Estimated reading time — 23 minutes
Blake Gardner awoke to an oppressive, physical darkness.
It embraced him.
As the cold shadows flowed around him, he felt himself falling; slowly but surely. He tried to reach out, to flail and to grasp, but only pain greeted him. Something bit into his wrists like fiery needles. His hands found each other fast, and they clasped together with interlocked fingers. They had been bound behind his back.
When he tried his feet, not only did he find the same intrusion of pain, but there was a weight there. A tension that dangled below his legs that dragged him along. As were his hands, so had his legs been bound, and something was pulling him deeper. Farther into the dark.
After a few seconds, a pressure came upon him. He felt it around his eyes and deep in his sinuses. The shadows had become overwhelming and heavy. Aggressive. The further along he went, the greater the weight of the blackness.
Every time he moved, he heard the darkness move too. It was a physical presence. He felt himself push through it. It felt familiar. Very familiar.
He felt something in his mouth. Plastic and malleable. He breathed through it, and a stagnant air filled his lungs. When he released it, he felt the air move out the sides of his mouth. It was then he had the sudden, sinking realization. His predicament finally made horrible sense.
The air was released from the sides of his mouth, and it formed bubbles that fizzed in the darkness around him. He heard them, and felt them against his face as they floated away. Some of the pressure left his face. The air that escaped paved the way to his terrible understanding. Some of the darkness seeped in through the corners of his mouth; its salty, gritty texture filled his dried mouth. The taste reaffirmed his worst nightmare.
”No,” he thought, ”no, no, no, this cannot be! No!”
He tried to scream just moments before he reached his silt-covered destination.
No one would hear him, for he was alone. Alone, bound, and trapped on the ocean floor.
The panic that beset him was unlike any he’d ever known before, and again he started fighting his restraints. A useless gesture. He tossed and turned like a fish at the end of a longline. He stood no chance of escaping. The ropes that bound him were far too tight and thick for that.
After several minutes, Blake felt a terrible exhaustion set in. The water chilled him. The only warmth came from the failing adrenaline surging within his shivering veins. The salt stung at his chest with needles and pins; a shocking and unwelcome pain.
He stared into the dark.
He was mortified by the almost perfect darkness before him. In the night, and at his depth, he was positive his visibility was no more than a few inches in front of his face. Yet, he knew he could see. His eyes, and nose for that matter, were both dry. They were covered. Someone had given him a mask to see through. But why? He could see nothing. Nothing, and beyond that nothing the shadows swirled thick and devious; concealing everything from the smallest plankton to the largest predator.
His breathing accelerated as his mind kindly illuminated the shadows beyond. He saw sharks, hundreds of them, circling. Their eyes as black as the water; their teeth shining in a bloody white radiance. They all smiled at him. They’d been given such a lovely present. That was what he was, wasn’t it? A gift to anything and everything that lurked below. The only thing he was missing was a pretty, little bow.
And he’d be alive to feel it. Whoever had damned him here made sure of that. What cruel bastards send a man to the deep while he’s asleep?
What had happened? His memory was a jigsaw shoved onto the floor. Scattered and unorganized. His mind tried to repair it, but the pieces wouldn’t fit. In his current state, the reconstruction of said puzzle looked incredibly unlikely.
There was something about a party. A bar.
A current ran across the small of his naked back like a giant centipede. Imaginary or not, Blake turned, twisting his bonds, but the image before him remained the same. If anything had been there he’d never have known. As he rolled to his left, and then back to his right, nothing changed. The static image of nothingness held his focus tight like a vice.
It continued to do so until he looked up.
The appearance of some light, any light at all, should have helped alleviate his fears, but instead, it felt as though his heart had shriveled-up and died within his chest.
The moon watched him from overhead, too far away to offer any help. Its light was dulled and blurred by the surface; a surface which must have sat at least seventy feet away. A swimmable distance, a good distance for any diver who wasn’t bound to the bottom of the sea. It could be worse, his mind decided to say. Yet, the temptation of the waves above, and the soothing light of the moon offered him no hope. They merely mocked him with the release he couldn’t have.
Before his eyes, the moon was swallowed by the dark.
Blake grasped fast for the rope below. Holding it tight, he pulled and thrashed until his back was brought to bear against the hard-concrete block that had sunk him. His heart raced as his eyes strained in suffocating black. Something, somewhere above, had just crossed between him and the only light he had left. Something big, and he could not see it.
