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The Blood From the Sea

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I cannot help but think it was my fault. Had I not brought Pabodie to Miskatonic, had I not selfishly persuaded him to give up his seafaring and sample the academic life, I should never have brought him into confluence with that God-damned fellow Westercott, and none of the rest would have followed.

Pabodie is quieting now. I must go check on him. His cries are of the same- throbbing drums, tattooed men, things that sound unlike any men I have ever known, and clusters of consonants that I will not here transcribe. Eerily, they are all spoken in accents out of generations past, much different from the brash University speech I grew to know at Harvard.

We were fraternity brothers then. It was the only bond between us- I, a bookish shopkeeper's son from Boston, and he, the popular scion of two distinguished New England seafaring families. Strongly aware of what was owed to his lineage, but also of a naturally adventurous temperament, Elijah Pabodie could scarcely wait to get to sea. It was his mother's father, a Mr. Halley out of Providence, who had insisted on, and paid for, his schooling. The Pabodies viewed this as a dangerous indulgence.

"Pabodies belong at sea," Eli told me once, and a corresponding belief seemed to flourish, that the land was no place for a Pabodie. Though they never died afloat, the Pabodie dead were always buried at sea, a tradition which had given the name an unholy savor in New England lore.

In short, the Pabodies begrudged the land their time, their attention, and finally their bodies, and the day Eli graduated his uncle Pabodie was waiting for him at his rooms. He departed for the South Seas; I left for Miskatonic University, there to continue my studies in chemistry, not without regret at losing the companionship of my unlikely friend. We exchanged letters faithfully, if irregularly, and from these far-flung missives I gathered that Eli had combined his schooling with his adventurous blood to become a scientific explorer. I encouraged him to write up his findings- new species, untouched archaeological sites- and sent them on with pleasure to those who would find them most interesting.

When, in the spring of '86 I received a letter from Eli, stating in an offhand way that he had picked up some tropical malady and was coming ashore to convalesce. I instantly replied with condolences and suggested he stave off his Pabodie restlessness by coming to Miskatonic to speak with the Natural Philosophy Society of our campus. He was something of a mascot to us, I explained, since his papers were read so widely and with such pleasure by both the faculty and the student body. I promised that we would do our best to keep him out of the intellectual doldrums- a strong persuasion for one with such a searching curiosity.

He accepted gladly, and it was with pleasure that I anticipated hosting my good friend for perhaps weeks, showing him Miskatonic and introducing him to the faculty- all of which, I hoped, would add up to a sufficient inducement to remain some time and perhaps take a visiting lecturer's position. I confess to a certain personal motive. Although I had been offered a faculty position the previous year, my own work was stalled, wearying, and left me feeling low. Selfishly I wished to have my old friend with me once more.

Eli came; his talk was a smashing success; the glamour of his accomplishments and his own personal charisma took the student body by storm. Nor were the faculty immune; indeed, at the convivium following his first lecture- for he had, as I predicted, been asked to give a series- I was rather displeased to see that fellow Westercott, of the Literature department, holding him in close conversation in a badly-lit corner of the room.

As a man of science, a sceptic, and a modern thinker, I was opposed to virtually all the flimflammery that Westercott seemed to stand for, both his quotidian folktales and the drunken whispers that poured out of him at faculty symposia. His area of research, if I must call it such, was New England folklore, and I realized with annoyance that I had delivered a living specimen directly to his doorstep. Indeed, as I approached him and Eli I heard the kind of feverish spiel I so despised disgorging from Westercott's lips- pure rotgut-induced hysteria about Eli's forebears seven generations past.

"-a most striking similarity. I must show you it- perhaps-" he was saying as I drew near, glass of university port in hand.

"How do you do, Westercott," I said briskly. "Eli, if you will just come with me-"

"Oh, come now, John," Eli said, eyes alight with the glow of triumph, not to mention port. "You mustn't pull me away yet. It seems Dr. Westercott here has seen some references to my family in this outlandishly titled book, the-" He looked inquiringly at Westercott, who, in the presence of an interloper, seemed to lose some of his loquacity.

