MUD MEN

Dan inhaled deeply on his High Point. Tastes sweet, like a cigarette treat! Not the most grammatical sentence in the world, but the slogan was good enough to keep the brand from collapse just after its launch in 1954, when those limey scientists told the world that smoking—a popular and perfectly legal act linked to good digestion and happy families back to the goddamn redskins—caused cancer and other fatal diseases. Fine, no more health claims, but it was undeniably a sweet-tasting smoke and who didn’t like a treat? People appreciated that, and what’s more, people liked to hear it from Bob Hope and Jackie Gleason on their Philco radios and Predicta television sets.

High Point Cigarette Co. was saved. From that grand slam, to his 1957 What, do you LIKE leprosy? campaign to rescue thalidomide from low sales overseas, to the previous year’s rush job to assure everyone that the Beech Bonanza was one of the safest small aircraft on the market after that unfortunate pilot error tragedy that killed those rock and roll “musicians.” Over the years, Dan White had become known throughout the company as “The Repairer of Reputations.”

He was the go-to creative director when you needed to protect asbestos from legislation proposed by those against the construction industry’s use of that flexible, durable, affordable, safe material. What was the hidden agenda of those who wanted  asbestos banned? Dan never made it explicit in any of the ads he created, but showing the red menace of fire stopped only by heat-absorbent asbestos made in the U.S. … well, real Americans got the point. Sales rebounded after he got his hands on the account. Another reputation repaired.

Today Dan, along with the senior partner of Harmon-Peeples, Hank Harmon, were about to take a meeting with Gilman & Marsh, a firm representing some backwater burg in Massachusetts that Dan, who had spent more than one summer at Martha’s Vineyard at Jack and Bobby’s, had never even heard of. No matter, though—depending on what sort of scandal or environmental disaster this town of Innsmouth had been taken to task for in the media, Dan and his team would land them on every northeast vacationer’s itinerary for the next year.

Along for the ride was a new copywriter, Randy Moore, who had been in charge of creative at a much smaller agency specializing in tourist spots around the country. Places like San Antonio: “Culture Clash? ¡No comprende!” And Detroit: “White Flight Makes Closer-Knit Communities!” Not to mention St. Louis: “Our Population Goes Down In Numbers, But Up In Quality!” Each city saw a boost in tourism and average police salary following the kid’s ad campaign. His experience, Dan hoped, would come in handy with the Innsmouth account.

Dan’s new secretary, Fanny, buzzed him. “The, um, men from Gilman & Marsh are here, sir.”

“Excellent,” he answered as he held down the intercom button. “Show them in.”

His office’s wide door swung inward, Fanny holding it open for the clients, a short man who walked in like his feet hurt and a very tall man who stepped very slowly and did not show any pain—or anything else, really—in his countenance.

Randy leaned to Dan and whispered, “Fanny needs to freshen up, man. All of a sudden it smells like pussy in here.”

Dan flinched at the copywriter’s words and hissed, “Do I really have to remind you not to say shit like that in goddamn 1960? In front of clients, at least?”

Randy eased himself back to standing straight, looking chastened for at least the moment. As was his role, Hank met the two men in the middle of the room, introduced his team, and shook their hands warmly, even though Dan could see that his boss almost flinched away from the touch of the taller man’s skin. But, always a professional, Hank swallowed whatever discomfort he had felt and shook the shorter man’s hand as well without any sign of distress.

Then it was Dan’s turn and the second he felt the clammy flesh and the rub of the webs between every finger on the taller man’s hand, he thought he might lose his breakfast of High Points and Swiller’s Whiskey (Strong Enough To Knock Out Dads, Mild Enough To Soothe Crying Babies) right there on the carpet. But he, too, manfully held on and finished greeting the clients.

Randy touched the taller gent’s hand first and recoiled like he had reached into a dirty diaper. “Ewwww!” he cried, more like a 6-year-old girl than a 26-year-old about-to-be-unemployed man.

“Oh, for the love of God—” Hank started to shout, but the shorter man put up his glistening appendage in a conciliatory gesture.

“That is quite all right, Mister Harmon,” the little man said. His voice had a weird garbled quality to it, but he was a dead-ringer for Peter Lorre, the actor who cracked Dan up every time he appeared on The Red Skelton Hour. A smile tried to form on Dan’s face at the memory, but he held it back. Randy had already fucked things up enough without Dan’s adding to it. “This is exactly the kind of thing we have come here about. Close-mindedness. Bigotry against members of our race. Squeamishness over natural human variation.”

