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My deepest appreciation & gratitude goes out to Anita S. Moore. She has brought to her eldritch canvas the portrait which appears in this story. Thus presenting - Anita's "Innsmouth Harvest" portrait! Truly magnificent! If any of you have entertained having some of your work illustrated, I suggest you contact Anita for details!
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The Gates of Yith
"Innsmouth Harvest" illustration, © 1998 by Anita S. Moore
………Innsmouth Harvest. That phrase had haunted Jerry Daniels even before he and his lovely wife, Carolyn, had moved to Innsmouth. Moving to Innsmouth, that had been four months before. And the phrase? Innsmouth Harvest? The phrase had intrigued him enough to use it as a tentative title for a new horror story. Just why was anybody’s guess. Jerry certainly didn’t know. Just kind of popped into his head one day as if someone or something had planted it there. And, in the long run, it had brought him to Innsmouth (for inspiration, he had told Carolyn), that dilapidated shamble of a little Massachusetts coastal town that everyone seemed to avoid. Until now.
………Now it seemed as if Innsmouth was NOT being avoided. Well, by younger people anyway, Jerry had noticed. The place was crowded, mostly by young women, and a few young men here and there. Kinda like a 60s Haight-Ashbury revival. Go figure! I don’t get it. Jerry thought back on what Carolyn had jokingly said the first day they arrived in Innsmouth - all these young women, a living paradise for you, Jer. Jerry grinned at the thought, but deep inside he felt something dark about that living paradise, something unnatural.
………The thought of all the young women in Innsmouth was pushed aside by the raging waters of the Manuxet River cascading over the lower falls before him. Jerry leaned over the Federal Street bridge railing where he had been standing for the past thirty minutes, his eyes scanning the falls, then glanced beyond to where the river water merged with the ocean. The water looked diseased. Like most of this goddam town! Slowly his line of sight rose to the dark form of Devil Reef over a mile out to sea. The sky in the east was beginning to deepen, dusk only a couple hours away.
………Jerry sighed. He had thought a walk to the Federal Street Bridge would clear his mind. A little relaxin fresh air and some river spray to clear a bad case of the ole writer’s block. I hope the Hell it works! He laughed at the thought, turned away from the river, and leaned his back against the bridge railing. He glanced back at New Town Square, at Gilman House. He grinned as his mind scanned his writing table in the second floor apartment he and Carolyn had acquired when they first arrived in Innsmouth. The writing table and surrounding floor were littered with crumpled up sheets of paper. A half typed page stuck in the old Smith-Corona. Hmph. Innsmouth Harvest. Shit.
………"Well, I guess I’d better get it cleaned up before Carolyn gets back from the fish market," Jerry voiced his thoughts softly.
………Jerry turned to the source of the voice, glancing at New Town Square, and Brian Abrams waving and hurrying across the square toward him. Jerry had known Brian and his wife, Vicki, since he and Carolyn had moved into the Gilman House. Brian and Vicki, roughly the same age as Jerry and Carolyn, lived across the hall, had already been there two months when Jerry and Carolyn moved in. Jerry knew Brian was an artist, had seen some of his work. As for Vicki, she seemed quiet and withdrawn, keeping mostly to herself except for evening meetings of the Innsmouth Women’s Club that she attended with Carolyn. Give’s us something to do, Carolyn had once said. And Vicki, like Carolyn, was very much pregnant, although Carolyn to a much lesser degree.
………In the time that Jerry had known Brian, the artist seemed to be getting increasingly disturbed over something. Yet, he kept it too himself. Only his outward appearance, mannerisms, and increasingly bizarre artwork displayed any indication at all. His appearance had grown more disheveled and haggard. He displayed mannerisms which bespoke an increasing nervousness - his hands shaking, wide eyes darting about as if to see something lurking in the shadows that no one else could see. And his artwork suffered, now never finishing one portrait before moving on to another, the bright forest and mountain vistas he painted having given way to horrible creatures overlaid on dark backgrounds.