"Your friend and I do not always agree on the relevance of my research," Westercott said lightly, "But perhaps you will favor me with your presence in this next week at my graduate seminar, where I believe we will touch on topics that will interest you."

"I have no doubt," Eli said heartily, and reached out to clap Westercott on the back. I flinched in irritation, and, with the clumsiness that occasionally besets me, dropped my glass. It shattered on the floor. Eli was suddenly a good three feet away, with a face drained of colour.

It was not a little shocking to see this unmistakably hale man turned the colour of tapioca pudding by a shattered glass. Eli, recovering his game good humor, attempted to put us at ease.

"I beg your pardon," he said, "A family predisposition. None of us Pabodies can stand the thought of spilling our blood." Now that he mentioned it, I remembered something of the sort from college- an oddity soon forgotten among our brothers and evidenced only by a refusal to play football and unusual care around penknives.

"Then I'm surprised it took you so long to leave that floating mass of splinters," I said unwisely, for Eli has always defended his family's ships with the fervor of a knight-errant. Luckily the jab slipped past unnoticed.

"Oh, nothing can touch us at sea," Eli said. "Or so my family was promised."

"Fascinating," said Westercott. "I believe I have read of a similar conviction among the skilled navigators of Tahiti-" and they were off again. When the conversation devolved into discussion of inherited phobias and the potential recovery of ancestral memory, I excused myself and spent the rest of the evening in a funk. I had not invited Eli to Miskatonic to fall prey to rank pseudo-science. I did not doubt that Westercott would attempt to monopolize Eli in days to come, nor, to my regret, was I wrong.

Scarcely a day would go by where Eli, returning to my lodging, would not share some dubious fact, some scrap of unhygienic knowledge that he had gleaned from his time with Westercott and his gaggle of poorly groomed graduate students, locked deep in the Rare Books room of the Miskatonic Library.

Eli's curiosity ran fast and deep, and it was that and his rare generosity of spirit, I believe, that kept him from seeing the cheapness of Westercott's work. What match could ratty books and tatterdemalion scrolls pose to the pure, revealed truths of physical science? But my arguments found no purchase, and when Eli declared his intention to supplement his lectureship with a course of study as an extraordinary graduate student of Westercott's, I could scarcely control my irritation. The only thing that stayed my tongue was the suspicion that Eli was not recovering as fast as he ought from his brush with illness. He was weary, sleeping poorly, and, more than once, slipped into a trance while reading in my parlor, a trance from which he could not easily be awakened. It was during one such effort to rouse him that I first heard the bizarre voice.

I had come in from the laboratory and was coming to see if he would join me at the refectory for dinner. I entered the parlor and saw him sitting in a straight-backed chair, head slumped onto his chest in a posture of extreme exhaustion. I laid a hand on his shoulder, and shaking him gently at first, then more briskly, elicited no response. Then, his eyelids began to lift staggeringly, as if another consciousness were surfacing without his own volition. A croaking noise seemed to issue from not only his mouth but through the soft tissues of his nose and throat, a terrible, vibrating sound... almost could I distinguish words within it.

"Ygnaiih...ygnaiih...thflthkh'ngha...."

While he spoke his face contorted with what looked like pain. Steeling myself, I slapped him once, briskly, on the face. He snarled in unfamiliar accents, "You fool! Don't spill the blood," and collapsed again into the chair.

A draught of cold water to the face brought about a second, less eventful wakening, upon which Eli swore up and down that he had no recollection of the dream that had gripped him so tenaciously into the land of the waking. I chalked it up to the neurasthenia sometimes experienced by recovering encephalitics, but as the episodes grew more frequent and severe, causing Eli to cancel the remainder of his lectures, I grew more and more suspicious of their cause- coming, as they did, after late nights in the library with none other than Westercott.

Eli would not hear a word against him, much to my frustration, so it was without his knowledge and against my better judgment that I found myself seeking Westercott out in his office late one evening. Coming up the hall in the English building, I found none other than the one other person who seemed to share my displeasure at Eli and Westercott's constant proximity. That was the curious and malcontent Jonathan Bowman, who was somewhat older than the normal run of students and, I was persuaded, had stood highest in Westercott's esteem prior to Eli's advent. He had somewhere developed the unhappy habit of skulking around Westercott's university office like a mangy lost dog. I nodded curtly to him.

