From the author: Two men out fishing in the deep open catch something they would never have imagined possible.
Deep Sea Fishing
(Originally published in Seizure Issue 4 (December 2009); translated into French and reprinted in Monstres! anthology (Celephaïs Publishing, France, 2012)
‘Pass me another.’
‘You’ll fall overboard if you don’t slow down.’
‘You’re assuming,’ Dave said with a smile, ‘that I’ll be getting out of this chair.’
The sea stretched endlessly in every direction, a softly undulating mirror of crystal blue calmness. Two lines arced out into the ocean from long fishing rods held languidly in two reclined laps. The sun, a high-octane disc in an impossibly blue sky, reflected incandescent off the bright white fibreglass of the boat. Polo shirts and low deck chairs the only splashes of colour in the otherwise glaring white and swallowing blue of sun, sky, sea and boat.
‘Hmm? Oh, cheers.’ Dave leaned over, taking the bottle, the sides already slick with condensation in the summer heat. He looked up into the soft ocean breeze, sucking air into his lungs as he twisted off the cap, bright sun reflected in the black mirrors of his sunglasses. The hiss of the beer echoed his appreciative breath. ‘This is the life, eh?’ He took a long, satisfied swig.
There was no answer from his friend. ‘I said, this is the life, eh? Shinya?’ Dave’s brow furrowed. ‘Hey, Shinya!’
‘What?’ The face didn’t change behind the artificial shield of the sunglasses, but the little jump was a dead giveaway.
Dave laughed. ‘How quickly did you just fall asleep?’
‘Wasn’t sleeping.’ Shinya grinned quickly. ‘Just a quick meditation.’
‘A meditation on the nature of not being awake?’
Shinya flipped him the bird and reached into the ice box beside his chair, pulling out another instantly condensing bottle.
‘That’s the way. Another beer’ll help keep you awake.’
By way of an answer Shinya twisted off the top and raised the bottle in a toast. As Dave responded with his own bottle the calm silence of the day was split by the racing of Shinya’s reel, spinning and whistling as heavy-gauge line sped out. Both men jumped, Shinya grabbing the rod and hauling up. Dave stood to better see the line into the water, a sharp V flying away from the boat.
‘This is massive!’ Shinya braced his foot against the rail, leaning back into his chair.
‘And bloody fast too.’ Dave took off his sunglasses, squinting into the glare.
‘I can’t hold it.’
Dave knelt and braced himself. He reached around, grabbing the cork grips of the fishing rod, his hands and Shinya’s making an alternating tower of white knuckled fists. Together they pulled up, grimacing. Shinya released one hand and hovered it over the reel. ‘I’m going to run out of line!’
Together the men let the rod dip down towards the water. ‘Now!’ Shinya grabbed the reel as they both heaved the rod back. He grunted in pain as his hand was battered before he got a grip. There was a moment of silence, then Shinya began reeling in. It was too easy.
Dave slowly took his hands away from the rod. ‘We lost it?’
Dave stood up behind Shinya’s chair. ‘Spilled my bloody beer,’ he said, watching the bottle rocking gently back and forth on its side in a steadily spreading foamy pool.
‘That was weird.’
Dave nodded. ‘Yeah.’ He reached for the ice-box just as his reel span violently, the rod lurching free of its mount, heading for the rail. ‘Shit!’
Shinya got to it first, catching the last foot of the rod before it disappeared over the side. As he grabbed it, Dave grabbed him and they hauled together again. This time Shinya didn’t wait and grabbed the reel with one hand, trying to wind it in. After a moment’s effort he grunted and let go, shaking his hand. The line whined out over the rail. Both men watched the reel, spinning so fast it was just a blur and a whistle of bearings. The line zig-zagged across the hub as it sped away.
With a violent jerk the rod leapt from Shinya’s hands, clacking once against the rail. It flipped up, shot into the water like an arrow and vanished. Shinya grimaced, shaking both hands now.
Dave stared at the spot that had swallowed his rod. ‘You all right?’
