Thursday, September 17, 2009


by J.R. Torina


The cellar door was located in the kitchen. The closer we got to it, the more oppressive the fish odor became. Mustus seemed not to notice it. If the front door to this rotting edifice was the passageway to a bizarre world, then this particular entrace--the cellar door--was surely it’s very gate to horrors hitherto unimagined. Could it be a doorway to Hell? Not sure if I wanted to delve any deeper into this, I hesitated.

“Come on, ye ain’t in no danger,” the old man called out from in front of me.

Somewhat curious, somewhat repulsed, I cursed myself for being so weak of will, and did as he asked.

He led me to the kitchen, which was in a filthy state of disarray. I noticed an even stronger presence of the smell of fish, as well as flies buzzing everywhere. The counter was covered in plates of old food, as if the dishes had been used once, then discarded there, some still with food on them. Maggots and flies wriggled in the rotting heaps of filth, and dried up fish bones lay strewn about.

I harkened back in my mind about my dear old grandmother Annie, and what a religious person she was. At this point I was given to abandon all her teachings, after all I had seen and heard today. I discounted with a derisive snort, almost a chuckle, that without Mustus’ “fish stories”, I would surely have thought this the entrance to the lair of Beelzebub, the Lord of the Flies.

This was surely a sign of things to come.

We descended into the cellar on weak, creaking wooden steps, half-rotted with age.

I noticed that the walls were of bare stone; the cellar was obviously carved out of the ground and never finished. Whether this had been done by the builder of the house or by a former occupant, I couldn’t tell. “Did you dig this cellar out, Mustus?” I asked, more for my own voice to console my fears of this hellish place than anything else.

“No, but I digged out a little bit of the other one,” he said.

“Other one?”

I could just make out where he was pointing to; a wooden door, in the raw earth, heavily chained and locked with a heavy, ancient padlock, like the kind one would expect to find on a pirate’s treasure chest.

The dim light offered by the single bulb, hanging by it’s wire from far up into the ceiling, offered no further visual assistance.

Where my eyes met darkness, my other senses reeled. The smell of fish, yes. Stronger than ever now, but of something else. Dead things? I also could hear the sea, or a river of some kind. I could hear it, smell it, almost feel the water rushing… beneath me? I could taste the salt in the air. I hoped that is all that it was- and not fish, decay, or any other loathsome, noxious vapor.

Mustus produced a key from a rusty iron hook embedded in the wall. Hanging on another rusting hook was a lantern, ancient as well, all cast in black iron, with hewn glass panes inside it. With matches from his pocket, he lit the candle inside. A soft glow illuminated the area. I could see that the wood in the door was also wormy and rotten from the effects of the salty sea air down here. Unlocking the padlock, he lifted the ancient panel, it’s rusting iron hinges creaking in protest at being moved.

I heard from beneath what could only be described as a bellow. A set of stone steps, I would guess carved from the granite of the earth, descended into the darkness. Mustus went down first, holding up the lantern, its light only partially dispelling the gloom. “Mustus, what is this? Where are we going?” I called out.

“Are ye afraid?” he called up from the darkness that swallowed him.

“Well…” my voice trailed off, my pride a little wounded. I was now Portland’s foremost “ghost hunter” and “spook chaser”, wasn’t I?

“I take that as a yea’, I do. And ye should be.” This revelation did not do anything to improve my state of mind, which I will confess now, was somewhat fearful of this dark, reeking hole in the earth.

“Well, is ye comin’, or ain’t ye?” the voice called up.

After hesitating, I descended onto the first step. As I went down, I could make out more steps where he held up the lamp for me to see. We were in a small cavern, much like an underground sewer tunnel. This, though, was no man-made affair. “This all looks natural” I mentioned. “I thought you said you did some digging down here?”

“And ye’s right. The whole dang thing is a natural underground cavern; a small one, but natural, ‘cept fer my bricks over there.” He jerked his head towards the spot directly behind where I stood, on the last of the stone steps. Behind me I could see the area he referred to: a small plot, roughly the size of a bedroom, but laid out completely in bricks and stones. Some chunks of granite were strewn about in that section as well. The brownish bricks were glowing with phosphorescence from lichens and foxfire. There was brown slime and green moss all over some of them. Clearly, this structure was erected some time ago; but then, the old man had lived here now for years, at least since the mid-thirties.

Mid-thirties… Innsmouth, secret cults, government agents… These thoughts ran through my head as the old man headed over to the area, and picked up an iron pail that was set in the mud. He walked over to the side of the estuary, and dipped the bucket into the water. Carrying the bucket of water back to the bricked area, he stopped short just before the bricks began in the ground, and tossed the contents of the bucket--foul, somewhat oily water--into the bricked-up area.

Again, I heard the hoarse croaking or groaning. A damp chill pervaded the air, accompanying the stench of fish and rotting things. I heard the bellowing yet again. It sounded more like… a croaking? Yes, a croaking; as if some large-size fish or frog was out of the water, its lungs making an obscene sound for the first time against the air of the surface. Except, I could not get past one thing about this croaking. It seemed not only to belong to something larger than an average fish or frog, but it seemed… somehow… intelligent? I cannot explain why, but I felt very strange, then. I knew that any sane, rational man would undoubtedly feel fear--dread, even, in this place. However, I felt the fear slipping away. Perhaps it was the old man’s aloof manner while he mucked about down here. After all, I thought--what is really down here? Some filthy estuary, a cavern--and some cultist dungeon that a crazy old man from a town back east full of inbreds had built, probably to worship some island deity he had heard of during one of his fishing runs.

