the Diary of Ambrose Smith
OCTOBER 13, 1951
Here I am in Portland, Oregon. I can’t say I really miss Salt Lake City. There wasn’t much happening there, though I did make a few friends that I’ll surely miss. But the offer to come to the beautiful and dark coast of Portland, working in my dream field, was just too enticing to pass up. So far, I’ve had quite a time getting all of my things unpacked into Uncle Varley’s house that he willed me. Shame about the poor old man. Max is very excited. He already can’t wait every day to run down the beach and jump into the ocean. He even caught a fish once. A true hunting dog, if ever there was one. A dirty dog, too--I had to bathe and shampoo him twice already, and I’ve only been here for two weeks. The Portland Gazette had caught wind of my extra-curricular activities and interests; in particular, my (somewhat unhealthy, according to Mom and Dad) interest in the macabre. Oregon seems to be a hotbed right now for secret cults and their activities, as well as UFOs, martians, Bigfoot--you name it. I have already received a note from somebody here who has heard of my affairs. The Gazette had recently reprinted a few of my columns, those that I have already had published before in pulp magazines such as Fantastic Science Fiction. This fellow--whose name is Mustus Marsh, of all things--claims to have a plethora of insider information on a secret devil-worshiping cult from somewhere along the coastal towns; apparently they meet, have rituals, and even sacrifices. I’m sure it’s just some crazy old fisherman’s tale of people he just doesn’t understand, but--what the hell. I bet the “cult” in question is probably some religious sect, like the Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses. But a good reporter can’t afford to turn down any leads now, can he?
“Innsmouth? I remember ol' Innsmouth, fer sure,” chortled old Mustus Marsh. “I remember them ol’ houses, all sagged and in disrepair, the Order’s new building… and them Innsmouth folk…” Here, his voice trailed away. His face seemed dreamlike and almost lost in time.
It was here that I first noticed the weird distorted features on Mustus’s face… His strangely… piscine? Yes, piscine features. His head seemed as if it was once as large as, if not previously larger than, a normal man’s; yet, it seemed as if it were pressed inwards from the sides. His ears also bore something of those strange qualities. They seemed flattened, almost pressed into the sides of his head.
But these were not the worst of it. His lips, or rather, his mouth; it was so very wide, almost as if it were a parody of a normal man’s mouth. It had to be at least five inches across; his lips were thick, ropey--unbelievably so. His teeth… Those terrible teeth… Small, like a child’s, but sharp… rather like a fish.
But, most terrible of all--those eyes. The eyes appeared glassy and very moist. In fact, almost dripping wet. The eyelids, what there were of them, shrunk back almost completely behind the orbs of his eyes. Upon this inspection, I noticed something peculiar about his skin, even around the shock of mane he called a beard, which was ragged and coarse looking. Were those… scales? Surely my imagination was playing tricks on me. Scales… on a man?
"Ain't no devil a Christian man kin make up that rivals the devils I’ve seen"
The hoarse sound of the old man’s voice brought me out of my serene investigations of his fish-like features, and back to the moment, sitting on his rotting porch, surrounded by refuse and filth.
“The Order o’ Dagon, they had themselves a buildin’ that was all new and such, while the rest of the town went to hell.”
To hell indeed, I thought--but not, most likely, in the same way Marsh was referring to.
“Well, the Order’s buildin’ their church, and the Refinery,” said the old man.
“Refinery?”, I asked him.
“Yep, they--the Marshes, I mean--had themselves a refinery they ran, refinin’ oils and salts from the sea.”
“But, surely, that was just the cover story, right? I mean, they just used that refinery as a front to make money for their real activities--didn’t they? The Marsh family, I mean? They were really actually devil worshippers--weren’t they?”
Here the old man shot me a look. “Ye think so, boy?” he asked. It was almost a challenge.
I simply froze, not knowing what I had unlocked here.
“Best ye come see. Ain’t no devil a Christian man kin make up that rivals the devils I’ve seen. I’ll show ye.”
Cursing myself for a being a fool for even coming here alone, I stood up to leave. Before I could muster up an appropriate lie to just get the hell out of there, the old man’s gnarled hand was on my elbow firmly.
He opened the front door.
