"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 mankind—when the land shall sink, and the dark ocean floor ascend amidst universal pandemonium."
-HP Lovecraft, "Dagon"
One day Boyd just didn't come home, and that was how the end started.
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.
Ronnie heard the baby crying on the other end of the line, and even though it was three in the morning Ronnie and Alan both woke up and went over to Mei and Boyd's apartment a few blocks down to check on things.
Mei spent the whole night pacing and drinking coffee and rocking little Sandra in her arms. "She's crying 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, and 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 even at his worst Boyd had never seemed like he didn't care.
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 Ronnie chipped in on Mei's rent every month, even though she 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 a couple blocks away.
When Ronnie went into work 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, thinking about what running away meant.
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. I must be seeing things, she thought. For a moment she thought she'd seen something like a man in a wetsuit, but no one would be swimming in the freezing, pitch black water at this time of night.
Still, the memory of the half-glimpsed figure troubled her all the way home.
The bus was late, which meant she was late getting home. She'd had plans with Alan to meet at her place but she expected he'd already given up and gone home. To her surprise, she caught him asleep on the couch, where he must have dozed off waiting for her.
She'd given him the extra key a week ago, with a warning not to interpret this as any sign that they were getting more serious. He'd still looked secretly pleased with himself on accept it, though.
It looked like he'd fallen asleep in the middle of working on something from one of his art classes. She leafed through pages on the table: mostly anatomy drawings of a sitting model. On the last one he'd doodled a scaly tail instead of legs, making her a mermaid. It was cute.
Outside, 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 a place of her own, and close to the beach, lucky that her parents had bought it outright and left it to her.
But the truth was she didn't like being so near the ocean. As a kid she'd used to have nightmares about the ocean. She'd always been terrified of any deep water that she couldn't see to the bottom of...
She kicked the couch and Alan woke up, confused and with his hair mussed. Ronnie burst out laughing. He sat up, looking sheepish and apologizing for falling asleep on her.
"Don't sweat it," she said. "I had a long, hard day, and I can think of a better way for you to apologize to me."
Back in the bedroom she pushed him down onto the mattress and swung a leg over Alan's body, straddling him. She stripped his shirt off and 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 leaned over and kissed him, open-mouthed, her lips gliding against his. Then she whispered, teasing: "I got you something."
She 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.
"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.
Alan 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 boy." 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. Ronnie rubbed herself back and forth against the 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 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.
Ronnie's clit pulsed as he filled her up. She lay 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. 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.
Ronnie 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.
They'd only been going out for a month or two. Really, "going out" wasn't quite the right word. Alan had made it clear he wanted to be more than just friends with benefits, but for reasons she didn't quite understand herself, Ronnie held off.
The last second before she fell asleep, Ronnie 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 strange music, and thoughts of the ocean that she couldn't quite recall when she woke, except that they made her feel anxious and strange.
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'd been sleepwalking, and now was 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, he actually saw it.
"Huh. That's weird," he said. "I don't remember doing that. Did you do that?"
Ronnie shook her head. She didn't even remember waking up. Alan shrugged and got down to help her clean up. She got the distinct impression that, as soon as they were done, he didn't remember doing it. And she would have been more troubled except that, very soon, neither did she...
Alan's shift at work didn't start until two hours after hers, but they rode in on the same bus. They made themselves a little late by stopping at Mei's to check on her. She seemed a bit less agitated today, until she started talking about how she'd found Boyd's gun and was sleeping with it under her pillow.
It took Alan half an hour to talk her into at least giving him the bullets out of it. There were probably more in the apartment, but it was all they could do except babysit her all day to make sure that she didn't up and shooting herself—or worse.
There was only one seat left on the bus, so Alan stood and let Ronnie sit. Across from them was a man frantically and fervently talking to himself. He didn't look like the average homeless ranter though: He was well-dressed and he looked clean. He was even shaved. But he raved and slurred his words and injected short laughs into sentences:
"We all come up from the ocean, everything, lizards, pigs, birds, even people. If you go back far enough, it's all about those first slimy things that crawled onto the beaches.
"You ever wonder about that, what made them do it? Here you are, you're a fish, and you're swimming around, and you've got the whole world of oceans to swim in, so why go up on the land? Why do that?
"Maybe it's because you're running away. Maybe it's because you know all about that other stuff down there in the ocean and you want to come up where it can't get at you.
"What do you think is out there so bad that it scared them clear up onto the land? That's what it's all about, whatever it is. That's the real ocean."
He was still talking when they got off. Ronnie kissed Alan and went into work. Renee and Carlton both hadn't shown up that day, so they were even more shorthanded than usual.
A new kid was replacing Boyd, but he didn't seem altogether there. He was moody and quiet, and he kept dropping things. When he shook hands with Ronnie his palm felt strangely smooth and slick. In fact, everything about him had an oddly polished look, and his eyes were very wide, and he didn't blink very much.
Ronnie kept telling herself that he didn't really look that much like Boyd the last time she'd seen him, but the thought kept nagging her.
The lunch shift went by in a stream of plastic baskets, folded napkins, washcloths streaking dirtied tables, and the mildly befuddled but generally genial faces of tourists who looked at you as if you were some queer species of local animal that they wanted to observe in its native environment.
Some of them were rude, but Ronnie didn't get mad. It's not their fault, she told herself. It's just the way things are. You can't expect every person to do things exactly right all the time. You have to cut them some slack. You have to—