I read a lot about the oceans, the sea. Do you know there are over two hundred thousand species under the water? And over two million more that remain a mystery?
I think that’s beautiful.
The idea of a great, deep unknown, beneath those waves.
ANDREW McCORMACK (Deputy Head of Public Relations, FBI)
Innsmouth is a matter of public record. During the February 1928 operation there, agents learned of a severe health hazard that potentially endangered the public. A decision was made to evacuate and contain. Those involved were commended for their swift action in protecting the American people.
AMY ANDERSEN (Reporter, Essex County Enquirer, 1926-30)
Yes, I heard the news about Elspeth.
At the time, I was twenty-six, working as a reporter for the Enquirer. I was ambitious. Didn’t exactly have an eye on a Pulitzer but didn’t plan on spending my life in Massachusetts.
There were mutterings about Innsmouth from some law enforcement contacts. At first, it seemed like standard Bureau of Prohibition remit—shutting down bootleggers, lines of supply—-which made the decision to kick it upstairs to the Department of Justice something of an anomaly.
Journalists are like rabbits. Something’s in the wind, our ears start twitching.
DANIEL KEYES (Editor, Essex County Enquirer, 1920 - 1941)
You’re asking me about a story that happened almost thirty-five years ago. I can’t even remember where I put the TV remote this morning.
There were statements from witnesses who’d seen distant fires in Innsmouth, heard what sounded like explosions. Others up the Manuxet River swore they'd spotted sea vessels firing torpedoes into the bay. Nothing could be proven.
And then I met Elspeth Marsh.
I was ten years old. A lot of my memories from that time are scattered. There was the raid—fires burning across town, screams and smoke. Men in masks, guns, townsfolk grabbed from homes, marched to waiting vehicles. I tried to hold onto my mother’s hand but lost her in the confusion.
I dragged myself into the crawl space under one of the houses by the bay. Stayed there all night, terrified, curled in a ball, dirt in my mouth. I didn’t know what we had done that was so wrong, that made them hate us so.
I didn't have a plan. I wasn't brave or strong. I just knew I wouldn't let them take me.
Elspeth was found walking a country lane a few days later by Hector and Eliza North, an elderly couple who had a farm just outside Ipswich. They knew she was an Innsmouth girl from the look of her. I think if she'd been an adult they wouldn't have taken her in, they weren't what you'd call progressive. They trusted the police even less though. I suppose I was known as a sympathetic ear, I'd written a number of local interest stories, and they felt they could trust me.
Amy was like someone from the movies. Long, auburn hair. Sparkling green eyes. She spoke fast and had a big smile. I liked her instantly.
You still hear the expression around those parts. ‘The Innsmouth Look.’ Large eyes, wattling around the neck, a mouth that seems to droop, a peculiar coloring of the skin. Ridiculous rumors about their ancestry, even about what they turned into when they got older.
It was the first time I'd seen the look for myself through, and it did take me a little off-guard. But I knew to smile, pretend that there was nothing strange. She was still a child, even if she was different.
I told her everything I could remember from that night. I started crying. I was scared; I missed my parents, my family, my friends. She gave me her handkerchief, told me to keep it. That meant a lot.
It wasn’t an act of kindness, letting her keep it... (long pause) I just... I just didn’t want it back.
God, we’re terrible people. Judging others just because they're different. In many ways, I was worse, because I'd act like I was better than that.
Her story though…it was incredible. Filled in so many blanks, connected so many pieces. The more I looked, the more threads started to tie into it. A colleague had told me something strange a few weeks before, about how the military Regional Confinement Facility near Colorado Springs had been emptied of prisoners. All of them transferred, no reason given beyond ‘general maintenance. And then I discovered the facility had handed jurisdiction over to the Bureau, which was unheard of. We're talking about the mass deportation and imprisonment of American citizens.
LLOYD BOLLAND (Guard, Fort Carson Regional Facility, Colorado, 1921-1928)
They brought new staff in. They were erecting ‘temporary accommodation’ in what was the exercise hall. These things were like giant iron cages. I asked one guy what they were for, and he said: “For the children.” I remember laughing, thinking he was joking. After that, most of us got transferred to the facility in Georgia, and I didn’t think much more about it.
I went to my editor Daniel with what I had. I knew it was big. The US government taking families, children, locking them in military detention centers. They practically raised a town to the ground. All because these people weren't, well… They weren’t like us.
Daniel said he wanted to meet with Elspeth. If we were going to do this, then we’d have to do it right. I gave him the address of the Norths.
Then the story got shut-down.
DANIEL KEYES (Editor, Essex County Enquirer, 1920 - 1941)
As I said, I’ve no real recollection of any of this. No doubt, there was a lack of evidence to support the claims. We’re a newspaper. We deal with hard facts, not fanciful conjecture. I do remember Ms. Andersen reacted strongly to the decision not to print. Ultimately I had to let her go as a result, which was unfortunate.
There was no government interference or pressure. The implication is an insult. This is all history, maybe best forgotten.
They knocked on the door, two men in suits. Mr. and Mrs. North tried to stop them, but there were more men outside. They weren’t rough with me. One of them asked me if I was hungry, needed something to eat.
I'd never been in a car before. It was a long drive to Colorado.
I couldn't get hired anywhere. I tried to follow up on the story though, to gain access to the facility in Colorado. I tried to keep going.
One morning, I was in a coffee shop, writing up notes. A man sat down across from me. He said he wasn’t with the agency, but G-men have a certain look. He told me if I didn’t stop, there was a place in Colorado for me too. He was very matter-of-fact, like he was discussing the weather.
I was broke, unemployed… I just gave up the fight.
It’s terrible, but that’s the truth. I gave up.
I’d seen them once, maybe fifty people in these drab uniforms, being walked around the yard like animals. I thought that could be me if I kept going this way.
I never got to say sorry to Elspeth. But I am. For everything.
These words I’m writing might never see the light of day.
I know how that feels. I’m forty-four now. I haven’t seen the ocean since I was a child. Sometimes at night, when the others have settled, and the room is quiet, I can almost see the black waves rolling across the shore and the glimmer of distant lights below. Even this far from home, I still feel the whispering call of the deep.
We don’t live long, my people. I have a few years left, at best. I plan to make a run for it. There are guards, men with guns. They don’t despise us, not in the way I thought they did. They fear us. What we are. What we become.
I hope the world will change, and one day we won't lock away people, children, in cages, just because they're different. Because of a skin. Because of a look.
Either way, I won't be here to see that. I'm going to finish writing this, and get out, anyway I can. Maybe I'm not far from here, in some ditch, a story come to a violent, sudden end.
Or perhaps soon I will finally be home, on the cobbled sea-washed streets of Innsmouth, rushing down the lanes that lead to the shore. I'll let the water rise around me, lift me up, carry me under.
Do you know there are over two hundred thousand species under the water? And over two million more that remain a mystery..?
I really do think that’s beautiful.
In my day job I was work as a screenwriter and have been showrunner on the HBO Cinemax show Strike Back for the past three seasons. My short fiction has appeared in a number of publications, including Helios Magazine Quarterly, Hinnom Magazine, the Necronomicon Memorial Book, The New Flesh: A Literary Tribute to David Cronenberg, and Ellen Datlow's 'Best Horror of the Year Volume 12'. My graphic novel ‘Tomorrow,’ illustrated by Garry Mac, was nominated for a 2018 British Fantasy Award. ~Jack Lothian