The old door was warped and rotted. Its paint was flaking and peeling off all over; the knob, a rusted antique, was loose and rickety, barely hanging in the door itself. The first thing to assault me was the unbelievably oppressive stench of fish. As if reading my thoughts, the old man called out in front of me, “Don’t mind that stink, I jis’ been doin’ some night fishin’. Fishin’s always better at night. Ain't done cleaned anything yet.”
I found it curious to note that there was no fish to be seen anywhere, nor were there any freezers to keep said fish in. Thinking it best to keep this observation to myself, I said nothing.
After an awkward moment, I offered some paltry conversation, lest the old man suspect my observations or discomfort in this filthy den of decay. “What were you fishing for? Cod?”
“Heh, well, jis’ about anythin’ I kin catch, ye see," the old man laughed.
He rummaged through a few stacks of musty old tomes lying about on a pitted and scarred oaken table in the den. Some of them literally spewed dust as he opened them. He continued peering inside to glean their contents.
“Ah, here we are!” he exclaimed. Slapping the old leather-bound book onto the smaller but equally ancient and battered coffee table, he motioned me to sit down next to him, on what was one of the filthiest, dirtiest couches I had ever seen. A myriad of stains colored it here and there, and the dust of centuries enveloped the thing.
I looked up, and saw various plaques on the wall of animals he had pulled from the sea. Some of them, like the occasional trout or cod, were rather large, but somewhat normal; normal, mind you, compared to some of the other things he had. Whether or not they were real, I don’t know. There were plaques with deep sea anglers--both male and female. There were blow fish, porcupine fish, barracudas, and a few other varieties that I just didn’t recognize.
The shelves along the other wall contained a carny’s dream. Preserved fish, a shrunken human head, a human skull, various occult trinkets (they appeared to be of an occult nature, anyway; at any rate, they were esoteric, to be sure), and an arsenal of books, most of them dealing with magic, the occult, or ancient civilizations.
“The guy in the doorway--he’s got… fangs?”
Again, the old man’s voice me away from my attentions to the details of this bizarre rookery of occult books and objects. “Ye can see here the hall itself”, he said, pointing to the picture on the first page. The paper was yellowed, curled, torn; the picture contained therein was a black and white photo, in relatively decent shape, considering the weathered condition of the book it was kept in. The photograph was of a church, or cathedral, ancient in design. Even though it was night in the photo, I could clearly read the sign in front of the building, declaring it as “The Esoteric Order of Dagon”.
Before I could ask the old man who or what “Dagon” was, or what “the Order” was about, he asked another of his cryptic questions: “Notice anythin’ strange?”
I noticed two or three dark figures in front of the edifice in the photograph, as if making their way inside. From the distance the picture was taken from, one could not ascertain who exactly these figures may be. “Well, it’s very… old?” I asked him, not sure what he was getting at.
“No, no, well, yeah, it’s old, fer sure, but what else do ye notice?” he asked.
I looked again. “Give me a hint,” I asked.
“Lookit them, the folks--what do ye see?”
I looked yet again--more closely this time. I noticed that two figures, somewhat slumped, were heading up the steps of the cathedral. One from the right, similarly bent over, was also heading in that direction. “So, some of the people here, they seem to be… deformed?”
“Yea, yea, and--?” he asked excitedly.
I looked at the fourth figure in the photograph. It was a man, a person--a being… wearing a robe, but--what was that? He seemed to have… fangs protruding from his lips?
“The guy in the doorway--he’s got… fangs?”
“Well, what?” I asked.
“Remember what ye heard, why ye were investigatin’…”
“I am investigating rumors of purported devil worshippers and human sacrifice in the coastal towns out here,” I exclaimed. I wondered why he asked me something he already knew.
“No, ye’re not.”
“No. Ye’re gonna be investigatin’ fish men. Deep Ones.”
“Fish men, that come from the sea--they look like a man--two arms, two legs--but that’s all. They have scales, fins, webbed fingers and toes. They been breedin’ with people here--and back east, on the coast there too--for years.”
“Yes, yes, ye gotta believe me.”
“Piscine creatures--that walk upright, like a man--in the villages of men, off of their coasts; and worst of all, intermingling… and breeding with… men.”
“Yea, yea, you got it so far,” the old man carried on.
Click Here for Part 2 of THE HOUSE IN THE PORT
a novella to be serialized in 12 daily installments
©by J.R. Torina