“We should have listened to Danforth,” said Carter, morosely poking at his food. He picked up his glass of raki, downed it in a single heroic gulp and poured himself another with a shaking hand. “Danforth warned us from the start that there were... dangers. But he spoke in hints and riddles, and frankly, most of us thought he was mad. He knew, though. Oh, he definitely knew.”
“Knew what?” I prompted, when Carter fell into a brown study. He seemed fascinated by the platter before him.
“Eh?” He looked at me, startled. “Oh. Danforth. Well, yes. He knew what was down there, in the deep waters around Easter Island. God alone knows how he knew, but he was right. Yet we ignored him. Even when the early cores came up with shards of pottery and worked stone, we ignored Danforth. The oil was down there, dammit! The geological profiles were perfect. All we had to do was drill down and let it flow. Oil, Dirk!” he looked at me, almost pleading. “You know what that means to the world today. Even after it became clear we were drilling through some kind of unknown sea-floor ruin — some sort of archaeological treasure — we kept going. I showed the evidence to Naidoo, and he agreed with me. We told no-one. There was simply too much money at stake.”
I nodded, not daring to interrupt. I had gone to great lengths to find Eric Carter, the only known survivor of the infamous Aphrodite oil-rig disaster. No matter how unbelievable his story, I needed to hear it all.
“When they came in the night, it was Danforth who showed us how to fight them. Fish-men they were, such as the filthy Islanders whisper of, with bulging eyes and queer, thick lips. But they were strong, and they were quick, and if it hadn’t been for Danforth, they might have taken us then. We fought back with fire and electricity, and almost, we prevailed.”
He closed his eyes for a moment. What looked out from them when they opened again was less than human. “But then it came,” whispered Carter. “Madness and death. Naidoo looked upon it, and with his last strength clawed his eyes from his head, screaming wordlessly. Danforth — Danforth threw me into a life-raft and cut the ropes. ‘Don’t look back,' he cried. Then he threw something into the boat with me, and I caught it by instinct. 'I shan’t need this any more,' he said. ‘Take it, for protection — and remember me, Carter.’ Those were the last words I heard from him.”
Carter fumbled beneath his shirt, and drew out a strange medallion of glassy green stone, a queerly fluid star-shape worked upon it. “Danforth’s charm,” he said. “I think now it is all that kept me alive.”
"But — what happened to Danforth?” My voice was a croak, barely audible even to me.
Carter looked away. “Once I was well clear, he blew up the rig. He must have wired the fuel — nearly a thousand tonnes of bio-diesel, meant to supply the rig and all her ships with power and heat and light for over a year.” He laughed bitterly. “It was part of the company’s new image. The fuel was recycled from old cooking oil, to help quell the greenies who thought we shouldn’t be drilling out there. All of it, up in one huge blast. In one unbelievable instant, Danforth transformed that night from an unknown species of hell into a true inferno. A vast, orange-red ball of roiling flame, rising from the black waters like Armageddon itself. Silhouetted before it... that shape. Oh, Christ — that shape.” He seized the bottle of raki and drank straight from the neck. “I still see it, in my nightmares. Enormous, gigantic, dwarfing the rig itself. Manlike, yes, but behind it and above, the shadow of titanic wings, ragged and batlike. And where a man might have a head... my God.” He grew pale, the dark shadow of his beard standing out against his face. Grinding his teeth, he forced out a word. “Tentacles,” he said. "I saw tentacles."
His courage failed. He tilted the bottle high and drank desperately, his throat working until the fiery spirit was gone. “I only saw it for a moment,” he rasped at last. “Then the fireball consumed it utterly, and I was left to wonder whether I had seen anything at all.”
I let him catch his breath, then tried to distract him from the nightmarish memory that tortured him. Perhaps I could have come up with something better at another time, but under the circumstances, I simply asked the first question that came into my head.
“Far from the sea lanes... nothing but a life-raft. How did you survive?”
“As best I could,” said Carter. “When the flames died, I paddled back, looking for things to salvage. Food. Drink. Anything. But the rig was gone, and with it the supply vessels. All I could gather was — what the sea gave up. There were things that... floated. Pieces. Any other time, I would never have considered eating them, but I was desperate. At least with the heat of the fire, the stuff was — “ he broke off, shuddering.
“My God,” I breathed. “You actually ate —”
Carter fixed me with a darkling eye. “On my honour,” he said steadily, “I cannot truly say.”
We sat for a long time after that, each of us staring into our own particular world. At last, I stirred myself. “At least the food here is good.” I said, glancing covetously at Carter’s plate. “You haven’t touched your main course. Are you planning to eat it?”
Carter looked up and smiled. At least, I think it was meant to be a smile. He pushed the plate across the table, and spoke through tight-closed teeth. “I think not,” he said. “It seems I’ve somehow lost the taste for kalamari...”
This piece was written for a combined anthology of cooking stories and recipes a few years back, but the anthology itself didn't come to fruition. I suppose I could have put this story on the submission train, and I vaguely recall I may have made a half-hearted effort in that direction, but in all honesty, I think it has a fairly limited range of suitability. Essentially a parody, the nod to Lovecraft in the style leaves it fairly stiff, and you need to know the Cthulhu Mythos stuff for the joke to really work.
Granted, these days the Mythos is a genuine part of mainstream pop culture -- but it's still a small, specialised part. I wrote this story mostly because it was fun, and I think 'most every fan of Lovecraft has at least one stylised mythos piece to exorcise. I suspect this story is just as well off here, published on the web, as in any commercial outlet it might actually find.
Not every story finds a home, you see. But that doesn't mean there's no use to them. Most of us keep old ideas and adapt them to new ends. A paragraph here, a scene there, a character from somewhere else. But in this case, the central joke -- deep fried Cthulhu -- probably wouldn't work anywhere else!