Book: Black Wings III - New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror

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Necrotic Cove

 

Lois Gresh

 

Lois Gresh is a New York Times best-selling author (6 times), Publishers Weekly best-selling paperback author, and Publishers Weekly best-selling paperback children’s author of 27 books and 50 short stories. Her books have been published in approximately 20 languages. Recent books are dark short story collection Eldritch Evolutions (Chaosium, 2011) and the anthology Dark Fusions (PS Publishing, 2013), as well as The Hunger Games Companion (St Martin’s Press, 2011). Gresh has received Bram Stoker Award, Nebula Award, Theodore Sturgeon Award, and International Horror Guild Award nominations for her work.
The sun hangs low and drools lava across a sea the color of stillborn baby. A dead branch whisks my cheek as I step from the trail onto the beach, and blood trickles into my mouth. The air reminds me of cantaloupes left on the counter too long. Insect wings brush my neck, a sting, and my skin swells and itches. None of this bothers me. I’m here, at long last, I’m here.

I stand transfixed as the emptiness inside me fills with emotions I don’t understand.

Necrotic Cove, where we come to be cleansed and purified.

Tatania says, “Can we leave now? You’ve seen it, isn’t this enough?”

I mouth the word no, but I don’t think I say it. It’s as if I’ve always been locked outside of the universe, looking in but never fitting in until this very moment.

I gaze to my left and right, where cliffs reflect the sun. The sand spreads like a fan stained by cyanosis, and the water is comatose. This is a place of death, and yet I feel something flickering to life within me.

Tatania grasps my elbow. “Watch it, you’re going to fall,” she says, and yes, I find that I’m tottering, and I’m so weak that even an old woman’s claws bruise me. I squint at her. My best friend since childhood, she’ll do anything for me, won’t she? Even leave the comforts of her widow’s lair to follow me here. Anything to please pathetic Cassandra before my spine finally snaps and the cancer finally eats what’s left of my ulcerated insides. I clasp Tatania’s waist and steady myself. I say, “My dying wish, and you granted it.”

“You’re not dead yet, Cassandra. Stop saying that.” She drops to the sand beneath the brown entrails of a palm. Leans against the trunk, stretches her legs, flinches as the sand burns her thighs. “Sit beside me, dear,” she says.

I do as she asks. I always do what Tatania wants.

“Four hours we hiked, and through a path so narrow a squirrel couldn’t make it through.” Tatania removes her hat and fans her face. Sweat glues her dyed black hair to her scalp. I have no idea why she bothers to dye her hair, it’s so obviously fake at our age. She wipes her forehead with the back of a hand and scratches an insect bite. Her rings flash the sun into my eyes, and I shift my view back to the cliffs, their coppery sheen far more beautiful than her diamonds.

“I’m not surprised that nobody comes here.” Her laugh breaks into a cough. “The beach smells like a sewer, and the insects are horrible.”

I can’t explain the allure of this place to someone like Tatania. She’s never been empty and alone like me. She’s always belonged. Married three times, always to wealthy men, she never had to work, never did much of anything other than make it to her tennis lessons on time, pamper herself with fine food and wine, subject herself to botox, and let the doctors carve her up with plastic surgery. Light blue contacts on her navy eyes. Tatania looks like a parody of her younger self, but she doesn’t realize it. She’s more comfortable at thousand-dollar-a-plate parties and vodka lunches at Chez Grande. But she’s always up for a wild time, and I don’t know why, but I needed her to come with me.

“Listen,” I say, “I’ll cool down in the water, and then we can head back, okay?”

Her face tightens into the mock-grimace of the surgically preserved. This is her way of issuing a slight smile of agreement. As she stretches onto a towel, I peel off my T-shirt and shorts, pull my gray hair into a ponytail, and slip off my sandals. My feet are tired from the long walk, my calves ache, but the sand scorches so I hurry to the water, and as only the chronically ill know how to do, I ignore the pain shooting down my legs.