Shinya nodded. ‘I couldn’t hold on.’
‘I know. Doesn’t matter.’
They stood in silence for a moment, staring at the now still patch of ocean. Dave sat in Shinya’s chair, took out a beer, opened it. He took three long swallows and handed the bottle to Shinya. Shinya sat in Dave’s chair accepting the drink. Neither man had much to say. Eventually Dave picked up Shinya’s rod, began reeling it in. After a while the sinkers appeared, followed by the trace line and the large hook. And the bait. The sodden fish meat swung over the water, dripping. Dave raised an eyebrow to his friend.
Shinya shook his head. ‘Didn’t even take the bait? How is that possible?’
‘I thought it might have been a shark. Bit through the line.’
‘But it didn’t. It just let go.’
‘How could it just let go? The way we hauled on that thing the hook must have caught.’
‘With the bait? Then whatever it was came and took my line too? And ran off with that?’
Shinya looked at his hands, shrugged. ‘Doesn’t make any sense. Two of them?’
‘Two of what?’
Shinya shrugged again.
Dave stood and cast Shinya’s bait back out over the stern of the small boat. It sailed high before splashing into the water. Dave mounted the rod and stepped away from the chair, motioning to Shinya.
‘But I lost you your rod.’
Dave shook his head. ‘Doesn’t matter. Same thing would have happened to me.’
Shinya made a rueful face and took back his seat. Dave stayed standing. He leaned on the rail and stared out to sea, putting his sunglasses back on. ‘What’s that?’
Shinya squinted. ‘What am I looking for?’
‘Right out there.’
Both men stared hard into the distance. A thousand tiny splashes, randomly scattering across the ocean. ‘Yeah, I see it. What is it?’
‘It’s getting nearer.’
The men watched, straining to focus on the activity, and the ocean in the far distance domed for an instant behind the splashing. ‘Fuck, did you see that?’
‘How far away is it?’
‘A long way. That was massive!’
The disturbance on the surface was getting closer. ‘It’s a shoal of something, isn’t it?’ Dave said quietly.
Shinya’s voice was strained. ‘Do we get whales like that around here?’
‘You think that was a whale?’
The frantic shoal of fish was closing the distance at a furious rate. The surface of the water no more than a hundred metres away began to boil, silver flashes in the bright sun as thousands of fish leapt and dived. As the shoal began to near the boat the ocean surface behind them heaved again, swelling up once more as something gargantuan and black rose in an arcing curve. As water displaced from it, long ivory coloured spines flexed up into the sunlight, each taller than a man, gnarled and twisted over slick, black skin. A wave of icy air washed over the boat, bringing with it a terrifying sensation of something engulfing. A massive, frozen space heaved ahead of it.
The swelling blackness filled the horizon in front of the boat, water spraying, pushing a huge swell. The men cried out and grabbed for the rails as seawater and fish rained over them. Then came the shadow of the behemoth. The small boat rose up on the bow wave, seeming to almost stand vertically in the water. Beer bottles and ice-box, deck chairs and fishing boxes were thrown up and away. The men screamed as they struggled to hold onto the railings. The giant blackness slipped underneath the boat. The vessel rose and crashed, threatening to tip sideways and capsize as it landed. Both men grunted as they crashed back onto the deck. The boat rocked violently up and down in the aftershocks.
Slowly everything settled. The only sounds came from the gasping breaths of the two men, the dripping of seawater as it sluiced off the cab and the wet slaps of fish that had landed all around them in their panic.
Dave and Shinya slowly looked up, met each other’s eyes. ‘What the fucking fuck?’ Dave said raggedly.
Shinya shook his head, his face grey, eyes wide, dark.
‘What the hell kind of fucking whale looks like that?’ Dave asked, carefully rising to his hands and knees. Fish flapped and gaped all around them.
Shinya said nothing, unable to speak. He remained belly-flat on the deck while Dave climbed to his feet, trembling all over. Taking a deep breath he leaned on the rail again, looking out to sea around the boat. ‘I thought we were sunk for sure.’