"Can't you find your precious Pabodie, then?" Bowman said snidely, in his light, high voice.

I regarded him with open distaste.He went on. "Westercott's got himself worked into quite a fever about Pabodie.”

He glared at me, as if to gauge my reaction. "Didn't you know?" he went on. "It's that tainted blood of his."

I said I knew nothing of it, as indeed I didn't. Then, laughing unpleasantly at my discomfiture, Bowman scuttled off.

I entered Westercott's office and lit the lamps, having determined to wait for him to return so that I could speak to him about, among other things, the mental tone of his graduate students. I stood there some minutes, and the more I saw of it, the less I liked it. Black and crumbling tomes hulked on the shelves, cracked folios of unknown leathers lay open on the desk A fetor seemed to sweat from the walls, of incense, refuse, and organic residue, all underlaid with- could it be?- the metallic tang of blood. I shook my head to clear it of cobwebs. Unhealthy, that was all there was to it. I moved to the window to let in some fresh air.

As I did, my eye fell across the portfolio laid open on the table. It was a register, I could see at a glance, of Pabodies, Eli's branch- more than that- a record of their lives and deaths. Particularly, I saw with growing interest, of two things: their miraculous escapes at sea, and their peculiarly horrible deaths on land. Mauling, earthquake, murder, hideous plague on land- if I were a male Pabodie, I would stay afloat as well, where a benevolent god seemed to guide them past Scylla and Charybdis with marvelous regularity.

I had little time to puzzle over the implications of this before I heard footsteps in the hall. I realized I stood in a most improper position, halfway behind the desk of a colleague, but there was not a moment to change it before Westercott came through the door with a light step, chuckling to himself. As he entered, his eyes, usually half-lidded and sardonic, flew open in swiftly veiled surprise.

"Greetings, Smith," he said affably. "Having a look around? Come to see what we get up to, here in the English department?"

This display of collegiality was palpably insincere, but I passed it over in favor of broaching the subject that was uppermost in my mind. I told him that Eli was in uncertain health, and that his involvement in Westercott's research- in which, I had just learned, he clearly played a central role- was deleterious to his welfare.

Westercott seemed hugely amused by this, and sat down at his desk with every appearance of ease.

"Nonsense, Smith- you talk like an old woman. Pabodie is as able as can be, and is about to provide a breakthrough in a very tricky area of research, you may be interested to know."

"Unlikely," I said crisply. "No research you might do is worth a good man's health. "

"Really," Westercott snapped. "How fortunate that you know so much about an area you have repeatedly denigrated and refused to waste time learning about."

"My God, what on earth are you doing that is so blasted important to have Pabodie staying up nights and ruining his constitution? Today is the ninth time I have heard him nearly speaking in tongues, out of exhaustion, I imagine."

"That is not exhaustion, my dear colleague. It is science at work."

"I beg your pardon?"

And with that very slight encouragement Westercott began to unroll what seemed to me to be the greatest pack of lies ever cut out of whole cloth.

"You do not know, Smith- how could you know, with your paltry interests- but your friend Pabodie's family is one of the most fascinating seafaring lineages in this nation. Infallible navigators- incomparable survivors but only at sea and only in the direct male line. From my research and my conversations with Pabodie, I learned that this effect is believed to have begun with an ancestor some five generations back- a Captain William Pabodie. I would have thought this a mere genealogical quirk of the Pabodies but for my own research into some practices of far-flung island cultures whose very survival depends on navigation- and the propitiation of the ocean, in various forms. Nasty stuff, Smith, I don't mind telling you- by an unimaginably old form of blood magic they claim to be able to create lineages of seafarer-priests, instinctual navigators, protected by a powerful tabu that protects them from the horrors that rise out of the deep. Nothing but a stray coincidence, you may be forgiven for thinking- until I tell you that these priests, infused with a mysterious ichor in place of blood, dare not lose a drop. They believe its potency, bound up with unclean magic from before the dawn of time, will summon all manner of darkness to them."

"Primitive hysteria," I said.

