"I cannot think of the deep sea without shuddering at the nameless things that may be crawling and floundering on its slimy bed. I dream of a day when they may rise to drag down the remnants of puny, war-exhausted mankind — of a day when the land shall sink, and the dark ocean floor shall ascend amidst universal pandemonium."
-HP Lovecraft, "Dagon"
One day Boyd just didn't come home.
Ronnie woke to Mei crying on the phone, saying Boyd wasn't there and hadn't shown up to work and hadn't answered any of her calls for two days. The baby was crying on the other end of the line and even though it was three in the morning Ronnie and Alan both went over to Mei and Boyd's depressing walk-up a few blocks down. Mei spent the whole night pacing and drinking coffee and rocking little Sandra in her arms, hoping she'd quiet down. "It's because she knows," Mei said. "She knows her daddy is gone."
Ronnie took the baby and bounced her, trying to make her laugh. "She's just being fussy," Ronnie said. "I'm sure Boyd is fine. He's probably just, you know...out." That was the word they used when Boyd went on a bender.
Mei shook her head and bit nails. "Not this time," she said.
"He wouldn't leave Sandra," said Alan. He was standing in the kitchen door, hair still mussed from sleep. Ronnie agreed. Mei kept fretting. And Sandra, well, Sandra just cried.
The truth was, Ronnie thought Boyd really might have gone and done something crazy. He'd been worse than usual lately. The drugs and the drinking were always bad, but Boyd had never seemed like he didn't care. He never seemed like he wasn't trying. He always wanted to do right by Mei and Sandra, even if he was too much of a fuck-up to actually do it. That was why they all stuck by him even though he was never going to get it together, and why Alan and Ronnie chipped in on Mei's rent every month even though they could barely afford it.
Now things had changed. Sandra used to be all Boyd would talk about but now he scarcely mentioned the baby at all. He'd gotten pale and thin, and some bizarre rash appeared from time to time on his face. Last week Ronnie broke down and begged him to go to the hospital. He just stared at her like he didn't know who she was, eyes bulging from the fluid building up under his skin. He seemed dazed all the time, zombie-like.
And now he'd disappeared. Ronnie didn't say so, but she was as sure as Mei that whatever happened this time wasn't his normal drug binge. Sandra squirmed in her arms and Ronnie's heart broke a little bit. Where are you Boyd, she thought? We all need you here. Even I need you.
But there was no answer except the sound of the ocean surf outside.
Working at the Fish House the next day, Boyd was all she could think about. The shift was a person short without him and Ronnie was back and forth between the kitchen and the front, filling in between hostess duties with dishwashing. The traffic was the same as usual: tourists, tourists, and tourists. She tried to keep busy, and sang under her breath to pass the time. She realized she couldn't quite place the tune she was singing, but for some reason it made her think of Boyd more.
On her break she sat outside and watched the milling masses going up one end of Fisherman's Wharf and down the other, in and out of the souvenir shops and the restaurants or down to the docks to watch the boats coming in or the sea lions playing. The wharf was a two-story boardwalk of stores and restaurants on the waterfront. Tourists came to see Alcatraz and a view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the big ships coming in and out, and the locals sold t-shirts and seafood and a show and anything else. It was all the same as it had ever been. One man disappeared from everyone's lives, but the world kept turning.
Lauro, the busboy, took his break with her. He seemed interested in something on the floating docks below. "You ever wonder about the sea lions?" he said.
Ronnie blinked. "What about them?"
"Where'd they all go?"
Ronnie shrugged. As far as she could tell they were still there, a few dozen of the big, smelly beasts lying around, occasionally swimming or fighting or diving for food but mostly just sunning themselves and barking while the tourists took pictures. There used to be hundreds of them but in the past few years most had left. She'd only worked here after the great migration and never thought much of it.
"Sometimes I think they all ran away," Lauro said.
"That's what I keep wondering."
Ronnie was puzzled. Later that night, when the kitchen was closed and the chairs put up and the last tour boat had come and gone, she lingered over the sea lions again, watching two pups wrestle. The wind changed direction and blew straight in her face. She always hated that fishy salt smell of everything in and around the ocean, but there was no getting away from it here. Down below, one of the pups got the upper hand and pushed the other into the water with yelp and a splash. Ronnie giggled.
