27 Jul Strange and Fearsome Things
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"Strange and Fearsome Things"Written by
Estimated reading time — 16 minutes
July 7th 1864
I am writing this letter under appreciable strain. It is to be, by this night’s end, that I shall be no more. Penniless and at a loss of the drug which once kept my temperament secure, I shall cast myself from my squalid room and onto the rain slicked streets below. Upon reading these scrawled notes you may guess, but never fully understand as to why I would either have forgetfulness or death. With my supply of laudanum drawing to an end I have no choice but to end it all.
May God have mercy on my soul.
It was one of the most desolate bodies of water I’d ever the misfortune to travel upon (though it wasn’t misfortune at the time). A small vessel is what we rode the open waters on. A beautiful ship, by the name of Sainte Marie. A French vessel, but one captained by myself, an Englishman. Alas, my long years of smuggling secret documents across the English channel awarded me very little. Others found my ship to be nothing special: a short goélette with two sails hefted high in the air, but for my men and myself this ship was our source of livelihood, as well as my home. The boat itself could support a dozen men; however, my crew was just four. Each had the charisma to strike up any conversation on a whim, and a gullet that could drink even myself under the table. I do miss them grievously.
I shan’t include the names of my companions in this recollection, as to protect their good names and the families they have left behind. Their lives were lost on the fourth day out at sea, the day my vessel found itself caught against the rocks in a storm. My choice to stray far from our usual fishing grounds was met with an unfortunate series of events. The storm seemingly struck us from nowhere. No clouds had formed; the waves had remained calm. A sense of serenity lay on my shoulders, but that feeling shifted upon a momentous gust of wind, one that sent my ship astray. After a fruitless attempt to regain control; I felt my ship take lift from the sea, and my body with it. As my crewmates screamed, water began to burst its way into my hull. Although I can’t quite recall how, a fish barrel met my cranium with such force. My mind went numb, and I fell unconscious.
I came forth from the shadows of my mind after an indeterminable amount of time. I found myself to be in no immediate pain or discomfort, say for the splitting headache from the fishing barrel that had met it. I hastened to my feet and planted myself firmly in sand, and as I looked back to where I had lain. There I found one of my crewmates, directly below where I had landed; surely without him my body would have shattered against the earth, much like his own.
Dead, pupil-less eyes stared up at me from a skull so deformed I could not tell for sure which one of my friends he was. Both of his arms bent backwards, bones protruded from his shirt, now soaked in both his blood and salty seawater. It was in that moment I vomited, the first of many times.
With the boat destroyed and my crewmen deceased, I found myself utterly alone, stranded on a small stretch of land, next to the boat which I once captained, that was now caught against the shore’s jagged rocks.
I can say for certain and of sound mind, that the events that transpired were not of any hallucination due to my malnourishment.
I first was met with the prospect of the impossible sandbar. The deep waters seemed to stop upon meeting the spire of rocks; with the sandbar encroaching behind its sullen crag, I questioned my knowledge of the sea. To have a drop off at what could only be predicted to be hundreds of fathoms, end with a sandbar, surely there was some sort of force at play. My first memory of the region of this sandbar was that it was littered with the carcasses of rotting fish, as well as the debris from other vessels which had met their fate here. The smell was absolutely nauseating, the miasma concocted a constant assault on my nostrils whenever I had the misfortune to breathe. The foremast of my ship had shattered and collapsed against the rocks. The splinters appeared to mock my predicament as they took on the facade of a dead man’s stare; yet the most unappealing stare that I received was from above. The sun’s accusing eye brightly lit the world of my predicament, and every time its heavy rays beat down on my skin, I felt guilt.
Much to my chagrin, upon stumbling out into the sandy shore I could not help but stare at my destroyed ship with intense feelings of sadness and disappointment. The hull was caked between the rocks, and the stern had slunk into the ocean, two of my crewmates with it. A third was dangling from the conch shaped figurehead.