The water quickly sucks me in and coats me with muck. I see nothing through the bruise of the surface, but I feel the fish, their silken gills fluttering like butterfly wings on my legs. I flip to my back and float. Amniotic water cradles me, and the whisper of a breeze, like an angel’s touch, caresses my face. My heart surges as if to the other side of the air. And the pain leeches from my back and legs into the water.

My esophagus and stomach, my intestines: all such a mess, riddled with holes, I can hardly eat or even drink water without the pressure in my ribs and the squeezing of pain through my torso into my back. Constant falls have fragmented my back, the bones so thin they don’t register on medical equipment, the bones like shrapnel on my nerves.

The peace here is beyond anything I’ve known. This must be what it’s like when people find Jesus or whatever other gods they worship. Must be what it’s like when men orgasm, when women feel beautiful, when cats catch mice.

Wide-winged birds float past, and my ears buzz as their notes fall into harmony with my breathing. I pant, and the notes intensify in pitch and go up an octave. I almost smile, I’m so content, but I don’t know how to smile, not really. I hold my breath until my lungs hurt, and the birds stop singing.

I’m one with the water and all it contains, one with the air and everything in it.

The locals claim that boats never make it to this cove, that the sea rises and swallows them at the horizon. The locals fear this place and are happy enough to stay away. Me, an outsider, just an old woman with nothing to lose, well, what’s left to fear when you don’t care if you die?

Back on shore is Tatania, rolled to one side, belly protruding, eyes riveted to a paperback rather than the beautiful sea.

My breath spills into the heat of the noonday sun.

My heart pounds in rhythm to the wings of birds and to the gills of the fish.

I doggy-paddle toward the jagged rock towering over the right side of the cove. Peek again at Tatania, sleeping now, her body heaving up and down, and she must be snoring in her “feminine way,” as she likes to put it.

The cliffs call to me through the harmonies of the birds and the fish. The rhythms form words I don’t know,

F’ai throdog uaaah

and

ogthrod ai-f geb’l-ee’h

I’m not crazy, never been crazy. Even with all the medicine,

I’m not the type to let my mind drift into the stupors of drugs

or self-pity. I simply stopped caring long ago whether I was dead

or alive, which in my case is a form of death anyway. And

the stories of this place, the Necrotic Cove, I could not ignore. It

is said, by the people who fear this place, that it can devour

your soul and lay you to rest. And this is what I want. I

don’t want to die in a hospital, a nursing home. I want to die on a

beach or in waters that tranquilize and numb me, I want to

die beneath copper cliffs and a molten sun. Had I told this to Tatania, she would have found a way to prevent me from coming here.

I paddle toward shore, then drag myself to the beach and press my palms against the cliff. The rhythms pound,

F’ai throdog uaaah

ogthrod ai-f geb’l-ee’h

over and over again.

I lift my hands and look at the palms, the dust of a thousand sunsets on them. I rest my cheek against the rock, let it flush my senses. Did Tatania feel this ecstasy, this merging of dizziness and excitement, when she married for the first time, when she had sex with all those men between the marriages, when she got drunk and snorted coke and popped pills, when she partied all night, when the most handsome men wanted her, when she caught the eyes of the bad boys? I’ve always been alone, not even one man wanted me, so I don’t know how it feels to be loved with the type of passion that Tatania has always known. Always scorned, insulted, rejected, and only Tatania has stood by me as a friend. But this place and I, this, this is intense. This ecstasy, like my head’s in the clouds and all I can do is ride the tidal waves crashing down my body. This place and I, we merge as lovers, or maybe as conjoined twins.

Eventually, I pull back, and the removal of flesh from rock jolts me, and sadness floods the space of me that only moments before brimmed with ecstasy. My fingertip grazes the rock, so soft now like velvet, and joy brightens the edges of my darkness. My cheek back upon the rock, and ecstasy thrums through my body again—and I gasp, all the pain vanishing, for the first time in decades, there is no pain.