‘Is it gone?’
Dave looked at his friend. He leaned down, offering a hand. ‘Yeah, mate. I think so.’
Shinya took his hand and slowly stood. ‘What was it?’
Dave laughed, without humour. ‘Sea monster.’
‘I know. Did you see anything else? Fins, tail, anything?’
‘No. Just a massive, black... thing. With those huge spikes on it.’
Dave rubbed a palm over his face. ‘Perhaps we should put on life vests, in case it passes by again. And all our stuff is overboard,’ he added ruefully. There was no answer from his friend. ‘Shinya?’ He looked over. Shinya was staring down into the water, his mouth working silently, knuckles white on the rail.
The water beneath the boat was black. In truth, the water beneath the boat was as clear as polished diamond; something beneath the water was black. Black and motionless, stretching as far away as he could see in every direction. Shinya made a squeaking noise, trying to speak. Dave quietly stepped to a locker and slowly, carefully, retrieved two life jackets. He shrugged into one as he tapped Shinya with the other.
‘It’s right there.’
‘I know,’ Dave said. ‘Put this on.’ His hand shook as he held out the jacket.
‘What good will that do?’
‘Just put it on.’
Shinya took the jacket and slipped it on, all the time unable to tear his eyes away from the blackness under the boat.
Eventually Shinya peeled his eyes from the water below him. Their ice box bobbed on the surface of the ocean, some twenty metres off the port side. It was crooked in the water, the ice and beer weighing down one end as it drifted on the smooth, calm surface. The two men stared at it, mesmerised as the water around it stirred and something long, slick and black whipped up. There was a splash then just bubbles where the ice box had been.
Both men staggered back involuntarily. ‘Was that a tentacle?’
Dave rubbed his face again. ‘Looked like. You see any suckers?’
‘That’s what I thought.’ He looked down into the water again, the black vastness just below the surface. His eyes strained as he tried to make out some detail.
‘How long before that’s us?’ Shinya’s voice was thin, as if carried on the wind from far away.
‘How long before that,’ he pointed at where the ice box had been, ‘is us?’
‘Shall we just try to leave?’
‘The motor might cause it to... I dunno... do something.’
Dave frowned. ‘The only other option is to just sit here and wait.’
‘Maybe it’ll go away.’
Both men spun around at the sound of splashing off the starboard side. Another oily tentacle, thicker than a large man’s waist was grappling with a wooden locker. Dave cursed. ‘That’s the inflatable. It must have come loose.’
Shinya sucked air in through his teeth. ‘Shit.’
There was a suck of water and the locker vanished beneath the glassy surface.
‘I’m not sure it would have done us any good anyway,’ Dave said quietly. ‘I vote we try to motor away.’
‘We risk disturbing it.’
‘I’d rather do something than nothing.’
Vibrations rippled through the boat as the serene surface all around broke with bubbles. A deep rumbling, like distant thunder, seemed to rise up through the water. In a moment everything was still again.
‘What the hell was that?’ Dave leaned over the side a little, staring down into the water.
Shinya shook his head, backing away towards the wheel. ‘Don’t lean over like that, Dave.’
The vibrations and deep rumblings rose up again, more bubbles breaking on the surface. Dave backed quickly away from the rail. ‘Is it fucking laughing at us?’
Shinya just stood, trembling, his head subconsciously moving side to side, no, no, no. There was silence but for the flapping of fish, less frantic now as they dried in the beating sun, desperate for the cool wash of ocean through their gills.
Climbing up next to the driver’s seat Dave scanned all around the boat. ‘Looks like there’s nothing left.’
‘Just us and it?’
‘How far out are we?’
‘Too far to get back before dark.’
‘I’m not so keen on the idea of spending the night out here now.’
Dave barked a humourless laugh. ‘Tell me about it. It seemed like such a good idea not so long ago.’
Shinya stepped up to the wheel, next to his friend. ‘If we started back we’d be in sight of land before dark, right?’ Dave nodded. ‘So even when the sun goes we’d see lights on land to navigate in by?’
