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Title: The Disappearing Island (Chapter 1 of 6)
Fandom: Welcome to Night Vale/Cthulhu Mythos
Author: tikistitch
Rating: M
Characters/Pairings: Cecil/Carlos
Warnings: Cursing, sexual situations
Word Count: 36,000
Summary: Carlos, a naturalist on board the HMS Vigilant, stumbles upon the ancient island of Nightlantis during a tour of the Pacific in the 1800s. There he unwittingly joins in a contest to win the beguiling Prince Cecil's hand in marriage.
Notes: At the end.

Chapter 1

Santa Cruz Island, the Galapagos, Year of Our Lord 1856


The nest was almost within his grasp. Not one, not two, but three – three! – mottled brown and dun-colored eggs nestled there, tucked inside the tight weaving of grass and thin twigs.

Carlos repositioned himself on the branch, creeping carefully just a bit further out from the broad trunk, wincing as the wood creaked underneath his weight. He tried to avoid looking down. The tree in which he was perched had the misfortune to be positioned directly over a cliff, the nest dangling above a sheer drop to a pool of water far below. Carlos wasn’t exactly sure how deep the pool ran: perhaps it was twenty feet; perhaps only two feet. At any rate, he didn’t relish the idea of falling.


Carefully, he pushed further out along the branch. It was just inches away now. He could brush the nest with his fingertips. The branch crackled, the sound somewhat masked by the ripple of the nearby waterfall. The eggs belonged to Galapagos finches, as reported by Mr. Darwin. Carlos believed this was a new subspecies: the beaks of the adult specimens he had collected were remarkably different from any of the ones his correspondent had presented to the Royal Society.

The branch sagged worryingly. Carlos decided the only option would be swift, bold action: he would spring out, grab the nest, and then scramble back before the branch broke off completely. It was a foolproof plan. Probably. Slowly and carefully, he shinnied out on the branch as far as he dared, and then braced himself, counting down: ready, steady….


He froze in mid-lunge, nest almost in his grasp, startled by the sound of his little-used Christian name.

He shifted, just a fraction. The tree creaked, the added moment of his weight combined with distance from the center of gravity contributed to a catastrophic failure. The branch snapped, sending Carlos, the nest, and a large chunk of the tree all hurtling downward, now captives of the gravitational pull of the earth.

Carlos had time to recite a single Hail Mary and then, squeezing his eyes shut, prayed that the impact would eventuate a quick death. He hit the surface and, still bracing, plunged down into the clear cold water. And continued to plunge, sinking and sinking into the deep pool.

His eyes snapped open, and he saw before him in the crystal clear water the rocky shelf he had just barely missed hitting. Luck had been with him, and he had hit the water in approximately the center of a deep depression. His lungs were beginning to burn, so, struggling against his now sodden clothes and heavy boots, he swam his way slowly upwards, stroking his arms and kicking for what seemed like forever until, finally, gasping, he breached the surface.

Carlos spat water and then wheezed in a deep breath. He looked around at the rippling pool.

On the edge of the water, tangled in the branch that had fallen along with him, lay the nest, the tiny eggs still tucked within.

“Hey!” exclaimed Carlos, not believing his luck.

“Doctor!” He heard running footsteps, and, as he finally grabbed the nest and dog-paddled to the rim of the pool, he espied the cabin boy racing down to him. The youth, flush of face and sandy of hair, carried Carlos's pack of samples and his firearm and longbow on his back. “Doctor MacLachlan,” he cried, looking frantic. “Are you all right?”

“I'm fine!” said Carlos, “and what's more, I have my prize!” Still treading water, he proudly handed off the nest to Christian.

Christian rolled his eyes as he tucked away the nest. “Next time, let me climb the damn tree. It's what I'm good at. Anyways, we need to quit swimmin' and get goin’, Doctor.”

“So soon?” asked Carlos. Christian stuck out a hand, and with his assistance, Carlos scrambled out of the pool, now sopping wet. Carlos set himself down on a rock and pulled off his boots, pouring out water, as well as a tadpole. He smiled as it wriggled away.

“We're shovin’ off,” said Christian.


Christian looked left and right, and then leaned close to Carlos. “Pirates,” he whispered. “Sighted nearby. The cap'n's goin' after them, for sure.”

Carlos flashed a grin. Pirates weren’t the overwhelming threat they had once been in this part of the Pacific, but could still be a nuisance. And it would be just like the captain to strike out after them. “Do you have my samples?”