Other than rotting fish, scuttling crabs, the occasional shipwreck debris and sand, the mass of land contained nothing else, say for a shell that happened upon my route around the bank. It was a tiny bit of land, most of it lay under a foot or two of water, but I did not care, as the waves would not push me out to sea. In fact, it seemed as though the waves only drew into the island, as though it bore a magnetic force to them. By that evening I could make out the possible source as to why. The moon shone brightly above me, and I recall reading somewhere that the moon could control the direction of the tides. However I am no astrologist, so I cannot be so sure as to what I heard being true or not.
Upon nightfall I had began to feel the somber presence of a lurking fear behind my spine. The moments that followed were some of the worst sensations I had felt up until that point. My skin tightened around my body as though I was beginning to swell, and suddenly, almost all at once, my body toppled over and suffered from a seizure-like event. My muscles spasm-ed uncontrollably, my mouth filled with blood, and my eyes rolled back into my head. I passed out my body unable to handle the sudden pain and chaos of the spell. Sometime later I awoke. Upon inspection of myself, although thoroughly disturbed I had not been physically harmed. I deemed the inexplicable event as a temporary psychosis, but was unsure whether it had been due to the crash, me facing my own apparent doom, or the smell of decay and death that constantly invaded my nostrils.
For the first few days I put up with the rumbling of my stomach, A wandering crab sated my hunger for a while, but the small crustacean did not stay down for long. My stomach churned violently at its abhorrent texture which resulted in me keeled over, vomiting whatever I had left sitting in my stomach. I was unable to bear the thought of devouring my friends; nor did I wish to eat the rotting fish, of which their smell I never grew accustomed to.
By the third day the rotting fish had begun to look ambrosial as I starved while wandering around the sandbar for what was probably the hundredth time. However, my water had yet to be spent, and I maintained enough intelligence to have saved most of it, only taking a few sips when needed. It was due to this that I was able to survive that horrible place. But by the fifth day, the water situation had begun to worry me, as I had downed my third bottle, with only two more left to spare.
If it had not been for the constant heat that beat down upon my skin, maybe I would not have downed the water as fast as I had, but the sun would not let up during the day. It was during the night where I found most of my solace. With the cool, dark sky around me, acting as a shield to all outside forces, it was an impenetrable fortress. I felt safe when the moon was out, and the sun gone.
It was during the sixth night when I began to indulge upon the rotting fish. They tasted absolutely maddening; gritty scales caught themselves between my teeth; the bones were decayed enough to swallow, but they still left their mark of sores in my mouth. The saltiness of the sea that coated the fish only caused me to drink more. My clothing did nothing but cling to my chest as the ocean soaked through them, day by day. When the sun had risen upon the seventh day, I removed my remaining articles of clothing as the heat beat down upon my skin. I no longer sweat, as my body had run dry of any excess water. With the cascading sun causing my skin to melt, I tore the sail from the mast with great vigor and strung up its frame using the splintering of my ship. My shelter failed to protect me; the damage had already been done. Most of my skin was red and covered in scars, some of which had begun to scab from the intense burning it had suffered. The worst part of my body was my upper back and neck, a place that was constantly battling the sun. The skin was peeling, I could feel it. It was after this day when I began to lose track of time. For what seemed like the next week, I spent my time wandering aimlessly around the island during the night, scavenging whatever washed up.
Whenever I would pass by the body of my deceased crewmate, I could almost discern a whisper. I could not be sure if it rose from him, or if it was a voice that ascended from the sea for only my ears to hear. His grisly features had partially sunk beneath the sand, but his arm bone stuck up from the ground like a mast of a ship. If I could have brought myself to look upon him for longer than a moment, I would surely have buried his corpse, but it seemed nature did most of that job for me.