He could only wait for it to take him.
Seconds passed and the moon hadn’t returned. Minutes passed and he was still alive. His grip relaxed. Cautious. He was very cautious. He felt himself rise, held buoyant by the breath in his lungs.
In the depths, it wasn’t just his eyes that failed him. All his senses had seemingly abandoned him to his fate. His hearing was useless. The ones who had damned him to the deep had placed earplugs in his ears, and though they’d surely saved his eardrums from rupturing under the water pressure, the only sounds that came through them were harsh and static. All the ocean offered him was a droning white noise. Down there, in the deep, the only sense he had unhampered was his touch, but that could only help him so much.
He was a prisoner in an un-assessable hell.
It took about five minutes, an unspeakable amount of time for Blake, before light would reappear in the waters above. In that time, Blake, fueled by his fear of the suffocating unknown, had been feeling around his restraints. He reaffirmed what he already knew. Rope had bound him at the wrists and at his ankles. He followed the line beneath his ankles and felt about the cinder block that had pulled him down. The rope wrapped around it many times. Each strand was as thick as his thumb, and he couldn’t find any knot. It was surely on the other side of the block; suffocated in the thick muck below.
He couldn’t untie it.
The idea of his pocket knife came to mind. He should have had it on him. He never went anywhere without it.
It was a good, hopeful idea, for a few seconds.
When he reached upwards for his shorts, he was met with only with the touch of his own skin. His chin came to his chest, as if he could see himself. His chin rubbed against his raw collarbone, and Blake found he was also without a shirt. He was naked. Completely exposed and naked. They’d stripped him of not only his freedom and his understanding, but of his god damn clothes as well! His knife surely sat comfortably with his clothes, far away from him. Above the surface. He cursed in an explosion of air and fury that had taken over from the bone-numbing fear he’d felt moments before. It was a feeling that any man who has had hope torn from his chest so quickly after finding it knows all too well. In the darkness, however, it was a fleeting feeling.
The cold that crept along his skin made itself known once more. It begged for Blake’s attention.
Where was he before? His mind wandered back to the jigsaw puzzle, and it found some of the pieces unturned. A bar. Downtown L.A. That was it. His last memories of freedom, and they were spent in a drunken haze. Just a typical Friday night. Not exactly respectable, but not worth his situation, surely. What could he have done to elicit this fate?
An alley. He flipped a jigsaw piece in his head. There’d been a woman there. She’d called to him. Beautiful woman. Blonde, green eyes. What happened then?
Another piece flipped.
She wasn’t alone, was she?
She’d offered him a drink earlier. Something was in it.
The puzzle-turning stopped.
For the first time in what felt like a lifetime, something above caught his eye.
As if granted by a cruel god, a green light descended from the surface. It caught his eye early, and he followed it as it sunk beside him. It fell gracefully, almost perfectly, through the water. In a slow drop, it settled nicely in the silt below. Blake saw pieces of the sediment rise around the light in a thin cloud as the dim, LED glow stick touched the ocean floor.
His only company, the light had landed just beyond his grasp. He tried, of course, but he found the weight that tethered him to the bottom was too great to move. So the light remained nearby, but unusable. He tried to hover close to its glow. It showed him the smooth silt of the bottom for the first time. The vaguest silhouette of his face mask had appeared around his sight, and when he looked down, he could see the outline of his chest.
More importantly, he could see that in the yard or so between him and the light, he was perfectly alone.
He smiled, until he realized the light in front of him had somehow increased the eeriness of the wall of black behind him. He could feel it sticking to his skin like a giant spider’s web. Its caress was unwelcome. He thrashed around, struggling to pull the block closer to the light, but he accomplished nothing.
More motion attracted his gaze from above.
There were more glow sticks. Three more descended from the surface. He saw two of them enter the water from above, near where the moon had been. They illuminated the faintest shape of the object that sat above his head. A boat.
Was it help? Were the lights there to pave way for a dive-team? The idea was sweet as it rolled in his head, but it seemed so unlikely. The stinging on his chest brought the pessimist back to the surface. It was his captors above. They were dropping the lights to be cruel. Nothing more. As they settled, he noticed that the pattern hadn’t been random. The lights all landed around him in a perfectly semi-circular formation.
He noticed each one had fishing line wrapped around their middle. They hadn’t sunk. They’d been lowered.
The prickling feeling on his chest got worse.