………"Brian, are you okay?" Jerry said as Brian stopped next to him, laying a shaking hand on the bridge railing. "Man, you look horrible."
………Brian paused, glancing nervously about. His eyes came to rest on a small group of men that stood on the edge of New Town Square. They stood in the shadows of a large tree, one of the few trees still in New Town Square, their eyes turned toward the Federal Street Bridge. Slowly he turned his head away, his eyes downcast. "Jerry, they’re gonna get me, they’re…"
………"Calm down, man," Jerry interrupted. "What are you talkin about?"
………Jerry rested a hand on Brian’s shoulder, glancing past him at the small gathering of men under the tree. Brian’s nerves had deteriorated to the point of gasping for air. As Jerry waited for Brian to gather his thoughts to form words, Jerry reflected on things Brian had mentioned before. They were crazy things, at least it seemed so at first.
………There had been Brian’s mention of the old folks of Innsmouth, or more precisely, the lack of old folks. There were those strange people who lurked behind the curtains of shadow shrouded crumbling homes on the side streets, strange people who never ventured from those crumbling structures. And there were those who did venture forth, but only at night - strange malformed people who wore long coats and shuffled about in the shadows, never venturing into the light except for occasionally shuffling quickly through lighted intersections of the decaying town.
………These were things Brian had mentioned and Jerry had known, but had taken for granted. He had never given them a passing thought until Brian mentioned them, persistent to the point of fanaticism. Brian’s incessant rambling about the oddity of Innsmouth and the people made Jerry take notice, at times unconsciously seeing and recording in his mind only to be called up later when he least expected it. Yeah, fuckin weird place all right. And these people here sure seem to get awfully goddam uglier as they get older. Inbred. Has to be.
………But Jerry knew that those were the regular town folk, those that grew uglier as they grew older, those who had always lived here. Those who had been born and raised here. The majority of the young women and the few young men he had noticed, at least those that appeared normal, were those who had come from outside of Innsmouth. What the Hell brings them here anyway? Still, it puzzled Jerry why there were so many young people in Innsmouth, both native and outsiders, and little trace of older people.
………"Jerry, they’re gonna get me," Brian finally repeated, still gasping for breath. "I know they are. I know about them, Jerry. I know what’s going on here."
………"Know what?" Jerry said softly. "What are you talking about?"
………"You gotta listen to me, you gotta believe what I’m gonna tell you," Brian said, grabbing Jerry by the shoulders. Brian paused, glanced at Jerry, his eyes pleading. "There’s fish people here…"
………"Fish people? What the Hell are you talking about?" Jerry interrupted.
………"Jerry, please! Just listen," Brian stammered. "The women here…you ever wonder why there are so many young women here and hardly any men? It’s because their population has been dwindling since the Feds bombed this place back in February of 28."
………"Wait a minute, Brian," Jerry said. "You’ve lost me. What does the women have to do with the bombing of this place over a half century ago?"
………"The fish things, Jerry," Brian said, his speech hurried. "This town was becoming a ghost town. They had to lure people from outside…"
………"Brian, now…" Jerry began.
………"Listen, Jerry!" Brian interrupted. "Ever wonder how you got an apartment at the Gilman House for only $5 a month? Doesn’t that sound a little strange to you?"
………"Yeah," Jerry nodded. "It’s a steal, I’ll admit that."
………"It’s a steal all right," Brian said.
………"What about these fish things?" Jerry said, convinced that Brian had lost it this time, and needed treatment soon.
………"You don’t wanna know, Jerry," Brian said. "They live here in Innsmouth, in some of these houses. Most of them are out at Devil Reef. They swim out there, some come in at night."
