Estimated reading time — 10 minutes
A few days ago, I uprooted my entire existence and relocated to the Southwest Cape of Stewart Island, New Zealand. Initially, I had intended this trip as an escape, to be shared with my wife as we lived out the rest of our days in beach-dwelling bliss. Yet, as we aged, I began fostering a general disdain for the direction that society seemed to have chosen for itself. I simply grew weary of the unceasing, perpetually fruitless debates over issues like race, homosexuality, political agendas, abortion, and the like. As far as I was concerned, people could do as they wished, as long as they weren’t harming anyone else- simple minded and a bit naïve, perhaps, but my stance nonetheless.
With my frustration mounting, my wife and I began planning the move in our late thirties, hopefully with two full decades ahead of us to get our affairs properly aligned to allow for such an exodus. But, the train derailed as I reached 43, and she was diagnosed with an untreatable brain tumor. Two years later, I was alone and wanted nothing more than to expedite my exit from mainstream civilization.
I sold our house and our cars, the latter being more painful as I prized my ’69 Stingray convertible. Nonetheless, the profit from its sale was necessary to procure adequate funding for my relocation (disappearing is no cheap venture), and it brought me an odd sense of closure in regards to that chapter of my life. The crippling depression from the loss of my wife remained, but I felt little remorse for the loss of our lifestyle.
The outdoors had always been a passion of mine, since my earliest memory. Fishing, kayaking, game hunting, cross country hiking, and anything else without a ceiling over it had always been my forte. My spirit yearned for a climate requiring a survivalist mentality, and I had every intention of spending the rest of my days in just such an environment.
Thus, my research led me to Stewart Island, the southern-most portion of New Zealand.The mild climate, sparse population, immediate access to open water, and dense forestry completed my checklist.The prospect of dangerous wildlife or poisonous vegetation brought me no qualms, after all, there aren’t even any terrain dwelling snakes on the island.
What few locals were present on Stewart Island were nice enough upon my arrival, having harbored a few tourists here and there for the more accessible beaches.I did draw a few laughs from the older residence when I told them where I planned to go, and encountered one old man that simply shook his head and walked away when I mentioned the Southwest Cape’s eastern shore. But, I could not be discouraged, there was no turning back.
My final stop was at the local supply depot in Oban. There, I purchased a map, two books on native flora and fauna, a leather bound journal, ink, a canteen, an axe with a thirty six inch handle, a hunting knife, thirty feet of braided paracord, a small fishing kit, waterproof matches, a compass, and a Swiss Gear pack to place it all in. I told myself that if I had forgotten anything, I didn’t need it, or would be able to construct it for myself. Either way, I would either make due or die, and although I wouldn’t describe myself at the time to be suicidal, death didn’t seem such a horrible alternative.
The hike to the Southwest Cape took me almost three days, the journey made longer because of the mud from recent rains. Sleep was difficult the first night, as it had been some time since I had slept on the ground, and the reality of my endeavor finally began to sink in. While experienced within the natural world, a slight anxiety came over me upon the realization that I may have bitten off more than I could chew, and I had no fallback option. Juxtaposed with this thought was a comfort in knowing that my newfound worry indicated resurgence in my will to live. Eventually, my psyche balanced these two notions, and I did manage to sleep a few hours, awaking with renewed confidence in the face of the rising sun.
Days two and three were largely uneventful, save for a brief but violent thunderstorm and a confrontational encounter with what may have been a brushtail opossum. Despite the critter’s sincere efforts, I found myself on the coastline midday of the third. Authentic peril would not rear its head until that evening.
My efforts in constructing camp that day concluded with the completion of a water collection basin that I devised from several broad ferns and a species of bamboo that I knew had been introduced to the area centuries before. Previously, I had created a small hut of the same bamboo and ferns to serve as my shelter until I ventured to build something more ambitious, along with a moderate fire and a few limb lines for fishing. Resigning myself to relaxation for the remainder of the day, I took off my clothes and my boots and braved the somewhat murky but refreshing surf.
Initially, I was met with intrigue in regards to the gradient at which the water deepened. Approximately 100 meters from shore, I found myself only knee deep and I could feel the soft, white sands beneath my soles. In hind sight, perhaps the lack of aquatic life in the area should have been an indicator of something amiss, but I was still planted firmly in the euphoria of my self-engineered renaissance.
