This is a piece from our online issue, FALL OF MEN, inspired by the New York Review of Books.
CONTENT WARNING FOR FALL OF MEN : Despite the conclusions of the bad men falling in the end, some of these pieces may have sensitive or explicit content. (That said, it might be real cathartic to read a thing where the bad men get thrown into volcanoes or eaten by alligators. Either way, your mental health is really important to us. Take care of yourself!)
BY DAVE K
My name is Colleen Marsh. Here is what else you do not know.
You do not know how to make a complaint to the Arkham police. The weight of the pen in your hand, the smell of cheap ink rising from the pot, the way the officer's nose whistles as he breathes. The light by which you write and sign your statement is hot enough to pull sweat from your upper lip, the back of your neck.
I also doubt that you've heard a firm hand knock on a door that isn't there, and felt compelled to answer.
I described what happened to me until my throat lost all moisture and form, until I went numb from hearing my own voice describe my own body as if they were separate. Both times this was asked of me, at the police station and again at the university, my religious faith, personal habits, employment, and parentage were questioned. The last of those is why I was not believed. No one thinks a man like Professor Warren Rice would lust after a girl from Innsmouth.
I scrubbed and dusted Miskatonic University's Languages department for four years. I was never told he was anything more than a flirt until afterwards, when word got around that I'd gone to the police. Once that happened, I was told that I shouldn't have said anything because none of the others had. And after that, I wasn't spoken to at all.
I bathed between the incident and filing the complaint, for which I was chastised, and that night I dreamed that I was underwater. Not drowning, or floating. Heavy, like a sack of mud.
How could I ignore that knocking once I'd heard it? Challenging the reputation of a hero—as Professor Rice was called for his part in the situation at Dunwich—betrays the true heritage of all that protects him. Miskatonic is, at a glance, nothing more than human yearning expressed in stone, but I tell you it is a necropolis of secrets. I was to become one of them and bear that weight with dignity, and make room for other secrets as men like Professor Rice saw fit to make them.
Because I did not, I was shunned by the cleaning staff, the academic department secretaries, and the faculty. I worked and ate alone. Conversation muted to whispers, and often silence, in my presence. I learned to drop my gaze to my feet whenever I passed anyone in the halls, including Professor Rice, whom I saw daily.
Once, I found the word “whore” written in big black letters on my mop bucket. Someone else left a whole fish in that bucket, a reference to my birth. I dreamed of fish the night that happened, but not of becoming one, thank you very much. These fish swam up from under me, strangely aglow.
What would have been different, I wonder, had I been a student born of respectable Protestant stock instead of the shipyard poverty of Innsmouth? I cursed that place in the weeks following the incident, and also my parents, who don't know what happened, and also myself for being someone to whom it could happen. Clearly I was just what the university thought I was—loose, degenerate, unworthy of trust—and that's why it happened to me.
I began seeing things I hadn't noticed before. Miskatonic's hallowed halls felt tighter, the stairwells smaller, too shallow for my feet. The trees lining the pathstones of the open Miskatonic quadrangle stooped and leered at me. In the classrooms, my hands and feet no longer broke the dust I swept away. In the faculty offices, the light that came through the windows cast foul shadows on the floor. I never saw what made them.
I first heard the knock in Professor Rice's office, which I was still obligated to clean. At first, I thought it was someone at the door, but the door was open and the hall was empty. I heard it three days later in an empty stairwell, and two days after that in the lavatory. Soon, it was every day.
One night I dreamed of osseous mountains and plunging valleys underneath a roiling black ocean, and a blazing amber light that shook and laughed until I snapped upright, awake and lustrous with sweat. My work suffered as this dream returned to me every night, the light brighter each time, its laughter carbonating the water around me. The knocking came louder, too. The university staff reacted to my obvious dysfunction with pity and amusement, the former of which was more insulting to me, and still is. They had no right.
What made my dream body—the last untouched piece of me—finally look down into the light, I cannot say. But I did, and a grotesque, inhuman sound drove me from my bed and I awoke on my bedroom floor. A door framed in tentacular wisps of light stood in front of me. I could feel each knock in my breastbone.
So I opened it.
The light draped over her like a cloak as she stood in the doorway. Great antlers sprouted from her head. The void howled at her back. Her face was covered by a simple mask.
“Give me your body,” she said, “and I will give you revenge.” Her voice was a thousand voices sewn together.
“No,” I said back.
She and the doorway grew taller, bending wherever the moonlight hit them. “Give me your body,” she repeated.
“No,” I said.
She removed the mask, holding it in both hands like an open book. Her eyes shone sea blue above a gaping mouth, into which a procession of penitent wretches crawled to be gnashed bloody and broken in her teeth. It was a thing of terrible beauty.
“Give me your body,” she said, and I wanted to more than I could ever explain. I was drawn into the procession and driven to my hands and knees, swept forward by a tide of people—all men—into her crushing maw. Her breath was so sweet. But in that moment all I could think about was Professor Rice demanding the same of me and answering for me, and the weight of my rage held me fast against the current.
“I will give you a body,” I yelled, “but not mine.”
I shut my eyes and opened them to find myself standing next to my bed. The door was gone. She was gone. Outside, stars flickered in a moonlit sky. I sank back into bed and felt a lump against my hip. Upon closer inspection, a smooth, sea blue pebble had been placed on my mattress. I clutched it in my hand and fell asleep again, dreaming of a man devouring stones until his belly tore open like a paper bag and he dissolved into dead sand, leaving a bloody pile of stones behind.
The stone I found lay hidden in my skirts at work the next day, where I busied myself until the bell tolled four o'clock, the start of Professor Rice's office hours. When I knocked on his door with my mop, bucket, and duster, he frowned at the sight of me.
“Come back at six,” he said, looking past me. “I'll be gone then.” The newspaper articles about the incident in Dunwich described him as “stocky” and “iron-grey,” which is how he looked the night he took advantage of me, and all those other nights he turned all those other women into secrets.
I shoved past him with the mop and bucket, glanced at the metal insect sprayer mounted above his desk, then took the sea blue stone in my hand and forced it into his mouth. He gagged and bit down on my fingers, but he swallowed it. He pulled away, scarlet with rage, and raised a hand to strike me, and would have followed through had amber light not spilled out from his ears, nose, and eyes. When he opened his mouth to scream he brought forth no voice, just more light.
He split open evenly, as if fitted to a seam, and fell out of his clothes and skin without a sound. He kept clutching at his guts as they slopped out and the light drained away from him and blood pooled on his expensive Turkish rug. He managed to scream as the light formed a cloak around her and she removed her mask. The last I saw of Professor Warren Rice, he was crawling into her mouth to be destroyed.
So no, I technically do not know where he is, and yes, I did take a bath. There was a lot of blood.
Dave K's work has been published in Front Porch Journal, Battered Suitcase, Welter, Cobalt, Queen Mob’s Tea House, the Avenue, [PANK], X-R-A-Y, and on the LED billboard in Baltimore’s Station North Arts District. He is the author of The Bong-Ripping Brides of Count Drogado (Mason Jar Press), and is also a commune in the Indre department in central France.