Christian hefted his bag. “I have what you’ve shot today. And I have your rifle.” He grunted. “And your bow. Though it’s getting damned awful heavy.”

“You should try archery, Christian,” said Carlos, grabbing his weaponry. “It’s a great gentlemanly pursuit!”

“Ain’t exactly a gentleman,” muttered the boy.

Carlos slapped Christian on the back, and they made their way back to the ship. Carlos whistled as he walked, immersed in the sights and sounds. These islands were such a contrast to the often gloomy Scottish highlands where he had grown up. There was life abounding here, and strange sights. It was like seeing the great web of life, all spread out before him.

“You see that, Christian?” he asked, pointing up a sheer rock face now on their right hand side.

“Looks like more rocks,” grunted the youth. He let out a startled sound as Carlos grabbed him by the shoulder.

“But look up! Do you see that white line, up about midway?”

Christian rolled his eyes. Going on these walks with Carlos was sometimes exciting for him, as when Carlos fired his gun. He had a keen eye and deadly aim. But sometimes it was like being back in class, and not in a pleasant way. “Yes, I see the white line.”

“Know what that is? Shells! I scrambled up the other day to have a look!”

The boy did not seem terribly impressed by this natural marvel. “Well, all right.”

“So, don't you wonder how they got up there? Sea shells, up so high?”

Christian stared at Carlos. “Because God put them there,” he stated, as if it was the most obvious thing.

“Christian. It's all a matter of geophysics! This rock used to be under water, and then through the course of time, was shifted upwards. Mr. Lyell has a theory!”

“Do you know him then? This Mr. Lyell?”

“Well, no, but I have his book.”

“He can stay in his book. Come on, we need to get dinner.” Carlos continued walking with Christian towards Academy Bay. The Vigilant had been docked for the last few days in the sheltered harbor on Santa Cruz, and Carlos had enjoyed a very pleasant time observing the abundant local wildlife, including the skittering iguanas; many species of fishing birds like pelicans and herons; sea lions, which appeared deceptively lazy but, as Carlos could attest, were capable of sudden rapid movement on land when threatened; and the amazing giant tortoises, from which the islands were named, and which some said could be centuries old.

“Buenos dias, Carlos!” came a voice. Carlos waved to the regional governor, who was standing among a small group of men and women. Christian grunted in frustration, so Carlos sent him onwards while he stopped to greet the man.

“Buenos dias, Gobernador!” said Carlos, glad of the Spanish his mother had insisted on teaching him. He found his Iberian heritage and Christian name, which caused no end of annoyances back in his native country of Scotland, stood him in good stead with the Ecuadorians who populated the Galapagos islands, as it had with many of the natives they had met on their journey around South America. The captain had soon cottoned onto this as well, and often brought Carlos along when they first docked in a new area. This, Carlos believed, along with his willingness to take on the tasks of the ship’s surgeon, had ingratiated him to the captain, and probably caused his unofficial promotion from a supernumerary gentleman traveler to one of the captain’s trusted confidantes.

The Governor was now indicating one of his companions, who held samples of various butterflies he had collected. Carlos expressed his grateful thanks. The residents had been very generous in pointing out the dwelling places of much local wildlife.

The Governor’s daughter was also present, smiling and batting her eyes at him. Carlos searched his mind for her name. Was it Maria? Well, probably. The captain swore she had developed an affection for Carlos. This was, of course, absurd. He had only been here a few days: he barely knew the girl! But it wasn’t the first time on this voyage the local functionary had thought to bring along a daughter or niece or young second cousin when Carlos had showed up. The captain obviously thought such shenanigans were hilarious, but they only caused Carlos a deep embarrassment.

Carlos, clothes still damp, his hair plastered everywhere, muttered a goodbye to the girl, bowing and kissing her hand. This produced more ridiculous giggling and eye-fluttering. He finally managed to extricate himself, and, quite wet and somewhat red in the face, made for the Vigilant, where preparations were already underway to raise anchor.

“So, I heard you took some time out from scientific pursuits to take a bath today, Doctor,” boomed the captain as he strode into his dining area. He was a large man, but quick and graceful as a dancer. He seemed to Carlos to be as one with his ship, the Vigilant. The brig was ostensibly in Her Majesty's service on a surveying expedition, but Cochrane would never shy away from tangling with pirates. “Hoping to impress Carmelita?”


“The Governor’s daughter!”

“Oh, was that her name?” The captain chuckled. Carlos barely looked up, so intent was he on tuning his viola over the creaks and groans of the gently rocking ship. He attempted to change the subject. “I didn’t think you would have time for a duet,” he said. “If what Christian tells me is true.”