Dan didn’t know if all that could even be addressed, what with the short guy looking like J. Edgar Hoover’s uglier brother and the tall one looking like he wandered in straight from the Twilight Zone set. Ugly was hard to sell.

“I’m—I’m terribly sorry,” Randy said, and it showed. “Perhaps I may serve as an example of turning around public perception of your lovely town.”

It was the right thing to say. Both men seemed to accept his apology with gracious bows of their bald heads. Everyone took a seat, Dan behind his desk, Hank and Randy in chairs on opposite ends of the desk, and the two men from Innsmouth facing them in comfortable chairs on the other side of the desk.

“I am Mister Gilman, and this is Mister Marsh,” the shorter man said, and the taller man gave what appeared to be an attempt at a smile. “Mister Marsh is much older than he appears and is, regrettably, unable to speak.”

“Of course,” Hank said. “We’re very sorry to hear it.”

His boss was a smooth talker, but Dan’s only thought was Then what the hell did you bring him for?

“Now,” Hank said, “we have, in Dan and Randy, the two top men in the city for rebuilding brands after undeserved and unsubstantiated attacks from so-called ‘scientists,’ showboating media personalities, or a government that seems hell-bent on stifling Americans who are just looking to make a quick buck without worrying about ‘consequences.’ Leave that to the Belgians.”

Dan smiled inwardly. Hank would always use the Belgians as his European scapegoats because nobody was from Belgium and it was hard to think of anywhere more effete and “United Nations” than Belgium. Also, fuck Belgium.

“So what can we do for your brand, Mister Gilman?”

Hank’s little speech seemed to have gone over well with the two men seated before them, their really wide and flat smiles almost bisecting their faces. But in the ad game, a smile was a smile, and don’t take even one of them for granted. Dan added, “I have to admit, I had never heard of Innsmouth, Massachusetts before you gentlemen contacted us for possible representation.”

Marsh nodded in satisfaction, the gill-like flaps of skin on the sides of his neck bulging out a little as he did. Gilman also nodded and said, “Yes, that’s exactly the response that we were hoping for.”

“Ah. No preconceptions, gotcha,” Randy said, unnecessarily.

Gilman’s wide eyes closed to slits as they beheld Randy, then widened again and fixed back on Hank and Dan. “Very few people know about Innsmouth, Mister Harmon. There is one bus per day that comes from Arkham, where some of our … younger … citizens go for work. We have one hotel—my family’s—and we are separated from most of the rest of the inhabited parts of the state by a wide and nearly impassable salt marsh.”

“So that is owned by your family?” Randy said to Mister Marsh, and Dan swore to God that he was going to stand up and throw the fucking idiot out of his very high corner-office window.

Gilman ignored the copywriter completely this time and continued: “Our city was mostly destroyed by an illegal attack from the federal government in 1928. Hundreds were killed, many more were taken into custody but never charged with any crime. In landlocked prisons our brothers remain to this day.”

“Jesus—please excuse me! I just am shocked by this story,” Dan said, and shut his eyes for a moment. Perfect, curse in front of clients. Between me and Randy, this company’s reputation is going to need repairing.

Marsh chuckled, or at least his wide smile and sort of churning sound was closer to chuckling than anything else Dan could think of. Also, Gilman enjoyed a small chuckle himself and said, “No need to apologize to us for taking that name in vain, let me assure you. In fact, that’s part and parcel of the campaign we’d like you to do for us.”

“What, like Innsmouth: City of Acceptance or like that?” Dan said, doing what he frequently did in these meetings and spun mottos and such off the top of his head. Sometimes the act of creation within him was liberated by—

“Not exactly,” Gilman continued. “We are a one-church town. In the same way that Innsmouth relied on its gold refineries for its material prosperity back before the unwarranted attack on our citizenry, now we refine souls. Much like the Mermen in Salt Lake City.”

Dan was confused for a moment, but then said, “Oh! You mean the Mormons! Yes, that is a city built around the Mormon church.”

Gilman looked slightly crestfallen, but only slightly. “I see. I assumed the city was dominated by a salty lake, and they worshiped mermen and mermaids.”

All three admen laughed heartily at this, but swallowed their hilarity when they saw that their prospective client was entirely serious.