………Jerry turned, glanced along the Manuxet River, his eyes scanning the decayed harbor, destroyed warehouses, and finally coming to rest on the dark line of Devil Reef a mile and a half offshore. His mind pulled images to the surface, images he had seen over the past few months. Occasionally, at night, he had glanced through the curtains of his apartment in the Gilman House, lucky to have an apartment that faced east and the harbor. He had seen shadows dancing in the moonlight out on the reef. Occasionally there were torches out there. He had always believed that they were night fishermen. Now, despite how crazy Brian’s words sounded, Jerry wasn’t so sure.
………"I don’t get it, Brian," Jerry said, trying to sort through Brian’s words. "I’ve never seen any fish things. And what’s that have to do with women?"
………"Oh, you’ll see them all right!" Brian replied, his voice animated, shrill. "Yeah, you’ll see them. Ever wonder why there are so few men here? They’re killed, Jerry. They’re killed."
………A movement near New Town Square caught Jerry’s attention. He glanced past Brian. The small gathering of men started across the square, heading toward the Federal Street Bridge. Brian noticed Jerry’s line of sight. He turned, glanced at the approaching men, then turned his eyes back to Jerry.
………"I gotta go," Brian said, his eyes wide with fear, then whispered as he turned and began to back away toward the north end of the bridge opposite New Town Square, "Check out Dagon Hall. At night. But don’t let them see you."
………Jerry watched as Brian turned and walked away, heading north along Federal Street. Brian had shoved his hands in his pants pockets and walked casually as if trying to belay anything being wrong. The small group of men passed Jerry, the eyes of three of them boring a hole deep into Jerry’s heart and soul. There was something menacing about their stare, the look in their eyes and on their faces. Shit! Like a bunch a goddam idiots in the hills that don’t want ya findin their damn moonshine still.
………Jerry felt cold and averted their gaze. He turned back to the hand railing of the bridge, his eyes coming to rest on Devil Reef far out on the horizon. The reef was beginning to blend in with the deepening dusk of the evening. It would be dark soon. Dark. Dagon Hall. Maybe. He shrugged the thought off as a more pressing thought entered his mind. Better get back and clean up my mess. Carolyn will be back soon.
………Jerry turned away from the bridge railing and headed back toward New Town Square and the Gilman House. An uneasiness came over him. He felt as though eyes were watching him from the lengthening shadows of the decaying town, peeking at him from behind curtained windows. And he shivered in the heat of the summer evening as he crossed New Town Square.
………Loony. He’s gotta be fuckin loony. Jerry stared at the typewriter, noticed he’d been typing, but found himself dwelling on what Brian had said earlier. Fish people. Yeah, right. Fish people. Jerry shook his head and stared at the page in the typewriter’s carriage. He had been typing, yes, but try as he might, there was just the title - Innsmouth Harvest. And the byline. None of the crumpled pages he had cleaned up had gotten any further than a second or third paragraph. Goddam writer’s block!
………He ripped the page from the carriage, crumpled it, tossed it on the floor, then threw himself up and out of the chair. He stuck his hands in his pockets, wandered around the room, his mind dwelling on events that had happened since he and Carolyn had come to Innsmouth. He knew Brian was right about one thing - five dollars a month rent for a conglomeration of rooms was dirt cheap. How the Hell do they keep this place in business? Shit!
………Five dollars, the proprietor had said when Jerry asked him at the front desk four months before. Jerry’s jaw nearly dropped to the floor. It was an automatic deal - a done deal, and Jerry didn’t have to think twice. With a shit eating grin on his face, Jerry handed the proprietor five dollars and didn’t look back. Now he was looking back and thinking twice.
………And there was this Innsmouth Women’s Club. What the Hell is that?! No matter how much Jerry pried, begged, pleaded - Carolyn only smiled, occasionally saying "it’s a women’s thing". Yeah, a women’s thing all right. A little too secretive if you ask me! Jerry suddenly chuckled to himself, realizing he had never looked on the Innsmouth Women’s Club in such a light before. Sure, a women’s club is a women’s club. Nothing new. But now Jerry noted his mind reflecting something dark and sinister about it. He shook his head, trying to dispel the darkened thought, thinking Brian’s words had planted the mood.