She waited for the pup to come back to the surface, but it didn't. She counted to herself. After a thirty-count the animal still hadn't reappeared. The one still on the dock started to bark. Then Ronnie saw something moving in the water. It wasn't shaped like a sea lion, or a dolphin, or anything else that usually swam to the surface here. It was big and ungainly. It almost looked like...
When she blinked and it was gone. She must be seeing things. For a moment she thought she'd seen something like a man in a wetsuit, but no one would be swimming in the filthy, freezing, pitch black water at this time of night. Still, the memory of the half-glimpsed figure troubled her. Rather than dwell on it, she went home.
The bus was late and Alan was already in bed when she got in. The fog was coming in off the beach and smothering the street. The sound of the waves followed her home. She knew she was lucky to have this place, lucky that her parents had bought it outright and left it to her, lucky to live in a decent neighborhood close to the beach, but the truth was she didn't like being so near the ocean. As a kid she'd used to have nightmares about it. She'd always been terrified of any deep water that she couldn't see to the bottom of. It was a secret relief when she finally moved out, to a place nearer the city center where she could see neither the ocean nor the bay. But when Mom and Dad died she'd come to live here again, just eight blocks away from those dark, roiling waters that never ended.
But even so, I'm lucky, she told herself as she unlocked the front door. I'm lucky in so many ways.
Alan's schoolwork was all over the table. Perspective class or anatomy class? She couldn't tell. Most of the sketches were of a woman, probably a sitting model. On the last couple he'd doodled in a scaly tail instead of legs, turning her into a mermaid. It made her laugh. He was getting better every week, though she knew these summer courses were hard on him. He'd offered to drop out and take more shifts at the restaurant to help with the bills, but Ronnie had said no. He had to finish school. He owed it to himself.
Of course, she had dropped out herself last year, but that was different. She'd never really known what she wanted to do in the first place. Alan actually had a dream, and at least a little talent. She wondered, of course, how they were ever going to keep paying for the upkeep on the house and the property tax, and how they were going to pay for Mei and Sandra now too, as she knew they would. But they'd always made everything work in the past. Somehow they would again. "Somehow" was always her plan.
To her surprise, Alan was not in bed when she found him. He was standing at the window in his underwear with the blinds up, staring outside. She crept up behind him, half expecting to find him spying on some neighbor changing her clothes, but in fact all he was looking at was the ocean. The water was black, and it rolled and throbbed like a huge living thing all its own. Alan was humming under his breath, and the tune was familiar. It sounded like the same song she'd been singing at lunch, the one she knew but couldn't quite place. "What is that?" she asked, and her voice startled him out of his reverie. He broke off and turned, hugging her. "What was that song?" she asked again.
Alan scratched the back of his head. "I don't know. Some lullaby. I heard Boyd singing it to Sandra once. Why?"
"It's familiar," was all Ronnie could say. She closed the blinds. Alan lay down on the bed and Ronnie lay half across him. It was hot during July nights, so damn hot even with the fog, but she still stayed as close to him as possible. He petted her hair. "Do you think Mei is okay tonight?" he said.
"Sure," said Ronnie. "I mean, as she ever is."
"I meant to go check on her after class, but it was so late..." He trailed off. She detected the undercurrent of guilt in his voice and leaned up to kiss his cheek.
"It's sweet of you to worry about her," she said. "But maybe time alone is what she needs. She's got to get used to taking care of herself one of these days." Alan grunted, but she still wanted to go check on her, and that he would keep checking as long as Boyd was gone, and probably even if Boyd came back. It was Alan's nature to want to save people. For a while, she'd even wondered if he and Mei were fooling around. It would be just like Alan to try to "rescue" her from her relationship with Boyd. And Mei, well, Mei was always too needy to say no to anyone. But she'd never caught them at anything.
Ronnie sat up and swung a leg over Alan's body, straddling him. She smiled in the dark and ran her hands down his naked chest; even with so little light she could see the contrast between them, her dark hand looking like a silhouette or a shadow against his pale Irish skin. She bucked on him a little, playfully. He made a noncommittal sound. "Not tonight, baby," he said.