“You see, all the remaining souls in our city worship at our church, the Esoteric Order of Dagon.”

“The Order of Dagos?” Randy said, confused. “What is that, Italian?”

Dan put his hands over his eyes. Hank shut his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose to help keep his scream on the inside.

Dagon,” Gilman repeated firmly. “The Great Dagon is our god and savior. He gives much to the townsfolk, and we return to Him in the sea when we have developed enough to live eternally with Him.”

“I believe I understand,” Hank said with seriousness. “It’s kind of like Buddhism. Or the Hindus. You work on yourself until it’s time to leave this earthly plane for good and dwell with the Holy Ones.”

“That is a misconception we would very much like to eradicate,” Gilman said.

Hank went a bit pale. “My apologies, Mister Gilman.”

“None necessary, Mister Harmon—”

“Please, call me Hank.”

Gilman smiled. “Hank, an apology is not necessary. There is almost no one outside of Innsmouth who understands our … our brand, if you will. We are seeking fresh converts to create and gestate, if you will, a new generation of worshipers, for that is what keeps Dagon strong and able to provide eternal life.”

“Sounds kooky,” Randy said, then recovered his senses. “I mean, in a good way. Like the kids say, groovy.” It was for naught; everyone present knew what “kooky” meant, and it wasn’t complimentary.

“Well, we can certainly come up with a campaign that will bring more people to your town, maybe first as tourists and then as possible members of your Order … of your church, I mean,” Dan said. “I guess the first thing to do would be for my copywriter and myself to pop up there for a look around, see what natural beauty we can focus on, maybe bring the wives, check out what entertainment and leisure activities are available, that kind of thing. Then we can sell folks on the church as part of the whole ‘Innsmouth Experience.’”

Gilman and Marsh exchanged a quick glance and rose from their chairs. “That would be most acceptable. I believe that an advertising effort will enhance the kind of stock that we wish to cultivate in Innsmouth.”

Stock? Dan wondered, but before he knew it he was shaking clammy hands with both men once again and setting up a day for the agency’s visit with Fanny.

“Oh, and please,” Gilman said with a smile, “do bring Randy.”

***

As soon as the door closed, Randy said, “I can’t bring a wife, Dan! I’m not married.”

“Shut up, moron,” Harmon spat at the account executive. “The only reason you’re still standing in the office instead of being carried out feet-first by security is that Mister Gilman said he wants you there.”

Randy sputtered, but had nothing to say in his defense, so said nothing. It was probably the wise thing to do.

“One wife should do the trick,” Dan said, lighting one High Point with the end of another and inhaling deeply. “Dottie is from that area, I think from some suburb of Boston. Anyway, she’s got the honk of a nor’easter, so we’ll share some lobstah and chowdah with Gilman and Marsh, look around, see what strikes our fancy as a hook to save this place.”

“They don’t sound like they’re looking for a municipal image rehabilitation—more like a revival meeting for their hometown church,” Randy said.

“I told you to shut up,” Harmon said.

***

“I do like the Pontiac,” Randy said from the backseat as they drove up to Massachusetts using Eisenhower’s Interstate, meaning they didn’t have to stop except for gas, food, or Dottie’s having to “tinkle” what seemed like every ten miles.

“Motor Trend Car of the Year for 1959,” Dan said, checking for how far the next exit might be so Dottie could use the facilities. “And I should know, since I’m the one who got it for ’em.”

“It’s big and powerful, like an American.”

“Christ, Randall, don’t you know the trend is toward smaller, more efficient automobiles, less air drag and all that?”

“But—you’re driving a big—”

“And what does that tell you about me? No, what does it say to our clients, both present and future, about their creative director?”

“That you have money?”

Dan rubbed a spot above his eye that was threatening to throb. “It says, my young friend, that Dan White isn’t pushed around by trends, that he is solid and goes for the classic and the strong. That Dan White believes in tradition.”

Randy seemed to chew on this for a moment, looking at the ’59 Plymouth’s new features, like the handy concealed ashtrays for the back seat passengers, then said brightly, “But with modern touches, for the best of both worlds!”

“By God, we might make an adman out of you yet.”

