I went out fishing on my boat the other day. Packed everything I needed to be out overnight: some food, chips, water, and of course — beer. I finally got some time off of work, and I intended to make the most of a three day weekend.
I took the 20 footer out into the Gulf of Mexico, loaded to bear with bait and extra thick fishing line. 100 pound test line. I was going to go for the big Kahuna. The day I went out was clear and windless, the sun hot in the sky. I brought my pup out there with me since he loved being on the water. If he got too hot, he would hop in for a swim. Odds are I would join him if I was bored.
So there I was, listening to the classic Jimmy Buffet song “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and tapping along to the rhythm when I felt something tug on my line. I flicked the rod, hooking it. My dog instantly was excited because he knew what it meant. One foot on the side of the boat, I began to reel it in. It wasn’t too big, and barely struggled. A squid. It was sure to make better bait than the shrimp I had, so I cut it in half and dodged the ink that shot out as I pierced its soft flesh with my skinny fillet knife. I remember the way its eye went blank. Never noticed that before.
I got out a big shark hook, about 10 inches long, and attached it to my big boy pole. The one with the heavy test line. I skewered the squid through the eye and tangled its tentacles around the hook. Like some macabre sculpture of flesh. I tossed it down with some weights attached to the line and cracked another beer as I let it sink. A few beers and some pretzels later, and the sun was almost gone behind the western horizon. A magnificent red purple filled the sky like splattered paint. My pup was at my feet, asleep. Content. So was I.
I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I knew something gave 3 distinct pulls on the line — scaring the shit out of me. I stood up with a rush, waking my dog who began to bark. Very rare for this fella to bark, I’ll tell you that much. I flicked the line hard, hooking something very heavy.
“This is it, boy” I sputtered wiping sleep from my eyes. “This is the big one!” I couldn’t wait to take a picture of whatever was on the line, and brag to my old man about the catch of a lifetime. It was very heavy, and I cranked it up slowly. The rod bent like crazy and I was afraid it would snap, but I noticed that there was no tell-tale struggle of a small shark or fish. Just a steady heaviness I was pulling up from the water that registered on the sonar to be 85 feet deep. The moon reflected on the quiet water, smooth without any wind. It was like the ocean was holding its breath.
I finally hoisted the thing from the water to see something very unusual. It was covered in seaweed that was wrapped very tightly around something. It was heavy as hell, probably 60 pounds. I thought it was an old trap of some sort, and I cursed my luck at the wasted bait. Dropping it onto the deck, my dog recoiled from it with a whining that was out of character for him. I knelt down, pat his head, and reached to the object to unwrap it from the seaweed. It was wrapped like a gift, I remember now. So tight. The seaweed was slick and rough on my fingers as I peeled it apart to find a strange stone. Black, but as I held it up to the moon I saw it had blended green within the stone when it hit the light just right. About a foot tall, it was a strange carving unlike anything I had ever seen. Human-like bodies with fish faces, many arms. I felt cold, and shivering I set it down to put a coat on. It felt as if it was looking at me, with those eyes. Some of the carvings held spears. Strange inscriptions ran over the edges of what I saw to be a kind of cylinder. My dog continued to whine and growl. It freaked me out so much I kicked on the engine and headed back toward land. A few hours and I made it back. I covered the thing with a towel because I felt so strange with it out.
I got home around 3 am, putting the boat up and rinsing the salt water off of it. I planned to take the stone to the local university in the morning and the anthropology department there. Surely they would know something. I put the stone on the kitchen table, wrapped in a towel. With it out of sight, sleep came easily to me.
Then sometime before dawn, I heard my dog barking and a window shatter. I jumped out of bed and my bat materialized in my hand as I crept out into the hall. My dog ran into the bedroom past me whimpering and shaking. My heart filled my ears with its pounding, my socked feed slowly padding down the wooden floor of the hall. I tried to flip on a light, and the power was out. Shadows darker than usual. I heard a rustling, strange smacking sounds.
“Hello! I’m armed! Get out!” I shouted down the hall. We had some crime recently and I feared to be the next victim of a series of murders in town. I knew I should have bought a gun. Another crashing of a breaking window suddenly filled the air, glass twinkling and sending shivers down my spine. Then silence. The lights came on automatically, the unexpected light blinding me as I came into the kitchen at the end of the hall.
The stone was gone. The draft caused curtains to flutter like forlorn ghosts. I took a step forward, and my socks became soaked. Water covered the floor. The table. A trail of it led to the broken window. I looked out onto the yard and I could see the bushes outside the window crushed, gnarled and bent as if someone fell into them. I went outside to investigate, and saw a footprint in the mud. A footprint that made me shudder.
Webbed feet. Larger than my own size 13. Wide. And in the print was water. I smelled my wet socks, and recoiled at the strong scent of rotting sea water.