We marched toward the docks, following Waite.
“We’ve got to get to Devil’s Reef,” he said.
“How?” I asked.
“We steal a boat,” he replied.
“I don’t see any boats,” I said, eyeing the empty boat slips in the harbor.
“There should be an inflatable dinghy in the equipment shed,” Bass replied.
“You want us to go out on that water in a raft?” Kitty 2 asked.
“Unless you’ve got a yacht in your back pocket, yes,” Bass said.
The shed was full of lifejackets, life preservers, and all sorts of nautical gear I couldn’t place. We began rooting around, looking for the dinghy.
“Hey,” Kitty 2 said, holding aloft a flare gun. “I call dibs on this.”
“Just find the damn raft,” Bass said. “It’s here somewhere.”
“Here it is,” Martin said, pulling back a battered tarp to reveal an equally battered yellow raft. I was relieved to see it was already inflated and had an engine. I grabbed a nearby gas can and shook it. It was half full. Or half empty, depending on how you looked at it.
Bass and Martin grabbed the raft and dragged it out of the shed. I followed with the gas can. Kitty 2 caressed the flare gun and grinned. Once we got the raft out of the shed, I filled the gas tank, and Bass, Martin and I picked the craft up and tossed it off the dock into the water. Bass jumped into the craft and cranked the engine. After a couple of tries the outboard chugged to life.
“Come on,” he said. “Let’s go sailing.”
I shrugged and jumped into the boat. Martin followed, and then the two of us reached up to help lower Kitty 2, Old Murray and Waite into the small craft.
“Should we have grabbed some life jackets?” I asked as Bass turned the raft toward the open sea.
“Too late now,” he said, gunning the engine through the choppy water, sending all of us scrambling for a seat as a bitter spray of salt water stung our faces. The sea was fierce, battering the tiny craft as we travelled. I would have been green around the gills if I had had any.
“Do you know where we’re going?” I shouted at Bass.
“I could find Devil’s Reef blindfolded,” he replied.
I hoped he was telling the truth because the night was dark enough to be indistinguishable from being blindfolded. I hunkered down, glad I wasn’t feeding the fish like Kitty 2 and Martin.
“There,” Bass said, pointing at something in the distance only he could see. As we got closer, however, I could make out the outline of a fishing boat anchored next to a rock that just barely broke the water’s surface.
Bass killed the engine.
“Why’d you stop?” I asked.
“I don’t want whoever’s out there to see us before we’re ready,” he said.
“When will we be ready?”
“I’m thinking,” he said. “I want to approach without being seen.”
“We’re on the open ocean,” I said. “They’re going to see us.”
“They’re going to see you,” Bass said. “Martin and I don’t need a boat to get around out here, so we’re going to swim to the boat and sneak aboard. You and your lady friend are going to take Waite and Murray here right up to Devil’s Reef.”
“What do we do once we reach the reef?”
Bass shrugged. “You guys seem pretty good at improvising. I can’t think of everything,” he said, standing up and removing his robe, revealing his scaly skin and a long fin running the length of his back.
“Come on, Martin,” he said.
Martin stood and removed his robe. I was relieved to see he had a t-shirt and shorts on under it. He took off his cracked glasses and dropped them in the ocean.
“All right,” he said. “I’m with you all the way, Arnold.”
The two fish men slipped over the side of the raft and were swallowed by the sea.
“You ready for this?” I asked Kitty 2, who was pale and shaky.
Her response was to brandish her flare gun.
“Okay,” I said and started the engine. “Full speed ahead.”
The raft cut through the whitecaps, crashing up and down like a kid on a sugar high in a bouncy house. As we approached the reef, I thought I saw someone on the deck of the fishing boat, but it was hard to tell in the darkness with my eyes full of salt spray. I slowed as we approached the reef. As soon as we were close enough I had Kitty 2 steer, and I jumped from the boat onto the reef. Kitty 2 tossed me a rope, and I used it to pull the raft onto the reef, careful to avoid the many jagged-edged rocks that would have shredded our only way back to shore.
Kitty 2 jumped out of the raft, clearly relieved to be standing on solid ground again, even if that ground wasn’t exactly welcoming. Waite stepped off the raft like he’d done it many times before, dragging a stumbling, cursing Murray behind him.
I turned toward the fishing boat. I didn’t see or hear anything. I wasn’t sure if that was a good sign or a bad one.