I pull back again, testing, and blackness envelopes me as if I’ve left my first love.

I must get Tatania, bring her to the cliff, press her against the rock, let her feel for herself why I had to come to Necrotic Cove. Then she’ll understand the allure. My oldest and only friend, Tatania, who sheltered me when kids made fun of me in kindergarten and beat me up in third grade, who didn’t waver in my teens when boys taunted me as uglier than any dude, who filched money from her husbands for me when I lost job after job as the illnesses took root and spread. Dearest Tatania, you must feel my ecstasy now, for if not for you, I would have died long ago.

And so I race to her. My arms and legs flash before me, skinny tubes of flesh bruised blue from the sea and streaked copper from the cliffs.

I crouch, ignore the burning sand, and I shake her. “Wake up, Tatania! You must wake up!”

“Have you lost your mind?” Her eyes slowly open and focus on me, then abruptly, she shoves me off. “Are you insane? Let me rest before we have to hike four hours back to that damn village.” Mascara and eyeliner blotched by humidity and heat. Pancake makeup washed away by sweat, her face mottled by liver spots. The bristles of gray stubble on her chin, the lone hair curling from the middle of her neck.

I love Tatania.

Twins, she and I, joined almost since birth. Her husbands, and all the other men who came and went, mean nothing. They didn’t last. Only Tatania and I lasted, only Tatania and I remain together,

and isn’t that so,

isn’t it?

She drifts back to sleep, as I notice the bumps popping up all over my skin. They’re the size of goosebumps but not distributed in any pattern I recognize. Purple, each one, with a speck of glitter in the center. Perhaps bug bites or an irritation from the strange water?

The bumps are kind of pretty, I think, as if I’m laced in jewels.

Shadows ripple across the sand, and I look up to see black clouds scuttle like giant insects across the sun, streaming from one cliff to the other, then disappearing into the rock.

The breeze is no longer an angel’s touch. It’s rougher now, and the clouds coalesce, and the sky is a blood clot that rips open and weeps, the tears viscous and dark. Could it be that the angels cry for me, for Cassandra, who never believed in god and angels in the first place?

 

“Cassandra.” My name slithered from his mouth, the monster in a jeans jacket with the cigarette dangling from his teeth. “The Deformed,” and a laugh when he shoved me against the cement wall. I cowered as he jabbed me with tobacco-stained fingers, and I whispered “No no no” over and over again in the most pathetic way, but he didn’t listen to my pleas, they just made him bolder.

And suddenly, Tatania was there in prissy skirt and shirt with her latest boyfriend, Cole somebody-or-other, tall and muscular with angular cheekbones and the smug confidence of boys born with it all. I didn’t like Cole. He always got in the way of me and Tat.

“Stop it!” she demanded of the monster, this jerk who picked on me because I was so weak. I was easy prey. He stepped back, cocky grin, smoke rushing from his mouth, stinging my eyes, making my throat clench. Coughing, I slid along the concrete toward Tat and Cole, thinking that their names together sounded like a brand of Dollar Store thread. Fancy name to hide something febrile and weak that I didn’t think would last.

“Come here, Cassy dear,” and Tat hugged me close, and I settled my cheek against her perfectly ironed shirt, pink and smelling like flowers. Her breasts swelled, her heart beat softly against me, and I held back tears and wrapped my arms around her waist and clutched her tight. I never cried. I never laughed. I never showed emotion. Except when I begged the monster not to beat me up.

Cole grabbed the monster’s jacket and shook him, but all Cole got for his trouble was smoke in his face and a hard shove against cement. With all his football muscle, Cole was no match for the monster, street lean, mangy, the type who enjoyed a fight more than anything else.

Fast-forward three years, and I found myself at their wedding. Cole, her first husband fresh out of high school. His worship-

ping eyes, his adoration, “Oh Tatania, so kind, so sweet, the most wonderful girl in the world, how can I be so lucky?” he gushed.