………Still, the one thing that puzzled him the most, the one thing that began to happen recently which had no rational explanation, the one thing that caused a deep rooted and unexplained fear to take hold of Jerry, was the occasional mornings he had awakened to find his bed coverings damp and a deep musty scent permeating the room. A dampness and a musty scent reminiscent of the sea were natural enough, but in the bedroom was NOT a natural occurrence.
………The naturalness of the event in such an unnatural setting bothered Jerry to the point of a fervid attempt to suppress the occurrences, to push them to the recesses of forgetfulness. He simply didn’t want to know. He was afraid to find out, a reasoning he could not explain. Fish smell, his mind voiced as thoughts of the dampness and musty scent flooded back. Goddam fish smell.
………Jerry found himself standing at the window looking out over the decaying rooftops toward the ocean. The dark of night was coming fast, Devil Reef already lost in the encroaching shade. He strained his eyes, thought he saw flickering lights out there at Devil Reef, the light of torches. Night fishing. Gettin their catch. Still, something deep in his mind caused doubt.
………"Jer, got some good deals at the fish market," Carolyn’s voice interrupted his thoughts. He turned to see her standing in the doorway with two brown grocery bags. "You wanna help me put these away?" she added. "I gotta hurry; the women’s club is meeting tonight."
………"The Innsmouth Women’s Club?" Jerry questioned, uncertainty in his voice. "Again?"
………"Why, yes," Carolyn said, cocking her head to the side, noting the uncertainty in Jerry’s voice. "Is something wrong?"
………"Ah, no, not at all," Jerry said softly as he turned away from the window.
………Carolyn turned toward the kitchen, Jerry following. "The meeting is at Barbara Eliot’s place over on Lafayette Street," Carolyn said as they entered the kitchen. "I shouldn’t be too late. We are installing new officers tonight."
………"Sounds boring," Jerry joked, trying to dispel the unexplained uncertainty he felt.
………"Jer," Carolyn laughed. "No less boring than sitting in front of that damn typewriter of yours! Get anything done?"
………Carolyn dropped the grocery bags on the kitchen table as Jerry opened the freezer. "Naw, still got a bad case of writer’s block," Jerry said softly as Carolyn handed him packages of fresh fish wrapped in white paper.
………"Well, I’m sure it’ll pick up," Carolyn replied. "Give it time."
………"Yeah," Jerry said, placing the last package of fish in the freezer and closing the freezer door. He turned to see Carolyn smiling at him. He glanced at her, still uncertain, then approached her.
………Carolyn continued to smile at him as he gently rested his fingertips on her stomach. She was beginning to show, her pregnancy now visible. Carolyn wrapped her arms around his neck, pulled him closer, and softly kissed him to dispel the uncertainty that she still noted.
………"Well, I’ve gotta get ready and go," she said, breaking the kiss. She tweaked his nose, winked at him, and still smiling, she turned away and left the kitchen.
………"All right, have a good time," Jerry said softly after she had disappeared through the kitchen door. He knew she hadn’t heard him.
………Jerry slipped across the Federal Street Bridge and ducked into the shadows of an overhanging roof on the corner of Federal and River Streets. He caught his breath in his throat, his eyes wide, not wanting to be seen. The intersection was alive with young women appearing from the shadows. They crossed the intersection under the feeble light, walking silently in small groups, heading east past Fall, Fish, Main, and Water Streets toward the water front.
………Shit! What the Hell are they doing? Damn, the worst part of town, and at night! Never noticed this before. Hell, never been out this late before!