“Christian’s got a big head, and a bigger mouth,” grumbled the captain, who took up his violin. He ran a bow over the strings and winced. “I'm going to have a chat with the boy's father when we're back in port. Bad enough I have a Spaniard on board as my surgeon!”

Carlos raised an eyebrow and repeated the rest of their familiar refrain. “As you know, I am Scottish on my father's side.”

“Even worse. A Scot!”

Carlos smiled wryly. Some months prior, while they were still on land, and Carlos had been considering the position as the Vigilant's resident naturalist, he and the captain had sat around at the local pub, arguing about music, one of the captain's obsessions. There they had unfortunately encountered a gentleman who had defamed Carlos's father. Carlos had been prepared to show the man a rare flash of his temper, but was prevented from doing so when Tom Cochrane instead flattened the bounder with one punch. Their friendship thus sealed, a few short days later Dr. Carlos Gutierrez MacLachlan bade farewell to friends and family and embarked on the Vigilant.

“So what prize did this escapade bring you, Carlos?” prompted the captain. “I'll warrant it wasn't gold and jewels.”

“No, but I believe I have uncovered a new subspecies of the specimens Mr. Darwin described on his recent voyage. The bills on these finches are distinct from the examples he presented, and I believe represent an independent adaptation.”

“Adaptation? Oh, isn't that fancy.”

“Mr. Darwin is developing a new theory.”

“He's a Wedgwood, ain't he?” said the captain with a wink. “I was briefly enamored of one of their girls! Pretty little thing. Skin pale as bone china.”

“Tom, is there a woman in England you haven't been involved with?”

“Ha! I'm too much of a gentleman to comment.”

“And too little of one to refrain.” They smiled good-naturedly at one another.

“And what of your lovely lady friend, Virtue, is it? Chastity? I saw you picked up a letter in a feminine hand at our last port of call!”

“Temperance,” sighed Carlos, who suddenly pretended to be terribly interested in tuning his viola. There were three Hatrack sisters, daughters of Lord and Lady Hatrack: Patience, Constance, and Temperance. They were reputed to be lovely. And Carlos had the rare misfortune to be engaged to the youngest.

“What's got into you, lad?” asked the Captain, though his voice had softened. “It's a good match.”

“It would be, were she not actually in love with my younger brother.” He looked around, suddenly abashed. He hadn't actually admitted this tidbit to his friend prior to this, and now was regretting his confession.

The captain laughed, and slapped Carlos on the back. “Is that all?”

Carlos coughed. “I thought that was all, yes. Is there not supposed to be also some mutual affection?”

“That will grow in time, son, take my word for it. But now you must tell me what happened in that matter.”

Carlos scratched the back of his neck and now pretended to shuffle through his sheet music. “Prior to our engagement, my brother evidently made some … promises to the young lady. To Miss Temperance. But as his temperament appears to be as fickle as mine is constant, his affection for her was short-lived. Unfortunately, her father is a man of some renown in our community. In order to avoid a scandal, and his displeasure, my family promised … well, the promised me to her.”

Cochrane was hunched over, squinting, as he tended to do when he was trying to work out a puzzle. Carlos suspected the old man's eyes had grown somewhat weak, but he would never consent to wearing spectacles. “Steady, good-looking young medical doctor. You seems a fine prize, Carlos.”

“If you say so.” But he refrained from confessing the rest of his concerns, even to his friend: Miss Temperance Hatrack was lovely. Everyone said so! And so why did Carlos feel nothing for her, other than the faint sting of boredom that always surfaced during their conversations? Not that they had been conversations, but rather Carlos's feigned attentions whilst the young woman rattled on about this or that ridiculous gossip.

He somehow didn't feel the least bit drawn to her. You could mark it down to his resentment over his somewhat carefree brother's abandonment. But to be quite honest, Carlos had never felt such a thing for any young lady. In all the years his brother, nine months younger, had gone from fascination to fascination, conquest to conquest, Carlos had merely watched, and worried that he had been born lacking some particular sentiment.

And so he had absconded: when Tom Cochrane had shown up the next month following the announcement of the engagement, promising his father three years steady employment and an honorable service, Carlos had packed his medical books and fled.

Cochrane had a cake of rosin, and was treating his bow. He drew the bow once again over his violin strings and smiled, obviously pleased with the effect. “Well, enough of this talk. Good none of the men can overhear, they'll think we're old biddies gossiping. Come, let us quit stalling and play the reel.”

