Gretchen stood in the Forbidden Section of the library back in her own time.
Perhaps Dr. Nelson was trying to deceive and confuse her. It was possible. Neither father nor mother ever mentioned another child.
She couldn’t help but wonder how Dr. Nelson knew so much about her family. She tried to get it to the back of her mind. There were larger problems that needed to be dealt with first.
Gretchen walked back to her room and got on line. She looked up everything she could about Innsmouth and the Marsh family. There wasn’t much at all. There was a mention of Innsmouth during the Revolutionary war, the raid in the 20’s that saw half the town carried off by the FBI. Some returned. Others were never heard from again: including her great grandfather. The Wiki article listed it as a prohibition raid on moonshine.
There was nothing of the detail that Dr. Nelson knew. He had gotten his information from a different source.
She watched a documentary about the Iraq War on Netflix for another hour before finally going to sleep.
As she slept she dreamed of the sunken city again. She was used to it.
But then something changed. The city faded away and she was standing in a throne room made of shinning obsidian. Red banners hung from the ceiling and fluttered from the faint breeze that came in through the enormous balcony behind her.
In front of her was a red carpet that led up to a raised platform where a throne made of human skulls sat. Thankfully it was empty because Gretchen was sure that she didn’t want to meet the one that sat in it.
She saw no doors in the room so she walked out onto the balcony.
A cold, dead plain spread out before her. The wind smelled faintly of ash and decaying meat. Distant mountains rose up like tortured daggers. There was no sun but a red glow hovered over the horizon. The yellow moon took up a good third of the sky.
“Is the view not beautiful?” Came a voice from behind her. The voice sounded friendly but with a tinge of crawling maggots.
She turned to see an impossibly tall figure in a blood read cloak. Its hood was up but in the shadows she saw the hint of yellow, lipless teeth.
Surrounding the figure was a dark haze she felt more than saw. It was pure fear. He emanated it like a flame gives off light.
Gretchen wanted to recoil and run away but there was no where to run too. Besides, her father had taught her about this. She hadn’t wanted it, but she was a daughter of the Marsh family and was prepared somewhat for this.
The figure was Nylarthotep, the Crawling Chaos, the Lord of Fears.
“Is this Unknown Kadath?” She asked. Her voice sounded more confident than she felt. She had been taught about Nylarthotep and she knew enough to fear him. She also knew this was the demon that had changed David’s life forever.
Nylarthotep had a thousand avatars, each one more dangerous than the other. This avatar may be willing to discuss with reason or it may flay her alive on a whim. She had never come face to face with a being this powerful. The King in Yellow was a second rate demon in comparison.
“I am not surprised that a Marsh would recognize my sanctuary without having ever visited. Though you do favor your mother.”
“Why was I brought here?” She asked with a wave of her hand which she noticed was shaking.
“You know Dr. Nelson and you know that he as been tampering with things that he shouldn’t be tampering with.”
“We have met.”
“You know he’s been casting spells that disturb your dreams.”
Gretchen nodded and he continued.
“He has hidden something in his dreams, or rather, the world where humans dream.”
“What is he hiding?”
“Something he stole from me. I would retrieve it myself but I am currently occupied. I would like you to retrieve it for me.”
Nylarthotep was not one to make deals with, but even more so, he was not one to refuse. Out of all the Elder gods, Nylarthotep was the one that took the most interest in human affairs. Perhaps he needed their help or perhaps he just wanted some amusement.
“Very well,” Gretchen said, not as if she had much of a choice.
“Good, very good. Nelson has stolen a prize of mine. He has kidnapped the entity known as Hecate. She was my prisoner and is no more. I wish her to be so again.”
“Dr. Nelson hid Hecate in a dream world?”
“This dream world. They will see me coming but they will not see you. Find them and report back to me with their location.”
The tall figure turned away with glacially slow movements, but then stopped and turned its head back to her.
“Oh, and I’ve taken the liberty of sending for your friends.”
Then he waved a black, skeletal hand and the throne room faded away into blackness.