The light around him had grown helpful. Blake could see himself, for the most part, in their sickly green glow. It was both reassuring and disheartening to see the seafloor around him. He was thankful to see the silt free of crabs or other aquatic nightmares. The idea of something crawling up the ropes and onto him made him shiver. However, to see that only algae spotted the bottom was crushing. There was nothing, no seashell, no shark tooth, nothing that Blake could have possibly used to cut himself free. His head drooped in frustration.
There was something on his chest.
No, not on. Something was in his chest. Cut into. Someone had cut all over his chest, and the cuts were purposeful in their direction and design. They’d cut shapes, symbols, into his chest. Blake had spent his whole life in LA. A city boy through and through, but he knew a brand when he saw one.
He had been branded.
To Blake, it felt more than a physical injury. It was a violation upon him. A desecration. His gut churned, and his fingernails bit into the palms of his hands with a furious persistence.
Another glow stick fell from the surface.
The glow stick, the final light, fell opposite of the semi-circular formation behind him. Its light was unguided. As it sank, it twirled at the water’s mercy. It fell until it was just above him. It fell until it was almost an arm’s reach away from his face. It fell towards his feet.
Then, Blake watched as it sank past the ocean floor.
It was with horror that Blake followed the light’s descent. He merely had to lean forward to watch as the light carved its way farther and farther into darkness. He watched, eyes wide, as the light slipped so far into darkness it had become a memory. Faded and dull. As it sank, it had revealed to Blake everything. It had shown him the solid wall of sand and rock it had passed as it sunk. The same wall Blake sat atop of. It showed him a depth without end.
The light had shown Blake that he was only mere feet away from an oceanic drop-off.
The trench before him was hidden once more in shadow so perfectly that Blake started to wonder if he’d hallucinated it. His heart knew he hadn’t. He’d been dropped, perfectly, at the edge of certain death, and the light was his captors intentionally showing him.
From the surface, they played a cruel game with Blake. A tear caught at the bottom of his face mask.
He wasn’t sure if missing the trench had been a blessing or a curse. If he’d gone over, if it was half as deep as he’d thought, then the pressure would surely kill him. If not, then the sudden descent would have played havoc with his blood. Blake wasn’t a seafaring man, but he wasn’t a moron. He knew what the pressures of the deep ocean could do, and the creatures that lived down there were far more frightening than any shark.
The thought of it, of one of those creatures rising, made him recoil further. His back came to rest against the slime of the ocean floor. He lay in the comfortable circle of light.
Up here, at the edge of oblivion, he was condemned to wait. Death could come at any time, Blake was sure of that. That was the worst of it. The waiting. Blake considered, if only for a moment, pushing himself over the edge. He would die, painfully, but it would be faster. It would also be on his own terms. The idea of control gave him some satisfaction, but how would he move the weight? Last he tried it had been impossible, and who was to say the depth was far enough to kill him? What if he landed at the perfect place between agony and death? It was too risky.
He could have chosen to stop breathing.
No, he could’ve made it even easier than that. He could have just spit out his regulator. That would have been more peaceful. Less painful. Either way, Blake decided it was far preferable to die as he wanted than to die as the bastards above wanted him to. He just needed to gather the courage.
Courage ran in short supply as the lost light began to emerge from the dark.
Blake had risen to a floating position again when, in his peripherals, he saw the faint glimmer beyond the edge of the trench. He avoided it.
Surely it wasn’t real. It was his mind. His panic. If he ignored it he’d suffer no consequence. Yet the light persisted, and soon the glow became unmistakable. The shimmer called to Blake from just past the edge. In the deep.
The light was rising. Against all logic and sanity, the lost light had begun to ascend in the frigid waters.
It showed Blake something awful.
Below its light, the shadowed waters seemed to breathe and stir. In the periphery of the rising green light, shades changed as something rose from the depths. It was a sickening realization that came when he saw the shadows had wrapped themselves about the middle of the glow stick.
The light was rising because something was carrying it.
Blake’s view was again obscured by bubbles and darkness as he retreated from the abyssal edge. In quick, pathetic motions he tried to pull himself away from the rising terror. He felt the prickly sand press up against his back as he wrestled futilely with his restraints. Unfortunately, he had neither the strength nor the energy to break the vacuous hold the sediment had upon the block. He could do little more than yell through his regulator as the light peaked.