***

“I never cared for this part of the state,” Dottie said after they left the Interstate and started down a four-lane state road, then a two-lane county road, then a series of narrower and narrower, less and less competently paved roads with no signs at all. “A couple of my Farmington sisters went to Arkham Women’s Academy to learn computer keypunching and other esoteric stuff. Some of them took weekend trips to Innsmouth as a lark, you know, to see how the inbred rubes lived.”

Randy was snoozing in the backseat, so Dan was thankful that the goofball had nothing to add to the conversation like what girls he nailed at Arkham Women’s back in the day or whatever other horseshit the dippy copywriter might spew at them. He said to Dottie, “You never mentioned it.”

She pushed in the Plymouth’s cigarette lighter and waited. It popped out and she lighted her Marlboro, wondering why such an awesome cigarette was marketed just to women. She had always wanted to suggest something to Dan about a modern “Marlboro Man,” but he always patted her on the head like she was a gosh-darned schoolkid, so instead she thought back on Arkham and Innsmouth and said, “Well, I never went, so I never really remembered until just now. Besides, I didn’t have to go to technical school. I was lucky enough to get a husband.”

Dan smiled. “I think I’m the lucky one,” he said, and squinted to read the sign with an arrow and Arkham, 5 mi. “You didn’t need any luck, not with that figure.”

She slapped his arm playfully.

“So you’ve never been to Innsmouth?”

“Nope. All I know about it is that you have to pass through creepy old Arkham to get to creepy old Innsmouth. The salt marshes don’t allow for any other roads.”

“That is kind of creepy.”

“That’s Innsmouth. Some girls went there for the weekend and never came back.” She suppressed a shiver at the memory of hearing about their disappearances years later. “I’m glad I have two big, strong men to keep me safe.”

“Well, one big, strong one, anyway.” He indicated with a jerk of his head the sleeping Randy, whose face was against the window and covered with drool. “If we need to, we can always throw this one at any muggers. Maybe they’ll trip over him.”

They laughed together, something they didn’t do so much anymore, and then drove the rest of the way to Innsmouth before Randy awoke, looked through his saliva-streaked window, and said, “What a goddamn dump.”

***

The Esoteric Order of Dagon structure, which looked like it was first built as a Masonic Temple or a 19th-century central bank, seemed to be the only well-maintained structure in the entire town. The miasmic air that wafted heavily through the town stank of the sea, or maybe chum, that bucket of fish guts fishermen used to attract bigger fish.

Dan handed Dottie his handkerchief, which she held against her face. He inhaled his tasty High Point and kept the smoke in his lungs as long as possible, since every second he wasn’t breathing in the chum bucket of Innsmouth was a precious second indeed. Randy seemed woozy, but that might have been because he had just woken up or it could be because he had opened his lungs … ay caramba, that was a stink.

They ascended the steps of the E.O.D. building, but before Dan could try the door, it opened and Mister Gilman beckoned them inside. “It is good to see you, Dan. And Randy, my friend,” he said, then held his webbed hand out to Dan’s wife. “And you are Mrs. White, is that right?”

As his clammy flesh touched hers, her eyes registered an instant of alarm, but six years of charm school had not been wasted on the former Dorothy Sieman: The alarm never reached her mouth, which grew into a lovely smile that then warmed her face all the way up to her eyebrows. “A pleasure,” she said.

Gilman leaned down to press his thick lips against her hand, then stepped aside to allow them into the building. They each entered and noticed that the smell from outside entirely disappeared within the Order’s halls. “Much better,” Randy whispered to Dan, who gave him a small nod and then hoped he’d shut up before he said something as stupid as usual.

“If you would like to take part in tonight’s worship service, please place your keys into the bowl,” Gilman said, and motioned to a fishbowl—Dan suppressed a smile at that—where several sets of keys and their key chains had already been deposited.

Dan raised his eyebrows at Dottie and jingled his keys.

“We don’t have to convert, do we?” she said, and they chuckled as Gilman smiled.

“No, of course not,” the small man said, “but maybe you will want to!”

They all laughed warmly. Dan dropped his keys into the bowl and Randy moved to follow suit, but Gilman placed his hand over the mouth of the bowl.

“That won’t be necessary, Randy,” he said. “We have enough. But you are very welcome to come worship with us as well.”

Randy shrugged genially and put his keys back in his pocket. As he did so, he gasped and said, “What’s wrong with your feet?

This made everyone look down at Gilman’s feet, which were splayed out, the toes webbed, and entirely without shoes or stockings.