I started picking my way across the slippery rock, struggling to keep my balance. When I was close enough to the boat that I was sure there was no way anyone on board could fail to see me I cupped my hands around my mouth and started yelling.
“Ephraim!” I said. “I know you’re on that boat. There’s someone out here who’d like a word with you.”
There was no response, so I made my way closer. I looked behind me to make sure Kitty 2 was following. She had discarded her shoes and was hunched over, prepared to catch herself if she slipped. She still held onto the flare gun, though.
When I turned back to the boat, a figure had appeared on the deck. Through the salt spray I was able to make out the outline of a ponytail and a pot belly.
“Did I ever tell you about how I helped organized the first Big Sur Folk Festival?” the figure said.
He laughed. “You may call me Ephraim. “
It was then that Martin appeared on deck, followed by a hooded figure, who was holding him at gunpoint.
“You are persistent,” Ephraim said. “I caught your little mongrel friend trying to sneak on board. What a pathetic specimen. Look at him. He’s a living refutation of my brother’s ideas. I told him we had to keep the Deep One lineage pure to remain strong, but he was always an idealist. And this is what idealism gets you,” he said, gesturing to Martin. “Pathetic.”
“Hey,” Kitty 2 yelled. “If I wanted to listen to some sad old man who can’t accept the fact that the world has passed him by spout racist nonsense I’d spend Thanksgiving with my dad.”
She brought the flare gun up and sent a brilliant projectile arcing though the darkness and into the fishing boat’s cabin, which started to burn.
“You’ve burned a lot of stuff today,” I said.
“I think I might’ve beat my sorority rush week record,” she replied.
Ephraim leapt from the boat with surprising agility when Kitty 2 fired the flare gun, but the hooded figure stayed where he was. He raised the gun to Martin’s head, a sneer on his lips as Kitty 2 and I watched in horror, but before he could pull the trigger a figure vaulted over the deck and punched him in the back of the head, sending him sprawling. It was Bass, who threw himself on the prone cultist, kneeling on his back and grabbing his head, which he proceeded to slam into the deck repeatedly.
Kitty 2 and I ran toward the fishing boat, but stopped short when Devil’s Reef began to shake beneath our feet. We struggled to stay upright as huge waves rose out of the darkness to crash over us, but our efforts were futile, and we both went flying when a ten foot wave swept over the reef. I hit the ground hard, getting a nasty gash on my head. I looked for Kitty 2, but couldn’t see her. I struggled to stand, dizzy and half-blinded by the blood running down my face. I yelled out for Kitty 2, but got no response. The fishing boat was being tossed around like a child’s toy, and I no longer saw anyone on deck.
I gained my footing in time to see Ephraim Waite slip from the water like a seal and come marching toward me. Then he saw something that stopped him in his tracks.
Elias strode past me, and walked toward his brother.
“You were always a disgrace,” he said.
“Me?” Ephraim scoffed. “You were always the weak one.”
“Only the weak have a need to hide,” Elias replied. “And that’s why you wanted to keep the Order a secret. That’s why you were so anxious to let the Deep Ones interbreed with the people of Innsbruck, so you would have a group of people you could exploit and control. All these generations hiding here, afraid of what might happen to them if the world knew about them. Afraid because you made them afraid.”
“I keep Innsbruck safe.” Ephraim said. “I protect the members of the Order from the barbarity of the world.”
“Hold on a minute,” I said. “If you’re really Ephraim Waite, then why did you agree to help us, you know, fetching the fake blood and driving the van into the ritual?”
“Just keeping my cover,” he replied. “And I thought I was running you over when I hit those people at the mall. Who were they?”
“Just some locals who wanted their piece of the American dream,” I said.
“Oh well, these things happen,” Wolfgang replied.
“Fair enough,” I said. “How come you’ve been hanging out in the park smoking weed all this time?”
“Running a cult gets tiresome,” he replied. “So I tuned in, turned on and dropped out for a while, but I wanted to be where I could keep an eye on things.”
“And you’ve never had anything to do with the Big Sur Folk Festival?”
“No,” he said.
“Then all that stuff about Joan Baez…”
“Oh, that was true,” he said. “It just didn’t happen in Big Sur. It was in L.A. in 1980, 1982? Something like that. Now that we’ve cleared that up, it’s time for you to die.”
“I suppose we’ll see,” Ephraim said. “Our god is on his way, and he will pass judgment.”