"Oh come on," she said, pretending to pout.
"It's late. It was a hard day."
"I know. That's why you need TLC." She leaned over and kissed him, open-mouthed, her lips gliding against his. He kissed back, but only as much as he had to. She felt herself get mad for just a second but stopped it. Even this, she knew, was him trying to take care of her, trying to make sure she got real sleep for once instead of staying up half the night and spending all week in a zombie daze like she usually did. It was impossible to get mad at Alan because nothing Alan did was ever for himself, even when he was being stupid and thoughtless. So instead she just kept kissing him, and in time he kissed her back for real, though his enthusiasm was still somewhat lackluster. Finally she rolled off of him and, with a wicked grin, went to her where her purse hung on the back of a chair. Alan sat up a little to watch her. "What are you doing?" he said. She grinned some more.
"I got you something," she said.
He scratched his head.
"Something special, to help you, ah, relieve stress."
She fished around in her purse and then turned back to the bed. There was a hard clink of metal as she dangled them in front of his face: handcuffs.
He bit his lip.
Ronnie straddled him again, teasing him with the cuffs. "Look what I've got," she said, jingling them some more. He tried to reach for them but she snatched them away each time. She wagged a finger at him. "Ah, ah," she said. "Bad boy." She leaned in and purred next to his ear. "Hands against the posts, lover." She bit him. "Now."
Feigning reluctance, Alan put his wrists to the headboard, letting Ronnie snap the restraints in place. She clicked them until he grunted. "Too tight?" she said. He shook his head. "Good." She purred in his hear again, flicking the lobe with the tip of her tongue, the way she knew he liked. He moaned a little. She did it more. He writhed underneath her. She enjoyed the feeling of his movements, forceful but restrained. The chain of the cuffs rattled against the bed frame. When he pushed up and then down against her, it felt like the movement of the ocean...
The thought startled her and for a second she lost her focus. But when she met his eyes it reassured her, and her anxiety vanished. She kissed his jaw and the side of his neck, and then his shoulders and naked chest, again admiring the impressionistic contrast of her dark skin against his pale figure. His chest and stomach was a smooth, muscled plane all the way down, a swimmer's body. She teased his navel with her tongue, which she knew tickled and caused him to thrash in genuine discomfort. She only did it the once, just so she could hear him instinctively pull against his restraints. It wasn't any fun if he didn't at least try to get out, once. She laughed and winked at him, and he chuckled back. She rubbed herself back and forth against he hardening bulge of his cock, visible now through his underwear. "What have you got for me?" she said, pushing on it, rubbing her palm up and down. "What have you got, hmm?" He grunted and tried to answer but it seemed he could think of nothing clever, so he opted for sheepish, blushing silence. She was delighted. She kissed the bulge and then sat up on him again.
"I've got something for you," she said, pulling her shirt off and discarding her bra. The cold air of the bedroom tingled against her naked breasts. She saw Alan bite his lip again, and again his hands tried to go forward to touch her and feel her body only to be stopped short by the metal clatter of the cuffs; those things really were a good investment. She was glad she'd thought to buy them.
She squeezed her breasts underneath, fondling them a little, teasing him. Alan had always been a breast guy. She jiggled them, then leaned over him so that they were just out of reach of his upraised head. He even stuck his tongue all the way out trying to lick one, and she pushed him back down with the palm of her hand, laughing. He grumbled, so she finally took pity and leaned over some more, letting him kiss and then suck one breast. "Mmmm," she said as his lips caressed the sensitive flesh. He needed a shave and the sharp ends of his stubble rubbed against her so that she winced, savoring the sharp, satisfying pain.
