Langurst is a small place, quaint and quiet. A seaside village which I’d never seen the outside of. The comforting sound of the salt waves breaking against rock was seldom disturbed by the modern hardships one might find inland, Langurst was a bit behind the times you could say, traditional maybe. Most labor to be found in the village was exactly what would be expected of a place so agricultural and simple, farming, manual labor, lighthouse keeping for a lonely few and fishing most of all, it was what our town was known for after all. It was the kind of coastal refuge where hither-to little ever seemed to happen, so when something finally did it sent shockwaves throughout the old hamlet.
Almost symbolically, a violent wind rose upon the land on the day I got the news. A local boy hadn’t come home the previous evening. His parents had cared for the child in a cottage not two minutes’ walk from my own. Sam his name was, he’d had his sixth birthday within the last month. The story was he had been let out to ride his tricycle along the cobbled streets before dinner. I admit I knew young Sammy very little; I only learnt his name after he disappeared but nevertheless, I found myself among the first to volunteer for the search parties.
Day by day our righteous troop of concerned townsfolk grew until we could sweep the surrounding country in one walk, and each day we would come up empty handed. A week into the search we almost had the whole town on the hunt, spare for an unsavory few. While trudging through the hallowed mud, torch in hand I inquired to my reluctant companion, Randolph, on the noticeably absent Erik Carter, a local eccentric/seadog. “What of him?” replied Randolph. I looked forward into the blackened country before expressing my suspicion. “I just find him strange is all.” I felt Randolph’s gaze turn to me, his brow furrowed in hesitation. “how do you mean, I can’t remember the last time I saw him in town?” He brought up a good point, first one of the day, but Randolph was right to doubt my distrust of the man.
See Erik was a recluse, a rugged old sailor, an intrepid mariner as he was known around Langurst. The man only left his beach hovel to fish out on the infinite blue. He would take his rustic aged boat out to wade in perilous waters which teamed and foamed endlessly beyond our small populace. But, unlike our more precocious fisherman, Erik kept from selling the haul he would bring back and instead stored them for himself in his low wooden shack which rested quietly on the beach. However, it is known that there was a time where he wasn’t such a hermit. In fact our mysterious character was once part of a crew in his younger years.
This was before my time of course, but I had heard the stories. Erik found a love for the ocean on a crew a five while his soul was unscathed, him and four others would brave the thrashing waves and come each day back to the beach with enough fish to feed a small army. An impressive bunch to be sure. But (and this is where the detail is uncertain) one day, as they did as they always had, seeking after shadows of shoal cast by that pallid, peering crescent moon, Erik had an encounter. Or a revelation, or saw a sight which sent him reeling in hysterics, screaming of uncertain, undefined things which no one could decipher. Upon forcing the crew to turn back he exited the grounded boat onto the beach and left, without explanation to his cabin, where he stayed for weeks. Leaving his fellow sailors aghast in confusion, before he finally left and began sailing again with the boat he has kept since, still refusing to talk of what had happened to him to that day.
Erik’s former crew had all but since died, old age had finally sent them back to the weeds, all but one, William Wallows who remains similarly unsocial.
I halted and turned to Randolph. “Maybe it’s wrong of me to accuse a troubled old man but, something about him screams to me that he is not to be trusted, I can’t explain it.” Randolph smirked and grabbed my shoulder. “you’ve been listening to too many stories, that’s your trouble Harry. Come on I’m getting exhausted let’s head back.” Randolph suggested, patting me on the back. I concord with his suggestion before turning and heading back through the farmland. Empty handed once again.
Somber was the following month. As I had done when the mystery was fresh, I spent the weeks of February up in the hills and fields, combing through grass and wood with the rest of the search team. But on March third Sam was presumed dead by the village. A victim of the universe’s cosmic indifference. The search was called off. A ceremony was held in his honor at the cemetery which rested eerily on the towns outskirts as a hideous reminder of Langurst’s often unspoken past.
In the callous silence of that hoary city of sarcophagi, an empty coffin was lowered into the graveyards soaked mud which sat almost mire-like beneath the featureless grey sky. The unnerving noiselessness of the place was only occasionally interrupted by the wet sniffles of the mother, and the father who cradled her in his bemoaned embrace. With a vile squelch the coffin smacked the mud that sat at the bottom of the hole. I hadn’t been to that place in years, but I felt the obligation to go, after all I truly hoped we would find the boy.
To my slight gratitude most of the population of Langurst was in attendance, besides, it was a small town. And once again among the folks who were missing from the event were those too old and frail to walk and, Erik Carter. Even his old pal William Wallows came, peering on from the outskirts of the crowd, reflecting his courteous but faintly aloof nature. I turned to Randolph who stood to my side, hands clasped together by his torso. “Again, look who isn’t here,” I whispered, nudging his elbow. He didn’t reply.