"Is it, by God. The history of the Pabodie men who have spilled blood on dry land suggests otherwise," he said, gesturing to the folio open before him. "What's more, you closed-minded fool, is that we are about to have irrefutable evidence that William Pabodie underwent such a blood ritual, and that its effects continue today in his descendant. Should you like to witness it? I believe I will insist. It should be salutary for such a hardened sceptic as yourself. "

He pushed back his chair and came around the desk. With a gesture he indicated that he wished me to follow him; I struggled to keep up with him as he swept down the hallway. Westercott had worked himself into a lather and I began seriously to wonder if he and Eli were in fact suffering from the same fever- a book mold- a fungus in the air of the archives. I tried to get him to talk sense as we crossed the courtyard separating the English building from the archives.

“What kind of proof could there possibly be to find? The Pabodie you claim to have been some kind of warlock is 200 years dead!”

“The human mind is a wonderful thing, “ said Westercott. “Following certain Thibetan practices, somewhat related to modern hypnotism, has allowed Pabodie to access the deepest recesses of his mind- where, as others in the para-occult field have hypothesized, his ancestral memory is stored. We have been sifting through these inherited memories and tonight we hope to come to those of his famous ancestor. His is a wonderfully suggestible mind; I could not have hoped for better success.”

Visibly excited now, he led me down a flight of stairs to a corner of the archives I had not previously visited. A door nearly indistinguishable from the wall granted us ingress to small gallery, lined with books, but with a large central clearing. A five-pointed star was traced on the floor, and in the central medallion, on a small cot, lay an unconscious Elijah Pabodie, whom I had last left sleeping in my dwelling. Next to him, with his perpetual unpleasant sneer, was Jonathan Bowman, holding a ceramic bowl containing a dark liquid. I gasped.

“Ah, Bowman, you have fetched him. Excellent.” He turned to me. “Do not be alarmed, my dear colleague. Pabodie is here of his own volition. Indeed, the procedure is rather more pleasant for him than not, I believe.”

I saw Bowman tip Eli’s head back and pour the contents of the bowl down his throat. Westercott continued, “Indeed, he has become rather agitated when we have missed our appointments in recent days.”

“Christ in heaven,” I burst out. “Are you drugging him?” This was madness, indeed. In a flash, I comprehended it all. Eli, overstrained and steeped in tales of his ancestors, had been chivvied into some outlandish hypnotic ritual, which found him particularly vulnerable to Westercott’s rigmarole,this blasphemous idea that he could, in essence, raise the dead. It was irresponsible, not to mention criminal, of Westercott, and I would see to it that he was duly disciplined.

Heedless of Westercott’s obvious mania and the surly presence of Bowman- who, a troubling flash of metal revealed to me, was armed- I cared only for the motionless form of my friend at the center of the room. I strode forward to waken Eli and was stopped by a clawlike grasp on my arm-

“Listen!” Westercott said. The beginnings of a cracked whisper were indeed beginning to issue from Eli’s lips. “Do not disturb him, Smith. This is a delicate procedure and, as you have said, his mind is not as strong as it could be. Any disruption could quite ruin his mental equilibrium.”

I swore at him and lunged forward, but stopped as Eli’s eyes opened and a ghastly changed seemed to pass over his face. The familiar lineaments, so long beloved, became a mere physical underlay for a set of expressions, a face that seemed to emerge from the atavistic past. Westercott cried out in glee and crept closer to Pabodie.

“Captain Pabodie?” he said. “William Pabodie, of the All Saints?”

“Get away from me, “ Pabodie said, in a strange hoarse voice. “Get away, I say. “

“The island, Captain Pabodie. What happened on the island?”

“God, no,” Eli said. “NO! The devils never said it would be like that,”

“What devils are those, Pabodie?” Pabodie fell silent and thrashed futilely against, I saw, the bindings that held him to the cot. Westercott was undeterred.

“The devils, Pabodie- did they chant? Did they say,” and, leaning forward, Westercott furtively whispered into Eli’s ear a word which caused his body to enter a rigid convulsion. A scream issued from his lips and, following it, he took up a chant which seemed to call out its echos from Westercott and Bowman, learned, perhaps, in previous interrogations.