Blake could see it now. As the light stopped its vertical ascent, a disturbing scene greeted him. He would have given anything to return to the darkness as a figure clambered up and over the ledge. It stood, directly before him, on two naked legs. Their eyes met. The sight before him was unimaginable.
The light had been carried up by a man.
No, not a man. A corpse. The light showed enough to confirm that. The man’s bare skin had grown ragged and gray, waterlogged by untold months beneath the waves. Some sections of flesh had long since given way, surrendered to the sea, revealing the fetid muscles beneath. Blake gagged when he noticed that tiny tendrils of tattered skin dangled off into the distance; sites upon the man’s body where the denizens of the ocean had begun to pick him apart and eat, piece by piece. Rigor mortis had a tight grip upon the man’s pained, tortured face. His eyes were as wide like his mouth; frozen in an eternal, silent scream.
He’d been dead for a long time, yet his eyes still moved.
They fixed themselves upon Blake. The monstrous vision held the light close to its face, and Blake couldn’t help himself. He stared deeply into those clouded, grayed eyes. Blake could see thought behind its gaze. A soul sat within it. The corpse leaned closer, brought by an unseen current perhaps, towards Blake. Extending its free arm in a rigid, almost robotic fashion, it began to exam him. It seemed inquisitive, like a man examining vegetables at a supermarket.
It was morbid in the way it moved. When in motion, the limbs and muscles of the figure seemed healthy. Alive. Yet, every time the motion stopped, the body resumed a state of incredible rigidity. Caught in a constant state of flux. The man who appeared both living and dead.
Blake, petrified before this horror, saw as the corpse’s eyes left his, and fell upon his chest. Lowering its light, its other hand came forward, and its water-logged finger began to trace the patterns carved into Blake’s chest as if it were following the streets on a map. Revolted at the creature’s touch, Blake squirmed and twitched, but the corpse held no contempt. It followed his every motion with intense precision. Seemingly satisfied, it lifted itself back. No, it was pulled back.
There was something behind the corpse.
Like a pillar in the night, a shape had taken form behind the moving carcass. It rose out of sight, above and below, and with every swaying motion, the corpse made in the water the pillar followed like an enormous shadow. The corpse danced at the pillar’s will. A puppet to the puppeteer.
Before he could grant it any further thought, his attention was called back to the corpse as it had brought the glow stick towards its own chest. It became deadly still in the water. It was waiting for Blake to see. It had to show him.
The corpse showed Blake his chest, and the familiar brand upon it.
Blake was staring at the very same symbols that had been cut into his own chest.
It wasn’t an execution, or some random, cruel murder. He hadn’t pissed off the wrong man. No, it was far worse, and far more primal than that.
It was a sacrifice, and Blake was the lamb.
As Blake’s eyes stretched wide, the corpse dropped the glow stick and it rose towards the surface. The pillar carried the figure into the shadows above. At that moment, Blake made the decision that whatever was to happen next was the worst-case scenario. Everything else was preferable. He wouldn’t be the lamb.
He tried to spit out his regulator.
Disgusting, salty water managed to creep into his mouth as he struggled, but even though his teeth and lips had parted from it, the regulator wouldn’t fall from his mouth. Using his tongue, he tried to push it out, but it held fast to his face. He felt the pull of the regulator around his lips and on the back of his head. The bastards hadn’t given him a choice. They’d taped the regulator to his face.
He had to be alive for what came next.
Through the murk, another corpse appeared. The pillar had brought up another degraded carcass from fathoms below. Blake floundered against the seafloor as the woman inched closer. She was younger than the man who’d come before, and her body showed fewer signs of decay. Behind her eyes, however, sat the same, cold intelligence. That sentience watched him as she rose away into the dark. Her visage fleeting, Blake saw that across her bare chest were etched the same symbols.
Symbols of the damned.
Another corpse came. This one was horribly disfigured and mangled. There was more rot than man left on his bones, yet the eyes remained lively. His jaw dangled by only strands of sinew, and his right arm had long since been torn asunder at the elbow. The white of the bone seemed to glimmer in the dull-light. Despite the rot, the edges of the symbols were still visible on his white chest, and his left hand managed to hold on threateningly to an old, rusted dagger.
Like the others, the rotted man faded into the above.
More bodies appeared as the endless pillar rose. They came one after the other. Each one bore a look of indescribable anguish and pain on their face. A look that they forever carried. Enslaved by the alien pillar behind them.
