Concealed just beneath Pier 63 on the Seattle waterfront, Rob and Lonnie await in the open 16 foot aluminum boat. Between them face down on the boat’s floor is the mock bride, a mannequin wearing a white wedding dress slowly absorbing the moisture of the inch and half puddle it lies in. Lonnie looks at the mock bride, the veil and the blond wig fluttering in a cool breeze. A bouquet of spring flowers, freesias, peonies and daisies, is duct taped to her rigid right hand, the best they could do to make the flowers appear they are being held. She wears a pair of scuffed white leather pumps. Within the fiberglass body of the bride is a six -gallon polypropylene bladder full of Trader Joe’s brand tequila mixed with red dye and corn syrup, based on a recipe Lonnie used twenty-five years earlier for the blood needed for a community theatre production of Sweeny Todd. Three leftover bottles of tequila lie in the puddle beside the bride. Beneath the tequila-filled bladder, in the mannequin’s lower torso is a jumbled pile of twenty-one and a half pounds of turkey kielbasa, also bought at Trader Joe’s, a decent enough imitation of entrails for the Wedding.
Unseen overhead, the thousands of people in the waterfront crowd here for the Wedding can be heard as a muffled roar. Lonnie, wearing a zipped black windbreaker, sits stiffly upright at the bow with his right hand holding tightly to the nylon line tied in a half-hitch around a barnacle-encrusted piling. He fidgets with his left hand, running his fingers back and forth across his thumb. A taut stern line is tied to another piling, with both lines holding the boat in place, gently rocking side-to-side with the small waves lapping against the hull. Beside the shut-off outboard motor with its black dented shell, Rob lays across the boat with his back on the seat, one leg hanging over the gunnel, the other knee bent and foot flat. He wears a white T-shirt beneath an unbuttoned red flannel shirt, and a blue Seattle Mariners baseball cap. He hasn’t shaved in days, and he was already drunk when they got into the boat. Rob smokes a cigarette pointing straight up, nearing its filter with a teetering column of ash. Beside him is a cheap Styrofoam cooler filled with ice and cans of beer. Sunlight comes through the gaps of the pier’s decking as bright stripes over the boat and the two men, and dance over the ripples in the gray-green water.
Out beyond the pier, mounted on pilings are a pair of huge video screens and banks of speakers facing the shore. The screens show the view of a camera scanning the crowd, couples kissing as they see themselves on screen, excited families with kids wearing green masks with a beard of tentacles waving at the camera, sullen teenage boys seeing themselves on the screen and then turning their heads pretending not to notice their magnified images. Almost everyone in the crowd holds a clear plastic cup holding a red beverage, either fruit punch or the traditional cocktail of tomato juice and tequila, a Bloody Maria. To go with the tequila is another tradition, the mariachi music emanating loudly from the speakers.
Rob, still lying on the stern seat, carefully lifts his cigarette butt, with its tower of ash, over his head and drops into the water.
Lonnie frowns. “Those things do not decay. It will float around and wash up on some distant beach and still be there when the Old Ones go away and come back again.”
“Whatever,” says Rob.
Something knocks against the boat with a thud, rocking it slightly. It happens again. Rob sits up. “Fuck, I knew it. You shouldn’t have mentioned them.” Coming out of the water is the triangle tipped tentacle of an Elder Thing, the pillar-like body, half the length of the boat, barely visible beneath the water, its wings gently undulating. It pokes two of its five eye stalks out of the water, and points the red eyes at Rob. The eyes blink a few times as their stalks gesture back and forth. Rob grunts and yells, “Go and get it!” He grabs a beer out of the cooler and throws it fifteen feet from the boat. The Elder Thing gracefully glides away from the boat towards the sinking can. Before it reaches it, another Elder Thing breaks the surface, grabbing the can with a tentacle. The first Elder Thing, shoots a tentacle over to the other one, and for a few seconds they grapple, splashing water that hits Lonnie in the face. Rob says, “All right, there’s enough for everyone.” He grabs another beer and throws it at the skirmish. For a second the tussle intensifies, splashing even more, then they suddenly part and sink beneath the water. Rob yells at the ripples they left behind. “Fucking alkies!”