I stood for perhaps another thirty seconds, merely observing my surroundings, and then took a step forward. From there, I cannot convey the alarm that I experienced when I was suddenly and completely submerged.
I am ashamed to say that my instinctual reaction was panic. I had not seen any darkening of the water to indicate such a drastic depth change, and yet there I was. I kicked frantically for the surface and found it soon enough, gasping for breath. As I regained my composure, I cursed my neglect for not bringing goggles or a snorkel, for who knew what sort of wonder-laden reef I may have stumbled upon. Regardless, my decision to re-submerge was met by terror surpassed only by events that would occur later.
I exhaled just enough oxygen to go under and stabilize at approximately three meters. I thought that maybe the water somehow became more buoyant at this point, but disregarded the feeling as my imagination. I decided to open my eyes, despite the salinized water. I peered down.
Deep below me, in a black, abysmal hole that can only be described as a void was a pair of white-washed eyes, visible only because of their apparent uncanny ability to reflect such finite amounts of light.The pupils were entirely black, with no rings of color, and appeared to be transfixed upon me.I was stricken with fright, yet unable to save myself from my impending doom.Entranced, I continued to stare downward, waiting for the appearance of some gaping hole of a mouth to inhale me into the terrible unknown of its insides.
But, the moment never came.I received, whether it was from some sort of telepathy or my own intuition, the distinct feeling that this mammoth creature wished to harm me in ways that man had never known, but something was holding it back.I could not fathom what could possibly be restraining the beast, its size surely rivaling that of a submarine or battleship.
My chest burning for air brought me back from my fearful marveling, and I tried desperately to swim to the surface, yet I still could not move. I remember only the taste of salt and stagnant water as I drifted into merciful unconsciousness, a strange pang of relief echoing in my thoughts.
I awoke on the beach on what seemed to be the next morning, face up with a strand of kelp around my midsection and a feeling not unlike a hangover. I jolted upward, infuriating my headache, but deeming it more important to scan the water for the creature. I spied nothing but the crashing waves and scattered fragments of driftwood. I collapsed back onto the sand and gazed into the overcast sky, edging on delirium, and only capable of thinking of the eyes. Oh God, the eyes.
After an eternity of contemplation, I found the motivation to rise and attempt to carry on. I could find no rational explanation short of some strange hallucination, but could recall nothing that would have caused it. Throughout the day, my intellect continued to pull me towards the multitudes of legends and unsolved mysteries of the unexplored sea- unknown sounds captured on tape, megaladon sharks, Jules Verne novels, the Bermuda Triangle, and others similar. Nothing I could fathom satisfied me, and I despaired, with no discernible reason as to why I did not abandon my supposed slice of paradise, and a dull anxiety that persisted for the remainder of the day.
I cut my fishing lines, simultaneously knowing that they would yield nothing while also fearing what may be present at their ends. It was then that I realized I had witnessed not a single marine life form. My fire had smoldered to ashes, so I replenished it, gathering driftwood from the beach and dried foliage from the tree line, all the while keeping a wary eye on the water, awaiting the appalling eyes that resided below the surface. On that day, they made no appearance.
There should be no surprise that I did not sleep well that night, having exhausted my wildlife manual and illuminating no form of insect or animal otherwise that could have induced my experience. By morning, however, my distress began to dissipate, as my mind exhausted itself and simply relegated its time to other things- food, for example.
At some point after dawn, I made the decision to hike somewhat inland and try my hand at trapping, as fishing seemed foolish and I felt the need to get away from the shore for a time. I endeavored to create six traps, all sling rigs and camouflaged with the litter of the forest. It was during my search for animal sign that I discovered the Emma.
The schooner, with its name etched in fading stain on its stern, was approximately five hundred meters inland, lying capsized on its deck, with several varieties of vine and runners growing around the masts, which had been forced through the bottom of the hull, and stood erect, as if the ship had been dropped on its top from a great height.
The hull itself was perhaps twenty meters, large enough for a dozen crew at the most. Curiously enough, there were immense circular patterns rasped into the ship’s surface, as if a gargantuan plecostomus had scraped a meal of algae from the vessel while it was still afloat. Summarily, I decided that I could adapt and renovate the craft into my permanent residence, its location away from the waterline suddenly appealing. I finished setting my traps at a distance and began my new project immediately.