Around Blake, a storm of currents had begun to churn the sediment into a frenzy. What little light he had soon started to dirty as a swirling cloud threatened to drown it all out. The currents came from beyond the light. Things moved unseen out there, in the dark
They started to touch him.
Like lightning, arms and hands long gone cold reached for him. Whenever his back was turned they’d project themselves from the darkness like a sunken jack-in-the-box. He’d feel their slime-covered fingers caress him. Their nails would jab and scratch him, and each and every time Blake turned around he would see just enough. An arm sucked back into the void. Beyond his gaze. The cat toying with the mouse.
A mouse with its back crushed in a trap.
That was when she entered into the light. A horrid, witch of a woman. Her skin had withered, and she seemed more bone now than flesh. The symbol on her chest had fallen away, and only the scars on her rib cage remained. Her sunken eyes glared harshly as she reached for his face. Blake screamed for help that would never come, as the woman ensnared him in her decomposing fingers. She brought him in close, hugging him tightly as if they’d been friends, with muscles Blake didn’t even think she had. He could feel a touch on his neck as she exhaled water from her lungs.
Up-close, Blake saw every horrible detail. The pillar was clear now, and it was obvious that it was alive. It was the dull, rotted color of the corpses, and it had the obvious texture of meat. From the woman flowed the strings of the puppeteer. Veins and tentacles that had long ago forcibly invaded her body fed directly into the enormous mass behind her. In the dimming light, Blake swore he saw them pulsate. They were pumping, like the veins beneath his skin.
He felt another liquid breath on his neck.
Craning around, he saw that what he’d believed to be a pillar had wrapped around behind him. The first man he’d seen had emerged, and the pillar carried him away. The mass of flesh that had fused to his back lifted his body upwards towards the surface. His eyes never left Blake. In the shadows, the pillar seemed to squirm and twist as it snaked its way up, thickening the further it went.
As it positioned itself, Blake understood what it was that had risen from the trench.
The pillar was actually an enormous tentacle.
Like the suckers of an octopus, the tentacle had used the woman’s arms to hold Blake tight. Behind him, the tentacle had brought into position the ghastly, one-armed man Blake had seen earlier. The woman tightened her grip as she presented Blake to the one-armed man.
Craning his neck, Blake saw the man fumble with the rusted dagger. He brought it sharply towards the bonds that held Blake’s ankles so tight, and he began to cut. He was reckless, imprecise as he sawed through the ropes. As the binds came loose, Blake grimaced as the knife continued to saw. The man had accidentally severed a slice of skin from the side of Blake’s ankle. Blake felt his legs come apart from each other, and he let them spread into the water. He was free from the bottom. Free. In that instant, the fight started.
He let loose with the fury and panic that the entire ordeal had granted him, but the corpse held tight. In fact, the more he struggled, the tighter her grasp got. The strength was far too great to resist, and soon Blake started to feel his ribs bend and strain. He couldn’t breathe, but he kept fighting. The whole time Blake fought, he saw her horrid gaze. Unblinking. Unfeeling.
Despite his thrashing, the puppet corpse behind him decided to proceed with the cutting. This time, it took aim at the bonds between Blake’s wrists.
As he did so, Blake had an idea. A risky, terrible idea. In acceptance of the fact, his legs stopped kicking. The woman released her grip just enough, in kind, and Blake sucked in a huge breath of air. His eyes glared defiantly at the specter. He kept breathing. Waiting.
He had nothing to lose as he made his move.
As soon as the dead man had finished cutting the binds, and at the precise moment the final strand had parted, Blake’s palms closed around the rusted blade. They didn’t let go.
He wanted to scream as the blade dug into his palm, but he was beyond that now. His veins burned with pure determination. The one-armed man seemed not to possess the same strength as the woman had, for his grip on the knife was weak and feeble. No matter how hard the man behind him pulled, Blake would not release the blade. The woman’s face never changed, but Blake saw a hatred grow in her eyes.
With a terrible yank that nearly ripped the meat from his palm and bloodied the water all around him, Blake pulled the knife, and the rest of the man’s fingers, free.
Behind him, the top of the tentacle ran into the dark, carrying corpses along like a morbid roller coaster, but in front of him, the woman didn’t retreat. She tightened her vice-like grip. Unfortunately for her, the grip was too high, and she’d found the tank on his back. This provided Blake with ample room to bring his right hand forward, and to plunge the blade deep into the woman’s stomach. It scrapped through her spine. Her grip failed, just long enough, and Blake pushed himself free.