Lonnie licks his lips, wet and salty from the splash, and says, “When I taste the ocean, I think of the eons of rainfall before mankind existed, the rivers running over bare rocks, leaching out the minerals to salt the ocean.”
“You wanna beer?” says Rob. He pulls a can out of the cooler, holds it underhand and motions it up and down as an offer to Lonnie. Lonnie licks his lips again to taste the ocean and says, “I’ll have one.” Rob tosses the beer over the mock bride and Lonnie brings both hands together to catch it. Lonnie slowly lifts up the can’s tab, waits for the end of the hiss of carbonation to escape, then clicks open the tab. He stares down though the opening to the bubbling amber liquid, then quickly brings it up to his mouth. He lets the fizzy bitterness roll over his tongue, and he swallows. He has never liked the taste of beer.
He and Lonnie have a history. They had shared their first taste of beer, during one of their frequent elementary school weekend sleepovers, Rob sneaking a can to the bedroom as they sipped and kept themselves up far beyond their parents’ prescribed lights out as Lonnie retold his grandmother’s dread-inducing tales of the Old Ones and their imminent return. But by high school, Rob’s interest in baseball, girls, and beer took precedence over talk of the Old Ones, leaving Lonnie to grieve the loss of the one friend he thought had appreciated the terrible world to come.
The roar of the impatient crowd is getting louder. Rob says, “The big guy’s taking his time this year.” Lonnie wishes Rob would show more respect and not call Cthulhu “the big guy”, but he doesn’t want to rehash an old argument with him.
The mariachi music fades out. It is time. The screens show a map of the Pacific Ocean. From the speakers the emcee booms, “He has made his way around the Pacific Rim! Nagasaki! Vladivostok! Anchorage! Vancouver!” Each city lights up on the map as its name is spoken. “And now its Seattle’s turn for our annual gift to Cthulhu! As it is said in the old tongue, ‘Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!’ Brought to you this year by Jose Cuervo tequila and Rainier beer.” The screens show on either side the Jose Cuervo and Rainier marques.
The crowd roars. The Star Spangled banner starts and the screens show a waving American flag overlaid by views of members of the crowd, standing, holding up high their red-filled cups, mouthing the words of the anthem.
“The time has come!” continues the emcee. “Cthulhu no longer dreams in his city of R’lyeh. He awakes!”
The screens alternatively flash in bold red letters “CTHULHU” and “AWAKES!” and the crowd chants the words over and over together.
The theme from Jaws starts as the chanting of “CTHULHU AWAKES!” continues. Something large and dark can be seen gliding under the surface of the bay. The water roils in front of the pier. In the pier’s shadow, Rob and Lonnie await in the boat with the mock bride.
The emcee bellows, “Bow down to Cthulhu! Bow down!” One screen continues flashing “CTHULHU” and “AWAKES” and the other shows the crowd, about a quarter bothering to get on their knees. There’s a line of kneeling pot-bellied shirtless men, their faces and bodies painted green, each with one letter of Cthulhu written in dripping red on their chests, their bellies jiggling as they bow up and down with arms extended, exposing each letter in synchronized succession repeatedly spelling out C-T-H-U-L-H-U C-T-H-U-L-H-U C-T-H-U-L-H-U.
Cthulhu begins his rise from the bay. The music switches to Holst’s “Mars, Bringer of War.” The dark green twenty-foot wide forehead with furrowed brow breaks the surface, and the crowd’s cheers become deafening. Next, black eyes appear, dark three-foot wide pits absorbing the sight of those gathered on the waterfront. The entire head pops out of the water, and it shakes, the tentacles dangling from the awful mouth whip back and forth flicking sprays of seawater into the crowd.
