Fiction: The Velmanomicon, Part One: Something Fishy!
Alter ego Seamus Cooper penned this five years ago. There were more parts planned, (and promised in the foreword!) but they never came to pass. Cooper tells me he needs time to fully recover his sanity before diving back into the depictions of eldritch horrors therein. So here’s part one: “Something Fishy!” Read at your own risk!
I fully expect questions. How did you come across these manuscripts? Are we but meaningless specks of dust adrift in an uncaring universe? Can a dog really talk?
Unfortunately I have no answers, or at least no satisfactory ones. One day, the first manuscript appeared, quite literally, on my doorstep, typed on an actual typewriter and wrapped in twine. Curiosity compelled me to begin reading, and the writer’s skill compelled me to finish.
I should reveal, in the spirit of honesty, but also as a warning, that I did not sleep for three nights after reading the first manuscript. Months later, a second appeared, and, the process—read, shudder, lie awake for three nights in feverish contemplation of the horrors I had just read—repeated. Manuscripts continued to arrive on my doorstep at irregular intervals afterwards. Have the deliveries ceased?
O God! I pray that they have.
I share these with you now for purely selfish motives. For one of the things that has been most difficult about being the recipient, caretaker, and only reader of these tales is the terrible weight of being the only person alive, outside of the four (or, depending on your definition of person, five) who are the subjects of these tales, who knows the terrible truth about the world in which we live.
I warn you, therefore, that the secrets contained in these tales, once they have settled into your brain, can never be un-known. I’m sure some of you will say, “Very well, then! Let the scales fall from my eyes!” I encourage you to reconsider. For the scales that obscure the true nature of our world provide comfort enough that you can go about your mundane routines and fall into the sweet embrace of Morpheus at days’ end, and after you read this, these simple pleasures may be denied you.
Providence, RI, September 2018
Early afternoon sunlight streamed in the leaded glass windows of the Miskatonic University Library. I was, as the poet would have it, pondering over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore. Not the storied Necronomicon, mind you, for when I had requested access to the notorious tome, the librarian, a middle-aged white man with a supercilious attitude and the fusty reek of mildewing paper, had snickered, rolled his eyes, and asserted that the volume I sought was entirely mythical, and that neither Miskatonic nor any other university on earth therefore had a copy.
Enraged at his condescension and mendacity, I replied, (keeping my voice to a whisper, of course, for I am nothing if not respectful of these cathedrals of knowledge we call libraries and the work that occurs therein) “I am not some teeny-bopper in a Hex Girls shirt from Hot Topic! I, sir, am a student of natural philosophy!”In the spirit of full disclosure, I should add that I was, in fact, wearing a Hex Girls T-shirt at the time, but a) it had been given to me by Thorn personally, not purchased at some retail outlet in a dying mall, and b) it was not visible to the librarian, as I wore it beneath my orange turtleneck sweater. This I wore above a pleated miniskirt and mary janes, an ensemble that communicates both my studiousness and my sassy, fun side.
But I digress. Denied the Necronomicon, I requested instead a volume on ancient Sumerian sacrificial rites, and it was this that I was immersed in, sitting at a table in the Randolph Carter Reading Room, when a tap on my shoulder brought me back to myself.
“There you are!” a bright, if perhaps too loud for the surroundings, voice said. It was my associate, Fredward Jones. “Come on, Velma! We have to get moving if Shaggy and Scooby are going to get their money’s worth at the Marshmallow Fluff Festival!”
He spoke, of course, of our companions, Norville Rogers, a disheveled, loveable simpleton who goes by Shaggy, in tribute either to his mop-esque hair style or the sparse, lonely whiskers on his chin, and Scoobert Doobert, a talking Great Dane. (There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, etc.) Both were possessed of preternaturally prodigious appetites and would need only a few minutes to get their money’s worth as well as the money’s worth of half a dozen others, at any food-related event.
Nevertheless, the drive from Arkham to Somerville would have an unpredictable duration, thanks in large part to the insistence of Fred, our driver and self-styled leader, on taking only secondary roads and eschewing the assistance of a Global Positioning System.
