15 Jul Thalassophobia
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"Thalassophobia"Written by Anonymous
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Estimated reading time — 13 minutes
I hate the water. Always have, always will. Oh, sure, I’ve swum in pools and jumped off diving boards like any other person, but I have never once allowed my feet to leave the ground at a beach or lake. Something about not having solid ground to stand on freaks me out, and the inky blackness surrounding you could be hiding anything. The silt, swirling, shrouding this foreign environment in a sickly green-gray cloak. You’re left defenseless, weak, out of your league, while everything in there with you has evolved to thrive. That tug you feel on your ankle could simply be the grasping tendrils of seaweed. But you panic at the thought of it being something more… malicious. Your fight or flight response kicks in. Flight is your only option at this point. You’re outmatched. It has you and your only hope is to make a break for the surface. Desperately, you kick and claw at the water, hoping against hope that whatever is down there can’t catch up. Slowly, you paddle up to the surface, but it’s not enough. Humans were never meant to swim quickly. You feel those ghastly green ropes tying you down like anchors, tightening, wrenching down on your heel. You look down in a vain attempt to free yourself, only to discover that it had all been in your head. That seaweed monster you envisioned was really just some aquatic weeds that had become tangled around you as you swam.
I can’t properly explain thalassophobia better than that. It’s a primal, visceral fear, and for good reason. Our ancestors knew that in the water, they couldn’t fight back against an attacker, or even run away. And thus, they grew to fear that which they did not understand. Though, as technology advanced, we enabled ourselves to indulge our curiosity and explore this forbidden land.
However, many of us still retain that terror which our ancestors felt, and this is what led me in a direction I would ultimately regret following.
“My name is Dr. Francis Thurston. It is currently… mmmm… 12:05 pm, on this 12th of April, 1923. I am with patient 233-012, and this will be session number 3.” The typewriter stamped each letter in harsh black ink with a sickening “clack.” Ever since opening this accursed mental health facility, I’ve had to play the sonographer in every single session I’ve done, and the incessant mechanical clicks of this damned machine are driving me mad.
I had opened this facility, in the hopes of shedding new light on mental illness. My colleagues believe these people are unfit to be treated as humans, seeing them as “defective”. What load of claptrap These are human beings with thoughts and emotions, not some product of mishap on an assembly line.
“Alright… so, ma’am, can you tell me about these dreams you’ve been having as of late?”
Her long black hair crinkled and parted as she lifted her head to speak.
“I see… visions… Mr. Thurston. A city, just like out your window… but… in the wrong spot.” She gestured behind me at glass pane that was the room’s only source of natural light.
“Alright, Sara. That’s interesting. Can you tell me why it’s in the wrong spot?”
“No, I can’t sir. All I know is that it was… underwater. There was green light everywhere, and black things swimming down below me. It all looked so real… like I was looking at pictures.”
“Odd,” I thought. “Some other patients told me similar things in their sessions as well.”
“Sara, could you tell me if you remember hearing anything?”. She looked around the room as she thought.
“No, sir. No voices at least. I did hear this loud rumbling noise, like the sound when a boulder falls down a slope, but that’s all.”
“Okay, good.” The typewriter had begun to get on my nerves once more. “And what about when you’re awake? Do you see anything then?”
“Oh, lord no sir. Nothing like that. The most I’ll hear or see is the people on the sidewalk, strolling by my window.”
I dismiss her and have a nurse escort her back to her room. Going over the notes on all of my patients that had reported similar dreams, they all seemed completely unrelated. Sara Stevens, a 31 year old married mother of 1, Jack Walters, a 37 year old detective from across town with no living kin to speak of, and Tom Suttin, a deranged man of 34 who, despite my reservations, my staff had to put in a straight jacket because he would fly into wild fits, yelling and screaming about “eyes watching him” and that “he will awaken”.
The question of “what linked my patients” would haunt me for over a month, until the state would hand over a guilty defendant, whose attorney had tried for the insanity plea.
The call came at half past 8. Storm clouds had blown in from the coast, and the chief of police wanted to get the defendant assessed as quickly as possible. As the stars were slowly blotted out of existence, the transport vehicle backed up and two armed guards stepped out from either side. Doors flung open as the man was wheeled in, leather belts adorned every limb, and a muzzle was strapped to the lower half of his face. Most striking were his eyes. As I held the door open for the guards, he turned to look as he passed. His pupils were shrunk… or maybe his eyes were open as wide as possible. But in them I saw a look of hollow fear, as though the being in front of me was simply a husk, scared for every waking moment of his life.
