The Call (excerpt)

Anthony Gaines dreams that he's standing in his kitchen. Only the light above the stove is on, and the majority of the room is dim and crawling with shadows. By the feeble glow he notices that someone is sitting at the small table against the wall on the other side of the room, next to a window. He knows immediately that it's Jennifer -- or Jenny -- an attractive woman in her late thirties that lives a few blocks down from his house… or lived, as that section of town is now mysteriously empty and lifeless. She is wearing a white nightgown that clings to her shapely body, and he notices that she is somehow soaked, and that the garment clings to her as if she's just stepped out of a body of water. Her skin is dripping wet as well, and is much more pale than it should be, almost matching the gown. He finds himself moving closer to her, and he can see that her flesh is corrupted and discolored in places. Here and there a layer of silvery scales reflect the faint light. There's a sickening scent coming off her. It smells of the briny ocean and of things dragged onto the shore and left to wither in the summer sun. Beneath that stench is something else, something much more putrid and ancient.

As if on cue, flickering green lights erupt from her eyes like twin chemical fires. He can see that she is in much worse condition than he'd thought, and that her sagging dead skin looks amphibious and ruined. Where there are not the smattering of scales, the flesh is bruised with rot, like a fish left out in the sun for too long. The soaked nightgown is transparent but only reveals more putrefaction.

"Hello Tony," she says in dead monotone. The same eerie light flickers between her teeth. "I know this is strange, but I need you to listen to me for a second." She pauses to look down at her hands, which are now webbed and vaguely aquatic.

"There's a change coming, and I know that it might be scary, but it doesn't have to be," she says, looking at him again. "I didn't really have a choice, but given the chance to go back, I wouldn't. Not in a million years. It's amazing here. You'll see. But we need more of us to make things really happen," and then she smiles, and it's the worst thing Anthony has ever seen. He wants to scream, to vent his confusion and end the maddening questions colliding in his head, but he can't. His voice is stuck somewhere in his throat.

"Here, let me show you something," the thing that was once Jenny says as she presses a webbed hand against the window. A moment ago there was just an uncanny and opaque darkness, but now a sickly green radiance - the very same color that flickers inside Jennifer's skull - blooms from far away. He is instantly drawn to it regardless of Jenny's rotting body and the pungent odor that envelops it. He sees that his house now somehow resides on the ocean floor. Seaweed brushes against the windowsill. Within the sea's incalculable depths lies something of immaculate and alien beauty in the far distance. It seems to be at once a mountain range and a vast city of gargantuan proportions. Dazzling green light spills from an innumerable amount of irregularly shaped openings that could be either windows or doors and illuminates the incredible space between. Within the murky depths swarms of giant things that defy scientific explanation drift about the bewildering structure. The architecture is both nightmarish and astonishing, and at once he is compelled to journey to this place of terrifying wonder. It's a pull that defies logic itself, but he knows deep within his heart of hearts that he absolutely must make the pilgrimage, or die trying.