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"Wicked for the Cthulhu Mythos" Seanan McGuire on the Innsmouth Legacy
Ruthanna Emrys’ Innsmouth Legacy, which began with Winter Tide and continues with Deep Roots, confronts H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos head-on, boldly upturning his fear of the unknown with a heart-warming story of found family, acceptance, and perseverance in the face of human cruelty and the cosmic apathy of the universe. Emrys brings together a family of outsiders, bridging the gaps between the many people marginalized by the homogenizing pressure of 1940s America.
Aphra Marsh, descendant of the People of the Water, has survived Deep One internment camps and made a grudging peace with the government that destroyed her home and exterminated her people on land. Deep Rootscontinues Aphra’s journey to rebuild her life and family on land, as she tracks down long-lost relatives. She must repopulate Innsmouth or risk seeing it torn down by greedy developers, but as she searches she discovers that people have been going missing. She will have to unravel the mystery, or risk seeing her way of life slip away.
The Innsmouth Legacy
Book 1: Winter Tide
Book 2: Deep Roots
About the Author
RUTHANNA EMRYS lives in a mysterious manor house on the outskirts of Washington, DC with her wife and their large, strange family. Her stories have appeared in a number of venues, including Strange Horizons, Analog, and Tor.com. She is the author of the Innsmouth Legacy series, which began with Winter Tide. She makes home-made vanilla, obsesses about game design, gives unsolicited advice, and occasionally attempts to save the world.
Read an Excerpt
Grand Central Station stretched beyond human scale, and the crowd within matched it. Amid the swift current of travelers Neko held tight to my hand, even as she craned to glimpse columns and golden statues. Trumbull and Audrey and Deedee took the lead, a confident vee to navigate the turbulence. I trailed in their narrow wake, overwhelmed by the stench of a thousand perfumes, a thousand joys and worries and attractions, a thousand bodies flavoring New York's overpowered air.
"This way," Audrey called back. She led us toward an archway.
"How can you tell?" Caleb muttered.
"Let's hope she knows," said Charlie. "We can't very well stop to check." His cane thumped the marble floor as he worked to keep up. He was right — Audrey's speed merely kept us in pace with the crowd.
"You have to know," she called back cheerfully. "Otherwise, you get lost."
After the first shock, the crowd began to resolve into people, variety too great to seem truly monolithic. There were pale-skinned women in well-fitted dresses and neatly jacketed men like those who dominated Arkham; others whose features reminded me of Morecambe County's Polish communities. Such immigrants, I'd been told as a child, would make signs against the curse they saw in our faces, but it was the long-settled descendants of Puritans whose superstitions were most dangerous.
Beyond these familiar types, I saw every kind of face and dress I'd encountered in San Francisco and a few I hadn't. Scandalously short skirts and faces hidden by scarves, eyes heavy-browed or framed as neatly as my Nikkei family's, fabulous beards and unlikely hats. A woman who barely came up to my shoulder carved a determined path with a pram, cooing at her child and glaring at all who brushed too close. Two clean-shaven negro men in brown robes backed against a pillar, bent over maps they protected with jutting elbows. A rotund white man carried a trombone under one arm and hoisted a bag of papers with the other. He checked his watch, and hastened his step.
In Arkham and Boston, we'd drawn stares — for my face or Audrey's magnetizing effect on men, or for the variation within our group. Here we received only the scant attention needed to avoid collisions. I began to believe that we might really, after so many false leads, discover some distant cousins overlooked by the government during Innsmouth's destruction. Our expatriates could easily have settled here unremarked.
And so they might remain, if the press of the station gave any taste of what awaited us outside.
"There it is!" Audrey pointed above the sea of heads, and when I stood on tiptoe I could see the pillar of the station clock where Spector had promised to meet us.
In the grand hall surrounding our landmark, I pulled even closer to the others. Trumbull glanced back. "Look up."