Reluctantly, I gathered up my notes, and with one last scowl at my antagonist behind the desk, accompanied Fred to his van, where Shaggy and Scooby already occupied the back seat. I squeezed into the front seat next to the final member of our merry band, Daphne Blake, our financeuse and fashion expert. (How, you might ask, does a deep knowledge of fashion aid in our work solving mysteries both normal and paranormal? Reader, full often have I wondered the same thing.)
The ride down the Massachusetts coast was lovely, if the beauty of the scenery was undercut somewhat by Shaggy and Scooby describing in lascivious detail all of the Marshmallow Fluff-based delicacies they planned to enjoy at the annual festival.
A sudden BANG! stopped their food fantasies cold, and the Mystery Machine (for so Fred had long ago christened this vehicle) shuddered and swerved along the twisting, two-lane road, with trees on our right and a rocky stretch of coastline at our left. Fred fought the unruly machine for control, ultimately bringing it to a stop just next to the pavement. I looked from rocks to trees, and from trees to rocks and concluded that only Fred’s superior skill had saved us from grave injury or worse.
There we stood, alone on a deserted road with clouds gathering above and the sea growing unruly just a few feet from us. It was a scene of terrible beauty, marred only by our solitude and the unfortunate condition of the Mystery Machine.
“Four flat tires!” Daphne exclaimed. “Some scenic detour!”
“I don’t understand!” Fred said. “I’ve only got ten thousand miles on those tires! They should be fine!”
I bent down to examine the tire nearest me and found it punctured. Strolling around the Mystery Machine, I saw the same was true of all four tires. Either the Massachusetts Department of Transportation had been criminally negligent in maintaining a safe right of way here, or someone had intentionally sabotaged our vehicle.
I said nothing so as not to alarm my friends, for Shaggy and Scooby have delicate constitutions, and I would not cause them undue worry, or, in this case, due worry.
“Like, how many miles to the fluff festival?” Shaggy asked, desperation showing on his face.
Fred had not, of course, been following any electronic map, but I pulled out my smartphone and opened the maps application. Unfortunately, I was greeted not with a map, but with a white screen bearing the words “no network connection. Try again later!”
“No signal,” I said. “But we left Arkham thirty-one minutes ago, and we’ve been traveling at a speed of approximately thirty-eight miles per hour on these back roads, so we’ve traveled approximately nineteen and a half miles. Only nineteen more miles to go!”
“Like, that’s too far to walk!” Shaggy squeaked.
“We’ll have to thumb a ride!” Scooby interjected, raising a paw. I always make an effort to be patient with these, my only friends in the world, but my patience does have its limits.
“You can’t thumb a ride with no thumbs, Scoob!” I said. Scooby gazed at his paw, apparently befuddled by this revelation.
“Besides,” Daphne said, “Hitchhiking is dangerous!”
“We don’t need to hitch a ride,” Fred said. “I’m sure there’s a town up ahead where we can get these tires fixed in no time flat! Get it?”
At that moment, the heavens opened as if in critique of Fred’s “joke.”
“Come on, gang!” Fred said. “Let’s walk!” He offered this as though it were the most entertaining prospect in the world, which, for him, at that moment, it was. Heedless of what the rain might do to his ascot, he began strutting southward along the road.
I had a bad feeling about this. With rain falling, we should have huddled in the dry confines of the Mystery Machine and hoped for a kind stranger to pass by. But given that our tires had been sabotaged, it was probably safer for us to get away from the van and towards other people as quickly as possible.
Twenty-two very damp minutes later, we arrived in what seemed to have once been a bustling fishing community. Decrepit hulks of fishing vessels rocked at their moorings at the town pier, and the town itself seemed to be only a collection of boarded-up storefronts punctuated by the occasional neglected-looking building that the county inspector had apparently not gotten around to condemning yet.
Fred was undeterred. “Come on, gang, there’s got to be a mechanic here somewhere!”
“You know what’s definitely not here?” Shaggy complained. “A fluff festival. Like, Fred, we do nothing but travel the country in a van. Have you ever even thought about getting triple-A?”
“Rit would only be prudent!” Scooby said.
If Fred had heard a thing his friends had said, it was not apparent in his demeanor. Bright-eyed smile on his countenance, he marched into town to find a mechanic that only he believed actually existed.