“On you,” Elias said. “For your blasphemy.”
Suddenly, the sea exploded, sending a wall of water toward me that sent me sprawling back onto the jagged rocks, cutting my back to ribbons. I rolled onto my stomach and saw that the fishing boat had capsized. I managed to drag myself up on all fours, and it was then that I saw him. Dagon. His massive head had breached the surface. It was covered in scales the size of a car door, and was featureless except for a thin pair of translucent lips and two huge, dead black eyes. I was unable to move, paralyzed by fear as the giant creature continued to emerge from the sea. Shoulders. Then arms that ended in webbed fingers tipped with black claws longer than telephone poles. The creature let out a shriek that made my internal organs shake. I tried to make my body move, but it refused. The creature looked at the reef and locked eyes with me. I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t. As Dagon stretched out his claws toward me all I could think of was Kitty 2. I hoped she had been swept away by the sea and spared this horror.
The beast snatched me up the way a child might grab an insect. It held me in front of its face, pulling its lips back to reveal a mouth full of daggers. I closed my eyes in anticipation of being devoured, but nothing happened, so I opened my eyes again. Dagon had shifted focus, and was looking at the reef again. I twisted my head around and caught a glimpse of the Waite brothers fighting. As they fought, someone began to speak in Ka’arbalech. It was old Murray, who was reading from Elias’ parchment. As he did so, other fish people began to emerge from the sea to stand with him. Soon the entire reef was covered in fish people. Dagon stood still, transfixed by the display, as I hung from one of his giant claws.
At this gesture, Dagon gently put me back on the reef and grabbed Wolfgang or Ephraim or whoever he was, and greedily tossed him into his gaping maw. Apparently satisfied with the offering, Dagon began to sink slowly out of sight, returning to wherever he called home.
I stood stunned for a moment, and then I remembered Kitty 2. I called her name again and again as a wave of panic washed over me. I heard a voice speaking, but it sounded as if it were coming from far away.
“Kitty 2 is fine,” the voice said. “She’s clinging to the capsized boat. I fished her out of the ocean and took her there.”
As the words sunk in, I realized it was Martin speaking.
“Well, go get her,” I said. “What are you waiting for?”
As Martin hurried off to fetch my assistant, I turned to Bass and Elias.
“What the hell just happened?”
“I think Dagon just endorsed our theology,” Bass said.
“So, no apocalypse then?”
“No. Not today. It would seem that we can stop hiding.”
Martin returned, dragging my poor, half-drowned assistant with him. She was soaked and shivering, her feet were bleeding and she was covered with cuts and bruises. I ran to her and wrapped my arms around her. She pressed her head to my chest and started crying.
“That thing,” she said. “I was sure you were a goner.”
“I was sure you were too,” I said before I kissed her. Instead of the slap I was expecting, she kissed me back like she meant it before stepping back.
“Let’s get back to shore,” she said. “I need a shower, some tea, a nap, and years and years of therapy. I don’t suppose the raft is still here?”
“No,” I said. “It got washed away, and the fishing boat is useless.”
“Don’t worry,” Bass said. “I can have a boat here in under an hour.”
He grabbed one of the fish people milling around and whispered in his ear. The guy nodded and dove into the sea. The other fish people began to follow suit, disappearing beneath the waves until we were alone with Bass, Martin and Elias.
“Well,” Martin said. “I’ll see you back in town, if there’s anything left of it.”
With that, he jumped into the ocean.
“I can’t thank you enough for your help,” Bass said. “If the two of you hadn’t caused all this chaos nothing would have ever changed around here. Now we have no choice but to move on and make plans for the future. If there’s ever anything I can do, please don’t hesitate to contact me. The Esoteric Order of Dagon is at your service. Now, you’ll have to excuse me. There’s a lot of business that requires my personal attention.”
He too slipped into the sea.
I turned to Elias. “So,” I said. “About my fee…”
“Diane will cut you a check,” Elias said. “As for me, it’s time to leave the land behind forever. I’ve done what I set out to do, and now I can join my god.”
Like Bass and Martin, he jumped into the sea, leaving Kitty 2 and I alone on a cold, wet rock in the middle of the ocean in the dead of night. I didn’t mind, and judging from the way Kitty 2 snuggled up next to me, I didn’t think she did either.
“That was quite the experience,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said. “I just want to get back to the city.”
In the distance I heard the faint rumble of a boat engine.