His face broke into a smile, and Carlos bent over his viola, and the sound of music, soft and bright, began to emit from the captain's mess.

But they had just begun to relax into the music when there came an insistent knocking on the hatch.

“Enter!” yelled Cochrane. “Who is interrupting my concerto?”

“Schooner. Spotted off the starboard bow,” the mate told him. He was missing a couple of teeth, but his grin was broad. “They're flying a black standard.”

The captain was already on his feet. He carefully tucked his precious violin back in its case. “Surgeon, lay out your knives, and we'll pray we don't need your services. We're on the hunt!” And, rubbing his hands together, he was out the doorway, making for the deck.

Many long hours later, Carlos collapsed into the hammock that had been strung above the large table in the chart room, which doubled as his quarters. He thought he had managed to save the mate's leg with a lot of careful suturing, but now it would be a battle to avoid infection, especially in this part of the world. He cast a glance at the bag of samples he had gleaned from their last port, awaiting his attention, but decided that he needed a quick nap before he could attend to them.

As the ship gently rocked, Carlos recollected the last few hours. When it became apparent the pirate vessel would not surrender without a fight, Cochrane had rapidly turned his ship to the side so his brig's long guns faced them. The canon blasted, raising fire and smoke and that acrid smell. And then there was answering fire, as planks sheared and cracked from the assault of the red-hot cannonballs. It was all shouting and confusion, and blood: so much blood.

They had lost two crew, although the pirates had fared much worse. One of the enemy casualties was on Carlos's account. The man had evidently sneaked aboard the Vigilant when the ships were lashed together, and had made his way belowdecks to the mess room Carlos was using as a surgery. Carlos was concentrating so closely on the matter at hand – he tended to get wrapped up in his work – that he didn't reckon anything was amiss until his surgical assistant – one of the stewards who was getting on in years – emitted a frightened yelp. But the pirate hadn't the time to even raise his blade at Carlos, as the doctor had grabbed one of his surgical knives and, nearly before the thought had reached his conscious mind, thrown it across the narrow room, stabbing the unlucky pirate in the neck. The villain sunk to his knees, and Carlos was back attending to his patient, who had gotten too close to an explosion and had been peppered with bits of sharp shrapnel. Carlos, as has been remarked, occasionally displayed a rather sharp temper.

And then Carlos had barely gotten the last bit of shredded cannonball flung into a bucket when the boatswain, a big guy named Gregg, had limped in, a large section of the deck sticking clean through one thigh. The man had fairly ordered Carlos to just saw off the leg so he could get on with his duties by God, but Carlos would have none of it. A doctor's first job being, after all, to do no harm. He discovered that by the same God’s grace the chunk of torn wood had not broken any bones nor severed any major vessels, and so, with a healthy dose of rum applied to the boatswain and the appendage, Carlos took to stitching up the damage.

The siege did not last long, and at some point during the time Carlos was sewing the mate back together, the other vessel had surrendered to the Vigilant. The stitched-up mate, though muttering something about getting repairs underway, drifted off to sleep or unconsciousness, rum bottle still clutched in his hand, and Carlos, with strict instructions to get the bloodstains from the impaled pirate cleaned up as soon as possible, decided a nap was in order.

Before retiring to his hammock, he removed his stained shirt and washed the caked blood off his hands and arms as best he could. He had pulled a much-folded letter out of his belongings. The envelope was addressed in a feminine script, and it was faintly scented with perfume. He hopped up into his hammock and held it close for a moment. There was no need to take it out of the envelope and read it: he had already pored over the words countless times. He knew its contents by heart. He sighed, refolded it and tucked it into an inside jacket pocket. And then, at last, he nodded off.

Music sounded all around him. Carlos was playing his viola, but not in the captain’s mess. He was out on deck, surrounded by the crew. They were sawing away at fiddles, plucking at Jew’s harps, thumping tambourines, and generally making a great commotion, stomping around, dancing. The music was weirdly intoxicating, like swimming in a beer barrel.

And then the boatswain appeared in front of him. His leg was gone, replaced by a great pegleg. Carlos was annoyed. He'd spent the entire afternoon sewing the fellow back together. The nerve!

And then the boatswain grabbed him by the arm, and they were dancing.

I’m the bosun Gregg
And I lost my gamey leg
Fighting scummy pirates
I lost my gamey leg

I shipped out from Boston … way-yoo!
Shipped out from Boston … wayyyy-yo!
Shipped out from Boston … way-yooo!
Shipped out from Boston, to find my gamey leg!

