and looked at herself in the mirror.
She seldom spent such time on vanity, but right now she needed something happy.
Her “Black Sabbath” T-shirt looked good as did her knee length skirt. Her parents would be very upset if they saw her wearing such a short skirt. But her new boots came up to her knees anyway.
She was dressed like an outsid…a normal person but she didn’t look like a normal person. She was far paler than anyone else she’d seen and no one else had such white hair and silver eyes. No matter how she dressed it up, she’d always be a “freak.”
But for the first time in her life, she didn’t think that that was such a bad thing.
Mentally prepared and dressed up, she left her apartment and walked to Beth’s.
Beth answered the door with her hair looking like a mess.
“There you are, Gretch! Come in, I need your help.”
Beth dragged her into the bathroom where a thick, chemical smell almost made her gag.
“I’m trying to dye my hair pink and its not working like I planned.”
Gretchen was glad to do something normal for a change. It took most of the morning to get Beth’s hair how she wanted it. In the end they were both looking in the mirror.
“Not bad,” Beth said.
“I like it.”
“What about you? You want a new color?”
Gretchen ran her hand through her long hair and thought about it for a moment.
“No, I like my hair as it is.”
“Good for you. I do too.”
They put on their coats and began walking to the cafeteria for lunch. On Sunday, few people got up early enough for breakfast.
“You ever go to church?” Beth asked.
“Well, were your parents strict? Were they Bible thumpers?”
“Oh. We’re not Christian.”
“That’s right. You were some kind of... never mind.”
“I don’t know. My mouth is faster than my mind. I just remembered that they were some kind of fanatics, right?”
“They are fanatics, yes.”
“I hope you never have to meet them. They are not pleasant people.”
I thought my family had problems.”
“My whole town is of the same religion. Don’t ever go to Innsmouth. Promise me.”
“Okay, I promise.”
Good. That would do for now.
At the cafeteria Gretchen avoided the fish sandwich and made herself a ham sandwich instead. Just the smell of the fish made her think back to Innsmouth. She remembered the cave off by the reef where her father made her watch them sacrifice an outsider. Her first time had been when she was only seven years old. Every year would be another sacrifice.
The murmuring of the people in the cafeteria recalled in her mind the low chanting of the priests of Dagon
“You seem different today,” Beth said.
“Yeah, more pensive, like something’s bothering you.”
“Nothing’s bothering me.”
“Gretch, you’re the worst liar I’ve ever met.”
“It’s nothing I know how to explain at the moment. Don’t worry about me.”
Everything was bothering her.
Then one of Beth’s friends, the skinny one with glasses, came up to their table.
“Hey, did you hear the news?” The girl asked.
“What news?” Beth asked.
“They found Todd Nealson’s body out on the commons last night.”
Gretchen looked down at her plate and didn’t look up.
“What happened?” Beth asked.
“Don’t know. Heart attack they think. Possible drug overdose.”
“More drug overdoses? That’s going around lately.”
“I know, right?”
"Maybe we need McGruff to come to campus."
When the girl with glasses finally left she could feel Beth’s eyes boring into her downturned head.
“Gretch?” Beth said.
Gretchen looked up. Instead of accusing and judgmental eyes, she saw concern and kindness.
“He was following me,” Gretchen said. It came out as a whisper.
Beth leaned forward.
“He followed me and threw me to the ground. He was on top of me. I didn’t know what else to do.”
“You zapped him?”
“Zap? I don’t know, but I used the only spell I could think of. I didn’t want to kill him but he was going to…”
“He deserved it, Gretch. You did the right thing. It’s better to defend yourself than be a victim. My father taught me how to defend myself and I always keep a can of pepper spray in my purse.”
Beth moved over to sit beside her and put an arm around her shoulders.
“Its okay, Gretch. You’re safe.”
No, she wasn’t. She was far from safe. None of them were safe. If it wasn’t a drunk student or cultists now, it would be something horrible later on. They were all eventually doomed. Cthulhu will rise out of his watery grave. Yog Soggoth will take notice of Earth and mindlessly devour all souls on it or any number of powerful gods will wipeout mankind. Whatever happened, mankind was doomed.
They were a tiny speck on the timeline of the universe and nothing they did could change that.
“Come on. Let’s go get some snacks, watch Pride and Prejudice and chill for the entire day.”
Beth did most of the talking as they walked to her place.
Yet something still nagged at the back of her mind. Something wasn’t right. In fact, something was terribly wrong and she couldn’t figure out what it was. The air on campus felt different, colder, less energy.
Something was brewing and was at a loss for what it could possibly be.