………In the Old Town Square at Fall Street figures lurked in the shadows, some shuffling into the feeble glow of the street lights to join the small groups of women as they approached. Jerry took note of the strange figures as best he could in the soft light and darkened shadows - watched as the shuffling figures turned and moved off toward the water front with the women. They were a strange caricature, dressed in long coats, some wearing hats pulled low over their brow. Those with no hats had seemingly malformed heads, or at least it appeared so from what Jerry could see from the shadows at the corner of Federal and River Streets.
………Jerry shook his head and moved off into the shadows, pressing hard against crumbling store fronts to remain concealed as he moved slowly and cautiously westward along River Street. As his ears listened to the cascading waters of the nearby Manuxet River, his mind trained on the small groups of women. He wondered what they were doing, where they were going. Why just women? No men. Wonder if Brian knows anything about that? He shook the thought off as he paused in the dark. Up ahead Broad Street ran north from River Street. Just east of Broad an alley skirted the backyards of the decaying homes.
………The alley would be better. Easier to stay hidden. Dammit! Shoulda stayed in the apartment.
………Silence had descended on River Street, the only sound Jerry could hear was the nearby Manuxet River. He glanced up and down the street, his eyes trained for movement. Nothing moved. The women and strange figures moving east had disappeared around the bend at Old Town Square. The shadows were long, cutting across the street, dancing in the soft feeble yellow glow of occasional street lights, the few that still worked.
………Directly across the street was the opening to the alley. Jerry glanced up and down River Street one more time, glanced at the alley across the street, then catching his breath, he hurried as quietly as he could across River Street and ducked into the alley. He paused in the shadows of the alley, waiting for sound, anything or any movement that may have betrayed him crossing River Street. Again, there was nothing. No sound, no movement. He sighed, glanced up at the night sky, the stars, the telephone pole he found himself leaning against. Hmph. Somebody’s phone sure as Hell don’t work, he thought, his eyes taking note of the severed wires dangling from the pole.
………With a soft sigh, Jerry pushed off the telephone pole and skirted the alley, heading north toward New Church Green and the Hall that housed the Esoteric Order of Dagon. He moved as softly as he could, gravel and occasional debris treading under foot, a soft crackling that seemed much louder than it actually was. He kept his eyes and ears alert, his breath short, fearing for something he could not quite pinpoint. Fish people. Yeah. Maybe fish people. Brian said fish people. Goddam! I can’t believe this! He actually has me believing in these fish people!
………The alley came out just behind the crumbling buildings that lined the southwest side of the New Church Green circle. Directly ahead glowed another feeble street light, the light barely bathing the intersection of Martin Street and the New Church Green circle on the circle’s west side. And on the northwest corner of the intersection rested the gloomy colonnaded Hall of the Esoteric Order of Dagon.
………Jerry ducked into the shadows, shielding himself from the soft feeble glow of the street light. His heart pounding in his ears with unnatural fright, he slowly glanced around the corner of a building, his eyes scanning into New Church Green from Martin Street. He could see a soft light across the green, a light he knew to be emanating from a ground floor room of the Congregational Church on the northeast side of New Church Green opposite the Hall of Dagon. No one was about.
………Slowly, cautiously, Jerry crept around the corner of the building, pressing himself against the rotting wood and keeping to the shadows. He inched his way along Martin Street toward New Church Green. What the Hell am I doing? Shit! I can’t believe this. Brian tells me some goddam stupid story about fish people and I go off half cocked… Jerry’s movement and thoughts abruptly stopped. There was a noise to his right across the street, coming from the front of the Hall of Dagon.
………Crouching, Jerry hurried along the wall of the building and into the darker shadows of the building’s overhanging roof fronting the circle of New Church Green. Directly across the street from him on the north side of Martin Street, the Hall of Dagon also fronted the circle. Jerry crouched in the dark, watching as a group of young women filed out of the front entrance of the Hall. They gathered in front of the Hall under the soft feeble street light, softly whispering amongst themselves. And curiosity momentarily overcame Jerry’s fear.
………What the Hell? What are they…? Why the Hell are they dressed like that? Somethin fuckin weird is going on here.