In one quick shocking movement, Cthulhu’s raises his body from the bay’s floor and stands up to the full height of 150 feet, sending three foot high waves in all directions. Rob and Lonnie brace themselves as the waves rock the boat, then bounce off the seawall behind them and rock the boat again. The crowd’s roar gets even louder.
A rain of seawater sheds off Cthulhu’s scaly hide, gnarled and fouled with algae and barnacles. The immense wings stretch. Every year they are more torn and tattered. This year there is a 20 foot gaping hole in the right wing. The arms extend and hands open wide, showing foot long claws and the end of the fingers. In the water around the thick dark legs, a group of Elder Things splash about, their stalked red eyes pointing up at Cthulhu, waiting.
Lonnie tries to bring back his fervor and deep stomach churning-dread when he first witnessed Cthulhu rise from the water years ago. But now there’s almost nothing. All he has left is memories of that feeling and a seething resentment as he thinks of the children that now hug their plush stuffed Cthulhus as they fall asleep while their parents read them Goodnight Cthulhu.
On the screens the true bride stands at the edge of the pier. She’s in her wedding dress and white pumps, a duplicate bouquet of spring flowers, freesias, peonies and daisies in hand. Two tall men in dark suits and sunglasses stand beside her, gripping her upper arms, and she turns and twists as if she is struggling to escape. Her headset microphone can be seen on the screen; her amplified screams pierce the air.
Looking up, Rob and Lonnie watch the shadows of the bride’s struggle through the gaps of the decking.
The volume of the bride’s screams are turned down, and the emcee announces, “And now we offer Your Bride.” She stops screaming and the men release her. “For the eighth time, the beautiful Sheila White takes her vows.” She gives a smile and waves to the crowd as they applaud. She resumes her screaming and the men grab her arms again. The emcee continues, “Brought to you by our sponsor Jose Cuervo, here is our sacrifice to protect our insignificant and meaningless lives from Your unspeakable horrors. Everyone hold your drink high for the toast.”
The homily prompts Rob and Lonnie to lay the mock bride’s stiff form face up across the gunnels, her feet and head hanging over the water. They stand and wait.
The music switches to the traditional wedding march of Wagner’s Bridal Chorus and Cthulhu takes one step forward, now standing between the two screens showing the screaming bride. Cthulhu extends an arm towards her, the clawed hand as tall as the bride. The men in dark suits and sunglasses release the bride and quickly step away. The screens overlay the view with the flashing words “I DO!” Cthulhu wraps fingers around the bride, just beneath her arms, and picks her up, leaving behind one white shoe and scattered petals. The screams lose their volume for a moment before the bride readjusts the headset that had turned askew as she was lifted. The music changes again, to the opening strumming guitar and handclaps of The Champs’ “Tequila”
Cthulhu tilts his hand back, spreads his tentacles, exposing his mouth and opens his maw wide exposing his teeth, pointed, crooked and chipped, and his sickly gray tongue. As the guitar and sax of “Tequila” continues, the screaming bride is dangled by her feet over the mouth, the tentacles writhing out towards her. Cthulhu’s other hand wraps around her completely, enclosing her in a fist.
Cthulhu raises his empty hand toward the sky, flicking his fingers. Then Cthulhu does the transfer. The hand holding the bride drops beneath the pier, turning so the she is upright. Rob steps aside as Cthulhu gently deposits the true bride beside him. The bride still performs her screams into the headset. Cthulhu reaches under the supine mock bride. The hand cradles the mannequin, and pulls it out from under the pier. The true bride keeps up her screaming. She covers the microphone with one hand, turns to Rob and says, “Hey, babe.”
“Hey, Sheila,” says Rob. He puts an arm around her waist and bumps his hip against hers.
“Hey, Lonnie,” says Sheila.
Lonnie looks down and says, “Hey.”