“Goddamnit, Randy—” Dan started, but Dottie’s swat on the arm reminded him that he was in a temple, not exactly the place for blasphemy in front of a client.

“It’s quite all right, Dan,” Gilman said, and pressed his broad mouth into a smile. “Randy, I apologize for shocking you in such a manner. Regular shoes are quite uncomfortable to me and those with my … condition. I hope you can forgive me.”

Randy’s face was as red as a candied apple. “No—my goodness, I’m the oaf here. I’m the one who must beg your pardon, Mister Gilman.”

“Already given, as the blessings of Dagon,” Gilman said, giving them a courtly bow and allowing them entry into the main room of His Esoteric Order.

***

In some ways, the E.O.D. temple was like any church building, with a long hallway with doors to classrooms and offices and leading to a large central space for worship. Dan had overseen some good campaigns for a local diocese, with “The Touch of the Godly Is What Children Need” and “Forgiveness Comes Through Silence” being two of the ad buys they had done. It was pro bono, which nobody wanted to make a habit around Harmon-Peeples, but it felt good to help.

What maybe didn’t feel as good was the dropping of keys into the Order of Dagon fishbowl. He had heard about some weird crap in the suburbs, where a couple attends a party, gets introduced to other couples, and then when they’ve all gotten good and drunk, losing all their inhibitions, the host refuses to give them their keys back for the drive home. Dan had to slug one fella in order to get him to cough up his key ring when he and Dot were ready to leave. How else would he have gotten into his house to call the police the next morning to tell them some kid must’ve shoved a broken bicycle up underneath his front axle?

Still, Dan highly doubted if he would be getting tipsy at this gathering. They entered the central hall behind Mister Marsh and immediately noticed that the sanctuary was set up in a queer fashion: Pews lined the outside in steep angles, like seats in a surgery theater. In these pews sat about sixty people, sharply dressed men in gray flannel like Dan, most wearing hats indoors, which made Dan and Randy casually slip on the fedora and trilby they had just removed. Dottie hadn’t taken off her pillbox, which was good considering how long it took her to get it where she wanted it in the first place, Dan thought.

The women in the hall were dressed just as smartly as Mrs. White, in pastels and chiffon and with most wearing pearls. “They certainly dress as if they have money,” she whispered to Dan, who smiled, since the same thought had just gone through his mind as well.

If the placement of the pews was odd, then what was in the center of the nave was downright kooky: mud. It wasn’t slopped high, and in fact looked recently raked, as the Whites had seen women do with their rock gardens in Sonoma. And the smell, while that of the sea, was more of a fresh morning breeze off the ocean than the decay stench of the city outside. In the center of the mud pit rose an enormous statue of the Creature from the Black Lagoon. No, of course it wasn’t, it was some kind of fish-man, but in Dan’s mind the resemblance was extraordinary and it stuck.

The mud fit neatly into the square formed by the bottommost rows of pews and looked like a carpet until they got closer. Then they could see it really was mud, wet and brown. “What the heck?” Randy said out loud, amused.

“This service is something very few people outside of our little town ever see,” Mister Gilman said, and gestured for his guests to take their seats in the very first row. “It is one half supplication and one half celebration. Perhaps, Dan, this will give you insight into how our religion may create new members.”

Dan withheld a million questions, but there was one he had to ask: “Sorry to hit you with this right now, but what is your budget for advertising services?” He knew it was tacky as all get out, but he needed to know so that he could start thinking of the campaign in terms of scope and scale.

“Dan, the Great Dagon provides us with more gold than we could ever use or spend as money. Think of our coffers as being as wide and deep as the ocean itself.”

 Well, that sounded terrific! But he had to stifle his excitement—they were here and about to watch something off the wall, something that Dan would be able to build an ad campaign around. None of the people in the hall looked like beatniks—they looked more like fish heads attached to human bodies, Dan thought, then immediately wiped the snarky smile off his own face—but maybe Innsmouth just had a better class of beatnik. Sunday worship followed by ham, macaroni salad, and fruit aspic and a tumbler of scotch was his way of saying thanks to God, and so far God had rewarded him handsomely for his attentions.

He saw one … two … no, three other couples with more normal features in the gathering. Each couple had a gentleman with more of what Dan was already thinking of as the “Innsmouth look” sitting with them and pointing things out. Dan made a mental note to talk to those couples, see what attracted them to this church. See what the women thought of it, then the men if there was time. Women often made the rest of the family attend church.