Though I cannot be certain, two weeks into my predicament, my final bottle of water had been emptied. The water failed to even quench my thirst at that point; the fluid would meet my tongue and dance for a moment, only to dry as the pilfered sun stole my drink. I was lucky to have not indulged on the seawater, for I knew better than that. I managed to form a makeshift water purifier and with it I was able to harness the heat of the sun in some sort of positive way. I constructed the water extractor using one of my empty bottles, a large conch shell I had found lying around, a sample of fabric from my shirt, and my own urine, which was not much. I began to siphon the salt out from the ocean around me, using the same method I had with my own urine. It all tasted unsatisfactory, and the incessant need for more never left me, which was quite possibly the sickest part of the entire quest for nourishment.
At some point past my recording of days and weeks, a small cretin had scuttled out of the sand. Its features were remarkably distinct, as it had no resemblance to any other crab I had seen. Legs larger than the length of its body carried it across the sandbar. Indigo in colour, it made a taunting snapping gesture towards me and I began after it. I could not care how abnormal it looked, it was something I could eat. As I reached down to grab the scuttling creature, my hand passed through it and dug into the sand. I leapt backwards, perturbed and unsettled. Its body remained present and it blinked soulless bug-like eyes are me. The abnormal twist of its shell that followed was no doubt a mockery of sorts. I went to grab it again and passed through it once more. It danced about the sand for a moment and from it erupted a cackle. I distinctly remember it, and even now the apparent laughter of that creature incites my rage. I paraded about where it stood, hoping to crush it with my feet. Its body almost melded into my flesh as we came into contact, and yet I felt nothing. I began to dig where it was. My fury increased as every momentous attack I made at the creature met nothing but the sand below it. My fingernails cracked in the sand and began to bleed as the small grains dug beneath my nails. The whole time the cretin mocked me, unable to be touched. That was when it happened again. My body began to convulse and my skin began to swell. I felt a lurch of pain enter my body from behind my neck, as my next memory is that of my waking self, covered in sand, and slouched inside a hole I had seemingly dug. I never saw the creature again.
Upon waking up one morrow, I found the carcasses of the fish to be depleted. My only source of food had seemingly vanished overnight, and soon after, as my stomach roared even louder, I became unbearably miserable. The many days without any food caused me to become so angry and malnourished that I turned to my dead friend. For weeks his decrepit state of being lay silently. Sand had found its way into every orifice of his being, and as I dug out his rotting corpse, a cluster of small crabs scampered out. I plucked up as many as I could and shoved their crusty bodies into my mouth, still wriggling and snapping away as I swallowed. The critters sated me for no time at all, and with the thought of my death looming over me I turned my friend onto his side and tore into the rotting flesh.
It was far easier than I’d expected it to be. The meat was tender and easy enough to tear apart with bare hands, and even easier to chew. A sort of primal being took control of my body thereafter. What was a rueful action, I did not regret at the time. I cannot recall his taste, but I do recall my body’s lurching and spastic response as I swallowed pieces of him. I ate every bit of him, suckling the blackened bones, getting chunks of sand and meat stuck between my teeth. I rolled his head towards me; I was met with a stricken horror. His hollowed eyes! They stared at me with empty sockets. The once white jelly filled sockets had sunk into his skull, perhaps even devoured by crabs. Their gaping and lifeless facade caused my stomach to erupt and my meal spilled out all over the sand. Even in this instance of savagery and primal desperation I could not fathom allowing the flesh of my friend to sate my hunger.
Hours following, my mind was filled with a series of disturbing images. Mirages of sorts beckoned me from beyond the shoreline. Images of palm trees and thriving animals that romped about, each with indescribable features, but features I would have enjoyed to taste nonetheless. Slowly I could feel my skin began to tighten against my bones, and with every passing minute I could discern the guttural howl from my stomach, longing for something to satisfy it.
One night I awoke to the sound of what I could only discern as a seal. The ambient honking noise echoed in my ears and I left my makeshift shelter in search of this animal, hoping to kill it with my bare hands and eat its flesh that night. I found no animal in sight. Though I did find something else. Something that had not been there before.
