The first thought that crossed my mind as I hit the water was how warm it was. We left for Galapagos in mid-December, arriving on site towards the end of the month. I thought it would be cold, December has always been a time of cold nights and long snowy days for me, so when I broke the water and was greeted not by an icy wall of goosebumps-inducing darkness, but a comfortable lukewarm ocean, I was pleasantly surprised.
An unpleasant surprise followed shortly after, as the radio in my ear blared to life, the voice of Ann, already grainy and hard to make out despite being only 15 feet above me, highlighting the budgetary shortcomings of our expedition. “Ground control to kappa 1-actually, I wouldn’t be ground control, would I? Since I’m…you know, not on the ground. What would you call the boat version of ground control?” Ann asked, our new radio quickly becoming a toy in her eyes.
“Now hang on, why am I Kappa 1?” I called back into the radio, ignoring her question that I admittedly did not know the answer to. “Because Kappas live in the water, duh.” She called back rather matter of factly before giggling at her own cleverness. A splash is heard some distance to my left before the radio picks up again, a man’s voice this time. “This is kappa 2, I’m in the water” Brett called out, our youngest member, though he had been with the company longer than I had. “You don’t need to say that, I watched you jump in” Ann called chastising. “I know, just couldn’t let you two have all the fun with the new radio.” Brett rebutted, while I was slowly starting to regret our buying the thing.
“Alright enough playing around, we’re wasting sunlight.” Came the voice of our senior, Robbert. He was as no-nonsense as ever, although this was somewhat endearing of him; he always kept a cool head on his shoulders and kept us focused. “Jason, move into the bell. Brett, retrieve the sea scooter and join him. We want this done before sunset.” Robbert directed through the radio. I wasted no time, swimming over to the large device dangling from our boat by a thick metal cable.
It was almost shaped like a bell as our nickname suggested, a large bottom-heavy structure that narrowed at the top and widened at the bottom. It was around 7 feet tall, and half that in diameter, 4 small round windows positioned on its north, south, west, and east most sides, and one large hatch on the bottom. As I moved to climb inside this hatch, Brett joined me at my side, using the sea scooter to catch up, its light illuminating the diving chamber in the dark ocean water.
I was a little jealous Robbert had chosen him to pioneer the sea scooter for our company, and not me. it was a small device, no bigger than the motor of a weed whacker. At its rear were two handles with a small lever to pull on the right, and a button for the light on the left. Attached to these handles was the motor, a loud thing, strong enough to turn the blades at the front of the device to propel its occupant forward faster than they could swim. Just beyond the propellers, right in the center, was a large light.
I could see Brett’s smile showing through the thin glass of his mask as he delighted in his new toy, and we both climbed into the chamber, sealing it shut behind us while it began to build pressure. I took a seat opposite Brett, and we could feel the chamber moving, sinking through the water a few feet at a time. It was an odd sensation, the water inside didn’t jostle or move, but we could feel the world pulling upon us as we sank down, deeper and deeper.
Robbert’s voice came over the radio again, growing fuzzier, but not so much that we couldn’t make it out. “Remember to watch your depth gauges and don’t go too deep, those suits the NOAA lent us will get you to the vents, and maybe a little deeper. Let’s not find out how much deeper. Just chart the entrance of the trench, leave your markers, and get back to the bell.”
“Roger Roger!” Brett called into the radio, and I heard Robbert let out a sigh. Now we started the wait. As the chamber sank into the depths, it built pressure to acclimatize us to the pressure of the ocean at our desired depth, that way we could get out, do our work, and decompress in the bell instead of doing decompression stops in open water, which was going to be nice, as decompression from this depth should take close to 14 hours. Our air tanks hooked up to tubes in the bell, running up the cord of the bell all the way up to the surface, so we shouldn’t have to worry about running out of air. I stared at the depth gauge on my left wrist, watching it tick up as it worked even from within the bell, ticking past 1000 meters already. It was nice to have such a fancy bit of hardware in the form of these suits, our bell and scooter were as outdated as they get, and our boat was on her last sea legs. This job could have been the start of something new, with any luck, it would lead to more business with the NOAA, and our little diving shop might make it big.