Carlos pushed the man aside. “I saved your leg. This isn't happening.” He stood, panting, feeling dizzy from the music and being twirled around and around like a toy.

But now it wasn't the crew making merry, it was the pirates. Many faces, laughing and leering at him.

He was caught from behind and whirled again into the dance. It wasn't Gregg. This time he couldn't quite see the person, although he noticed they had light, silvery hair.

Elder God is deep
Lying in his sleep
He lies beneath the ocean
Safe within his keep

I'm shipping out to R'lyeh …
Shipping out to R'lyeh …
Shipping out to R'lyeh …
Shipping out to R'lyeh

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!

“What in hell does that mean?” demanded Carlos. He turned all the way around, but his mysterious dance partner had disappeared. And then the men began to stomp on the deck. Carlos covered his ears. The pounding was intense.

Carlos was startled awake by a rapping at his door. “Wha-a” he muttered, half-falling out of the hammock. He shook his head, disoriented. The ship. He was on the ship. The pirates! He assumed there had been more casualties.

Christian poked his ruddy face in the door. “The cap'n wants you.”

Carlos shrugged and splashed water on his face at the washbasin. He frowned at his reflection in the glass, hair sticking everywhere. He climbed the narrow stairs up towards the deck. He blinked in the starlight. There was a full moon tonight, so he could see off the stern that they had already set up a tow of the captured pirate ship, the Alert. He opened the door and entered the captain's mess, where gathered the Captain, the first mate, and another man he didn't recognize, though he looked to be a sailor.

“Carlos, glad you're here,” said the Captain.

“The doctor looks knackered,” grunted the mate as Carlos rubbed the sleep from his eyes.

“He's fine, just been stabbing pirates.”

“I didn't stab him, exactly,” Carlos demurred. “I simply tossed a surgical knife in his direction when he unkindly intruded on my surgical theater.”

“Remind me not to entreat your ire, Carlos,” smiled the Captain. He indicated the stranger. “Now, didn't you tell me you picked up a fair bit of Swedish in your travels?”

“I can manage,” said Carlos modestly. “In addition, I have corresponded with a professor of herpetology at Uppsala Universitet.”

“Well, here is the situation. The pirates were keeping a couple of prisoners from their last raid. One of them is a Mr. Thurston, who, as far as we can make out, is from Boston. The other is Mr. Johansen here, who is of Norwegian origin.” The man perked up, obviously recognizing his name. “And we're trying to work out what has happened.”

“Can't you inquire of Mr. Thurston?”

“Mad as a March Hare,” drawled the mate, circling his index finger around his temple.

“But he's been saying something about an island, and it's not one on our charts. Since that's our primary mission out here when we're not tangling with brigands, we wanted to look into it. But we haven't been able to communicate much with Mr. Johansen.”

“You are from Norway, sir?” Carlos asked in his best Swedish. He winced at the forced sound of his own accent.

“Oslo!” Johansen answered. “Although my ship originated in Valparaiso,” he continued in his native Norwegian. Carlos breathed a sigh of relief that he could follow.

“He sailed out of Chile,” Carlos told the others.

“We had taken on Mr. Thurston in a charter,” Johansen continued. “He told a mad tale about an unknown island. He had some papers that backed it up, but I don't know. I can't read Latin, so I'll leave that to someone else.”

“You said he seemed mad?” asked the captain after Carlos had translated.

“He claimed the island only appears when the stars are in alignment.”

Carlos raised an eyebrow, but repeated the claim.

“Isn't that the mad geological theory you've been telling me?” asked the captain.

“Island chains may rise and fall. This is Mr. Lyell's theory. But ... the time course is many eons. Islands do not just pop up at will.” Carlos turned again to Johansen. “Did you make it to the island?”

Johansen became a bit agitated at that, and it took a few attempts for Carlos to get the story out of him. Evidently, Thurston, who was not overwhelmingly well-balanced to begin with, became more and more agitated and out of sorts the closer they came to the coordinates where, he claimed, lay the island. And then of course the ship had run into pirates and, having no guns of their own, ended up slaughtered.

But for some reason when it came to Thurston, the pirates stilled their hands. Taking him and his papers along with Johansen as hostages, they had set Johansen's disabled ship adrift with what crew remained. It appeared to him that they had set a course towards those coordinates when they had been intercepted by the Vigilant.

The first mate was the one who asked the obvious question. “What's the bloody attraction of this damnable island? What treasure lies there?”