The labor was invigorating. I was so excited about my fortune in finding the Emma that I nearly forgot about my encounter, thinking of it only occasionally and partially settling on dehydration as a likely culprit. Using my axe, I cut an entry to the hull and began clearing what little, sun starved growth there was, along with eradicating any unwanted inhabitants. I battled briefly with the notion that I might find human remains, or even lost treasures, but discovered neither. My only finding was an old leather volume, coming apart at the spine. It was apparent that the tome had been either sunken or rained on, as indicated by the illegible remains of water diluted ink on the pages. The only decipherable items were two in number- a single date, March 21st, 1925, and the phrase “It calls me…” near the bottom of the last used page. I presumed at the time it was a sailor referring to the call of their personified ocean.
Finally satisfied with the day’s accomplishments, I checked my traps (another bushtail opossum and something resembling a kiwi) and trudged back to the shoreline camp site. I had actually managed to wholly put the day before out of mind, until I looked to the eastern horizon.
In the sun’s late glow, I stared yet again at it, this time with its eyes and a portion of its massive head breaching the surface. The eyes maintained their washed out quality, despite reflecting the incoming sunset, and now with some reference I could see the thing was much larger still than I had originally estimated. Its scalp appeared cephalopodan in nature, with a wet, olive green hue and likely a layer of some sort of plasmatic coating. Just beneath the water’s now churning surface, I could distinguish at least eight serpentine masses, seeming to extend from the head, writhing together with some form of lateral undulation. As before, I could not move.
Sometime during this, I fell to my knees, not out of dumbfounded dread but some instinctual need to kneel, as if before royalty. I don’t recall being explicitly told to do so, but I felt it an intelligent thing to do for the sake of my continuing to be. As I reached the ground, however, I again lost consciousness as the nightmare began to emerge, its mouth opening to reveal concentric rings of teeth and emitting a bellowing groan, akin to a great horn signaling battle.
I awoke this time where I had fallen, with a mouthful of sand and that hung-over feeling. There was a full moon, evocative of the thing’s pale gaze.
I was forced then to accept what I had seen as real. Upon awakening, I reluctantly went down to the water to rinse my mouth of the sand, but found it rancid, congealed with a layer of briny foam and the smell of decaying shellfish. There were great divides in the sand, as if something had been dragged. I returned to my collection basin, and then noticed the collapsed trees and trampled undergrowth. A horrible notion struck me, and I ran back to the Emma, only to find it absent. I then thought for the first time that I had overstayed my welcome on Stewart Island.
Quickly, I gathered what was left of my supplies back at the shoreline and began hiking northeast towards Oban at dawn, any hope of salvaging my adventure firmly severed. I would gladly resume my yuppie life in the States if it meant never having another encounter with the behemoth. For the first hour or two, I made excellent time, motivated by my panic, and perhaps sufficient to cut a day from the duration of my hike. But I hadn’t truly rested for days, and it began to take its toll. Sometime around noon, I leaned against a tree to rest. I despised stopping, yet slept almost instantly, my mind and body finally giving into fatigue.
As I slept, I experienced what can only be described as a prophecy. I stood back in the water where I had fallen under, my back to the shore. I watched the black water as it progressed from fine bubbling to roiling. I could sense that I should wade towards land, but was unable to turn around. At last, I could see the eyes, still entrancing. As they rose to the surface, I again could smell the spoiled crustacean odor, and as the thing’s head breached, I tried to scream, but could only gasp, as I fell forward into the acrid turmoil of the monster’s lair.
Submerged, I opened my eyes and viewed the creature’s arms and torso. It appeared oddly humanoid, but covered in scales and barnacles. Massive crabs skittered about on its skin, having made their homes in the various marine flora present there. It extended down into nothing, but continued to rise, its legs yet visible, as it became apparent that I could not comprehend the monstrosity’s true size. I turned my attention to coming up for air and broke the surface.
I awoke screaming and chilled, and with that my recount has come to an end. As I turn about and realize that somehow, I am back at my campsite, a quote from an author who escapes me at the moment comes to mind- “The most merciful thing in the world…is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.” My waking cognizance suddenly comprehends the totality of what has transpired, and is driving me mad. Somehow, what I have done here has awoken something that has been dormant for time immeasurable, and like me, it tires of the world as it is. It beckons me to help it escape. As I walk out to its cursed pit, I understand that the world is ready for harvest, and I cannot purge its call emanating from the cavernous depths.