She suddenly found herself in a quiet street of an unfamiliar city. It was a dirt street with tan buildings that had wooden shutters open for the heat of the noon sun.
It was hot and already she found herself sweating. She looked up with her hand as shield and saw the bloated orange sun above the city.
Gretchen then noticed her hand and had to stifle a scream. Her hand was webbed with pale, hooked claws. She wanted to cover her mouth to stop herself from crying out but she didn’t want those monsterous hands near her.
She held her webbed claws out in front of her as she fell to the ground. She was “returning to the sea,” a curse of the blood of Dagon. All her people of Innsmouth slowly turned into aquatic monstrosities. Now she was showing signs of the curse.
Gretchen wanted to be human. She wasn’t like the others. She was like David and Beth.
She wasn’t a monster.
Her horrible hands came up and felt her neck. There were the ridges of gills. She felt her teeth and found them to be too numerous, small and sharp.
“No,” she whimpered.
“Gretchen, is that you?” David’s voice asked.
She looked up through her tears and saw David walking up to her. He was wearing a military uniform and carrying a big gun. He looked coated in dust.
“Where are we?” He asked.
He was looking around at the strange, narrow street and then his eyes fell on her.
“Gretchan…what happened to you.”
“Don’t look at me!”
He stepped closer but she lashed out at him. He ignored her and crouched down beside her. His hands gripped her shoulders and she collapsed into him, sobbing.
“Gretchen. What happened?”
“We’re in the dream world, in the city of Ulthar I believe.”
She wanted to tell him about Nylarthotep, but she didn’t know how he’d react. He was already thrust into an unbelievable situation.
Gretchen started to remind herself that this was a dream and she wasn’t turning into a Deep One. But still, she couldn’t help but wonder if this dream was a reflection of a truth she feared.
Then someone walked into the lonely street. They looked up to see a dark shadow, a blurry dark figure with burning flames for hair. Two spots that were darker than the rest marked its eyes.
David gripped her tightly and moved in front of her. He brought his huge machine gun to bear.
“Whoa! Hold on guys. It’s just me!” Beth’s voice said from the dark, fiery figure.
“Beth?” David said.
“Look at yourself.”
“What the hell are you…”
She looked down at her hands.
“Oh. Well then,” Beth said.
Gretchen took a deep breath and stood up.
“We’re here because of Dr. Nelson,” Gretchen said.
“He brought us here?” David asked.
“No, he’s the reason we’re here.”
“So, who brought us here?” Beth asked, still looking at her hands.
“We’re here to find Dr. Nelson. He has awakened an ancient goddess named Hecate.”
“Find Dr. Nelson? In this place? Where do we even start?”
She wiped her eyes and looked around.
“I haven’t the foggiest idea,” Gretchen said.
“Great,” Beth said with a slight laugh.
David looked around the empty street at the houses that looked like something from Arabian Nights mixed with Ancient Rome.
Gretchen was in bad shape. She looked like a strangely attractive version of the Creature From the Black Lagoon. She was shaken by it. That much was obvious. He had never seen her cry like that before.
As odd as she appeared there was something vaguely familiar with her.
Beth looked truly bizarre though. He didn’t know if it meant anything, but he had to wonder why he was dressed the same way he had been in Iraq. He even had the same SAW, complete with identical scratches on the stock.
He had been wearing this when he life was forever changed. This was the moment he had learned of a much larger and frightening world.
What significance did Beth’s and Gretch’s forms hold?
Both of them were afraid and shaken by this. He had to admit that he was as well, but someone had to do something.
“Alright,” he said. “Let’s find this Professor Nelson and get out of here. Let’s go.”
He began walking off in a random direction. He was about to turn back around when he heard them coming after him. Well, he heard Gretch. Beth’s shadowy form didn’t make any noise at all.
They walked down a narrow ally that opened up into a street with people wearing brightly colored robes going about their business. One person was carrying what looked like a scaly goat and a woman was carrying a crying baby in a cloth backpack deal. The women had habit looking things but with brightly colored stripes. Others carried baskets, crates, vegetables or walking sticks.