………The women gathering in front of the Hall of Dagon were all dressed alike, wearing ankle length gowns - a soft sea blue from what Jerry could tell in the feeble light. Around their necks they wore a chained necklace with a talisman suspended from it. What the talisman was, Jerry couldn’t tell or see from the shadows across the street. And Jerry noted that their feet were bare.
………A tall figure moved among the women, a tall figure wearing some sort of head gear, something like a tiara, and sporting the same sea blue gown and talisman. Jerry’s eyes went wide as the figure stepped away from the women and turned to face them. The figure was apparently a man, apparently so, but Jerry couldn’t be sure. In the soft feeble light the man looked diseased, his skin a sickening bluish color, his face somewhat deformed. Almost like a fuckin fish! Dammit. Maybe Brian isn’t so damn loony after all. From what Jerry could see there were dark lines on the side of his neck. The man raised a hand to get the attention of the women. Jerry gasped, then ducked further into the shadows, thinking he may have been overheard. The fingers of the raised hand were webbed.
………Jerry hadn’t been overheard. The women fell silent, turning to face the malformed man. The man spoke, his voice hissing, unearthly - words that Jerry couldn’t make out, much less understand if he could. After a few short words the man turned and began to cross New Church Green, heading toward the Congregational Church. The women followed. And Jerry began to rise to his feet.
………"What the Hell…?" a surprised Jerry caught himself, forcing his voice soft. Again he hadn’t been heard, and the sudden thought of a horrid fate should he have been heard crept into his mind. The thought immediately faded as his mind was again flooded by what had caught his attention. In silence he watched the group of women, his eyes narrowing the focus, training on the woman walking among them as they crossed into the shadows on their way to the Congregational Church. "Carolyn?" he voiced the thought softly.
………Not good to go after her now, Jerry thought as he slipped along the building on Martin Street, then back into the alley behind the buildings on the southwest corner of New Church Green. Some buried instinct for self-preservation convinced him that things wouldn’t go over too well should he try to confront Carolyn on the Green. Yeah, not too good. Leave that for later. And so Jerry skirted the shadows back to Gilman House, his mind awash with unseen horrors both real and imaginary. Shadows danced where there were no shadows, and shadows danced where there were shadows. His eyes were wide, cautious, his feet sure and quiet. And everywhere was the strong and horrible scent of fish, something he had never noticed before except at dockside.
………Back at his Gilman House apartment Jerry sat in the dark, waiting for Carolyn to come home. His mind and thoughts were jumbled images of horrors created by his imagination and questions he desperately wanted answers for. The Hall of Dagon sure as Hell isn’t the Eliot’s house! Innsmouth Women’s Club my ass! Brian knows more about this. He knows what’s going on here. Tomorrow I’m gonna… His thoughts trailed away as he unconsciously rose from the chair he had been sitting in and walked to the window overlooking southeast Innsmouth, the dockside, the harbor, Devil Reef, and the ocean beyond.
………Jerry parted the curtains just enough to see out. He glanced down at New Town Square below. In the soft feeble glow of a street light he saw figures shuffling about, strange figures, some wearing what appeared to be trench coats and wide brimmed hats, figures like he had seen on River Street. Others were hatless, their heads misshapen much like the malformed man Jerry had seen at New Church Green.
………He shifted his gaze to the darkened southeastern part of the town and the dock beyond. Something was going on there, the flicking flame of torches moving along the docks, some in the harbor, presumably in boats making their way toward Devil Reef. Out on Devil Reef itself were more torches. Night fishing…still? He shook his head. Naw, don’t think so. Something’s goin on here.
………Jerry turned away from the window, crossed the room to a chair in a corner and sat. His eyes were adjusted to the dark. He glanced around. Shadows; furniture appeared ghostlike. Silence. He waited for Carolyn. And waited. And finally drifted off to a troubled sleep.