She uncovers the microphone and continues her screaming. On the video monitors, Rob and Lonnie watch Cthulhu bring the mock bride up to his tilted back head and wide open mouth. One hand grips her at the waist, the other hand at the shoulders. As the one lyric in the song, “Tequila!” shouts from the speakers, there’s a crack, the screaming abruptly stops and the mannequin is snapped in half, tearing open the bladder full of tequila-based stage blood. As it pours into Cthulhu’s mouth, leaving red stains on the torn remnants of the wedding dress, the crowd gives their simultaneous toast, bringing their cups to their lips and gulping their Bloody Marias and fruit punch.
The kielbasa doesn’t tumble from the bottom half of the mannequin’s torso as expected. Cthulhu shakes it over his maw, and it still doesn’t come out. He shakes it one more time, unsuccessfully, then releases both halves of the mock bride to plummet into the bay.
The Elder Things at Cthulhu’s feet splash and fight over the kielbasa-filled half of the mannequin, and it is pulled beneath the water. The top half of the mannequin, with the red-stained wedding dress, remains, bobbing in the waves.
Sheila sits down on the stern bench and sees the leftover bottles of Tequila. “You guys are such cheapskates. I hope he doesn’t care the tequila is from Trader Joe’s and isn’t Cuervo.”
Lonnie stares straight at Sheila and says, “We purposefully tempted Cthulhu at our own risk to further the deep foreboding of our inevitable doom.” Sheila scoffs and looks over at Rob.
“Yeah,” says Rob. “What he said.”
As “Tequila” finishes, the emcee announces, “And now the Rainier beer for the post-wedding dance party!” From the speakers come, “Everybody dance now!” as the infectious beat of C+C Music Machine’s “Gonna Make You Sweat” begins. The screens show the pier with a Rainier branded tanker truck, and men holding three fire hoses.
Lonnie can’t take it any more. “The time has come to leave,” he shouts over the music. “Now.” He unties the bow line from the piling. Rob tugs at the outboard’s pull cord and starts the motor, then unties the stern line. He sits next to Sheila, grabs the tiller and opens up the throttle fully, drowning out the music.
They shoot out from beneath the pier heading north, bouncing across the waves. From the bow, Lonnie looks back at the receding Cthulhu doing a lumbering dance of gyrating hips, twirling tentacles and flapping wings as the three fire hoses on the pier shoot streams of beer shoot at his mouth, suds dripping down his body to the water. Lonnie grunts and turns away.
After a minute, Rob kills the motor, and as the boat glides to a stop and rocks, he stands up on the seat and starts urinating over the stern. Sheila shakes her head and makes her way up to the bow to sit next to Lonnie. “You doing okay?” she asks him.
He can hear the beat of the dance music behind him, but he looks forward, off to the distance. “I remember the days when men had harrowing dreams of unspeakable horrors and indescribable monsters.”
While urinating and without turning his head, Rob says, “We’re not kids any longer. Things change. Cthulhu gets what he wants. The people get what they want. Everyone’s happy.”
Lonnie turns briefly towards the now stumbling Cthulhu, then looks away. He hangs his head down.
Sheila gently puts an arm around him and says, “Lonnie, what do you dream of these days?”
Rob turns his head and interjects, “What about me, babe? Why don’t you ask me about my harrowing dreams?”
Sheila rolls her eyes. “Okay, Rob, tell me about your harrowing dreams.”
He zips up, sits back down and scratches his chin. “My harrowing dreams? Well, there’s unspeakable horrors. But there’s no indescribable monsters.” He pauses, then lets out a small chuckle. “Sorry, Lonnie, but now that I think about it, my dreams are probably the same as the big guy’s now.” Rob gives a dismissive nod over his shoulder towards the teetering Cthulhu. “In my dreams…” He stops because he sees Lonnie’s shoulders fall. Lonnie knows what Rob is going to say.
A moment passes and Sheila looks at Rob waiting for him to finish. “In your dreams, what?” she says.
“People.” He looks away from Lonnie and quickly says, “In my dreams, there are only people.”
Lonnie lets out a mournful sigh.
Rob starts the motor and they head north across the bay.
Banner Image: Seattle waterfront – Pixabay.com