Suddenly a question shot to the front of my mind, a question I aired over the radio to our captain. “…Why us?” My question was met with silence at first, and a funny look from Brett before he spoke up. “Well..because Ann doesn’t dive, she mans the ship, and Robberts too old to make it down here anymore.” “Careful 2, you know he’s sensitive” Ann teased back at us, and Robbert let out what could have been a chuckle, or maybe a cough, it was hard to tell.
“That’s not what I mean. I mean why did the NOAA hire us for this? Don’t they have divers, and divers with better gear, divers they trust with these fancy suits a hell of a lot more than a basically unheard-of diving team? “There was a long silence after this, I thought maybe he knew the answer but didn’t want to say. It seemed everyone took a few moments to ponder this question, or maybe the others were waiting for our captain’s response like I was. Regardless, our thoughts were interrupted by the bell jerking to a stop, causing us to swing and sway in the water before we steadied again.
Brett was up first, hands cupped around his eyes at the window, searching for whatever it was we came here for. “No..no that can’t be right,” he mumbled to himself before beginning to undo the hatch. I moved to the window to see whatever it was he saw, but I saw nothing. An endless expanse of dark water lay before me, at least I think it did. It was dark, and I couldn’t make out much. “What is it? I don’t see anything.” My eyes didn’t leave the window as I asked, waiting to see some colossal beast swim by, or some ravaged sea life, my mind starting to swim as I waited for his answer. He didn’t reply. Not until he had left the bell, ducking out into the water and drifting just below the hatch, floating motionless in place as he looked out at the surrounding ocean, the lights of the bell finally clicking on, revealing more of the nothingness around us.
“That’s the problem, check your depth gauge.” and I did as he instructed, reeling at our depth. We were 2600 meters below the surface, the deepest anyone had ever gone without a submersible. “…The vents” he started, “We should have hit the floor 50 meters ago. This can’t be the right place; the hydrothermal vents are gone!” He sounded angry, and a little confused. Robbert called to him over the radio, trying to calm him down. “Brett, it’s a newly formed trench, the vents are still there, just moved. If you get back into the bell, we can adjust the position until we find the edge, it shouldn’t be more than a few dozen meters away.”
Brett ignored him, swimming away from the bell now. “Brett!” I called out, “Stay near the bell, if you get lost down here, we’ll ne-” I was cut off before I could finish, Brett starting to shout into the radio, turning his sea scooter on and propelling forward, with me following along against my better judgment, trying to keep a mental note of where the bell was. “No, this is impossible! The edge *isn’t* a dozen meters away, there is no edge, this trench is massive! A trench this large forming, and so close to land, there should have been tsunamis and earthquakes, this kind of damage doesn’t just happen without anyone noticing!”
We were at 2700 meters, and getting deeper by the second as he searched for the ocean floor. Comms were quiet for a few moments before Ann spoke up. “Brett, it’s okay, I need you to go back to the bell. we’ll figure this out, and I’m sure the NOAA have an explanation for what happened here.” She spoke soothingly, and Brett slowed, coming to a stop at 2750 meters, with me just a few behind him. He took in a breath, looking around the expanse of ocean before us. He had always been more of an environmentalist than I, I can’t imagine how seeing such an important part of sea life cease to exist must have made him feel.
I put a hand on his shoulder, trying to guide him back. “C’mon, let’s get back to the bell. The sooner we get this done, the sooner we can get answers.” He looked back at me, his face betraying how upset he was as he tried to sound calm. He didn’t look angry anymore, just sad. Maybe that was worse. “Yeah…ok.” he spoke softly and with a sigh, starting to position the scooter to take us back when suddenly we saw something. “What is that?” Brett asked, his tone curious as a small dark object slowly floated up towards us from the chasm below. “It….looks like a fish.” he offered, and he seemed to be right. A small skinny fish was floating up between us, at our legs now. Robbert’s concerned voice came over the radio, each word dripping worry. “What do you see? Are you two all right?” Ann was also talking now, her voice quiet and meek. “Is there something down there with you?” The fish kept on rising, it wasn’t swimming, its side was facing up, tail dragging behind it and one empty eye socket pointed to the sky, and it was covered in what looked like red seaweed, wriggling and waving in the light ocean current.
