This is entry #2 in the series “Nom de Bier” – good beer reviewed by famous authors (as emulated by me). I do not claim to speak for these authors, nor am I an expert scholar in their particular style, so please feel free to correct/admonish as you see fit.
Beer Review – Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter
Style: American Porter
By: HP Lovecraft
They claim to have found me wet, alone, and gibbering nonsense on that lightless southern shore of the Superior. I could not find in my memory a name, nor a station, but my clothes betrayed my identity. It seems that against all odds, I was the lone survivor of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
In relaying the specifics of how I, and only I, got there, I can say little. The official investigation found the freighter had taken on water some seventeen miles from the Michigan shore, and there gone down in the fury of a southward storm. I remember it differently, but my attempts to explain are discounted as the ravings of a man whose mind was broken by stress and loss. The flashes of truth that do return to me in the deep midnight, are admittedly, things so fantastic and terrible they evade common belief.
My name was given back to me on November 29, 1975, after several weeks in a Detroit hospital. I had been John Bailey of Duluth, Minnesota, deckhand of that now great wreck, but the other details of my life seemed vague and otherworldly. A result of a severe knock to the head claimed my doctors, despite no clear wound or laceration to confirm their diagnosis. My records say I was born in 1949 to a Paula and Michael Bailey, just outside the tiny Massachusetts port of Innsmouth. The place feels right, but the age feels wrong, and the mirror shows me not a man of twenty-six, but one of a much, much older countenance.
I’ve been questioned by countless police and government officials, all trying to ascertain exactly what happened that night. What pieces of reality stitch back together coherently tell me our Captain, the affable but quiet Ernest McSorley, had control of the situation despite the severity of the storm. We’d joined with another freighter – the Arthur Anderson I’m told – and the two ships had been working in tandem to navigate and ride out the worst of the crests. The storm surged fiercely, of that there is no question, but not so fiercely I do not think, as to wrestle control away from our captain and sink the ship on those desolate shoals.
To placate the glimpses of madness that routinely overtake my psyche, or perhaps to assuage my guilt of being a lone remainder of the crew, I drink. I hear the slanders upon my intellect slung from those righteous locals, know their callous disregard for my situation, but pints of strong porter have been my only refuge. I find now why the sailors of old London so loved and relied on the brown ale; it fortifies like no other, physically, mentally, and spiritually. My constitution fares poorly with whiskey, and something about the lore and history of this brew calls to me through endless bubbles, muffled but undeniable.
In my sober hours, I have been reading about the ship before the storm. Most authorities seem obsessed with what happened on November 10, 1975. My concern is that the fate of the ship was decided well before that, when it took on its cargo, and me, in Duluth on November 7. But of this, for now, I can say nothing without risking another trip to the resident psychologist, who already questions the strength of my mind.
As typical, we’d been hauling taconite ore from the Minnesota quarries. Normal fare, massive tonnage of quartz and iron, all to fuel the precambrian fossil fuel monstrosity that held sway over the lake-tied cities. Occasionally, our manifest would include sundry other materials from locations generally undisclosed. Questions were rarely asked as ore was ore, boring, heavy rock valued for its mineral content and little more.
One entry on the manifest from November 7 caught my attention and sent me down this path of incredulity and insanity. A single load of wooden crates, otherwise nondescript and banal, had been marked as coming from “Northern Canada/Greenland” making it an anomaly among the other loads of clearly domestic rocks. I’m sure our head of logistics thought nothing of it, and our Captain, so close to his retirement, most likely wanted to be underway as soon as possible.
The information in the ledgers, the wooden crates, their mysterious contents, seemed familiar, and personal. My head reeled from memories lashing out of my unconscious. I felt faint, and sought out drink, hoping to silence my mind for at least one more night.
I awoke sometime later, head pounding and stomach lurching. But when I could not find my feet, I found it was not intoxication, but that the floor was moving beneath me. Undulating with sudden jerks that knocked me back onto a sparsely covered bunk. The wind yowled against the bulkhead and all at once I heard men cry out while thunder broke the black sky. The men on deck shouted that we’d struck something, been run aground by the storm’s power. But I did not look over the rails. My mind pull me down, into the imposing dark of the ship’s hold.
There, in the otherwise pitch black, the wooden crates hummed and hissed, putting off a pale blue glow that just barely made their outline visible. The rocking of the ship had dislodged them from their fastenings, and one had fallen from high to the steel deck below. Using a flashlight from near the doorway, I threw some light over the cargo, but had to grab a railing to stable myself when I saw the now exposed, spilled contents.
A dark ooze seeped from shattered glass bottles, pooling out in all directions unnaturally, defying the flow of any liquid I’d ever seen. I moved closer to inspect and noticed that it seemed warm and pulsating, characteristic of something alive. I passed the beam over the largest pool and looked deep into the shiny viscous mess; it sparkled a dizzying show, millions upon millions of dots of light tearing through space at dazzling speeds, the cosmos contained in a fluid window through which I viewed impossible infinity.
The humming and hissing intensified. Something deep and forgotten in my body pulled at me, commanded my mind and muscles, and told me, in a tongue I’d never heard by somehow understood, to drink. I cupped the horrid stuff between my hands, letting it slip and drip through my fingers, before putting it to my mouth and swallowing voraciously.
I staggered back onto deck to hear the men screaming to abandon the freighter. The sounds from below now sang across the night sky, and in the eye of the great storm, countless stars, more than man could count, pierced any remaining clouds. Below, the liquid had seeped out from a crack in the hull, floating on the water like an oil slick, pulsating harder and more visibly. There was a great rumbling from below and the water churned into a froth, the stars above becoming so bright that the night could have been day.
A huge, misshapen mass rose from the waves. It smashed down across the center of the ship, snapping it cleanly in two. I heard screams for half a second then…quiet. The ship gurgled as it filled with water, while all around me the sinister ooze formed a perfect mirror to the star-stained space above.
That’s the last I remember. The drink has brought me back to that night, dulled my mental protections enough to let that reality of that night come out. The memory was more vivid than a dream, but less attached than waking reality. I dare not tell anyone what I think to be the truth as I know how they’d respond, and what they’d probably do with me.
Every sip I take reminds me of that sip I took. I cannot stay. For some reason I’m pulled from this life to another. I’m headed north and do not plan to return.
Grammarian’s note: Syntactically, Lovecraft’s style was dense and overwrought, with heavy use of adverbs and adjectives. He wrote in the early 1900s, so the high rhetoric of his writing wasn’t totally unusual, even if it seems so in retrospect to modern readers. I tried to mimic his sentence patterns too, as he’d often go from a simple right-branching sentence right into a packed left-branching sentence with numerous adverbial clauses. Thematically, he wrote about dark, cosmic horrors that had lived eons before humankind but still existed as shadows of history and lore in certain parts of the world. He loved to use obtuse foreshadowing where the narrator established himself as unreliable due to personal madness, typically caused by their connection to some ancient, brooding evil. He also had a bit of a gruesome obsession with the ocean, and what secrets it could possibly contain.