Blake decided he wasn’t going to die.
The woman tried to recapture Blake, but with a strength he shouldn’t have had, Blake brought the blade through the water and into the left eye of the old woman. She didn’t scream, but she clenched both eyes tight in pain. A thick, black goo seeped from the wound and stuck to Blake’s hand like ink. Her arms flailed about, so Blake ripped the knife from her face, and he jammed it into the other eye. With that, she recoiled. Her hands came to her face to cover her wounds, and the tentacle fell completely away beyond the light.
He was free.
He knew his time was short.
With his sliced right hand, Blake managed to find the glow stick the beast had dropped by his legs. He brought it to his face just in time to see the tentacle had not left him yet. Another body, a large, overweight man, was soon upon him. His arms reached forth. Their target was Blake’s throat.
Blake jabbed at the body with the rusted blade, and it retreated fast. Blake enjoyed that. The threat of pain, injury, didn’t sit well with the monster. That gave Blake a much-needed edge.
Blake knew he couldn’t hesitate any further. With a great kick against the block that had imprisoned him, he propelled himself toward the surface. To freedom. To air.
He knew at that moment he would survive. Even as the nitrogen started to boil in his blood, and as the salt seeped into his fresh wounds Blake could only think of one thing. The surface breaking around his head. The chilly night sky biting into his scalp. The calming sight of the night sky. The watchful stars would be there, and they would see his final triumph.
It would be beautiful.
As his body began to betray him, he forced himself through. He knew the tentacle pursued from below. He could feel it. A presence in the water all around him. Hungry, ravenous eyes followed him from below, but he didn’t care. He couldn’t afford to.
His hand was cramping. He found his grip morphing around the light and the knife. He could only hold on to one. So, he made a choice.
As the knife sunk, Blake grabbed onto the glow stick with both hands. They clung to it like it was a lifeline.
The surface was coming. Oh, how close it should have been. Surely only thirty feet. Twenty. Ten!
The stars. He should have seen the stars.
Instead, only a pained, angry face met his gaze. Blake nearly collided with the corpse that had ambushed him out of the dark. He brought his feet to the corpse’s chest, and kicked hard against it. He felt the thing’s ribs collapse beneath his feet. He circled to his right, and tried to rise again. He would make it.
He knew he could do it.
He found another body. The woman was missing half of her face, but she reached for him regardless. He dove down as she grasped for his legs. He just barely slipped by. Out of nowhere, a hand reached for his face. His momentum carried him past the man, and too close to the tentacle. He flipped around, and shot far away. A small amount of water invaded his goggles, and the bends began to stab at his muscles.
He could do it.
Again, he was ambushed. It shouldn’t have been possible. The tentacle was everywhere. It was fast. How was it so fast?
Then, the light showed him the truth.
He retreated into the light’s periphery, for in its center a body was reaching for him; a devious smile on its face. To his right, the light revealed another one with twisted fingers and an exposed, jaw-like ribcage. The bodies floated side by side in the water, their arms extended at length. Blake had no choice. He rose, and yet even there more bodies sat waiting in ambush. The same happened as he swam backwards too. The bodies all formed a thick wall of nightmares around him.
They were too close.
One of the bodies struck Blake hard in the ribs in passing, and, in a pain that was finally too overwhelming, he dropped the light. Greedy arms took their chance and assaulted him as the light fell. As it sank, it illuminated the inside of what had become a solid wall of flesh. A swirling maelstrom decorated with death had completely surrounded him. There wasn’t just one tentacle. There were dozens, and they had contained him inside a giant sphere. His arms and legs were free, but Blake had never felt more trapped. The tentacles swirled.
They kept him from the stars.
Through his earplugs, he heard a chorus of screams grow from nothing to overtake the white noise. They came from all around him, escaping out of the throats of the long-since deceased. Their faces contorted as the ghoulish melody echoed through the waves. It was a tune of pure mockery and triumph. The song of Blake’s defeat.
He couldn’t do it. He never could have.
Blake began to sink. His muscles had stopped working. The pain of the bends was too great for his brain to ignore. He burned inside as the tentacles began to constrict their net. He was only vaguely aware as many more pairs of arms began to claw at him, and hold him tightly in submission.
The corpses never blinked.