After the sermon had concluded the crowd dispersed, myself first of all. Randolph grabbed my arm as I turned to leave. “What’s the hurry?” he asked intrepidly, slightly concerned. Lying I replied “toilet”, my one-word answer seemed to agitate my anxious friend but nonetheless he left me to my own devices.
I scampered down to the bay, passing the empty houses which stood silent along the way. High up on a rock which overlooked the stretched beach I stood, peering out to the waves. Just hazily, among darkened blue and uneven sea, as if a smudge on a mirror I saw him. On his little boat amidst the howling of distant wind and rocky currents he was. What was it that drew me to him I couldn’t describe for our town wasn’t lacking in eccentrics? But looking out at the faraway speck that was Erik Carter, I couldn’t shake the feeling I had seen him with the boy, whether it was in a dream or just a conjured image of my own mind I still can’t say. I mean, being cooped up in a small fishing village your whole life is sure to leave your mind imaginative. But no matter how it may seem, an unspoken part of me hoped that young Sammy had not just been whisked up by the country or torn asunder by some woodland beast, but instead, wished our intrepid adventure had snatched him up, and that it was my duty to rescue him from the ragged clutches of the scurvy old sea dog.
It was hard to tear my gaze from the timeworn fisherman but once I did, I clambered down from the salty rock and made my way back up the cobbled street. The night came slowly that day. A long sunset crept its way below the waves, sending golden orange rays upon our small town. As the streetlamps became alight and darkness befell the huddled rooftops, I found myself downing a pint in the Singing Siren, Langurst’s very own pub. Its only pub. And before I knew it myself, one pint turned to two then to three and however many after that, I could hardly remember.
I stumbled my way out the old place and looked wistfully down the street which stretched down to the bay. Not quite prepared to go home, I clumsily moped down it. The concept of time was mostly lost to me that night due to my sickly level of intoxication, so it could have been an hour by the time it took me to reach the point where the stone became sand and grit. I meandered on the border of the blackened beach under faint, flickering streetlamps until my vision started to straighten and I began to feel the cool breeze on my skin again. I remember sparing a glance or two to Erik’s distant shack, which emitted a vague orange glow through its stained windows, but no movement could be seen inside. I found myself a nice bench which looked out into sea and sat, ruminating to the sound of soft waves crawling up and down the sand.
Somewhat lost in thought, I almost missed the sound of a quick whistle behind me. I turned to see who made the sound for they were surely trying to grab my attention. What I saw when I did was I sight I did not expect. Emerging from the poorly lit street came the ragged visage of one, William Wallows.
“Mind if I sit with you?” he asked, almost growling in his hardened demeanor. I felt as though saying no would not amount to much. I gestured to the space beside me as he lowered himself onto the bench with a breathy rattle, like a train chugging to a halt. His long brown coat had a sickeningly liquory stench, like huffing pure ethanol. “Nice of you to do what you did for that boy, spending all your time looking for him, very kind you must be.” Despite his undoubtedly intimidating entrance he sounded rather sincere. Though I found it strange of him to say since his contribution was non-existent.
“Well I’m certainly no exception, most the whole town was out to find the boy” I said, still looking onward into the darkness. “yes I suppose they did, good town we have here, even better people, most of em anyway,” William chuckled in response, taking a swig from his flask. “I was terribly sorry to hear about young Sam, I wanted to help I truly did but, something about being out there is just-”. He stumbled on his words for a moment. “it’s being around the dead trunks and stunted trees which rot at the rim, and the vile mud which belches when you stand on it. It’s a place where I do not belong” there was almost a sadness in his tone now. “Is that why you became a fisherman” I asked inquisitively, turning to him. “yes, I suppose that might be it.”
“I think I find a particular kind of comfort in the uncertainty of the waves, in its opaqueness. Most people do not feel this way, I understand that. They fear what they cannot see. They are frightened by what might or might not lurk below. Not me though. I find wonder in the unknown.” He sighed as if he would say more, but he didn’t.
I looked at him, still sat by my side. His eyes seemed hollow, his pupils swayed back and forth absently, as if he was scanning the bay while still not looking at anything at all. If I stayed silent for a few more moments he certainly would’ve passed right out on that bench.
“Was Erik frightened?” I asked. He took a breath before letting out a raspy chuckle. “if only you had known how stupid that question was, you wouldn’t have asked it.” He said.
“how so?” I asked, slightly hesitantly, somehow not the least bit offended by what he said.