‘Yeah, I suppose.’
‘So maybe we should just head in and take our chances.’
A deep, wet thwack boomed through the hull of the small boat. Both men jumped, half crouching, looking around. A moment later there was a wet, sticky tearing, then the sound came again, along with a concussive vibration. Dave stood up and looked over the front of the boat, around to the side. ‘Oh fuck.’ His words were accompanied by another sticky tear and watery whack.
Shinya swallowed his fear and leaned out to see what Dave saw. A long, thick rubbery tentacle was lying along the side of the boat, emerging from the water at the bow, seeming to stroke the fibreglass flank of the vessel. Almost a caress. Then it peeled back before whipping down again, slapping along the smooth white side with casual lasciviousness. A similar sound came from the other side. Shinya moved to look. ‘The same,’ he managed, voice strained.
Both tentacles began peeling back stickily and slapping in unison, the vibrations stuttering through the boat, the slaps unnaturally loud in the still calmness of the open sea. Peel, slap. Peel, slap. Shinya made a noise of impotent anger. ‘Screw this, I’m not sitting here getting fucking spanked by whatever the hell that is.’ He reached for the ignition as the deep rumble rose up through the water once more, bubbles breaking all around the boat making it jitter and dance. This time the submerged laughter continued, the bubbling becoming more violent as the sea beneath the boat became more air than water and the vessel began to tilt and drop into the rapidly forming vortex.
Shinya cried out and pressed the ignition, the motor coughing into life. He rammed the accelerator forward and the boat lurched and kicked in the turbid water, skidding as the propellers churned the air bubbles, then lurched forward. With a protesting, roaring whine the engines took up the resistance as the props found water and the boat began to speed away. Shinya cranked the wheel around, watching the compass in front of him until their heading was back towards land. ‘We just have to get away, mate,’ he said breathlessly. ‘We have to try.’
There was no answer from Dave. Shinya looked around. There was no Dave. Shinya’s eyes flicked across the bow and stern of the small boat. Nothing. Eventually Shinya’s roving eyes scanned back across the water and his knees became ice cold jelly as he saw Dave hanging over the water a hundred metres away, eyes and mouth agape, limbs flopping like seaweed, flaccid in the still, hot air. Like a human parody of a helium balloon, a shining slick tentacle descended from the inert form into the crystal water below. ‘DAVE!’
As he howled Shinya’s bladder let go, his mind a useless maelstrom of incoherent thought. The tentacle lifted as Shinya and the boat roared away towards land, shaking Dave like a fleshy rag doll, mocking. Then Dave’s body flipped up and disappeared beneath the sea. Shinya staggered as the boat slowed dramatically. The engines whined and water churned from the back, but the boat slowed to a stop. Shinya gripped the driver’s seat to prevent himself folding to the deck as the boat yawed and dipped against the invisible hold.
A long, thin tentacle slipped over the side, snaked across the floor. Frozen in terror, Shinya watched it glide over his shoe, up his leg, his chest. The tentacle oozed across his trembling form. Disgustingly slow, the cold, slippery tip of it, rancid and smelling like rotten fish, slid over his chin, his cheek, to stroke at his sweat slick hair. He felt it slide down his back and then heard a click as it flicked the keys from the ignition.
Silence bloomed into the air, sudden and as still as a crypt. Shinya strangled his sobs but his hammering heart threatened to split his ribs and run screaming for the shore without him.
From the corner of his eye he saw a bait knife wedged against the base of the driver’s seat, caught where the seat was bolted to the deck. He crouched, one hand reaching down. As his fingers closed on the hilt of the knife, the thin black appendage began to slip back over his shoulder. Standing sharply, with a growl of defiance, Shinya grabbed the tentacle. Abhorred by its cold, slippery surface he squeezed as hard as he could and brought the knife around, slicing through the slick black flesh. The two feet or so that came away in his hand writhed and squirmed in his grasp like an eel. With a cry of despair Shinya released his grip and the severed tip dropped to the deck and slithered away, up over the side, into the ocean with a tiny splash.