Mister Gilman sat next to Dan on the frontmost pew, with Randy on Gilman’s other side and Dottie by her husband. Dan leaned to Gilman and said, “No offense intended, but what’s with the mud?”

“Great Dagon lives in the sea. We who cannot go to Him as yet show our love and devotion to Him by metaphorically ‘going to the sea’ in our special nave.”

“You really put the ‘navy’ in ‘nave,’” Randy said, then cleared his throat discreetly and sat back in his pew and wished for invisibility and maybe the ability to time travel.

“I see,” Dan said to Gilman.

“No, I think not,” the small man said, “but very soon you will.”

***

Very soon, indeed. The service began with the crashing of great gongs that looked made of gold rather than some lesser alloy. Then down the steps between the rows of pews on one side of the sanctuary came a row of four Charles Atlas types, muscular and sleek at the same time. They wore only loincloths—Dottie blushed but didn’t look away, which made Dan chuckle—and carried bowls of fruit and three-foot-tall pillar candles in odd shades of green. Their faces were like the others, wide-set eyes and rubbery lips, but for some reason what looked queer on the faces of the seated worshipers seemed kind of handsome and rugged on the tall, muscular men.

“When’s our treat?” Randy said with a smile, one Gilman returned.

The men entered the mud pit and Dan could see it was only three or four inches deep. This was sufficient for them to secure the candles in the corners of the pit just using the mud. They each lighted their candles with a Zippo and stepped back, placing the shiny metal tool in the fruit bowls that they placed before the statue of Dagon. (Dan congratulated himself on seeing this, since Zippo was his first account at the agency. He met claims that the lighters were dangerous because they didn’t go out if dropped with testimonials from parents who said children should be taught responsibility from an early age. The slogan: “Kids Learn With Zippo!” He let his audience put two and two together. Sales were, well, hot.)

Now four women came down, also clad only in loincloths, their breasts exposed with their artfully arranged long, black hair covering their nipples and areolae as they walked. Dan took notice of how the other human—

Christ, don’t say that! What the hell’s wrong with you?

—guests reacted to this racy display. This was the most flesh Dan had seen exposed in public since his bachelor party. The other couples seemed curious, maybe entertainingly scandalized, but not alarmed. Interesting.

“Now we begin,” Mister Gilman said so that all three of them could hear. “Supplication, then celebration.”

As he finished speaking, the gong sounded again and a towering, green-golden–robed hierophant entered and slowly walked down the steps to the mud pit. Everybody kind of looked alike here, Dan thought, but the tall man in robes must have been Mister Marsh. Once in the pit, where his golden robes dragged in the mud but didn’t get stained, the hierophant chanted a few nonsense syllables, something with lots of glottal stops and fricatives, then said in English, “Dagon speaks through me. Present the offerings.”

First the four men and then the four women placed their bowls of fruit (and Zippo® brand lighters) before the huge statue and bowed, then retook their places.

Once that was done, Mister Gilman surprised them all by saying to Randy, “This is your role in the service. Come, please remove your shoes and stockings and join me.” He held a hand to Randy, who stripped off his footwear and clasped Gilman’s hand awkwardly, looking to Dan in amusement as he was led into the mud pit. Dan smiled back, seeing that the mud that had not besmirched the golden robes was besmirching the living hell out of Randy’s trouser cuffs.

Gilman presented Randy to the hierophant, who chanted a few gobbledygook words and pushed Randy’s head down so that he was on his knees in the mud, where Gilman helped him turn to face Dan’s side of the pews. Wincing at what the mud must be doing to Randy’s suit, Dan wondered if he could ask Gilman if he had any extra loincloths, because the copywriter was definitely not getting into the Pontiac with—

“Oh, my goodness!” Dottie yelped, and Dan snapped back from his daydreaming in time to see a curved blade slash open Randy’s throat. The copywriter’s face registered complete shock for the ten seconds it took him to lose consciousness and fall face-first into the mud, and then he was dead.

Dan was horrified and so were the other normal-looking people in the sanctuary. But a thought calmed him, and the others must have made themselves relaxed as well. His was repeating Gilman’s words about budget: Dagon provides us with more gold than we could ever use or spend as money.