“This place is small, have you not seen him out on the waves each day, wading between those waves.” He pointed outwards into the abyss. “I know everyone has heard the story, you too I must assume. I know they say that something in the water spooked him, frightened him into mania. But I was there. Sailed for a long time before then, I’ve seen fear, young sailors falling of boats into the blue, seen their eyes bulge and turn empty like a fish. That wasn’t fear. He screamed certainly but not as any primal instinct or for help. But to tell us something. His message was unclear but what was clear, was the overwhelming madness that was spilling out of his mind. It was like his brain had burst.
I leaned forward as he stopped. “so, what did he see?” I inquired, slightly frightened.
“As I said it was unclear. Adjectives like accused, deep, great and mighty shrieked out of the word soup he had spilled on our boat. We sailed the boat back and dragged him ashore, he screamed all the while. We haven’t spoken since but, he seems to be doing simply fine.” He chuckled.
There was a sullen silence as I stood up, now mostly sober. “where you off to?” he said almost growling without the energy to turn and look at me. “I must be getting home” I sighed, before turning back to face the dimly lit street. Still no closer to finding the boy, but without explanation, on the basis of no evidence or reason whatsoever, even more distrustful of Erik.
The following day came and as it did so did the realization that my infatuation with the lonesome sailor had become unhealthy. I couldn’t rid my mind of him, his story. I had gotten little sleep once I returned from the bay, I could practically feel the bags under my eyes. I left my home in the early hours, just as the sun had come. This exact reason for this I am unsure, I mean, why does anyone go for a walk. It was quick before my walk took me to the bay once again. As I paced on the beach’s edge I scoured the ensuing waters, almost out of instinct. Erik could not be seen. Certainly he was now in his shack which was in my immediate peripheral. It rested not to far up the beach, a lonely structure on the sand. I was ready to pass it when I sensed something, a movement.
The old lantern which hung down inside shook. Then swung. Something inside was shuddering the skeleton of the place but little noise could be heard from where I was standing. Cautiously I moved in closer. Now no closer than five feet from the rear of the shack, something became audible. A muffled cursing could be heard from inside yet, as I peered through the window, hunched in the sand, Erik could not be seen inside. This was my first time hearing his voice. Through the old wood I made out the aggravated groans and expletives of the man among the bangs and rings of metal grinding against rock, which sounded not dissimilar from the jangling of chains. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, was my half-deluded theory true, was I hearing the proof. With my ear pressed against the rotted planks I could confirm the ruckus came from below.
Was this man who previously had shown little sighs which warranted suspicion really the culprit? Had he been holding the boy in his perverted sub terrain chamber this whole time? Was I really about to rescue a child thought dead? I wondered. But just as I thought I had it all figured out. My victory shattered as my bones rattled.
A sound which my straining ears were not near enough ready for, bellowed from below. A repulsive, gargled, watery belch erupted upwards into the sky. An almost unspeakable blare of grotesque noises which smacked the walls inside, like Neptune’s stomach churning. I recoiled backwards, landing with a thud in the sand. I scrambled in it for a few moments before getting to my feet and shooting off toward the town.
While perhaps having nothing to do with young Sam, it was clear Erik was harboring a black secret. I didn’t stop running until I got back inside my house, but I was too far down the hole to abandon it then. I would wait for the cover of darkness, when Erik was sure to leave his shack to head ocean bound as he always did, to leave me free to uncover whatever clandestine, accursed thing he was holding beneath the sand.
Inevitably darkness came. I had perched myself on a far-off mound of rock where I could get a good view of his front door. The damnably vivid sound of the swaying waves had begun to drive me a little loopy in the head by now, but I wouldn’t let it deter me yet. Down on my stomach I ogled at the repulsive structure, the rotten wood of which could only be made visible by a monotonous golden hue that radiated from the lamp inside. Soon, however, that monotony would be broken by the hunched shadow of our mysterious stranger. He clattered around inside for a few moments before, above the nightly ambience of the beach, a sharp creaking could faintly be heard as Erik opened the door. The lamp which he now held in his hand burst out into the darkness, illuminating the surrounding sand, leaving his oak hovel in darkness.
I pushed myself to my knees as the old man sulked along toward his boat. I admit there was something eerily calming in watching the man live his strange little life. The confidence in which he threw his light before himself aboard was almost impressive. But before I could get too transfixed, he was off on his way, pushing against the tide. I slid down from atop my perch and bounded across the bay toward my target. Leaving as soon as I did gave me a good few hours to search inside I figured, and not caring for subtlety would give me all the time I would need. I felt along the exterior walls of the place before touching glass, I must’ve found the window. With little hesitation I removed my coat and wrapped it around my good hand. With a breath and a gulp, I smashed my enveloped fist through the dirty glass which shattered with a painful screech. I pulled my hand back and came with it did a wretched, eye-watering stench which oozed out the sharp opening I had just created.