“Well, I don’t know about you boys,” Daphne said, putting a hand on my shoulder, “But we gals need to get out of the rain before our hair is completely ruined!” Human hair is, of course, equipped to withstand moisture, but I did not want to point this out to Daphne, as I too was eager to get out of the rain simply for the sake of my physical comfort.
“Look!” Daphne said, pointing past the far edge of the town green. “A hotel! And it’s open!” Even with my glasses on, I could not make out such detail, but I trusted Daphne—her instinct for finding creature comforts rivals Shaggy and Scooby’s instinct for finding foodstuffs.
“Great! You girls go to the hotel, and the guys and I will find a mechanic!” Fred said.
“Ruh-uh!” Scooby remonstrated.
“Yeah, like where there’s a hotel, there’s a kitchen!” Shaggy said. “You find the axle grease, we’ll find the fryolator grease!”
“Reah!” Scooby exclaimed.
“Freddy, just come to the hotel,” Daphne said. “I’m sure they can call us a tow truck.”
Fred stared at the hotel, pensive. “I’ve got an idea!” he exclaimed. “We’ll all go to the hotel! I’m sure they can call us a towtruck!”
“Brilliant,” Daphne said, her voice dripping with sarcasm that Fred was blissfully oblivious to. She started walking toward the hotel, and the rest of us followed.
“That’s odd,” I said.
“What’s odd?” Fred asked.
“Well,” I said, gesturing at the town green, “These old New England towns were built around a town green and a church. But look around the green—there’s not a single church in sight!”
“Rerhaps rhis towns robvious reconomic difficulties were a test of faith rhe church couldn’t pass,” Scoopy opined.
“Like, what?” Shaggy exclaimed, casting a quizzical eye on his bosom friend.
“Good point, Scoob,” I said. “But the building should still be there, even if it’s been abandoned or repurposed. The only building on this green that’s not a business or a house is that crumbling meeting hall! What’s it say over the door, Daph?”
“The Esoteric Order of...Dagon?” Dapne said.
“Rat redifice ras a malevolent raspect!” Scooby exclaimed, and I silently agreed. Something about the building bespoke evil.
“Scoob, you’re getting delirious, buddy! We gotta get some food in you so you can start making sense!” Shaggy cried.
Scooby and I looked at each other, shrugged, and soldiered on through the rain. Shortly thereafter, we reached the hotel, such as it was.
The once-grand structure had three stories, and the wooden latticework that had once adorned the facade had all but rotted away. Several windows bore visible cracks, and the front gutter hung at a precarious angle and was currently pouring a stream of strangely filthy rainwater onto the street with a loud splattering sound.
“OK, gang!” Fred said with his typical enthusiasm, “I’ll talk to the concierge, and you guys can wait for a table in the restaurant!”
“Like, I suspect there won’t be much of a wait for a table,” Shaggy said. Despite his notable intellectual deficiencies, he did have a talent for seeing things as they were rather than as he wanted them to be. Would that more people possessed this quality!
“And if this place has a concierge,” Daphne said, “I’ll wear white shoes in November!”
Unfortunately, Fred had already entered the building, thereby missing both of these excellent ripostes.
The rest of us followed suit and soon found ourselves standing in the lobby of the Gilman Hotel. A fine layer of dust clung to every surface. Moth-eaten drapes did a poor job of covering the windows, and threadbare rugs provided similarly shoddy coverage of the floor. And, strangely, the air held not the expected odors of mold and mildew, bur, rather, the distinctive reek of a fishmonger’s stall on a hot day.
“Whoa! Somebody’s making fish and chips!” Shaggy shouted. “Come on, Scoob!” He and Scooby ambled through the lobby and disappeared behind the door marked “Restaur nt.”
Fred banged on the bell on the front desk. It gave a dull clank in response and sent up a plume of dust which sent Fred into a brief sneezing fit. Following the sneezing, Fred waited only a few seconds before he was moved to speech. “Hello?” he yelled. “I’d like to speak to the concierge, please!”
“Fred, I told you, there’s no way this place has a—”
“Concierge, at your service!” an elderly white man who had materialized behind the desk said. “And desk clerk, bellhop, housekeeper—”
“What about room service chef?” Shaggy exclaimed from the far end of the lobby. “Cause, like, no offense, but only mice and spiders are eating in that restaurant!”