On the opposite side of the island from where my boat had crashed (it had long since slunk under the waves, my rotting chums with it) stood a monolith, rising at least twenty feet into the air. The obsidian-coloured sarsen possessed a phallic-like shape, something I would have found comical be it not for my present situation. The monolith dripped of seaweed and water, which darkened the sand around it. I recall no immediate discomfort in it’s presence, merely a curiosity as to how and when it arose. Was it here before? I thought to myself. Had it floated in as I slept? The object seemed to be grounded to the earth below it, and how far it stretched under the ocean I could not say, but I did not approach it during the night, as I thought I could very well be dreaming this object up.
Upon sunrise I hesitantly approached it to get a closer look. The first aspects I could discern of this object were the markings. Hieroglyphics portraying an unknown language had been carved into it. In fact, they were horribly grotesque, some of which resembled the dismembered limbs of human beings, others of fish skulls and shark fins. The entire sight began to cause an inner childlike wonder, and from that a morbid curiosity. Though exasperating to behold, I had begun to wonder whether this obsidian statue was brought on by my starving mind. Yet, something made me believe that it was not my conscience that created this object. I reached out to touch the figure to indeed see if it was a physical manifestation. My hand met the slippery surface and almost instantaneously, like a painful electric shock; a sensation sparked from within my fingertips and traveled up my arm, down my neck and spine, and encompassed my body as a whole. I fell backwards, and the pain I had felt momentarily was replaced with a lingering sense of remorse. I decided it best to ignore the monolith. Its unknown origins and seemingly magical appearance, as well as macabre power, caused thoughts of sacrifice and cult formations to enter my mind, thoughts that I did not want stewing. I stumbled back to my shelter, the whole time feeling as though the monolith was watching me. I sat huddled beneath my tattered sail, looking off in the opposite direction, towards the horizon. In an attempt to disregard what I had just experienced, my mind began to wander and I found myself thinking of better times; almost like clockwork, the image of a large commercial fishing boat approaching the island began to take form. It possessed a mast that stretched up beyond the clouds; a pristine white flag with a dove on it that fluttered in the wind. The wings on the sigil seemingly came to life in the breeze. The figurehead of the ship resembled that of a woman, one arm outstretched towards me, and the other brandishing a lantern which lit the boat’s way in the dark. As the vessel came in contact with the island, the light from the lantern died and the boat itself caved in, vanishing into a pillar of smoke. On cue, the monolith emit a low humming noise, and I turned back towards it and cursed its hideous form; I cursed the words that were carved into it, I cursed the very creator that made its malignant structure in the first place, and I cursed the visions it brought forth of solace and comfort.
It wasn’t until that night when I realized that my cursing would come with consequence, as if my current fate had not been consequence enough. That night I felt the earth beneath me tremble, as though an earthquake were taking place. I gripped the ground, thinking the sands beneath me would part and I feared a giant maw would devour me whole. Waves crashed along the shoreline with a fierce vigor I had not seen them beckon before. The very sky above me shuddered, the moon itself took over the night sky, growing exponentially as the severity of my predicament further seeped into every crack of my soul. During the entirety of this plight the monolith stood there, gawking at me. The tremors suddenly ceased and I let go of the sands, allowing my body to sink back into the ground.
I felt like my heart would fall out of my chest. The metallic taste of blood began to form in the back of my throat, and my heart beat incessantly, unable to slow. I began to cry; no tears, as I hadn’t enough water to emit those, but I sobbed loudly where I sat, shuddering and knowing surely this was the end, and that I could never escape this loathsome place. As I began to think my fate could not get any worse, my eyes turned to the obelisk.
In the distance, near the obsidian object stood something in the dark. My eyes could for some reason not decipher what was there. As I squinted my eyes to try to visualize this object before me, I swear I saw it move; a harkening movement, which caused me to stop mourning my fate and establish a better concentration on it.