“I’m so sorry Francis. The judge ordered an immediate examination of his mental state and you were the only psychiatrist I knew who wouldn’t have shot me dead as soon as I called.”
“No, no, it’s fine, Frank. I just wish you had given me more warning about it. So what’s all this about anyhow?”
“Well, um…” he paused to remove his cap as he looked down at the floor. Even after becoming chief of police, Frank was still a bit squeamish when it came time to reveal the more bloody details of his cases. “His name is Harrison Brown. He’s 32 years old, has… erm… had three children and a wife. According to his neighbors, he went on a trip to some town they had never heard of. They said he was different once he returned. Listless, almost as if he had forgotten his personality back at that town. A few weeks later, those same neighbors complained about a smell coming from the house. When my officers got there, they found the bodies of his children and wife strewn around his living room. And upstairs… ” He paused to take a deep breath.
“Upstairs, my officers found him in what used to be the room of his youngest daughter. Symbols had been written on every exposed surface in what we think was his families blood mixed with his own. He was curled up in a ball, staring at the corner of the room, muttering to himself. One of my men got close enough to hear what he was saying”.
“Well… he ended up shooting himself a few days later. We never got to find out what he heard. As for the other officer, he’s shell shocked and has been throwing up at the sight of blood. We had to let him go, for obvious reasons”
“Alright… erm… well, I suppose I should get to work, if you’d be so kind?”
“Oh, yes, absolutely. I’ll send you a bottle of bourbon when this is over. Just make sure not to let the state hear about it”
I smiled as I showed him out. Frank had been a very close friend ever since high school, and when prohibition became law, we developed the habit of “misplacing” evidence on occasion after a big case or sometimes just because we felt like it.
Returning to the room where I was storing Mr. Brown, I heard him shrieking. Most of it was garbled, but I could make out the words “water,” “him,” “scared,” and “sea.” As I wheeled him to my office, I noticed that he would go silent whenever lightning flashed, as if in anticipation.
“It is 8:27 p.m. on… ” My thoughts were elsewhere as I typed. For once, I failed to notice the sound of the typewriter.
“Hey, doc. Whatchya doin’?” His voice was hoarse as he croaked out each word.
“Recording the time, date, and your name for the records. Now, can you tell me why you murdered your wife, Mr. Brown?”
“I did them a kindness doc. He saw me. He saw them. I shot them each in the head. Over in an instant. It was merciful compared to what his followers would have done.”
“Mhmm… and who is this… ‘he?’ And who are his followers?”
His eyes squinted as the muscles in his cheeks tightened to form a grin. His pupils dilated, and for the first time, I saw just how dead behind the eyes he really was.
“He, The Great Dreamer, He, who tends to the Great Old Ones, He who would bring about the end of man. His followers be everywhere. They see all. They hear all. Nowhere is safe from them. Not even the seas”.
The mention of seas caught my attention. I had to ask. I felt an all-consuming curiosity to know, as if I was being pointed to it by an invisible stranger.
“Mr. Brown, you don’t happen to have dreams of a “sunken city” underwater, do you? Black figures moving below as green lights shine?”
The grin he once held had widened. In all this time, he hadn’t blinked even once, and his eyes had grown bloodshot.
“I’ll cutchya a deal, doc. You let me out of this jacket fer a few hours, and I’ll tell ye’ all.”
Against my better judgment, I unbuckled the restraints on his jacket. Before he was free, I locked the door and showed him the pistol I keep in my desk as a warning against attacking me. As I loosened the last strap, I felt his arms relax. He took a long, deep breath, savoring his newfound freedom. Rotating his arms, jogging in place, he seemed like a perfectly normal man except for his eyes.
“So… what else do you know, Mr. Brown?”
Mr. Brown would go on to explain about a town off the east coast that he visited, all the way up to when he arrived on my doorstep in maximum security restraints. He seemed perfectly sane except for the talk of some god and his cult. I allowed him to remain without his restraints for the remainder of his stay.
