Just Beneath the Surface

Click here for the Tale before!

A darkness so complete.

He felt cold.  Looking all around, there was nothing to see.  He could not even see his hands or his body below him.  He felt as if he were a solitary eye floating in ink.

A darkness that breathed.

He sensed an invisible current; pushing and pulling, silently and steadily.  There was still nothing that he could see.  Just darkness, ebbing and flowing.  He tried to breathe, but realized he did not feel the need.

A darkness that watched.

He was surrounded by an overwhelming presence, the sensation of being watched filled his every thought and he tried to scream but the eldritch shadows absorbed it and… quivered with pleasure?

So cold.  

Whispers found their way into his mind, those same disgusting syllables from before:

Lano kala bo’shar lanu novala

He tried to push his hands against his ears but found he had no hands.  He was the eye that he had imagined.  No longer corporeal.

Pharom car’ana mokkada bah’jah ko se

He gave up resisting the words, and allowed them to flow through his being.  Robert became consumed by an incredible despair as each utterance drove daggers into his soul.  Icicle daggers crafted from blood.

New words broke through the shouting of forbidden lore from ancient tomes.  Clear as crystal and smooth as silk:

“Don’t give up, Robert.”

The voice was a man’s voice, deep and tired.  Robert felt himself turn to look, out of habit, and nothing in his view changed.  The darkness was complete.

“They will find a new game soon.”

Robert now had to breathe, and he felt his body below him being swept along in the icy darkness.  The feeling of rushing matter around him pulling at his clothes while his lungs burned for oxygen.  He pulled at the darkness around him, could feel an immense pressure pulling him further to his left and he fought against it.  To his right, a soft light finally broke through the ink.  A soft light.

“Soon.”

The light of the moon:  A pale reflection of the sun.  Like a small shred of hope fighting to survive.

Turning himself and pulling his frozen body toward the light, he felt the strong currents whirling around him, pushing his body and pulling him away.  He struggled against them with his entire might as his lungs screamed for air, begged for it.  Muscles ached red-hot and exhausted as his face broke the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, and he gasped for air only to find salty brine pouring into his mouth.

ocean

Robert coughed and gurgled as the waves surged around him, rising and falling.  The waves of an ocean are immense to a mere human, and even larger to Robert.  His fear of drowning was one of his most closely guarded secrets.  Ever since he was a child, bodies of water made him extremely nervous.  He never even took a bath.  Panic made him breathe faster and faster and he felt as if no matter how deeply or how often he breathed that he was going to be swallowed up by the murky expanse beneath him.  An unknown environment stretched out underneath the surface, invisible and ominous.

A horn blared out through the sound of rushing water.  The moon became covered by a passing cloud, and darkness crept over the changing landscape.  A large swell brought Robert higher up with it, and he stared at the gloomy waves rolling around him as far as he could see.  Blueish black throbbed all over, and to Robert’s great joy he saw a lone fishing trawler turning toward his waving arms and screaming voice fighting to be heard over the din of nature.

Shouts coached each other as Robert grabbed onto a life preserver thrown to him, and he began to laugh like a gleeful madman.  As they pulled him from the water Robert could have sworn that the ocean itself wrapped around his ankle to try and pull him back — but with another strong yank he was in the boat.  Must have been seaweed.

ocean crashing

Robert spat up seawater onto the deck, which smelled strongly of salt and old fish.  Gagging, he sat back and breathed.  He looked from one man to the next, each looking as if they had seen a ghost.

“How the fuck did you get out here?  Do you know where you are?”  A man stepped forward and stared with awe and…suspicion?  The odds of a man overboard surviving in open ocean are very, very slim.  Robert stared back, at a loss for words.

“Answer me when I talk to you, stranger! HOW THE FUCK DID YOU GET OUT HERE?!” The man crouched in his yellow, rubber overalls in front of Robert and looked at him with a now complete lack of trust.  His breath was the same as the boat, but with the distinct smell of cigarettes.  He grabbed Robert’s sopping wet shirt with a large hand and whispered hatefully into his ear:

“There’s not another boat out here for at least a hundred miles.  Not since the armistice… Who do you work for?”

“That’s ENOUGH  Brillby!!” A thundering voice roared from above and behind Robert’s head, followed by two thuds and a groan.  The captain thumped Brillby with a fist like a brick, and knocked him onto his ass in front of Robert.

“I don’t think this man knows what’s going on.  He’s probably starving and delirious if he’s been out here since the skirmish the other day.” He smiled with shockingly white teeth, and put a mostly dry blanked over Robert’s shoulders.  Robert did not even notice that he was shivering until he stopped.  The warmth from the blanket revitalized him.

“Where… am I?” Robert stood and pulled the cloth tightly around him.  He was wearing a suit still, the rumpled one from before.

“You’re in a very dangerous part of the world right now.  More dangerous than usual.  How much do you remember?”  The captain handed him a bowl of hot soup and started walking him toward his cabin.  The crew stood incredulous, whispering as they helped their comrade up.  Brillby glared after the two as they went inside.

deep ocean

“I’m Captain Gathers, and this is my ship.  As for the crew…” He looked embarrassed, and wiped sea spray from his brow. “The crew is tired.  Sorry for Brillby’s attitude.  With the war and all, it’s been hard on fishermen.  It’s apparently a huge moral conundrum now, but this is all we know!! With the armistice in place the way it was written, what are we supposed to do for work?! How do I feed my family?” He looked at Robert, and saw he was wearing a tattered suit.  Gathers’ eyes narrowed at him.