The elderly gentleman smiled, “And room service chef as well. Horace Gilman, at your service!” His kindly smile appeared genuine, but I found something profoundly unnerving about the man. His eyes protruded from their sockets, and his flabby lips hung lazily from his slack jaw, while his pallid, nearly gray complexion bespoke a life lived entirely out of the sun’s nourishing rays.
“Great!” Shaggy replied. “Like, we’ll have two marshmallow fluff omelettes, please, with extra homefries, an order of marshmallow fluff pancakes with extra fluff, a couple of fluffernutters, and some truffle fluff fries. Like, for an appetizer.”
“Reah!” Scooby assented.
“Now just hold on there, young fella,” Mr. Gilman said. He possessed a high, reedy voice not unlike Shaggy’s own tenor squeal. “We haven’t had guests here for quite some time, so we’re a bit low on supplies. I think I have some canned asparagus on the shelf...”
“Like, no thanks,” Shaggy said. “Canned asparagus isn’t really our thing.”
“Rhe canning process restroys rhe delicate flavor!” Scooby protested.
“Mr. Gilman,” Fred interrupted. “Can we use your phone to call a mechanic? We can’t seem to get cell service, and—”
“Closest mechanic is the next town over,” Mr. Gilman said. “And he doesn’t work on Saturday. You can call, but you’ll probably just have to leave a voicemail.”
“But...” Fred was suddenly unmanned. “The Mystery Machine! It’s all alone...by the side of the road with four flat tires...no one to care for it...” With her customary quick thinking, Daphne passed Fred a tissue lest his incipient tears stain his ascot.
“Okay, then, I guess we’ll need two rooms for the night,” Daphne said, flashing her platinum card.
A flush of excitement came to Mr. Gilman’s cheeks, the contrast especially stark against his bone-deep pallor. I looked closely. He reminded me of someone. But who?
“Oh! Wonderful!” Mr. Gilman cried. “I’ll just get the rooms ready!” And with that, he scurried away.
Daphne turned to us and said, “You guys know I hate to judge people by their appearance—”Fred, Shaggy, Scooby and I looked at each other quizzically, for in fact this was one of Daphne’s favorite pastimes. “—but does Mr. Gilman look kind of—I don’t know...fishy to you?”
Suddenly, I remembered. “I knew it! Mr. Gilman reminded me of someone, and now I know who! It’s Don Knotts!”
The gang responded with blank looks.
“Like, who?” Shaggy asked.
“Don Knotts! He starred in The Incredible Mr. Limpet, a live action/animated hybrid film in which the titular character is transformed into a fish during World War II and subsequently aids the Allied war effort while pursuing a female fish he creatively dubs ‘Ladyfish!’”
More blank stares.
“He co-starred on The Andy Griffith Show? Played Mr. Furley on Three’s Company? We solved not one, but two mysteries with him?” And still they looked at me as though I were speaking Ancient Sumerian. I had known, of course, that this would be the outcome before I spoke. Cursed are we all to wander the earth, ageless, solving mysteries, but I alone bear the curse of memory. The others swim through time like goldfish in a bowl, surprised at the presence of a castle on every circuit.
Fortunately, Mr. Gilman returned before I could spiral into a depressive state over my terrible loneliness at being the only one who remembers 50 years of adolescence. “All right!” he chirped. “Follow me!”
We climbed the creaking stairs, plumes of dust flying at our every step. “Right this way, kids!” Mr. Gilman said. He gestured at a door marked 101.
“The fellahs’ll take this one!” Fred asserted.
“You’re welcome to it!” I said. “Remember what Orwell said about what’s inside of room 101!”
“Like, I must have slept through that English class,” Shaggy said. “What did he say was in room 101?”
“The worst thing in the world,” I said with a grin, turning the key and entering room 102 with Daphne close behind.
I could hear Shaggy’s panicked exclamations through the paper-thin walls, and I reflected that my little jape might have been needlessly cruel. Was this the kind of thing one said to a friend? In my anger and loneliness, I had lashed out at one of my few friends—indeed, the only family I have at this point.