“Ia ia Cthulhu fhtagn! Enter into me, your priest! Relieve my body of its finitude, live forever in my body and blood! Now into generations until you come, the all-devouring, the killer of gods! These are the words of a priest of R’lyeh!” He gasped, and spoke again.“God damn you! They took my blood, they emptied me of my life, and made me part of their godforsaken menagerie. Ah god, the drums, the drums! Ia ia, my master! I have not spilled the blood!”

On the torrent of madness poured. His voice rose to a pitch that shattered my heart. Out of the thin air a susurration had picked up, of a thousand voices chanting the same dark words Westercott had whispered and Pabodie had screamed. I felt sluggish, intoxicated, and a bizarre pressure began to rise in my chest. The words sprang to the tip of my tongue, and I realized that Westercott and Bowman were already chanting them aloud. The room seemed to flicker before me and I felt an immensity open up in the air above Pabodie, a presence summoned out of time and space. Westercott shouted in approbation.

“No!” a shout rang out, and though it echoed the word in my heart, it was Bowman, his face creased with madness. “Not him! Let it be me!” He leapt forward and, producing a wicked looking blade, stabbed downward at the heaving chest of Pabodie where it sank deep into the meat of the shoulder. The first few drops of blood welled up, followed by a sluggishly pulsing tide.

“The blood! Bowman, you fool, you’ve killed us all!” Westercott screamed, and lunged for his former favorite, who had crumpled to the ground, laughing uncontrollably. The lights failed and a taint of ozone suffused the air. I staggered forward, freed Eli, and as Westercott and Bowman appeared to be attempting to kill each other, hauled him, half choking, from that room of terror. Behind us, a great cracking noise seemed to emerge from the bowels of the earth.

The deserted library shook on its foundations as I hauled Eli up the impossibly long flight of stairs and out into the deserted courtyard. He was bleeding freely from his shoulder and I was still half-mad from what I had dimly apprehended in that dark room; no place on earth seemed safe, no haven for us anywhere.

Nonetheless I dragged us to the nearest road, hailed a passing wagon, and, paying the driver handsomely for his speed and silence, bundled Eli inside as the fire bells began their wail in the distance. We both felt the strongest urgency that we must flee as far as we possibly could- but Eli seemed even more possessed by a singular notion.

“The sea,” he whispered agitatedly, blood streaming from his shoulder, refusing to have it treated. “The blood will protect us at sea.”

He would not cease these words or permit me to attend to his shoulder beyond pressing my wadded-up jacket to it. He quieted only when I gave the driver the address of the factotum of the Pabodie’s shipping company, a absolutely loyal man who lived near the docks.

When we arrived, I gave the man the impression- not hard to do- that Eli and I were in some trouble with the law- needed passage immediately- much better not to remain ashore. That worthy man took one look at us- I, still white around the eyes, and Eli, bleeding and raving- and took us on the instant to one of the Pabodie’s ships that lay in the harbor, and adjured us not to stir from our cabins until Eli’s grandfather could be reached.

That is where I write these words now. I can still hear the fire bells in the distance, and the ship’s boy tells me the alarm has been raised at Miskatonic- a great fire has overtaken the university and is spreading along the road to the docks. I hope those meddling, demon-obsessed fools are dead, if not worse than dead.

Eli has not spoken a word of sense from that moment to this. What he does say chills me to the bone. I do not know if I will ever hear the voice of the friend I loved so well from his mouth again. Every time he speaks I move to quiet him, lest again those awful summoning words come from his mouth-for who knows what will rise up out of the sea to hail this last scion of the Pabodies?

No- that is madness. It must be madness, and I and Eli and Westercott and Bowman victims of a vicious and communicable hysteria. I will endeavor only to forget the horrors of that closed room- the darkness gathering in the pentagram- the whispers, my god, the screams- these I will forget. I will tend my friend, for as long as he may need me, and these will be the last words I set to paper of the events that so nearly cost me my sanity and my life.

As for my friend, my dear Eli, please God he recovers. If he does not, or so he implores me in the moments that he comes nearest to reason, I am to commit his body to the deep- until the Resurrection- and (this he says in a voice cracked from screaming) pray that the sea does not give up her dead.