I locked his room for the night and went to bed with little success. Regardless of the validity of his claims, Mr. Brown had still managed to get to me. That night, once I had managed to drift off, I experienced a very similar dream to what my patients had experienced. Maybe I was just letting everything get under my skin. That bottle of bourbon would be more welcome than I could’ve imagined.
I awoke to the wail of a nurse. Bolting up, I could hear her running down the halls in a panic. Tossing on something just so I was dressed, I ran to her. She had fallen against a wall and was wide-eyed and shivering. I asked what happened and all she did was point a quivering finger to Mr. Brown’s room. The door was cracked open, but there wasn’t enough light from the window in his room to illuminate anything from where the nurse and I were. I stood up, turned towards the door, and took a step forward. The door handle was cold, the result of air conditioning chilling the metal without anything nearby to warm it. As the door opened, I could make out the bed that came in every room. The sheets were gone.
More light was allowed in as the doorway opened, and I could see the back of a chair, lying on the ground. More light rushed in and shone on the rest of the room. The sickening sound of fibers rubbing against each other while under tension. The groaning of the water pipes sounded overhead, clear as day. I had seen enough. I turned to close the door as something stopped me dead. Scrawled on the door, in his own blood, Mr. Brown had written: “She will lead the way.” And below that was written what looked to be a jumble of words. “Cthulhu.”
Once the body had been taken down, Frank showed up with the bottle he promised.
“Damn, Francis… what the hell happened?”
“God only knows.” I took a long swig in a vain attempt to forget what I had seen. “She will lead the way.” What in God’s name did that mean?
It was only until I began to look into the pasts of some of my patients that I got my answer. All who had reported those same dreams had also at one point or another spent a significant amount of time in the town that Mr. Brown had visited. Sara had been there most recently.
Questioning her revealed the key to these strange “mass dreams,” as I was given directions to the unnamed town. A bus route ran there, as well as a few old railroads. A few spare clothes along with some money, and I was off. The station where the bus ran to and from was just outside the city’s outer limits. Gas lamps lit the road as moths fluttered about. The man at the ticket counter seemed nice, if a bit odd when I mentioned my destination while ordering. The bus came, and I boarded. There was nothing remarkable about the whole trip, the bus driver was a portly man who wore a cap and old tattered clothes, but was otherwise fairly standard and normal.
As we arrived at the town, it seemed as though it had been isolated from the rest of the world. Buildings resembling those from America’s colonial days stood, though the paint and wood clearly weren’t original to the structure as they hadn’t warped or faded. The roads were still cobblestone. However, they had gas lamps which means that this town had contact with the outside world, though not for some time. People wandered about the streets, seemingly normal. There was nothing other than the lack of technology to suggest this town was anything but average.
As I exited the bus, I was hit by just how salty and thick the air was. It was like trying to breathe in molasses with all the humidity. I would need a place to stay, so I wandered the town, looking at the many houses that were, in reality, very pleasant to look upon. Eventually, I was approached by one of the townsfolk, a little girl in a bright yellow dress. She pointed me towards an inn with earnest zeal and skipped off.
“What is this town hiding that would drive people mad?” was all I could think as the sun slowly set through the window in my small hotel room. The innkeeper was very pleasant, just like that girl. And so the story continued on and on for 2 more days as people gave me confused looks when I poked and prodded about my patients or the dreams or “The Cult of Him” as I had begun to think of it as. Maybe this was just a huge coincidence?
Disheartened, I returned to my room for what would be the final night of my stay. Climbing into bed proved difficult, as did falling asleep. However, sleep did eventually come for me.
A few hours later, I couldn’t tell how many, I managed to force myself awake. A nightmare had taken me, and I woke to the feeling of clammy palms and soaked clothes. Before I had time to properly comprehend what was going on, I heard a noise of what seemed to be an animal outside. I was on the second floor, so it was probably safe to look out my window. On the street below, I saw nothing out of the ordinary. A street lamp, moths, and a cat. The alleyway across the street was pitch black, as the cat began to walk through it. It stopped suddenly, back arched as it hissed, poised to attack something hiding in the shadows. Without warning, a hand reached out at the cat, grabbing it before it had the chance to run. The hand appeared webbed, with sickly green and blue scales. And… fins. That’s the best I can explain it.