Daphne made a disgusted sound that brought me back from my shame. I examined our surroundings. A thick layer of dust coated the sagging beds, the rickety chair, and the desk that looked to be on the verge of collapse. Atop the dresser sat an ancient tube television festooned with a rabbit-ear antenna. When Daphne turned it on, it revealed a buffet of entertainment options that consisted of static on every channel.
“Well,” Daphne said with unexpected good cheer, “It’s not the worst place we’ve ever stayed.”
I couldn’t help but agree. “I prefer this to the bone-chilling cold and damp of an old castle!” I said.
Daphne made a noncommittal noise. She had no memory of the hassles we’d faced in a variety of castles, but I continue to batter against the walls of my friends’ amnesia in the vain hope that they might one day collapse, and I will no longer be fundamentally alone.
Daphne’s amnesia remained completely intact. She wandered to the window and held her phone next to the glass. “Still no signal!” she said. “How will I update my Instagram? I might lose followers! And I just broke 300 thousand! And what are we going to do here for two days?”
I, of course, wanted nothing more than some quiet time to pursue my studies, but I knew this would not suffice for the rest of the gang. “Well, we can explore the town,” I said. “These old New England towns are full of historic sights!”
Judging from the look on Daphne’s face, this prospect did not appeal to her. “And you can take some pictures that you can post on your Instagram later,” I suggested. “I guarantee there are few, if any, people on Instagram posting photos taken in Innsmouth, Massachusetts.”
The prospect of becoming an Instagram pioneer brightened Daphne’s mood somewhat, and she spent a few moments performing various poses for her phone camera.
The impromptu photo shoot was interrupted by a knock at the door. I opened the door to find Scooby, Shaggy, and Fred, each coated in dust, standing in the hallway.
“We’re starving,” Shaggy said. “We’re gonna go walk around town and see if we can find a clam shack. Or a pizza parlor. Or, like, pretty much anywhere that sells food.” This last comment was punctuated by a rumble I initially thought was thunder but which turned out to be only Scooby-Doo’s gastric fluids shifting in his empty stomach.
“Why are you all dusty?” Daphne asked.
“Because someone, or, rather, someones, decided to jump on the beds the second we got in the room,” Fred said. He held out his dusty ascot. “I sure hope there’s a dry cleaner in this town! Two thousand silkworms worked hard to make this, and I have to honor their effort!”
Unfortunately for both Fred and the industrious silkworms, Fred flapping the ascot sent a cloud of dust into the air. This occasioned a sneezing fit from Scooby-Doo, who reached out blindly for something with which to blow his nose. Daphne expertly sidestepped Scooby’s paws, but Fred’s ascot was not so lucky.
Fred gamely decided to continue wearing the ascot. The habits of fifty years, remembered consciously or not, are hard to break.
Though the situation was not as urgent for the rest of us as it was for Shaggy and Scooby, we decided to accompany them on their quest for nourishment.
“Let’s ask the concierge about the local hotspots!” Fred said as we reached the lobby.
“I guarantee the spots in this town are not hot,” Daphne sniffed. I couldn’t help but agree—Fred’s relentless optimism did occasionally seem to cross the border into lunacy, and this seemed to be just such an occasion.
Fred rang the bell, but Mr. Gilman did not emerge. “That’s odd,” Fred said. “I hope he’s okay!”
“No offense, but, like, if he was okay, I don’t think he’d be living here,” Shaggy offered, once again displying his surprising sagacity.
With no advice from Mr. Gilman and no way to access Yelp or any other source of restaurant-related data, we left the hotel in a blind search for food.
When we emerged from the hotel, I immediately, noticed something different about the town green. “Look, gang!” I cried. “There’s a person sitting on that bench!” This, assuming it was not Mr. Gilman (a detail I was unable to discern at this distance) would make only the second person we had encountered in Innsmouth. As much as I strive to pursue the path of logic and reason, I must admit that Innsmouth’s apparent lack of inhabitants had given me, for lack of a better word, the willies.
We proceeded with all speed to the park bench, where we found a man, reeking of alcohol and assorted bodily secretions, singing softly to himself. If he noticed us, he gave no sign.
“Excuse me, sir,” Fred said. “Can you direct us to a local pizzeria, burger stand, taco truck, trattoria, osteria, cafe, brasserie, bistro—”
“Like, enough already, Fred!” Shaggy shouted. “My stomach’s been howling since taco truck!”