I drew breath: above, across the vast ceiling, stretched a painted sky. It was stylized, constellations imposed on line drawings of Pegasus and ram and skittering crab. These stars were trod by the comprehensible, human-image gods to which the station was a temple, not the distant suns that birthed mine. And still, it was holy.
Caleb glanced at Professor Trumbull. "Are their cities like this?"
She smiled. "This is as close as humans come to the Yith's capitol." I wondered how close the comparison came, what remembered glories she now excavated from her mind's sojourn among that ancient, inhuman race.
The clock topped a ring of counters. Behind them, harried clerks dispensed guidance to equally harried travelers. Charlie tensed; through our confluence I felt him shiver with fear or joy, or both. I followed his gaze to where a thin, black-clad figure waited, a branch parting the current. That perfection of stillness melted as we approached, and quick strides brought Ron Spector easily through the press of bodies. Spector's decisive movements and energy, startling in San Francisco or Arkham, seemed born of the station's rhythm. He clasped Charlie's hand and Caleb's with equal apparent pleasure, offered to take Trumbull's suitcase and slung my shoulder bag across his chest as well. The rest of us fell into step behind him, save for Deedee, who kept pace by her old colleague's side.
"You find us a place near this doctor, the one who thinks he's found Caleb's wayward cousin?" she asked.
He shook his head. "There's a boardinghouse that I trust near my family in St. Mary's Park. Clean, and good food, and willing to put up with people coming and going at odd hours. And cheap enough not to scare Miss Marsh." He glanced back only briefly, but his voice was teasing. "It's a quick enough ride to Brooklyn on the IRT Lexington Avenue line, and who knows where you'll have to go once you talk with your doctor."
"That's fine," I said, though I wondered at the way Deedee pulled herself straighter, the hint of shortened breath that passed sudden and vivid through the confluence. It might be better not to ask; for all the intimacy of our connection, Deedee preferred to keep her distress private.
A newsstand halted Spector's momentum; he swung aside to examine the headlines. I wasn't surprised: they were full of the Hiss trial, Soviet spies infiltrating the American government throughmundane stealth. Spector likely knew the agents who'd tracked the man down. He must be immersed in both the rational fear of further collaborators and the hysteria that President Truman warned against at the bottom of the page.
There was an edge to the headlines that I didn't like. Even knowing a fraction of what Spector's masters feared, I could guess at the tensions swelling. Frightened people would look for enemies, and find them.
Spector straightened, shook his head, and led us down to the subway station. Tiled walls created an echoing cave of footsteps and muddled conversation, but the crowd was sparser. I was relieved to see signs forbidding cigarettes and pipes; my throat still stung after the ride from Boston. Even so, the platform air was a stew: half-spoiled food, urine, sweat, faded perfumes and musks. It cloyed and teased, wavering curtains of rot blowing aside for a moment to reveal hints of lust and roses.
"We'd better move farther down the platform — more room for your luggage near the front of the train." Spector's voice recalled me to practicalities. I followed, watching his confident stride. This was why, despite all my doubts, we'd asked for his help finding our way around New York: on his native soil, he offered the best chance of finding what we sought. That, and the pleasure his company brought Charlie, were sufficient arguments for his presence.
Still it rankled. I'd come to like Spector the last time we worked together. But until now I'd never gone to him for help — he'd always approached me first. And while he'd proven himself largely trustworthy, he was an agent of the state, and some of his colleagues were far less honorable. He was here with us now on his own time, but he could not be counted on to offer help alone, even if he wanted to.
The state had destroyed Innsmouth. Asking for Spector's help as we tried to rebuild came perilously close to suggesting they could make up for that crime.