“It looks like a dead fish; it’s just floating here.” Brett finally answered, though his calm demeanor was broken by what I said, and what we saw next. “There are more, look!” I pointed down, seeing dark shapes rising towards the surface from below, dozens of them. Fish, turtles, string rays, all looking half-decayed, none moving. Each one was covered in the red seaweed, some had much bigger patches of it on them than others, and as the fish rose closer to us, we
could see at last that it was not seaweed, but what looked to be worms of some sort, sticking out of dozens of small holes in their skin. They were skinny and long, each one waving around in the water as though feeling for something else to latch onto. At what appeared to be their head was a single disc-like growth, flat and skinny, but relatively wide, maybe an inch and a half in diameter.
Brett slowly reached towards the thing, his hand tentative, but driven on by his growing curiosity. As his hand approached the fish, I thought to stop him, to reach out and swat his hand away, or to tell him no. Instead, movements made clumsy by the water all around us, I reached out and touched the fish. Instantly the worms had driven the flat growths of their heads against my suit’s glove, and I felt an awful pinching sensation as they wriggled and shook violently.
I let out a yelp, shaking my hand as I tried to dislodge the creatures, but they held fast, the pain in my hand increasing as my panic rose. I thought to grab them and pry them off, but I feared more were inside the corpse of the fish, waiting to latch on to me and exacerbate the situation. finally, Brett grabbed my wrist, and with his knife, cut at the wretched things. They held for a few cuts, before withdrawing into the fish, releasing my glove. None of them had been severed by his knife.
I looked at my shaking hand, sucking in deep breaths as I tried to calm myself, the voices of Robbert and Ann cutting each other off as they tried to ask me what was wrong, what was happening to me, and demanding we return to the bell. My glove had several large indents in the material. The gloves were a strong fabric, but here it seemed they were almost chewed through, long cut like scrapes in circles moving towards a central point where each of the worms had held on to me. Brett’s voice came over the radio, the other two resigned to not getting an answer and clearing the comms.
“It’s alright, they didn’t get in. Captain, there are some sort of worms living in the dead sea life down here, definitely unfriendly. We’re going back to the bell, get ready to take us up.” “I’ll get on the radio with the coast guard, Ann, man the crane.” Robbert’s voice was stern and commanding, it was comforting to have someone sound collected and in control of the situation. Looking around us, things were not in control.
Dead sea life was all around us, slowly moving past as they floated for the surface. It was like a swarm of jellyfish, we didn’t want to get close and touch any of them, but if we didn’t move more would float up and surely touch us. Looking around, I didn’t even know where the bell was, we had left it so long ago, and orientating yourself in the open ocean was like spinning around in a pitch-black room and then trying to find the bed.
“Where’s the bell…” I asked, more to myself than anyone else, Ann and Robbert couldn’t help us reach it, the best they could do is keep it in place and hope we see the lights again. “We have to go back the way we came, just go nice and slow, and I’ll use the scooter to push them out of the way” Brett presented his plan, and it sounded like a good one. He moved in front of me, using the light of his sea scooter to shine us a clear path, and turned the engine on. This was a mistake.
Once the engine turned on, the sea life stopped moving. Each one close enough for us to see stopped dead in their tracks, no longer drifting towards the surface. “What the fuck…” Brett choked out before slowly but surely, each decaying fish began to move towards us. Where before we had a path, we were now slowly being closed in on by a mass of dead animals, worms reaching with all their might towards us. Brett’s voice was scared now, lacking the determination
his plan had afforded it before. “C-captain, they’re coming towards us, we can’t slip past, not this many!” He cried out, pointing the light of the scooter around like it was some sort of gun to hold them back, not they responded, the crawled on, moving closer and closer. “Stay calm son, there has to be a way out. Just stay calm and keep looking around, there are coast guard ships on the way now.” Robbert assured us over the radio. I knew it wouldn’t matter.
Even if the coast guard were here right now, they could never make it to these depths, not without our suits. Maybe with a submersible, but then what would they do? Ram the things out of the way? I kept this to myself, not wanting to upset Brett any more than he already was, I needed him to come up with a plan like before, some way to get us out of here.