The vagrant roused himself from his alcoholic stupor and wheezed out a laugh. “Won’t find no restaurants in this town, young fella! And you kids had better get off the street before you turn into dinner yourselves!”
“What do you mean?” Shaggy squealed as he leapt into Scooby’s waiting arms. Or possibly legs. His knocking knees made a marimba-like clamor.
“Don’t you kids know anything about Innsmouth? Why do you think this town’s deserted?”
“Ra confluence rof complex reconomic rand social factors?” Scooby asked.
The vagrant paused in his speech; stared, open-mouthed at Scooby; removed a half-pint of no-name vodka from his pocket; and poured the contents to the ground. He then returned to his narrative.
“The Devil’s Reef!” he cried, pointing seaward. “Just a few hundred yards from the beach! Years back, things started coming out of the surf. Like fish...but also like people!”
“So these creatures were humanoids?” I asked.
“From the deep!” he yelled in response. “Loathsome, icthyd creatures who walk on two legs! Weren’t long before they started...replacin’ folks.”
“Replacing? What do you mean?” Daphne asked.
“What I mean is that the smart people left right away. The rest— well, they either got consumed by the fish creatures, or they started to become them.”
“Became them? How?” Fred asked.
“I’m not some epidemiologist!” the vagrant remonstrated, drops of spittle flying from his chapped lips and landing in his unkempt beard. “All I know is that some creatures came out of the Devil’s Reef. Then some people started turning into creatures and going into the sea. At the Devil’s Reef!”
“That’s impossible!” I said. “Humans and fish are completely different branches of the evolutionary tree, and such a change would imply a massive shift at the genetic level. It simply can’t happen!” I paused, pleased with myself for demolishing yet another yokel’s superstition.
“Like, somebody forgot to tell him that!” Shaggy cried. He pointed at a loathsome creature much as the vagrant had described: it walked on two legs, but its naked frame bore scales rather than skin, and its head resembled a pallid Koi more than any human. It was rushing toward us, groaning as it came.
“Jinkies!” I cried. “Run!”
What followed was a chase I might have described as merry, had we not all been in fear for our lives. The fish/human hybrid pursued Shaggy and Scooby, as the adversaries we encounter so frequently do. Fred, Daphne and I ran to the shelter of the disused bandstand, whose shadows conferred much-needed darkness on us and whose height allowed us a clear view of the events transpiring around us.
Scooby and Shaggy ran into one building and somehow emerged from another, with the creature in hot pursuit the entire time. This physics- and logic-defying series of events repeated itself several times, through what seemed nearly all the buildings in town, until Scooby and Shaggy found themselves on the town pier, where Shaggy had unaccountably dressed in sea captain’s habiliments, whilst Scooby, clad in pea coat and longshoreman’s hat, fussed with a rope securing a boat to the pier.
“Like, step right up, sir! Are you here for the whale watch?”
“Uhnnnnn?” the creature replied.
“Very good, sir! Welcome aboard! We’ll be passing by the Devil’s Reef if you’d like to stop by and say hello to Mister and Mrs. Fishface and all the small fry!” Shaggy gestured ceremoniously toward a small, barely-seaworthy dinghy, and the koi-faced abomination, perhaps caught up in Shaggy’s enthusiasm, climbed aboard.
“Like, cast off, matey!” Shaggy said.
“Raye-raye!” Scooby returned, throwing the rope into the water and giving the dinghy a hearty shove.
Too late our pursuer realized his error. He groaned angrily and reached for Scooby, but the dinghy was already floating away from the dock. “Ron Voyage!” Scooby said, and then he and Shaggy threw off their costumes instantaneously and fled in our direction.
“Shaggy! Scooby! Over here!” Fred cried.
Our human and canine friends approached quickly, and, with our quintet reunited once again, I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding.
The dinghy floated out of view into the darkness of the harbor, the fish creature shaking his fists and yelling in incohate rage.
“Hmmm…” I said aloud, my thoughts racing.
“What is it, Velma?” Daphne asked.
“I—” but before I could give voice to my incipient suspicions, Fred interrupted me.
“Well gang,” he said, “Looks like we’ve got a mystery on our hands!”