Carlos once again addressed Johansen. The man, unfortunately, became yet more agitated, and Carlos had a great deal of trouble interpreting his words. He finally confessed to the captain and mate, “I'm sorry, but I'm not certain I'm understanding him correctly. He keeps saying something about Elder Gods, or Old Ones. Do you have any idea what that could be?”

The captain and mate shared a glance that Carlos could not interpret. The captain walked over to Johansen, extending a hand. “Thank you, Mr. Johansen.” The somewhat confused sailor shook it, and then the captain, grabbing Carlos by his arm, dragged him out of the room. “Mr. Thurston still has his papers. Can I trouble you, Doctor, to take a look at them? A good portion of them are transcribed in Latin, of course, but you being a scholar....”

“Yes, of course,” said Carlos, although he felt a headache coming on. He was still sleep-deprived, and did not relish diving into an assortment of probably old, hand-scribbled Latin documents, but the captain seemed in earnest. They would, no doubt, immediately make way to this mysterious island, whatever the consequences. The ship had been commissioned by Her Majesty's government to embark on a surveying expedition, and Carlos had never yet seen Captain Tom Cochrane shy from his duty.

Carlos nodded glumly and trudged back to his quarters, where were delivered almost immediately many sheaves of crinkled, dusty papers, to the extent that Carlos wondered at Mr. Thurston being allowed to transport them all on not one but two different ships: his chartered vessel, and then the pirate ship.

“And now we are the third vessel,” he sighed, picking up a paper at random. He sent a steward out for a pot of fresh coffee, and then got to reading.

It was many, many hours later before Carlos finally looked up from his research. The papers were the combined work of either towering genius or wretched folly, and Carlos, though his mind was muddled from exertion and lack of sleep, favored the latter. According to the materials from Mr. Thurston's collection, the earth, as Mr. Lyell and Mr. Darwin had proposed, was incredibly ancient. But unlike the positing of the geologist and the naturalist, it had been originally populated not by mere chance, but rather by a race of incredibly powerful beings – gods, really – great and terrible entities who after bringing life and building a lost civilization retired underneath the sea to sleep there until.... Well, it wasn't terribly clear what precisely they were hiding from, nor what they awaited.

It all got to sound like something out of a penny dreadful.

There was only one thing for it.

Carlos rose and, on somewhat unsteady legs (the sea was rough in this vicinity, and the captain had ordered full speed ahead, which caused a great deal of rocking) emerged from his quarters and went to seek out the third mate, who was standing watch.

He found him standing on deck along with a young sailor. They were standing side by side, the mate’s arm wrapped around the teenager’s waist. It wasn’t the first time Carlos had spotted the crew in such a compromising position, so he knew of the protocol. He loudly cleared his throat, giving the mate and the sailor time to disentangle themselves, and all three proceeded to pretend that nothing untoward had happened. Although Captain Cochrane tended to look the other way, the penalty for such shenanigans was severe. Though it was rare men could still be hanged for indecency.

Carlos marched up to the mate and informed him of his plans. He was then escorted by a sailor over to the spirits room, which now quartered their guest.

“Mr. Thurston?” said Carlos. The young sailor was still hovering at his elbow, looking nervous. For some reason, there were no lights on here. He couldn't see Thurston. There was a pile of blankets in a dark corner of the room, piled up like some rare bird had woven together a nest. “Mr. Thurston?” he repeated.

Then, suddenly, the nest was moving. Faster than Carlos could have imagined, it stood up and heaved forward. It was a man with a blanket wrapped around him like a cape, and he was waving a bottle of rum.

“Begone, savage Negro!” he raved. The sailor stepped in front of Carlos, and got beaned on the head for his trouble. Thurston raised his arm at Carlos, who sidestepped, grabbed Thurston by the wrist, and then turned him around, shoving him against the wall.

“Who brought this Negro here! Go away!” Thurston spat.

“I am a Scotsman!” Carlos hollered back. He pulled the bottle from the madman's grasp and tossed it away. “Gather your wits, Mr. Thurston, or I will call the Captain and have you restrained.” He gave Thurston a shove downwards, and, still wrapped up in his blanket, the man slid against the wall to sit on the bare wooden floor.

“Are you all right?” Carlos inquired of the sailor.

The boy was still standing, though he was rubbing his head. “I’ll put that bottle up his arse. We shoulda tossed you over with the bodies, Thurston!”

“I believe I can handle this,” Carlos told him. “Come by my surgery later if your head still grieves you.”