It struck me then, if I were wrong, well, we wouldn’t need to sea scooter anyways. I reached out and grabbed it, pulling it away from him. “H-hey, don’t you leave me here!” He cried out, fear in his eyes as he held tight. But it didn’t matter, I was bigger than him, and after a brief tussle, I had the scooter. I pointed it away from us, turned the engine up to medium, and let go, watching it drift away from us. “What are you doing?!” Brett demanded, grabbing my shoulder and spinning me around to face him. “We needed that; you’ve killed us both!” Around this time, the first fish drifted past us, towards the direction of the sea scooter. He let go and turned around. We had to dodge them a bit, but they were moving past us, leaving us alone.
“I think they were drawn to the sound. When you turned it on, they came towards it, so I turned it up and sent it away.” I explained, trying to keep him calm. “Well, you could have just said that, asshole.” He was still angry, but too relieved to hold onto it. He turned, and we both started to swim, making our way to where he claimed the bell was, careful to avoid the sea life that hadn’t been close enough to notice the sea scooter. With each passing meter, I grew more concerned. If this was the wrong direction, we were only getting ourselves more lost, and these things, these dead things were still here with us. A little more spread out, but they were here, and I was worried more would come and it would become too dense a group to swim through.
As my fears began to bubble to the surface and form words in my throat, my thoughts were interrupted again when Brett shouted over the radio. “There it is, the light! I can see the bell!” I swam a bit faster, straining to see what he saw, and sure enough, just ahead, there was light. He swam towards it, fast, waving his arms and breathing heavily as he raced for it, ignoring the fish floating around him and rushing for the bell. As we got close, I began to notice something, there was something big just below it.
“Brett, stop! There’s something there!” I tried to call, but over his frantic breathing, the radio was too garbled for him to understand. Maybe he thought I was celebrating as well. I should have tried harder, Yelled louder…something. But I didn’t, didn’t think he would be able to hear me. And as he neared the bell, the thing below rose into the light, coming into view and freezing him in his tracks. It was a whale, a huge humpback whale. But this one wasn’t dead, and it wasn’t drifting, though just barely.
It had huge holes all along its left side in tightly packed clusters, the skin they clustered on was swollen and infected, the holes leaking a dark fluid into the water. Its body was lumpy, long tubular growths protruding all down its back and to its tail, and these bumps wriggled and moved, twitching and causing the body to move along with them. One of its eye sockets was empty, and the other eye, while still there, had a large hole in it, with a huge worm sticking out of the front.
It slowly approached Brett, it’s one big eye locked onto him as the worm reached for him, both of us frozen in shock. As it neared him, the whale let out an awful sound, a groan of pain and anguish as its mouth was pushed open by a mass of worms inside. They reached out, latching onto Brett, causing him to jolt to action again, flailing and screaming, jabbing at them with his knife to no avail as one latched onto his face, slowly pulling him into the mouth. He screamed into it, screamed and cried, and fought for all he was worth, but he wasn’t getting away, and I only watched as it took him. once he was gone and the mouth was closed, his screams did not stop. They kept coming over the radio, drowning out anything anyone else might have tried to say. The whale then slowly sank, leaving the light of the bell and vanishing into the darkness. I wasted no time swimming for all I was worth, looking at the bell and hoping that maybe if I didn’t look, I wouldn’t have to see it rising to swallow me too.
But it didn’t swallow me, it didn’t return as I swam into the bell, didn’t attack me as I sealed the hatch and pressed the button to return me to the surface, and it didn’t rip the bell from the ship and sink me to the ocean floor as I waited for the bell to slowly rise out of the depths. But he did scream. He screamed the whole away, and as he did his screams slowly became groans of pain, muffled by whatever it was that had him. And just when I thought I couldn’t take the screams anymore, he spoke. He begged. He begged not for his life, not for rescue, not for me to come back and save him. He begged me to kill him. Pleaded with me in a voice so weak and with breaths so raspy, breathing wheezily, unnaturally, he pleaded with me, and with god, and with the devil to kill him and free him from the pain he suffered. And when our radios finally disconnected, I wept, and I hoped he got his wish.
I don’t dive anymore. I man the crane, but I’ll never get in that water again. I’d leave, say goodbye to this life and to the water forever, but I can’t do that to Robbert and Ann, I can’t leave them and this business behind after what we went through together. So I man the boat, and I lower the bell. But, I don’t think the ocean is safe anymore. Because sometimes, on long jobs during late nights on the water, our radio will pick up something. It’s always static-y, and hard to make out, but I know what it is.
He’s still begging us to kill him.
Credit : SpookyDude43
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