The train cried its arrival: a long piercing scream like a monster inmourning. Inside, bodies pressed close. The smell was worse than anything in the station. It was nothing like the ticketed train up the coast, one passenger per seat, nor like the open cable cars in San Francisco. I held my breath and clutched my valise. Far better to think of the train from the camp to San Francisco, full of familiar sweat and freely mixed Japanese and English chatter — and not of an earlier trip in boxcars smelling of rotted fish. I closed my eyes, listened: around me voices rose in a dozen accents of English, some Eastern European tongue, the unmistakable weaving rhythm of Chinese. My ears rang painfully, but my breathing slowed: it sounded more like San Francisco than like anywhere else I'd lived. Eventually, I opened my eyes.
The train shook and rattled. Spector shifted easily with the movement, rocking slightly as if on a boat. Deedee kept a hand lightly on the back of a nearby seat; she too adapted easily to the ragged sway. A pale young man gave up his seat to Charlie, who settled in with a nod and pulled his cane close to avoid others' legs and ankles. The rest of us gripped poles and handbars, trying our best not to trip into the sea of strangers. Neko caught my eye and nodded, wan smile betraying her own nerves.
The press eased as we left Manhattan. The remaining riders wore darker clothes, more mended, with scarves or strange small hats pulled tight against their skulls. Finally Spector led us out onto a smaller platform, then up to the street. For the first time I tasted the city's open air.
"Welcome to the Bronx." Spector sounded uncharacteristically shy.
San Francisco, the city I knew best, stretched over ancient hills and endless fog. It was easy to imagine its topography stripped of human habitation, grown wild with the strange plants and stranger animals that would cover it through aeons without witness — and to imagine it reborn long after humanity was dust, hills only a little eroded, as a new city for another species.
Not so, New York. I knew we stood on an upthrust of bedrock, scarcely five miles from the open water of the Atlantic. But the honking cars, the grocers and delis and hardware stores and veterinarians squeezed together with no apparent pattern, the sidewalk crammed with food carts and families — all seemed crafted on a foundation of human whim alone. Newsstands blared civilized horror: bloodshed in China, Soviet spies in America, magazines speculating about "push-button warfare." Exhaust mingled with tobacco smoke and the scent of hot dogs and pickles, sweat and aged dirt and oil and disinfectant. No hint of salt water could wind through that tapestry.
And yet, Spector relaxed into this rhythm. The street hummed. Its shifting vibration made me want to pull off my shoes and let the energy course through me. I wanted to ride and gentle it as I might a thunderstorm, or drink from it like the ocean. It made its own topography, seductive as it was terrifying.
"Thank you," I said to Spector.
Neko stretched her fingers to catch the air. "Does your family live around here?" she asked.
"Five blocks north," he said. "But Tante Leah's boardinghouse is closer."
"Are you going to introduce us?" asked Charlie. His voice had grown tight. Caleb too looked nervous; his neck twisted, owl-like, at every surge of sound.
Spector ducked his head. "I'm sure you'd get along with them, but Mama and my sisters ... they aren't the most discreet people in the world. Downright nosy, really. Leah's more likely to let people keep to themselves."
Caleb humphed, and Deedee brushed his elbow. People hurried around us, seeming too caught up in their own worlds to care about anyone else's business. Then again, each pause to buy a hot dog or read a flyer must rub against five others doing the same; only gossip would make the friction bearable.
My throat stung. If I let myself start coughing, the fit would bring me to my knees. I swallowed, forcing saliva, and focused on the tantalizing hum. It seemed blasphemous to treat it like anything natural, but when I pushed past my reluctance I found it easier to navigate the breaks in the crowd, and to catch miserly breezes that eased the tightness in my lungs.
We turned onto a side street. The mosaic of signs and awnings gave way to simple row houses of worn brown stone, each narrow facade flush with those on either side. Tinny music wafted through open windows. Trees stood isolate in sidewalk grates; herds of dandelion and grass pushed tendrils through every crack.
Spector led us to a house fronted by steep concrete stairs. Inside, I blinked against suddenly dim light. The lobby reminded me, painfully, of the old Gilman House hotel: the tiled floor and cool shadows, and folk looking up curiously from card tables to examine the newcomers. Gilman House had always been as much local gathering place as residence for Innsmouth's occasional out-of-town visitors. The people here — bearded men in dark hats, women in shawls and scarves — seemed thoroughly settled, and I wondered if they lived at Tante Leah's or simply accreted from apartments nearby. Stale cooking oil and old smoke permeated the air with a peculiar, almost plastic smell, bearable largely by comparison with the miasma outside.