Behind his eyes, Blake was screaming. Not from the pain. He screamed in defiance. He screamed against the cruel irony that had perverted his escape. He saw the light at the bottom of the writhing mass of tentacles. Blake watched as the tentacles parted, allowing the light to fall beyond his reach. Beyond his sight. The tentacles closed again, and the light died.
Blake was in the pitch black. Alone with the dead.
He couldn’t see it, but they started to smile.
He felt it when the arms tore the goggles from his face; not that they mattered anymore. The darkness persisted. Only the pain was new. The water assaulted his eyes and forced its way up his nose. The salt burned everything that it touched.
He only managed to suck in half a breath as they removed the regulator from his face. The breath was spoiled as water was quick to invade his lungs. Blake sputtered and spat, but all that did was expel the last bit of air from his lungs. As they tore the tank from his back, Blake was drowning.
He wouldn’t drown fast enough.
Though he couldn’t see it, the tentacles positioned him strategically. They moved him up against a large, slimy section of barren flesh. Blake’s head felt as though it would explode, and that was before the spines entered his body. Once inside, numerous barbed tentacles searched and dug their way into his veins. He felt a warm burning as an alien substance seeped into his veins.
Eventually, all of his blood would be lost to the sea, and only the thick blood of the monster would remain.
As his head grew dizzy, tiny tendrils dug their way into his spine. The pain was sharp, unbearable as they coiled about his central nervous system like hungry pythons. Blake tried to scream, but there was no air left to give. No sound escaped his curled lips.
He had hoped for comfort in death, but as the nerves of the beast found hold inside him, he found true hell.
His mind became one with the others. Left in darkness, death never found Blake. The weight of the water filled his chest, and the sounds of the damned filled his ears. He heard their screams. Hundreds of screams. He felt their pain. Hundreds of lost souls sacrificed, and they were all connected.
He heard their pleas.
“Help me!” Anyone! Please!”
“I’m drowning. I’m drowning!”
“Why am I underwater? Who’s there? Is anyone?”
“I want my mom!”
He felt his body move, but not at his command. He felt his eyes open, but he saw nothing. He felt his lips forced into a smile, but he was anything but happy. He was left with one choice. The last option he could physically achieve.
He called for help.
No one would answer him, of course, for his pain was their pain.
His fate was theirs.
As they sunk into the abyss, one alien voice was forced into his mind.
”All is one here in the Colony.”
* * * * * *
From their position near the seafloor, beyond the ring of light, the two divers had watched as Blake made for the surface. They both knew better than to interfere, so they had waited patiently. There was no reason to chase after him. The Colony had never allowed anyone to escape before. The situation, unseen above, was surely well in hand.
The blonde-haired diver watched as the lost light sank in front of her. She smiled as it settled. It was done.
Moments after, a tentacle had crept into their circle. The blonde-haired woman watched as an elderly man was brought forth. Carried between his arms was an old, wooden chest. The other diver took the chest, gently, and allowed it to sink to the ocean floor. With his partner’s help, they opened the chest.
The contents were much to their liking.
They closed the chest, and prepared to make their ascent. However, before they went, the tentacles surrounded them in a similar fashion to how they had surrounded Blake. The divers held themselves unnaturally calm as the dead surrounded them, including the recently deceased Blake Gardner. The tentacles seemed to bring him to showcase at the front of the circle. Using his muscles, they forced Blake’s right hand outwards, and they extended his fingers up.
They made his body wave good-bye before they pulled him into the unknown.
This didn’t affect the divers at all.
Two more bodies were brought to display. They noted the one-armed man who’d lost all but one of his fingers, and the blinded woman. In a sickening motion, the one-armed man’s body peeled away from the tentacles. The tendrils retracted from his corpse, and the flesh peeled from around his back. His body was dropped to the floor below. Discarded. The man squirmed but for a moment. They always did that. The woman had often been told it was just a reflex, like a decapitated chicken when it runs. She had other theories, though. She wondered if, for just a moment, the poor souls got control of their bodies back before they became still forever.
She honestly didn’t care either way.
The woman was next. She was useless to the tentacles if she could not see, so she too was abandoned. She settled rather calmly into her sandy grave.
As the tentacles left, one final body was brought to the light. On it, a young man, no older than twenty, presented his right hand clenched into a fist. On it, he raised two fingers towards the divers. The senior diver nodded, and held up two of his own in acknowledgment. With that, the young man smiled, and the creature disappeared into the trench.
The divers packed up. Two more bodies.
They had work to do.
Credit: Ryan Brennaman
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