“Ain’t nothing grieves me more than this one,” the young sailor growled, pointing a thumb at Thurston. And then he departed.

“I’ll not speak to you, black bastard!” Thurston muttered at Carlos, who, while keeping a careful watch on him, hunkered down to be at eye level. Before his stint at university, Carlos had spent a year as an apprentice doctor, and had passed some time in an asylum for the insane. The physicians there had noted that what appeared to be a new strain of syphilis was causing mental impairment to some poor souls, sometimes decades after their first infection. It could cause grandiose delusions in the afflicted.

“Mr. Thurston,” said Carlos, keeping his voice low and steady. “I am Dr. MacLachlan. I am a physician.” He decided to only use one, hopefully more comforting and familiar, surname.

Thurston cringed back, eyeing Carlos suspiciously. “You are a doctor of medicine?”

“Yes, that is correct.”

“Are you from the savage islands?”

Carlos restrained himself from heaving a sigh. As he resembled his mother, he had sometimes evoked similar reactions from people in his homeland, who really should have known better. “No. I am a British citizen. I was born in Scotland.”

“You don’t look Scottish,” Thurston told him.

As this was one of the first coherent comments he had evoked from the man, Carlos did not take offense. “Yes, I left my bagpipes at home, I am afraid. My mother is Catalan.”

“Race mixing!” said Thurston, his eyes gone wide.

“If you consider the Scots a particular race, I suppose you are right,” said Carlos. His knees were getting sore, so he carefully lowered himself down to sit cross-legged in front of Thurston, although he kept at attention. “Now, Mr. Thurston, is it possible that, as a young man, you suffered from any notable afflictions?”


“Er, yes, such as, perhaps, the French Disease?”

Thurston seemed to rear up. “I am an honorable man! I do not engage in your disreputable native orgies.”

“All right. All right.” Carlos decided on a different tack. Discussion of sexual matters was always dicey, even in the mentally stable. And he wasn’t likely to get anywhere with a detailed medical history at this point. At least the man was talking to him. “I have been looking through your papers.”

“My papers,” said Thurston, now peeping out of his blanket. “They took my papers.”

“We have them all. They are all safe, and in our care,” Carlos soothed. He reminded himself, keep your voice steady, and maintain eye contact. Though Thurston’s eyes seemed to be ever saccading left and right, which tended to confirm his preliminary diagnosis of neurosyphilis.

Thurston jerked forward, causing Carlos to take in a breath. But the man made no hostile move. He only said, “Then you know. They will be after you now. As they are after me. They finished off my uncle. He was killed for what he knew. Slain in cold blood by a savage Negro!”

And there was the odd aversion again. “Was he in the islands when this happened?” Carlos prompted.

“No, Boston!”

“Well. All right then.” Carlos’s mind raced, and he tried to shake off his annoyance at Thurston, wondering honestly how much of his current psychomania was due to his mental illness. “Your papers,” he said carefully. “They make many references to the Great Old Ones. I’m not familiar-“

Thurston hurled himself forward. He clutched at Carlos’s arms, his face now inches from him. “They have awoken! The stars are in alignment. He will come. The Great Old One will come! Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!”

“What in hell does that mean?” groused Carlos, although the phrase sounded familiar. Something he had read? His head ached, and he wanted to curl up asleep in his hammock, away from all this nonsense about elder gods, and away from raving maniacs.

And then he heard it. They both heard the shout, from far above.

“Land ho!”

“The Galapagos were known to be disappearing islands. That's how I first heard about them,” the captain commented.

“Warn't nothing mystical about it,” grumbled the first mate. “They'd disappear in the fog.”

Carlos glanced over at the island they were currently sailing around, searching for a point to set anchor. So far, there did not appear to be a sheltering harbor, such as they had found back at the Galapagos. Rather, the island was rimmed by sheer cliffs and rocky beaches. Smack in the middle was giant conical mountain, which appeared to be a dormant volcano. This was no surprise: Carlos had long suspected many of the islands in this part of the world had their origin volcanism.

But most intriguingly, someone or something had been to this place long before. Carlos had looked through the glass to assure himself of it. There were stone formations visible here and there around the perimeter, and they were most definitely not natural. Instead, they appeared to be archways, somewhat like the ancient formations Carlos had seen at Stonehenge. Into the stone had been carved queer hieroglyphic markings, but not in any language Carlos recognized.

He didn't feel good about this. He didn't feel good about any of this.

“You may have to take a longboat.”

Carlos whipped around to look at the Captain. This last had been addressed to him. “Excuse me?”