Stalls selling meats, fish, and cloth lined the streets and everywhere was a dull roar of thousands talking at once. The merchants shouted out their wares and prices and people talked and argued. And there were cats everywhere. He had never seen so many cats wandering around. Maybe they were like sacred animals to these people.
The place smelled of cooking beef, seafood and cow manure. Very real for a dream.
He understood them though he knew they weren’t speaking English
“Gretch? Any ideas? Where would a crazy professor and a goddess go?” He asked.
“This is all new to me as well, David.”
“But you have an idea, right?”
She looked at him with her large, silver eyes.
“Maybe the temple of All Gods,” Beth said.
He raised his eyebrows at her.
“Maybe I know a few things,” Gretch murmured.
He stopped a long bearded man that was walking back. He was carrying a basket full of hissing snakes.
“Excuse me sir, do you know where the Temple of All Gods is?”
“A traveler, huh?” The man said with a friendly smile. Then he pointed a direction. “That way, at the top of the hill. Big building with the spires.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Their strange appearance didn’t attract any attention. Maybe they were used to “travelers.”
They walked through the crowded streets of Ulthar and passed shops, and houses where women were hanging out laundry and children ran after each other. Sometimes they’d pass a building with tall columns in front, mosaic covered domes and tall, twisting spires that ended in statues of dancing, naked people.
A white bird with a black tail landed on a barrel in front of them. It had a long, sharp beak and reminded him of a skinny pelican…with two heads. It watched them pass with large, yellow eyes.
Then they came to a wide avenue with several fountains running down its length. From there he saw a hill topped with a massive domed building. The spires looked impossibly tall and twisted around like cinnamon twirls.
“I guess that’s it,” Beth said.
It took a half hour to reach the top of the hill where two massive doors greeted them. They looked like they had been cast out of solid bronze. It had carvings of human and cat figures in some kind of story, but he couldn’t make out what the plot was.
He didn’t see a guard, a knocker or a doorbell, so he pounded on the door with the butt of his machinegun.
“Hey! Can we come in?” He shouted out.
There was no answer. They knocked for a long time but got nothing.
“I need a rest,” Gretch said.
He agreed and they sat down in the shade of the walls and looked out over the sprawling city. On the far end he could see the glistening of a green ocean. Domes and towers dotted the city and in the middle was a several stories tall, golden statue of a woman with a cat head.
“They sure like cats here,” he said.
“They’re the guardians of purity and light,” Gretchen said.
He didn’t ask how she knew.
Then they saw a robed figure marching up the hill. The person stood out because they were all in black and white. They stood and waited to greet this person.
As it got closer he saw that it was a woman and though her robes weren’t as brightly colored as the other peoples’ they were more richly decorated with intricate designs and images.
The woman’s face had blue tattoo swirls running all over her face in beautiful patterns that accentuated her features. She seemed confused at their presence.
“Hello, travelers,” the woman said.
“We came to ask some questions,” he said.
“I might not be able to answer them.”
“We have no where else to go,” he said.
“First time to our city?”
“It’s that easy to tell?”
She smiled. Her teeth were blindingly white.
“Come in. It is my job to help lost spirits.”
She pushed one of the designs on the door and the enormous doors creaked open.
They walked into a courtyard lined with emerald columns and green palm trees. A fountain sang in the middle and cushions with cats lounging around were everywhere.
“I’m Priestess Atalia. I’ll get you something to eat. Have a seat. You’re going to have a lot of questions.”
She left and the three of them stood there in the quiet courtyard.
“I guess we’re going to be here for a while,” Beth said.
“I believe so, though time isn’t the same here in the dreamworld as it is in our world,” Gretchen said.
She was still looking down at her hands.
At least he felt somewhat safe. Whatever happened he had a SAW with 600 rounds. He tightened his grip on the machinegun and sat down next to a dozen cats.
Good thing he was an animal lover.