“No, I’m the lucky one, dearest…”

Ooze. Ooze.

Ooze ooze ooze ooze

Would they never shut up?

I didn’t see her for awhile, he was so high on her due to her beauty and the constant kindness she’d shown to me all those years.

Me.

I was responsible for bringing Tat and Cole together.

When they divorced and she got half of his fortune, quite substantial, she came back to me.

As she always did.

 

Lightning flashes, blood clot sky, sun no longer molten. Thunder like 9/11 and the towers falling, a sand storm whisking grit into my eyes. Tatania jerks awake and shrieks, “What’s going on, Cass?” She uses my pet name from long ago. “What’s wrong with my skin? My god, what’s wrong with you?”

Tatania’s skin glitters with bumps just like mine, except they’re sparse on her and littered across me. I hold up an arm, and the wind whips it back against my shoulder socket. Ninety-degree angle to my shoulder—in the wrong direction—but my arm doesn’t break. The bumps have congealed into gelatinous mounds all over my arm. Mounds that are like muscles, glistening purple and twinkling dots. Mesmerizing twinkle. Mesmerizing

She slaps my face. I feel no sting. “Snap out of it, Cass!” she screams. “We have to get out of here, and I mean i>now!” She jumps to her feet, and against what’s now a stiff wind, forces her withered old body toward the jungle. Her hair stands on end, glued by purplish muck into spikes. Her skin strains against the bones of her face, the tightly stitched skin so smoothly applied by surgeons. Screaming, hands on her face, bloody hands now grabbing for the dead palms.

Lightning cracks the sky and illuminates the copper whorls blowing off the cliffs and dancing with the rain of angels’ tears.

“The trail’s not here anymore!” Tatania, hysterical.

Yes, I see. The trail’s gone, the tropical growth burgeons, and coconuts smash to the sand. One hits Tatania’s shoulder, and she falls, still screaming.

I drag myself to her. The wind feels good in my lungs. The coconuts are hollow. Dead. They don’t hurt me at all. But Tatania’s shoulder is broken.

I lift her onto my body, and I slither toward the cliffs. They call to me, those cliffs, in an unknown language like the words of flowers.

Y’ai ‘ng’ngah Yog-Sothoth

F’ai throdog uaaah

ogthrod ai-f geb’l-ee’h

Tatania’s body has bumps now, too, and they pulse as they cling in perfect symmetry to bumps on my upper mounds. This is how I hold her, bumps fitting bumps, conjoined twins, glued together now for eternity. Each iridescent globe reflects us both, one beautiful and the other Deformed.

We’re all One, purified and clean, no longer locked outside the very universe we inhabit. Hear the rhythms of the flowers, Old Ones. Hear the song, and feel the beauty.

Y’ai ‘ng’ngah Yog-Sothoth

F’ai throdog uaaah

ogthrod ai-f geb’l-ee’h

I must bring Tatania with us. I won’t leave her behind.

The rain coats me like oil, but it hits her like needles and pierces her skin. I feel the impact of those needles through her body. I feel the punctures. I feel her wince. I feel the strength drain from her.

I roll my mounds, huge purple slugs glistening with bumps and pricks of diamond, and I hold her fast, my bumps fitting hers as puzzle pieces fit together. I press her against the cliff, where the copper dust blows. She coughs, and I’m forced to detach her from the rock so she can get her breath. She gasps now, sees me, shrieks. And I see her, the face with shredded skin, the contacts long gone and the old lady’s eyes dim and dark, one gouged.

What have we done? Tatania, my only friend…

My flesh suckers to the rock, and something pulls me closer, I can’t detach, I don’t want to detach. For a moment, I struggle against the power of the rock, but in the end, I submit to it and spikes of pleasure wash through me.