Yes, nothing to fear. Somehow, I wanted to believe the stories old Mustus had been telling me, but of course, how could I?

You may wonder about the photographs I had previously seen; I can liken them to optical trickery, or so much ritual tomfoolery. The old man, and others like him, they probably got involved in a cult from some faraway land and brought it back with them to the states. Curious members of his sleepy little town got involved, things were carried a little too far, then the authorities were called in…

I’ve heard it all before. Kids involved in supposed “Satanic” rituals. More just a form of rebellion against their parents, who made them go to church and school.

Mustus probably had become bored of his life, and needed some excitement. He cooked up this story, called me--the gullible young man with connections to a major newspaper--and I fall for it hook line and sinker. Well, I had had enough of this.

“Old man,” I called out. “Going to summon the Devil, are you? Going to bring forth Leviathan himself, from this filthy little underground river? Built yourself a little Satanic sanctuary down here, have you?” I walked over towards him, in his ridiculous little brick hideaway. “Old Nick going to swim up from Hell, is he? And what do you get? Some nubile, naked…” My mouth stopped moving.

The babbling nonsense I had previously been spouting off at the old man ceased, as if some great hammer of realization had smashed down onto my brain.

For there, in the center of those mossy, brownish-colored bricks, was an altar of sorts, hewn from the very granite out of the ground itself. It emerged from a stagnant pond, a shallow pool of water, clearly having been filled by Mustus. On top of the altar was a star shape carved roughly into it’s surface.

Great, thick chains caked with filth and slime emerged from two sides of the altar. What was held in those chains I found impossible to believe--yet, somehow, not impossible…


the beast spoke. “Vor’li’ka,” it croaked

All thoughts of mockery towards the old man faded in an instant. For there, before me, writhing in those massive chains, was something that had the shape of a man… but that was where the similarities ended. It was, from what I could tell, about five feet tall, somewhat lithe, yet brutish. It was slender and well-muscled.

The beast was a grayish-green color, with scant dull yellow highlights under the neck, and on its belly. It was covered in scales, and had fins emerging from its back, the hinds of its legs and arms, and a crest on its head. Some slight greenish-yellow hair was matted down under it’s chin with the filthy water in which it resided. Having no neck to speak of really, its head jutted from a mass of muscle that formed its shoulders. The head itself was elongated, like that of a fish. Huge, tuberous lips gashed from side to side. The creature had no real ears to speak of; only small holes in the sides of its head served as auditory organs of any kind that I could recognize.

Its eyes were large, about the size of saucers; dull and lifeless in color--like a fish out of water. A flash of an eyelid zipped over each eye as I stared, followed by oozing fluid of some kind, weeping out over the lenses. It seemed to me that this creature, as hideous and alien as it appeared, was to be pitied somehow.

The loathsome beast stared back at me, with a pleading look on it’s face. It turned its view to the old man, hatefully--I wondered if I had read that emotion correctly--when it lashed out at him, trying to grab him. Apparently I was correct. It seemed to not only resent the old man, but wanted desperately to hurt him or even kill him. I wondered if this was just due to the forced incarceration that Mustus had apparently bestowed upon this creature, or if there was more to it.

As if anything further could surprise me on this dark day, the beast spoke. “Vor’li’ka,” it croaked, in a voice--if one could call it that--that was more of a fish out of water, or a frog, than that of a man. “Vor’li’ka…” it whispered again.

Vor’li’ka… My mind reeled after all that it had been subjected to in this house of horrors. Vor’li’ka? What was that? A name? A plea? Was this beast speaking? If so, was that a word from it’s own language, asking for help? How is it that this creature can speak?

Surely this is just some anomalous thing that the crazed old man had somehow caught in one of his fishing nets? Surely… I mean, how, how can such a thing exist? I mean, really exist? Yet, I was looking at it--and I couldn’t believe it, but there it was.

The creature made one last desperate swipe of its taloned, webbed hand, which was stopped forcefully by the heavy manacles and chains adorning it. It was a swipe of pitiful rage, or loathing at the old man that stood before it. Then the strange beast fell, face down, into the slimy pool, seemingly unconscious.

I noticed that fish bones and crab shells littered the area surrounding it. Mustus had been feeding this thing, keeping it alive, yet imprisoned, for some sinister reasons of his own, which I now meant to find out.

The creature’s breathing was labored, but rhythmic. I watched as seawater bubbled from its gills, its face planted in the muck. The laborious breathing resonated loudly, and it took me a moment, as I was almost entranced by the rhythm of this horrid thing in the pit, to notice that Mustus had been speaking to me.

“That, my friend, is a Deep One,” the old man chortled, with almost a hint of excitement in his voice.

I was so overcome with emotion that I couldn’t quite come up with anything to say. “I… I…”

“Ye can’t believe, can ye. Well, yer lookin’ at it. It’s real, boy. Ye seen it; It’s real.”

“Yes, obviously… But…”

“Now, I have to tell ye--don’t go writin’ nothin’, not jes yet.”

“Writing?” I was still a ghost of a man, incoherent.

“Yeah, don’t go and write nothin’ yet, about what I been tellin’ ye, and what ye seen here today. Ye has to wait…”

Click Here for Part 5 of THE HOUSE IN THE PORT
a novella to be serialized in 12 daily installments
©by J.R. Torina

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