“Why are you wearing a suit? Why are you out here?  Were you one of those fucking diplomats who got us such a raw deal?” His eyes accused Robert of something he knew nothing about, and Robert finished his soup with a massive gulp that burned his entire chest on the way down, but the warmth that came from his stomach now made it worthwhile.

“I have no idea what you are talking about.  I don’t know how I got here or… Who I am…”

Robert struggled to think about who he was.  He knew his name was Robert — Robert James Lowman — But who was that? There were no images of family or friends or home that his mind could conjure up.  An even deeper fear found its way into Robert’s soul: The fear of forgetting yourself.

“Pretty fucking convenient.  No matter, I have some friends who would love to have the chance to… talk to you.  God damn suit.”  The Captain stood and turned his back to Robert and began to ruffle around in the cabinet that was behind him.  Robert knew what was going to happen, and without thinking his body moved to pick up a wrench from the counter to his right, made his way around the small table.  The roar of the new storm on the roof and the windows covered the squeaking sound of his squishy shoes.  He raised the wrench high, and brought it down as hard as he could on the back of Captain Gathers’ head.

The Captain collapsed, holding himself up with one arm, trying to stay upright as Robert brought down another blow with the cold iron.  He finally slumped over and fell face-first onto the floor.  Alive?  Maybe.  But Robert didn’t care either way.  The rain was calming to him as it pattered in waves over the small cabin.  His hand and forearm ached, but Robert was safe for now.

Behind where Robert was sitting was a cot next to a small desk with a mess of files on top of it.  Curiosity piqued, he slopped over there in his nasty wet clothes.  He probably smelled like a dog that dove into a bucket of fish and slept, ate, and shat there for several days.

He sat without a sound, staring at the clutter of papers and files sprawled out in front of him.  Personnel files, a workers compensation form, maps of the Atlantic with sharp red lines drawn on it, showing some sort of border going around the entirety of the middle.  In the upper right, were the words : “Armistice Borders”.  He remembered the Cold War now.

What could that possibly mean?  Something about the Soviets? 

Robert shuffled the papers into some semblance of organization out of habit, and found a small leather bound book underneath the map.  He picked it up and opened to a random page to see handwritten diary entries.  A Captain’s log.  Surprisingly neat handwriting.

“We made it through the blockade by the skin of our teeth.  I paid a few communications officers off to cause enough confusion for us to slip through.  We took one shot from a destroyer, but it only grazed the bow.  If it had hit us head on we would have been fish food.  If we can’t pull this off, we will be fish food anyway.  Fishing is all we know, we can’t stop suddenly without compensation! But if we pull this off, we will be rich!  So many hypocrites publicly support the armistice but are willing to privately pay a premium for some fresh fish on their plates.”

ocean waves

The next entry was dated a few weeks after that one.

“I know we are being followed, but I cannot tell the men.  They are already on the verge of mutiny.  We lost two the other night on watch, but I was able to convince the crew that it was an accident of some sort.  ‘How could they follow one small boat in the middle of this huge ocean?’ I said.  Brillby, as usual, was the most vocal opponent.  They say friends make the worst enemies… I don’t want to be his enemy.  We’ve been in this business together since high school.  This wretched conflict has been hard on all of us.  And the Armistice has been even harder.  A bad peace can be worse than a good war.

How could they have stayed hidden for so long, underneath the waves?  I fished for 2 decades out here, and never saw any sign of them… But this whole time they were just beneath the surface.  Biding their time.  Surprising to me that they didn’t attack sooner, if they would have before we had the technology we have now, we would have been toast.  Even with the destroyers and aircraft carriers we lost the entire 7th Fleet in the Pacific… Even with help from the Red Chinese.  Surprising that the Atlantic fleets held out long enough to hammer out a diplomatic solution, however tenuous.  That’s why we have to take this chance, and the advance payment was enough for me to start paying off the mortgage again, and get some new clothes for Jason Jr.

The crew is shouting ‘man overboard’…”

Robert got chills as the diary trailed off.  What the hell was going on here?  Some sort of underwater navy the Russians had hidden?  I knew the Russians and Chinese had some bad blood, but this sounds completely beyond the pale.  His thoughts were interrupted by shouting outside breaking through the tumult of the weather.  Peeking out one of the windows, he could see a massive wave growing on the horizon.  A bell rang out, announcing the advent of an emergency.

The moon grew from behind a cloud, shining onto what Robert realized was not a giant wave.  It was the glistening blue skin of some horrible monster.  He could see spines covering its back, and a pair of pure black eyes that shone with life.  Some sort of great serpent?

Frozen in terror as the rain finally stopped, he could hear the creature rushing toward them, and the spines on its back became clearer, and were not spines at all.

The leviathan was covered in dozens of human-like beings, holding spears and halberds.  On top of their heads were strange fins that were translucent in the moonlight.  The beings were pure white with a slight blue tint, reflecting the light of the moon.  The war beast was nearly upon them, and Robert shut the door to the cabin behind him, and stared at his hands.

What was he going to do?  What could he do?

tales of a travelling salesman final

Click HERE for the next tale! 

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