Tidal waves of ecstasy, flame consuming my heart, I can’t let go of this, I can’t, and my soul transcends and surges into the rock, into the rain, into the clouds, everywhere at once, merging with the birds, the fish, the rock,

and

Tatania! no no no no no

Tatania! ooze ooze ooze ooze

and

isn’t it always like this,

and isn’t it?

Her skin, stretched so thin, bursts open, and she screams once, a flash of a scream, and she’s no longer attached to me. My body is one with the rock. Iridescent bubbles on the cliff above me reflect her body as she falls to the sand. Everywhere, walls glow and cradle me in purple and bumps and the musk of rotting lopes and peaches. Pressed inside, wrapped in warmth, I belong.

Tatania isn’t with us. She’s beyond the rock, still on the beach.

I’m inside now, where I belong,

inside the cliff, where my bumps swell and cling to the bumps surrounding me. All of us, we belong, one with Yog-Sothoth, who dwells in the higher planes and comes to us in glistening wonder. Behold us, for we are the Old Ones.

We heave, our hearts one giant heart, together. We breathe, our lungs one giant lung, together. We whisper like angels, we sing like birds, we’re softer than the gills of fish.

We are. It’s as simple as that. We are.

Clasped in each other’s arms, bracketed by life and death that no longer touch us.

We are. We give ourselves to the whole. We are.

Y’ai ‘ng’ngah Yog-Sothoth

Yog-Sothoth ‘ngah’ng ai’y zhro

 

I drift beyond the boundaries of time.

I float in the crevices of space.

I remember things I’d rather forget.

 

Tatania’s second husband, Arnold, the type of man I thought I might finally attract. He weighed about a hundred forty pounds, tall and skinny as a scratch, bald with thick gray hair on his back and shoulders, a caved-in face with squashed nose and rosebud mouth: not a pretty man by anyone’s standards. Except perhaps, mine.

But Tat wouldn’t have it. She wanted Arnold for herself. He was rich, and she wanted more than Cole had given to her.

I wasn’t jealous. I never got jealous. Tat deserved everything good. I was lucky to have her as a friend. She stole money from Arnold, filched it from his “accounts,” whatever that meant, neither of us really knew. But I was already riddled with disease and broken bones, and nobody wanted to hire me to do anything, and Tat was all I had.

Faithful friend.

Tatania.

I love you, Tatania.

Over meatloaf one night, Arnold threw down his fork, plate clatter skit across floor, and fury in his little knot of a face, he accused his wife of stealing from the company.

Lump of meatloaf choking my throat, grab for water, one thumb and two fingers on my hand, my arm a bone encased in scabs. Slash slash alone at night late at night I slash my arms yes I do and why I tell you why godammit I will tell you

if only you ask

but you never ask.

“I give all the money to Cass.” Tat’s voice was honey smooth, her eyes soft and loving as she looked from her husband to me and back again. She lowered her head. “I give it all to Cass,” she repeated. “What else can she do, if I don’t help her?” As if I wasn’t there with meat in my throat.

But I don’t mind, I never mind.

“Oh, poor Cass,” said Arnold, immediately relenting, “you are so dear to both of us, and Tatania, my sweet sweet wife—”

And so we replayed it.

“No, I’m the lucky one, dearest…”

Ooze. Ooze.

Ooze ooze ooze ooze

I didn’t see her for awhile, he was so high on her due to her beauty and the constant kindness she’d shown to me all those years.

Me.

I was responsible for bringing Tat and Arnold together.

When they divorced and she got half of his fortune, quite substantial, she came back to me.

Like she always did.

 

I need to belong.

Push

I love you, Tatania.

push

 

Finally, I heave my bulk back through the rock and pop to the other side, the exposed cliff where the storm rages and Tatania is unconscious on the sand.

I roll her onto me again, my beloved Tatania, and her bumps grip mine, and together we roll toward the crashing surf.

Wave high above, black lip, dog-rabid froth,

Tatania flickers in and out of consciousness, face almost gone, lips flapping in the wind, her mouth a giant hole, her teeth bigger than I remember.