Immediately, I rushed out of that hotel, leaving behind all my belongings. It was dark, but by the time I made it to that alley, whatever was hiding had gone. My best guess is that if what I saw was true, then whatever it was probably needed water to survive.
With no time to waste, I ran till my lungs burned, all the way to the docks. Stealing a boat that was left tied to a post, I rowed out, not knowing which direction to go or even how far. Eventually, when the strength in my arms had failed, I was left alone in the dark, the town far behind me, only visible by the dim lamps that lined the streets.
Suddenly, I heard the subtle sound of something soft brushing along the underside of the boat. “Some fish are probably curious,” I thought, as I lay back to rest. Then, as suddenly as it had started, it stopped, and I was left in an oppressive, all-encompassing silence.
Soon it became obvious, however, that my mysterious visitor hadn’t left quite yet. Splashing to my left… or maybe it was to my right? Something could be heard, and it was getting closer. As it approached my side, I became noticeably more anxious. “What was coming for me? What was its intention?”. My mind was racing as the splashing disappeared, seeming to go under my boat. Again, I was gripped by silence.
With a heavy thud, something hit the side of my boat, hard enough to capsize it. I was thrown into the sea in an instant. Coughing, I came up for air. I hadn’t had the time to take a big enough breath, but as I finally got a hold of my surroundings, I felt fingers clasp my ankle as I was pulled under the surface without a moment to react. Down, down, down I was dragged until I was released, the being brushing past my arm. I could feel its harsh scales scrape across my skin, and as I looked to my would-be attacker, all I saw was the inky black abyss that surrounded me.
Water truly is terrifying. Your movements are slowed, you can’t breathe, you can’t smell, you can’t hear. All of your senses are dulled or taken away when you’re submerged. But clear as day, in that ocean, I heard the sounds of stone grating against stone, as if a boulder was rolling down a slope. I can’t put words to it, but at that moment, I could feel something moving beneath me, deeper under the sea. A voice, unlike any living beings, echoed in my head. “Francis Thurston, for years you have shown sympathy to those whose minds would be taken by me. Sara has led you here, and now you shall be my prophet”. Panic enveloped me as my limbs flailed, attempting to ferry me to the surface. More and more water could be felt being displaced and moved beneath me as I swam harder than I ever had. Moonlight streamed down, scattered by the water, as I felt this large entity gaining on me.
Breaching the surface, I swam as fast as I could to the nearest land mass. Evidently, a storm had gathered in my time underwater and had begun pouring. Sheets of rain slapped the water’s surface as a rocky cliff came into view. Heaving my exhausted body up onto the rock pile, I turned to where I was, just moments ago. Something enormous was rising up out of the ocean, shrouded by the clouds. Its outline was visible through flashes of lightning. Great wings rose, outstretched from its back. Its arms were gigantic, and the outline of tentacles could be seen around its mouth. Its hand rose out of the water and horrible claws could be seen on each finger. This was the “He” that Brown referred to.
In my adrenaline-fueled escape, I hadn’t noticed that where the thing had grabbed my ankle, there was a deep gash that was leaking crimson blood. Again, I looked up to see this being, turning slowly towards me. Each footstep, an earthquake. Each breath, a hurricane. This being was on a scale wholly unique to itself. I was but an ant in this God’s path, and it paid no attention to me. No, this thing has risen above God. This thing was a force of nature. This is the Great Dreamer. This is Cthulhu. Soon, my blood loss had become too great and after a few minutes, I succumbed and passed out.
I awoke, the sun shining on my face, back in my hotel room. The window was closed, my clothes were dry, it was like nothing happened. I got up and walked around, asking if there had been a storm the previous night, but no one remembers even seeing so much as a cloud. Was it all just a dream? Was I losing my mind because of my profession? Did Mr. Brown’s suicide disturb me that deeply?
I returned home that night to Frank, waiting at my facility with another bottle of bourbon.
“So what did you do with Brown’s body?”
“What? How do you know about that, Francis?”
“What do you mean? You’re the one who had me examine him.”
“No, he committed suicide after he killed his family. Francis, you can’t examine a dead man. You know that, right?”
I sat there in stunned silence. I really was losing my mind. I had made it all up. Was Sara real? Was I even a psychiatrist?
“Hey, Francis, what’s that scar? That one there, on your ankle. Looks pretty bad. Did one of your patients give that to you?”
Edited by Craig Groshek
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