“You may have to take a rowboat to shore, Carlos. Doesn't look like we'll find a place to set anchor.”

Carlos looked back towards the island. “You'd like me to … go ashore?”

“Of course! In fact, I expected you'd be chomping at the bit. New worlds to explore. What's gotten into you?”

“Maybe the boy has eyes,” said the mate.

“Oh, not you too, Horace! Getting superstitious on me, are you?”

Carlos and the first mate exchanged a glance. “I apologize, Captain. I don't have a ready explanation for it. I am first off a man of science … but I get an uneasy feeling from these shores.”

“Pish-posh. You'll take a small crew and scout around. I'm counting on you! Oh, and take that great fool, Thurston, with you. The fresh air will do the scoundrel some good.”

This last did not make Carlos any more enthusiastic about the task at hand.

In the end, it was Carlos, about a dozen crew men, led by the third mate, and accompanied by Thurston and Johansen, the last survivors of the rig that had been heading for the island. Although, but Carlos's reckoning, most of the sailors appeared no more enthusiastic about the landing than he.

The third mate, Bonden, was a steady young man, and before they got into the row boat, Carlos quietly took him aside and agreed on a brief surveying mission. The men were on edge, so Carlos thought it best to keep their time ashore to the minimum, to forestall any misfortune.

The men were uncharacteristically quiet as they stroked the longboat oars towards the rocky beach. Even the often frenetically animated Thurston kept his peace, though Carlos notice he kept his neck craned throughout the voyage, head bobbing left and right like some bizarre, oversized bird.

When the boat at last alit on the beach there was no sound but the lapping tide and the whistle of the wind around the odd stone formations. Bonden pointed upwards and, wordlessly, the crew fell in behind him, slowly scrambling up the sloping scree towards one of the looming stone monuments visible up ahead.

Carlos drew in a breath as they crested the hill, for visible around was not just one stone monument, but a veritable lost city. The remnants of stone structures lay everywhere, tangled in vines, some having been undermined by the invading jungle.

It went on as far as the eye could see. The highest point was perhaps a dozen feet up off the ground.

There was no sound but the wind.

“We'll do this faster if we split into groups,” Bonden said. Carlos reluctantly agreed, and that was how he ended up walking the grounds with another crewman, the now silent Johansen, and Thurston, who had gotten a look to him that Carlos didn't much like.

After about half a mile of walking, they came to a sort of clearing. Carlos wondered if it had been meant as some kind of town square, as the ground showed the remnants of paving stones, but there did not seem to be any buildings. There was only one structure: something that resembled a large, heavy door inside its frame. The lintel was decorated with the hieroglyphics they had seen on other structures, but otherwise there was nothing nearby: no ruins, and nothing to suggest that this door had ever been part of a wall.

“Well, that's passing strange,” said Carlos. He walked all the way around the door, but there was no trace of any other structure. He also noticed something that had bothered him about other buildings there: the geometry just looked off somehow. From some angles the door appeared to be square against the forest floor, but from others, it appeared to be leaning, to as much as a 45 degree angle.

The sailor shrugged and walked up, pulling on the handle. “I don't think that's a good idea,” Carlos ventured. But then to his surprise, and with a great squeaking of the hinges, the door suddenly popped open, sending the sailor off his balance. He fell back. Carlos and Johansen both gathered around, keeping their distance, but peering through the door.

Carlos gasped again. It was the middle of the day, but inside the door, it was pitch dark.

“What the-” Carlos began.

He was interrupted by an inhuman scream from Thurston. Hollering something indecipherable, the man suddenly rushed the door, and before Carlos or Johansen could move, leapt inside....

...and disappeared.

“Thurston!” Carlos shouted. He and Johansen looked desperately at one another, and then Carlos rushed towards the door. Grabbing the doorjamb, he leaned inside and called, “Thurston!'

But somehow he overbalanced. The door, which had been standing straight up just a moment ago, now seemed bent at a weird angle. Carlos grabbed desperately at the door frame, but lost his footing, and with a cry, fell down and down into the darkness.


Notes on Chapter 1: Francis Wayland Thurston and Gustaf Johansen are characters from Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu. Carlos’s experience aboard the Vigilant is the result of a veritable snack mix of influences. The first is the extraordinary real-life voyage of Charles Darwin aboard the HMS Beagle in the early 19th Century. Carlos's friendship with Capt. Cochrane is based on the Aubrey-Maturin novels, which were in turn based on the real life exploits of Captain Thomas Cochrane (born in 1775).
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