I heaved as I breathed in the foul, fishy smell, but again I could not stop. Still wrapped up, I pushed my hand around the rim of the window, removing all the left behind glass before crawling into the place. My feet met the floor with a tender creek, the interior was blackened completely. It was apparent to me then that Erik had taken his only source of light with him. From my hand I unfurled my coat, now torn and shredded beyond repair, and threw it out the opening behind me. I felt around my pockets, finding my lighter in the left one before shining it outwards in my outstretched hand. I had gotten lucky with that one I suppose. The light was dim and small, but it gave me vision at least, well only about two feet of vision, but it was better than stumbling around the nasty place like a blind old hag.
I stepped forward cautiously. The light from my small flame didn’t reach the ground. I stepped again and the wood churned but as it did, my free hand brushed the edge of something, splintered wood. I brought the lighter too it. It was a table for sure, mostly blank bits of paper atop it, but some words could be made out among the tattered pieces. Scrawled in black chalk was a list of some sort, but it was muddled, barley legible, all the words crossed out by a thick obscuring line. I could faintly make out words like shrimp and possum among the crossed ones.
After moving from the table, I stumbled around in near darkness for a few moments before I damn near tripped on some kind of metal contraption in the ground. I composed myself and knelt where I thought it was, shining my lighter towards it. A round and rusted metal hatch it was, this certainly would lead me to the basement, and consequently whatever secret Erik held there. I lifted it with a heave to reveal an untrustworthy looking wooden ladder, the bottom of which my small light did not illuminate.
For the first time that night I hesitated. I had no clue what I even expected to find if not for the boy, which I had ruled out by that point anyway. But stood there atop the ladder I began to feel a cool breeze flow in from the window I had already smashed. ‘It would haunt me forever if I abandoned the journey now’, I thought. I let out a suspire of slight regret before one leg after the other, I descended into the darkness, trying all the while not to let my light go out.
The smell down there was like nothing I had smelt before, it must’ve been where the horrendous stench upstairs originated from. Ten steps down my shoe met the ground with a splash, at the bottom I was ankle deep in water. But it wasn’t a thin liquid like the seas but instead a thick, mire-like substance which seeped through the threads of my shoes, it was tiresome to walk in, hard to bring your feet up from. My arm extended, lighter in hand I felt along the walls with my other one. The walls were wet with some kind of slime which caught on my fingers as I followed it around the room.
I was startled when my hand caught another hatch of some kind. My light towards it I could see that through it was a horribly corroded chain that looked as though (given a good tug) it could break at the hinges. I placed my hand on top and followed that instead. It wasn’t two more steps in the sullied water when before me, within the small orange hue of my lighter, hanging from the roof which I had not the light to see, was a string. A wooden nub on the end of it, like the kind of thing you’d use to turn on the lights in an old bathroom. Perhaps I would find some light after all.
I pocketed my lighter, leaving me now in complete darkness. With one hand still on the chain I felt around in the unlit chamber for the little piece of wood. After inelegantly knocking it aside a few times I finally caught it in my hand. But just as I was about to pull it down, my hairs stood up and my blood ran cold. I felt my skin almost ripple as slowly and deliberately, the chain in my other hand began to shudder. Whatever it was connected to was beginning to wake up. Before fear could get the best of me, I yanked on the light switch and with a pulse and a flicker, a single solitary bulb lit the place entirely. But I wish it didn’t.
In front of me, closer to me than I was to the ladder behind it was. With the place lit it was now known to me that the chain I had been holding was one of many. At least ten of them, all around the room, latched into the flesh of a huge gelatinous creature, a mound of flesh. It was the furthest thing from human I’d ever seen. It had an uncountable number of crying eyes which looked everywhere and nowhere at once, accompanied by flailing, flogging, thrashing mouths that groaned and whimpered in a thousand voices of terror beyond all comprehension. Its infested, blubbery flesh oozed a repugnant blacky bile from every accused chasm which I then realised was what was flooding the chamber. Its many blackened tongues writhed and squirmed and in its many mouths which dribbled the same wretched substance. It was the ultimate abomination. The face of horror itself.