Then suddenly I saw it. Polyphemus-like and abominable; the light of the moon lit its features. Large malformed breasts hung from its abdomen and brushed the water. The creature lifted its heavy, slimy head and let out an unimaginable scream. My ears rang and bled. I shut my eyes; I could not bear to look at this thing but despite my disgust, they were forced open once more and watched as the creature darted towards the monolith, wrapping its scaly and repulsive arms around the thing. It stood to a man’s knee depth in the water, its body towering above the monolith itself, at least thirty feet tall. Tendrils fell from its back and landed in the water around it. They proceeded to slither up its idol and wrap their repulsive form around it. The head, now shimmering wetly in the moonlight, was a horrendous amalgam of blighted, greying flesh shaped strangely like the silhouette of a crab. The flesh that loosely hung to what should have been it’s face was corpus and bloated; waterlogged from what can only be assumed as millennium spent in the unknowable depths of the sea. Pulsing from a crater in its approximate center came forth a cycloptic eye of nightmarish size, the muscles of it’s iris flexing into acute focus on the monolith. It’s head in cumbersome motion swiveled to face the flat stone, wet mucus-y fluid flung from the exertion into all directions. It let out another sound, causing my ears to bleed once more, and I began to sob again. In one monstrous movement, it leapt from the monolith and into the depths from whence it came, and in doing so, proclaimed the island to be its own. I watched as its dark form swam around the island, creating large waves as it did so. Every wave of water made impact on the shoreline. As the beast slithered through the water in circles around the island, I felt my knees give way, and my head land weightless against the soft sand below. The last thing I recall before slipping back into my mind, was the sea water engulfing me, as the hideous being moaned.
When I came out of the shadows of my unconscious, I was in a hospital, located in the port of Plymouth; brought there by an English merchant vessel. According to my rescuers, I was found floating soundlessly between two rocks; my boat had long since been claimed by the sea. At my mere mention of the sandbar, they explained that no mass of land was in miles of where I was shipwrecked. That I knew could not be true. I knew for certain that I had landed upon an unknown island. One that possessed a creature forgotten by mankind over the ages.
After my recovery in hospital, I returned to England. I was broadcasted as the sole survivor of a horrifying ordeal that encompassed much loss and time. My claims of the sandbar and obelisk fell on deaf ears, as no one could fathom the prospect of such things. The families of my crew spoke briefly to me upon meeting at the quaint memorial orchestrated for my fallen comrades. I spoke highly of them, that they fought the storm to their dying breath. I did not discuss my time on the sandbar though, as they would not care, much like others before them. The acts of heroism I claimed their loved ones displayed was enough for them to gain some form of closure, and off they went never to speak with me again.
For months following, I suffered constant delirium and psychosis. My family did not care to discuss the matters of my survival, and after a while they stopped returning letters. Alone and discombobulated, I turned to morphine and laudanum as a source to numb my dreams. While under the affliction of these drugs I can only vaguely recall the sound of the malformed creature from that island, and very rarely did I see the vacant eyes of my crewmate looking up at me while I sleep, but the persistent fear that I was left with resonated with a haunting sensation that I could not shake. I cannot recall exactly how it happened, but one morrow when I awoke I was surrounded by doctors and nurses, all of whom insisted I go with them. They took my drugs and with that my remaining sanity. While in hospital the dreams persisted, and eventually the doctors allowed me an ever depleting supply of laudanum. Now here I sit, on my last bottle, unable to cope and unable to shake the dread that sits heavy on my head.
The end for me is drawing near. Had it not been for that thing, then perhaps I would not be in this hospice right now. Perhaps I will be able to forget the events with time, but that thing I saw, the unspeakable unholy creature from Hell – no longer do I wish for this accursed thing to poison my mind. I can still hear the howl of its people, an echo in my soul, a whisper in a fever dream. I hope you do not discredit these words as the others have. I am deeply saddened and apologetic for having shared this account with you. I only hope you trust these words and hold them close.
There are strange and fearsome things that prowl the open waters, and I can only hope that I have indeed lost my mind; for the sake of humanity, I hope so.
Credit: S.M. Patricks