Conjoined twins. I won’t leave her here to die.

Glued to my upper mound by the bumps, she doesn’t wobble or fall as we slide beneath the steel wave and bob on the turbulence.

Waves cresting, crashing, slide beneath the muck and the foam, float float here

where I belong

where we are

My strength flows from my bumps to hers, conjoined twins, and I nourish her. Gummy strings, umbilical cords, form between her bumps and mine. We bob like this for I don’t know how long, and then Tatania’s breathing steadies and her heart picks up.

Why have you always been so kind to me, Tatania? I think it, and she answers, “I felt sorry for you. I liked having a faithful puppy. You made me look good. I got three husbands, the money. I came with you to a beautiful island and walked to a beach. I didn’t realize it would be hell. You came on a lot of my vacations. Riviera, Rio, St. John.”

True, because we’ve always been friends. I just want her to accept me as I am. Don’t want her pity, don’t want to be her faithful puppy, just want her affection. If only, after all these decades, Tatania would truly be one with me, nobody else, just me.

There’s no hell, Tatania, no life, no death, no angels, nothing. Only that which is elusive and humble. Give yourself to me. Here, drink and let me nourish you.

“You’re sick! Disgusting and sick!” she cries, but she lets my energy flow through the umbilical cords and bumps, and then a wave surges and slams us against the cliff. My bumps bolt us to the rock, and Tatania hangs off my outer side, glued securely to me but howling for release. Her fists beat me.

“Cassandra,” she spits my name, “you’re not even The Deformed! You’re a total freak, a monster!”

The wind pounds me against the cliff, it’s a hurricane blasting into the cove, and I beg her,

be one with me, nobody else, just me

admit it, that it’s me and only me you love, Tatania.

She’s hysterical, calling me terrible names, even worse names than the bullies used all my life. She’d rather die than be anywhere near me. I’m grotesque. She’s always known it. I’m the monster. I’m the reason she lost her husbands, me, all my fault, they couldn’t stand being around me anymore, could they? Yes, all those years she took care of me, out of pity, yes, but why does it matter? She took care of me. I’m the monster. And she’d rather die

We’re held together by bumps. Only bumps. I realize there’s nothing else between us. Not really. She never saw the real me, and she never appreciated what I gave to her. She always cast me aside for those men, time and time again, she just used me to make herself look good,

and isn’t that so,

isn’t it?

She was my friend when it suited her. Her affection, it comes and goes. Riviera, Rio, St. John: only when she was old and lonely. She isn’t real. She’s false and phony. She’s human.

“I got you shelter, gave you food. I was your friend, Cassandra, and you were nothing but a fucking ingrate monster pathetic whore spawn of shit should be beaten into a pulp you fucking ugly THING—”

If I could cry, I would, but I can’t cry, so I do the only thing I know how to do. All my umbilical cords snap like Dollar Store threads.

Her body thumps down the cliff, tattered pieces snagged on rock, and then she shatters into a blast of wind. What’s left of her fizzes into the muck below.

My bumps shudder from the release. If I still had lips, I’d smile. Maybe I’d even laugh, because I get it now. For the first time, I actually get it.

I belong. She’s never had anyone but me. She’s alone. She’s the monster. She’s the fucking ingrate monster pathetic whore spawn of shit that should be beaten into a pulp, fucking ugly THING—

No longer skating through the higher dimensions of space and time and merely looking into the human world, the Old Ones are what matter. We’re clean and pure, we’re true beauty. We have no need for botox and diamonds and plastic surgeries and prissy skirts and other human nonsense. The Old Ones are the diamonds, and the humans are The Deformed.

We are. It’s as simple as that. We are.

Clasped in each other’s arms, bracketed by life and death that no longer touch us.

We are. We give ourselves to the whole. We are.

And as the winds settle and the sun torches the blackness from the sky, Tatania’s remains dissolve, and I slip back through the iridescence and into the cliff to join the others.

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Next: The Turn of the Tide