I leapt backwards into the mire with an anguished howl. I darted to my feet as fast as the liquid would allow me and I shot up the ladder as the creature let out a blubbery bellow, which shook the foundations of the place. Once back at the top I threw the latch shut and fell backwards into a shelf leaving me panting on the ground. I almost didn’t notice that the room was now illuminated too. My heart couldn’t sink any lower, but it certainly would have when I heard a faint chuckle to my side. Still gasping for breath, I turned to see the man I had been studying for the past few days, sat at a table, staring me deep in the eyes, chuckling as he did.
“I suppose you’ll be payin for that”, he croaked, still laughing. He pointed to the broken window. “oh I’m just messin, stop being such a little grinch.” He gestured me to sit opposite him. I didn’t move. “you invaded my home young man, the least you could do is sit with me now.” Shaking and barely able to talk, I crawled to my feet before stiffly placing myself in the chair opposite him. “Drink?” he said offering me a beer. I ignored his question and managed too stutter out “w-what was that thing?” “Oh no you first, I seen yer spying on me, asking bout me, what is it boy, what you want with an old lonely sailor like me eh?” his tone was less upbeat now. “I-I thought you took the boy, the missing boy Samuel, I thought you took him.” I responded, still my mind was a mess.
Erik looked down when I mentioned him. “ahhh yes, news doesn’t get to me so fast, but, when I found out I was- , well you know, it was terribly sad what happened, terribly sad. I can think of nothing more distressing as parent then not knowing if your kid is ok or not, nothing.” now he sounded truly sad. “That’s why yer were poking round my house was it?” He asked. I nodded timidly. “Ahh well I can’t fault you there boy, trying to be a hero. But as you might have seen, no boy down there,” he pointed to the hatch.
I looked him in his tired eyes, “what is down there?” I asked again.
“oh dear, you shouldn’t have gotten muddled in all my mess but, I suppose if I don’t tell you now, it’ll drive you mad, like this old boy,” he chuckled patting himself on the belly.
I spoke up, “I’ve heard the stories about you, you know, in town they say you saw something, in the waters, is that what you saw?” I prodded, gesturing to the hatch I had emerged from.
“No son, its vastly more complicated than that. On that fateful day, us five sailors- or was it four, ahh it matters not. On that fateful day us sailors did as we always did, went out into the great blue, trying to do our part for this lovely town, when, when I heard something. The other boys were busy pullin our net up ya see, but as they were pullin, I heard something. A whisper on the wind, carried by the ocean air. I looked outwards into the waves; something was calling to me. ‘Erik’ it called to me ‘Erik’ it called once more ‘look to the depths’.
“look to the depths, w-what does that mean?” I asked, entranced by his tale.
“well, quite literally that my boy. The sirens song called me to the depths, so I did it. Almost hypnotized I peered of the edge of the boat, and, and all worldly sounds faded into air as I saw what lay below. The water wasn’t like it had been, thick and opaque, instead it was clear as crystal. I could see right down to the bottom.”
“And what did you see?” I asked once more.
Erik’s eyes widened almost manically, and a sharp toothy grin crept along his face.
“A mighty city, sunken and ancient but not abandoned. The tops of their great monasteries twinkled like stars as creatures great and small danced in the golden paved streets. The ageless priests chanted their endless song in the grand church which sat at the centre of their mighty kingdom, hidden below the waves. I blacked out after that. when I awoke my crew mates were dragging me along the sand and since that day, I barely spoke to them. Because I had been chosen, not them, I was meant to taste the salt. I needed a part of their world, a fragment. When you get a glimpse of the other side my boy, you can never rid yourself of the great burden that is knowing of it. So, on my lonesome I sailed out there day after day fishing for one. It took years and years of work and carrying the knowledge that this world does not belong to us. You wouldn’t believe what I dreamt of. But eventually I caught one, I bloody caught, one a child of Neptune, and I keep her with me here. To sing to me. And now you share that gift with me.”
I looked to the ground, staring at the lines between the planks, in awe of what was down there. I felt Erik’s gaze on me. “Come on son, we best get you home now,” he said softly. I stood when he did and saying nothing, he led me out the door into the dark, but before he shut the door behind me, I turned to ask him one final question.
“So, what finally did it?”
Erik looked at me puzzled
“So what did it, after all these years. How did you catch it?”
Erik smirked. “well it’s all about the bait my boy, and believe me I tried everything. Tested every kind of meat I could get my hands on, rat, cow, bird, fish, possum, even cat and dog meat. But who would’ve known that the thing that would finally do the trick, was a child’s flesh. A monstrous meal for a monstrous thing, I should’ve realised it sooner.”
He smiled at me softly, almost apologetically but not quite.
“Hey that reminds me, I must be headin back into town soon. She’s due for a good feedin.”
Credit : Max Kennedy
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