An elderly woman rose from her chair. "Ron, zenen di deyn gest?"
"Ya, zey ... zenen." Spector spoke more slowly, hesitating over his words. "But they only speak English."
She looked us over. She was short — barely past my shoulder — but she had an air of hospitable authority. "Well, I figure that. Shvartse girl, a couple of shiksa ... doesn't matter. You have strange friends, I have rooms, I have food. Just tell me, your mama asks, you have a Jewish girl somewhere?"
He grimaced. "I don't have a girl anywhere, Jewish or otherwise. She knows that."
"She worries about you."
He sighed. "I have two brothers and two sisters, all married but Sadie, and Ira and Rivka have kids. She should relax."
"Oh, Sadie. She's a mashugina. You should be grateful, you giveeveryone less worry than her. Well. You need, looks like one room for the boys, maybe two for the girls?"
We moved swiftly — and to Spector's clear relief — from familial imprecation to the process of getting settled. Tante Leah bustled us upstairs, distributed stacks of fresh-pressed towels, and divided us among our rooms.
I could stretch my arms and touch both bunk and opposing wall; we couldn't stand at all without stacking our two valises. A slit window admitted a warm, fetid breeze and the view of nearby bricks.
"It has a lock," said Neko, and I allowed that this hadn't been a virtue of all the rooms we'd shared. The sheets and mattresses seemed clean, and burying my nose in the pillows offered a respite from the city's scent rather than a magnification.
When we came back downstairs we found Spector talking with a newcomer. Spector shifted, seeming dissatisfied with every attempt to fit in his chair, while the other man leaned forward intently. The newcomer shared his long broad nose, the slender frame that folded to encompass available space. Spector saw us and gave a little embarrassed shrug. He rose.
"Miss Aphra Marsh, Miss Neko Koto, this is my brother Mark. Mark, these are some of my friends from Massachusetts. And here are the rest." This last as Caleb and Charlie, Professor Trumbull and Audrey, appeared on the stairs.
If Spector had truly wanted to keep us from his family, as he claimed, he wouldn't have brought us here. I hung back, uncertain what was expected.
"Always good to meet Ron's friends," said Mark. "He doesn't bring them home very often."
"And have Mom fuss over everyone?" said Spector.
"She has been, anyway. Someone" — he waved a hand at the common room — "told her you'd been here to set up a room, and you hadn't said you'd be bringing anyone by, so of course she sent me to invite whoever it was for dinner."
Mark's eyes lingered on each of us — no. On the women, with a little frown completing his assessment of each.
Spector let out a breath. "If their plans permit, I'm sure they'd be glad to ... they didn't come here to visit me. I'm just helping. A mitzvah."
"Mm. It's the first time you've been here for years, outside of holidays."
Spector shrugged. "She's always asking me to visit more often. And my friends needed a tour guide."
Another glance. "You make interesting friends."
Caleb put his arm around Deedee and frowned in return. Mark's eyes darted between me, Neko, and Audrey.
Trumbull took Mark's hand and smiled, all Arkham upper-crust confidence. "Thank you for your kind invitation. We'll be glad to come by for dinner, of course — just as soon as our business allows."
* * *
Caleb Marsh — May 1949:
Deedee takes another leather-bound volume from the pile. Mottled calfskin has worn thin, ink fading over embossed runes. She squints at the ornately lettered title. "The Meeting of ... Words?" A few months' study, and our languages already come more easily to her than to me. But I'm not envious. I enjoy watching her learn, the way concentration interrupts her usual performance and lets her thoughts show on her face.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Deep Roots"
Copyright © 2018 Ruthanna Emrys.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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