He nonchalantly glanced around the room. Every female Innsmouth resident wore jewelry that he could see now was made out of hammered gold. And they wore a lot of it. There must have been a hundred thousand bucks worth of metal just counting the gold around the necks of the women in that room, not including any of the gold decorations or the the metal in the enormous golden gong.

Dan looked back to the mud pit, where a completely normal-looking young boy in green robes had brought to Gilman the fishbowl with four sets of keys in it. The boy didn’t seem fazed by the human sacrifice that had just taken place or by the dead body in the mud right next to Gilman.

Old ways, Dan brainstormed. Old ways in a setting as classic as the sea. Not terrible, but not that good, either, he thought. Maybe You can fish for a better church, but the Esoteric Order of Dagon will help you catch the wave of … of …

Bleah. He’d work on it in the car.

The hierophant muttered some more gibberish, and Gilman had the boy hold the bowl while he randomly chose a set of keys. “To whom do these belong?”

A slightly chubby man rose his hand. His bride was blushing something terrible, which Dan found completely adorable on the Rubenesque young woman. Their Innsmouth companion leaned in to the husband and gave them instructions. They rose, shy and maybe even a little embarrassed, but immediately stripped off every stitch they were wearing and, holding hands, took the steps down to the mud pit and were blessed (Dan assumed) by the hierophant before one of the gorgeous naked women took the man and one of the men took the woman and, after making them comfortable lying down in the mud, each mounted and proceeded to fuck the shit out of them.

Dan could barely take his eyes off what was happening, but when he did he saw Dottie biting her lips and twisting the cord of her purse into a tight knot. “Honey? You okay? Not too disgusted? This must be their way.” Old ways, new experiences. Hmm.

Dottie shook her head, the motion barely noticeable as she sort of ground her hips into the wood of the pew. Her eyelids fluttered a bit.

Dan smiled and looked back at what was happening, thinking for the millionth time that women truly were unreadable.

In the mud, a second couple, this one in pretty nice shape compared to the chubbies, had also been lain down. The attractive Innsmouth woman got on top of the man and the manly Innsmouth man got on top of the wife, and they all started mating right there.

The next keys chosen were theirs. Dottie practically leapt to her feet and whipped off her elegant dress in less time than it took Dan to get his shoes untied. See things in new ways by embracing the old ones. So close, but not quite there yet.

Naked as the day they were born, Dan and Dottie held hands like the others as they made their way to the mud. Dan lay with the woman, whose skin was a little clammy but was very hot inside, and Dottie took the Innsmouth man most enthusiastically. They rumped and they pumped, and after ten minutes or so of blissful rolling about in the E.O.D.’s sacred mud, all four of them reached orgasms that left them shaking.

See things in a new way, Dan thought, by embracing the Old Ones.

No, how about: See things in a new way. Let the Old Ones inside you.

Before he passed out from sheer sexual bliss and exhaustion, he heard the hierophant declare something and Gilman tell the gathering, “The seeds are planted. Dagon is well pleased!”

***

“That’s a swell idea,” Hank Harmon told Dan over dinner with their wives. “You don’t want to frighten anyone, that would be a killer for this campaign.”

“Agreed.”

“But tell them to come see for themselves, without telling them anything specific, and Innsmouth could be looking at a bumper crop of new church members. ‘Bring the Old Ones inside you and create a new generation of worshipers.’ Absolutely brilliant.”

“It took a good number of swings before I hit that one into the stands.”

“Well, it’s your best work since the Eichmann PR reboot. Here’s to Dan!”

Hank raised his glass of champagne and Dan raised his, and they were joined in the toast by their wives, Liz Harmon glowing at seven months pregnant and Dottie White beaming at eight. Bubbly was good for helping babies in utero to be more relaxed and agreeable when born. Dottie knew this from the Champagne Advisory Board’s ad campaign done by none other than the men at Harmon-Peeples-Gilman-Marsh.

“Really, Dan, I put the right man on this account. You brought it home and even made believers out of Liz and me.” He patted his wife’s growing belly.

“All for the glory of Dagon,” Dan said.

“All for His glory,” Hank called in response. “Thank goodness we have a steady stream of copywriters to bring to meetings, eh? Never a wife, never many people who even take notice they’re gone.”

“Truly, writers are the lifeblood of our company—and our church,” Dan added with a smile, and the four of them laughed and laughed. Dagon, too, was well pleased.

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