Half a century. Fifty long years. And never once has he tired of saying it. Not once has it occurred to him that we always have a mystery on our hands. Nor has it occurred to him to wonder why we always have a mystery on our hands, why our every search for a respite ends only with more labor.
“Yes,” I said, and if my annoyance was clear in my tone of voice, Fred gave no sign.
“Here’s what we’ll do! First we’ll split up—Shaggy and Scooby, you’ll—”
“Get chased by old Fish Face? Like, no thanks.”
“But we have to help—well, someone, surely!” Fred said.
“Freddy, nobody cares about what happens in this town. Nobody’s asked for our help. Let’s just walk back to the Mystery Machine and hope someone happens by,” Daphne said.
And another tumbler in my mind fell into place. The mystery was nearly unlocked.
“Reah! Rat least we have snacks there!” Scooby cried.
“I’m sure Mr. Gilman would appreciate knowing what’s happening in this town,” Fred said.
Daphne, Shaggy, Scooby and I looked at one another. Though telepathy is not among my gifts, decades of proximity have given me insight into what every member of our cursed quintet was thinking based on their facial expressions, and they, like, I, were clearly resigned to doing as Fred wished because thwarting his desire to hunt the Innsmouth Fish Man would ultimately prove even more annoying even than hunting (or, more accurately, being hunted by) the Innsmouth Fish Man.
“Okay, Gang, here’s what we’ll do!” Fred said, spontaneously planning out a Rube Goldbergian trap for our scaled adversary. We scurried about town and were able to find firecrackers, a bowling ball, two hundred feet of climbing rope, a longboard, and a seven-foot-tall wrought-iron cage within the space of about five minutes.
We stood at the town bandstand, planning out how to deploy all of our accoutrements, when a terrible, unearthly music—like the unholy union of a theremin and a pipe organ, played by an animal thrashing in its death throes—began to fill the air. Scooby and Shaggy’s knocking knees soon provided percussive accompaniment.
“Where’s that music coming from?” Daphne asked
“Sounds to me like it’s coming from the hotel!” Fred exclaimed.
“I think you’ll find it’s coming from the obscure order of what’s-his-name!” Shaggy yelped, pointing in the direction of the Esoteric Order of Dagon, where the front doors were thrown open and a horrific procession was taking place.
At the head of the procession was our fishy friend, or perhaps a close relative thereof. He bore a bejeweled crown on his head and moaned menacingly. Ichor dripped from the ends of his hands, whose fingers appeared to be fusing into fins. Behind him were at least a score of other fish-faced congregants, all moaning and shuffling in our direction.
Fred, suddenly struck by the knowledge that he would be unable to properly prepare, much less spring his elaborate trap, looked as defeated as I have ever seen him. Which is to say mildly discouraged.
“Look!” Daphne said. “That man who warned us—they’ve gotten him!”
Sure enough, the man who had spoken to us, still clad in shabby clothing and sporting a wild, unkempt beard, moaned and shuffled. His eyes seemed to be further apart than before, and his mouth had definitely widened.
And, just like that, the entire mystery unlocked in my brain.
“Run!” Shaggy said.
“No!” I cried. “Don’t run!”
“Wait—why?” Fred said.
“Because we don’t need to run,” I exclaimed. “These creatures would never harm us.”
“No offense, Velma, but, like, how do you know that?” Shaggy asked.
“Reah!” Scooby added.
“Because they need us,” I said, marching right up to the head of the procession and standing opposite the fish king, who raised his arms threateningly but made no effort to grab me.
“Isn’t that right—-Mr. Gilman!” I said, seizing the expertly-crafted fish mask from the fish king’s head and revealing beneath the face of our hotelier.
“Hey,” Fred said, deflated. “I get to yank the mask.”
“I don’t understand!” Daphne said. The rest of the fishy mob began abashedly removing their masks, complaining about how hot and sweaty they were, how they knew this was a stupid idea all along, and cursing Gilman’s name.
“What happened to the Mystery Machine was no accident,” I said. “Those tires were sabotaged, which, by the way, Mr. Gilman, is the only part of your scheme that could have really gotten us hurt. Shame on you!”
“Where are the police?” Fred said. “Aren’t there supposed to be police here for this part?”
A hand went up in the crowd. “Chief West,” a middle-aged white man cried.