She rubbed her nipple back and forth across his open mouth before pulling away again, then teasing him some more, back and forth, up and down, always just out of reach. All the while she was rubbing back and forth against his hard cock, sliding up and down the length of his shaft as it strained through the fabric, fit to burst. "What have you got for me?" she said again. "You see what I've got for you, but what have you got for me?" She reached between her own legs to squeeze him some more. He was in quite a state. She stripped her panties off, throwing them away, setting her naked, wet cunt against the bulge now, grinding him; delightful vibrations went up through her sex and traveled the length of her spine. She pushed herself down on him harder and harder, making the lips of her cunt squeeze tight around themselves and sending a jolt jumping up into her abdomen. "Ohhh, fuck!" she said, rolling her eyes. She licked a finger and began rubbing herself around and around while she moved. She felt hot and dirty all over.
Alan was so beside himself now she thought he might rip the headboard off. She pushed him back down and he moaned with frustration. Finally she pulled his underwear off, his erection springing free. She rubbed it back and forth across her palm before easing herself back into it, feeling it penetrate her wet lips and slide in. She watched Alan throw his head back and indulge in a long, satisfied groan as the muscles of her cunt slid around him, taking him in, squeezing him. Her clit pulsed as he filled her up. She laid out across his naked body, her arms twined round his neck, lips pressed to his as she rocked back and forth on his cock, sliding herself along the length of him. She tried to increase her control by pushing him down with her knees but it was no use; even without his hands he was bucking and pushing up against her with his hips. They seemed to fight for control for a few moments before Ronnie relented and finally, with a bit of difficulty because he would not stop thrashing, took the cuffs off.
He sat up straight and grabbed her in both arms with so much force that the breath left her body. Without waiting for her to recover he pushed her down on him while at the same time he pushed up, so hard and so far that she yelped as he hit her cervix. She hung onto him for support; he was shaking all over, trembling with the energy of all the enthusiasm she'd forced him to suppress. Now that he was out, he was taking it all out on her. Ronnie hung on for dear life, letting her neck crane back and crying out as she thrust up into her again and again, pulling her up and down on him, forcing her on and off. Her pussy throbbed and the feeling went all the way through her. Alan was out of control. She enjoyed the ride.
This went on and on until she felt it finally crest and swell up inside of her, hitting her hard and then washing away, leaving her stunned for a moment. She flopped down on the mattress, barely able to sit up, but Alan still wouldn't leave it be, climbing on top of her and going all the way back in. She didn't have time to catch her breath, so she made little hiccupping noises as he went and went and went. When he came inside her it felt like a burst and she gushed wet on him all over again. He lay over her then, spent and panting, his entire body damp with sweat. She ran her fingers through his hair and it came out drenched. He kissed her so hard it hurt. She let out an "Mmph" of satisfaction.
After they'd cuddled and talked a bit he drifted off to sleep. She stayed up a little longer, playing with the cuffs and watching him. He was cute when he was all tuckered out. Eventually she snuggled up to his bare back. Though the afterglow had allowed her to forget about it for a while, the sound of the ocean just outside was back at her now, fraying her nerves. But as long as Alan was here she could ignore it, or more precisely, so long as Alan was here, it didn't matter as much.
The last second before she fell asleep she thought she saw someone else at the window, a strange gray figure looking in. It was gone so fast she assumed it must not have been a real, a last-second hallucination brought on by the passage into sleep. There had been something unidentifiably awful about the shape of it, something that made her think of those fish with the giant teeth that swam through trenches on the bottom of the ocean. But it was gone now. Maybe it had never been there at all. Finally, eventually, the roaring ocean let her sleep, though her dreams were haunted by that strange song, the song with no name and no words, the song that her heart knew even if it did not know where it had come from.
Water was all over the floor.
Seawater, judging from the color and the smell, tracked all over the entryway. Ronnie was down on her hands and knees, mopping it up with paper towels. But the thing that really startled her was not the mess itself but the sudden realization that she was cleaning it in an automatic fashion without thinking about it or really acknowledging that it was there. It was almost as if she were sleepwalking and had now been jolted into wakefulness. She blinked at brackish water gurgling and her salt-stained fingers. What the hell, she thought? A distinct feeling of deja vu came over her.
"Alan?" she called.
"Huh?" he stuck his head out of the kitchen. She gestured to the tracked-in water. He didn't seem to see it. She pointed again, with a broader gesture, but his face remained blank. Finally she actually said, "What's with all the water on the floor?" Something clicked and his eyes refocused.