That deep, rumbling, submerged laughter rose up again. The flat end of the tentacle where Shinya had cut through oozed a thick green blood, so dark it was almost black. As he watched, the wound closed over, rounding off before slowly extending into a blunt point again. The point weaved complicated patterns in the air before Shinya’s face as the deep laughter rumbled on. Shinya began to sob, loud, wet howls breaking into the silent air, words and thoughts beyond him.
The water in front of him swelled, crested as long, twisted ivory spines rose up, one after another, each flicking into the air with a shower of salty diamonds. The smooth black skin rose under them. The tentacle on the deck receded, leaving Shinya standing alone, marooned under the blazing sun, staring up at the leviathan.
Water poured in cascades as the behemoth rose from the depths, waterfalls crashing from an ever increasing height. Shinya staggered as the boat tipped and rocked. Immensity poured off the creature, the air ringing with its icy, ancient mass. Shadow bled over Shinya as the sun disappeared behind acres of spine and ichor, the form of it twisting and shifting, seeming to occupy more than the available space, incomprehensible, unknowable. The cascades broke into showers as a forest of tentacles boiled up in front of the rising black mountain and the deep rumbling laughter boomed into the hot air. Salt spray and the stench of rotten sealife filled Shinya’s eyes and nose.
The mass of tentacles writhed and swirled, stirring the air, spraying heavy drops all around. No limbs or features gave the creature shape, nothing familiar drew the eye, nothing understandable eased the mind. Just spines, black skin, swollen bulk and twisting, roiling tentacles, grasping at the air, the sun behind creating a gemlike parody of a halo.
Shinya’s mind spun in neutral, his sobs and cries lost in the rushing ocean draining off the creature as it continued to rise. His body lost all function and he collapsed onto the deck, staring up into the ascending black mass, eyes lost in the myriad writhe of glistening tentacles.
As it filled the sky over the tiny boat the tentacles found order, folding back like a million long, oily flower petals. A massive ridged circle slowly formed as all the tentacles lay back and from the centre something bulged. With a sickly slurp a jet of darkness burst forth, a spinning vortex of night. It snaked and wound through the air, an indirect arrow diving to the deck of the boat below. The massive creature shuddered, stirring the water to a foam as its booming laughter rolled. Shinya made the incoherent noises of an infant as his mind became as loose as his bowels and he watched the dark wedge of night shoot towards him. With a muffled smack it hit him, cracking his head back against the deck of the boat, pinning his arms and legs, compressing his chest. Muffling his cries it squirmed over his face and forced itself into his eyes, his nose, his mouth. It pressed icily into his skin, the darkness between galaxies soaking through his clothes, leeching through his skin, his flesh, his bones.
Shinya felt thick, black infinity spreading throughout his body, filling him up as though he were an empty shell. The blackness that filled him spread and swam across his brain. A million tiny particles swirled in the infinite, frozen dark inside him and Shinya’s broken mind laughed, manic as the countless spore of the abomination penetrated his body and soul. Ancient desires swept through him. Needs and intent became him. The blackness filled and filled, stretching his mind and body beyond physical barriers and he became everything that was hideous and depraved, all that was corrupt. His mind was ancient malevolence, a dark sea of inconceivable horrors, the massive, incomprehensible creature’s will.
The blackness suddenly and swiftly receded. As it vanished the circle of tentacles burst free of itself, writhing randomly once more. The ocean heaved and rolled as the behemoth rapidly sank beneath the surface, leaving a tiny white boat rocking rhythmically on undulating waves.
The boat sat lazily in the still ocean as the blistering sun travelled across the sky.
From the deck of the boat a young man pulled himself unsteadily to his feet, eyes flat, blank. He scooped keys up from the deck, inserted them and pressed the ignition. The boat’s engines coughed into life and the young man drove the boat forward, ploughing steadily away from the setting sun, towards land.
This story originally appeared in Seizure magazine.