“I...I’m sorry,” Mr. Gilman croaked out.
“But, like, why bring us here?” Shaggy said.
“And rhy keep us from our fluff?” Scooby added.
“Because Daphne is an Instgram influencer,” I said. Daphne shrugged in false humility.
“I mean, I try,” she said.
“Daphne posted our destination yesterday when she took that selfie in Arkham,” I said. “And the town’s plan took shape. They intercepted us on the road, knowing we’d have to come here. Once we were here, they staged the fish man and told us that ridiculous story about the Devil’s Reef in hopes that Daphne would post about it once she got cell service. ”
“I’ve got a whole Innsmouth story queued up already!” Daphne said.
“I got suspicious when Scooby and Shaggy lured the fish-man onto the boat and he floated off into the harbor. Why didn’t he swim? And then when I saw the man who told us the whole tall tale about the Devil’s Reef among the congregation, I knew this whole thing had been a show put on for our benefit!”
“But...why?” Fred asked.
“Ignore rhe economic factors at your peril!” Scooby said.
“That’s right, Scoob,” I said. “The part of this whole day that wasn’t staged just for us is the economic misery of this town. The fishing industry has been decimated, and with climate change causing terrible coastal storms and threatening rising sea levels, the real estate in this town is practically worthless. Mr. Gilman and the rest of the townspeople figured they could get Daphne to post all about the unnamed horrors from the deep, and weirdos and curiosity seekers would flood the place, pumping much-needed money back into the local economy!” I said.
“And we would have gotten away with it too,” Mr. Gilman said. “If it weren’t for you meddling—-well,actually we were counting on you to help us get away with it. So I suppose we would have gotten away with it...”
“If Scooby weren’t such a keen scholar of economic determinism!” I said.
“Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue,” Mr. Gilman complained. “But, in any case, I’m sorry we scared you, and I am sorry about the Mystery Machine. We did have it towed and repaired. It’s ready to go, in fact. I’d offer to buy you dinner, but your dog is right—money is very tight here.”
Shaggy looked at his phone. “The fluff festival is over, but Somerville has one of only two all-night diners in the Greater Boston area!” he said.
“Great!” Fred said. “Let’s roll!”
“Rut… ris town!” Scooby said, mournfully. The fact that Scooby was willing to delay gratification of his appetite out of compassion for these townspeople brought the rest of us up short.
“He’s right,” Fred said, abashed. “Isn’t there some way we can help?”
“We can’t perpetuate a fraud,” I said. “It would be contrary to our mission!” Given by whom? And when will it end? I can only wonder.
“We don’t have to lie,” Daphne said. “Shag, Scoob, come get in this selfie with me. Look terrified.”
“Now, if I could just get a signal...” She said.
“Katie! Take that Faraday cage off the cell tower, willya?” Mr. Gilman called out.
Katie, a sturdy young woman in her 20’s, yanked on a rope connected to a pulley and the faraday cage atop the cell transmitter on the roof of the Esoteric Order of Dagon. While we waited fifteen minutes for all of Daphne’s notifications to roll in, another townsperson pulled the Mystery Machine into the center of town and unhooked it, gleaming and sporting four new tires, from the tow truck. Finally, Daphne was able to post the photo, and it was time for us to go.
“Well,” Fred said as we climbed into the Mystery Machine, “Good luck, Mr. Gilman, and everybody else.”
“Reah!” Scooby said. “Rapitalism ris a cruel mistress!”
“Like, it does allow for restauranteurs to stay open all night, though,” Shaggy said. “Step on it, Fred, before I faint dead away!”
“Thanks, ki—” Mr. Gilman said, then looked quizzically at his pocket. He withdrew a phone and answered. “Hello? Er, I mean, Gilman hotel, how may I help you? Well...why yes we do have a vacancy that weekend. Goth wedding, you say?”
We left Mr. Gilman to sort out the details of running a hotel where people actually might want to stay and headed for the all-night diner.
As we rolled out of town, I gazed out to sea. And under the moonlight, out at Devil’s Reef, I saw something—a man? A fish? A Great Dane? Emerge from the water and stand erect upon the Devil’s Reef. I removed my glasses and rubbed my eyes. When I looked back, it was gone.