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What Lies Beneath

What lies beneath


Estimated reading time — 17 minutes

My name is Herman Fontaine. I am 29 years old and live in Ocala Florida with my girlfriend of three years, Sylvia Ramsey, several dogs, cats, turtles, and a couple of capybaras. I am running out of time, and there’s no one left on the research vessel Hidden Minnow. Everyone is dead except for me. Though that’s going to change pretty soon. Part of me doesn’t want to relive this day. I just want to slip into unconsciousness, unaware of the danger lying underneath the floating driftwood I’m stuck on. But I know I can’t do that. I can’t let others go through what I and everyone onboard did. So, please listen to how we came across something that should have stayed hidden.

I am…no, not anymore…I was a successful ocean photographer and I used to love the ocean. No, love isn’t right. Obsessed would be a better term. From the first time I saw the sea in person at twelve years old, I knew I had found something that would play a vital role in my life. The sound of the waves periodically hitting the beach was better than any soundtrack, the salty scent more enticing than any perfume, and the view-my god. At that moment, Heaven was a sandy, empty beach with large waves crashing onto the wet sand, releasing a salty fragrance in the air. My parents had trouble dragging me away from the beach, especially when our trip ended a week later. Even when we left, I was still obsessed with the ocean. My bedroom went from baseball-themed to ocean-themed with seashell decorations, a fake coral reef lamp, and pictures of ocean creatures. My first job was working with pet store fish. And, to get more people interested in the fish, I would take photos of them swimming around and interacting with one another. That is what got me into photographing the ocean and marine life. I’ve been all over the place: diving near the Mariana trench and photographing the sun setting over the icy waters of the Arctic ocean. And, because of my many travels on the high seas, I thought I understood how terrifying the sea could be. From diving into dark, shark-infested waters with nothing but a tiny handheld waterproof flashlight and camera to guide me away from rows of serrated teeth to holding onto the ship’s smooth railing as a hurricane passed by us. I thought I knew how terrifying the ocean could be. I was wrong. I see that now.

It all started off the coast of the Orkney Islands. Our crew was a team of thirty sailors and twenty-six scientists, including me. We were assigned to the Orkney islands to study how the world’s rising oceans affect the ocean floor and marine life near the Arctic circle. While many might think this must have been a rather dull assignment, it wasn’t. It was amazing being able to photograph marine life and help a cause. We were about a month into the project, and our small research vessel had just passed by a group of long-finned pilot whales. I watched them swim towards the horizon until a rather large wave crashed onto my side of the boat, spraying me in the face with cold salty water. I spat out the water, causing my friends and colleagues, Mariana and Phillip, to laugh.

“How’d it taste?” Phillip jokingly asked as he handed me a towel. I quickly rubbed my face against the towel, trying to get rid of the cold water on my face. Even though it was a warm day in July, it felt like someone threw ice cubes at my face.

“Like an entire shaker’s worth of salt,” I laughed before spitting into the ocean to get rid of the rest of the salty flavor. “Why, want to try some?” Mariana cracked a small smile and then went to our captain to ask if we were almost to our destination. I noticed Phillip watching her as she went up the stairs to where our captain was piloting the boat.”So, have you bought the tickets yet?”

Phillip sighed and slowly rubbed his face before replying in a low voice,” Not yet.” I smirked at this, causing him to sputter, “It’s not that simple. What if she says no?”

“Well, you’re never going to know if you don’t ask her,” I remarked with a loud snort, causing a fellow scientist walking past us to look over. I gave her a quick thumbs-up, and Phil gave her a small wave. We waited for her to walk away before continuing our discussion and moving closer to the starboard bow to keep them out of earshot. I quickly said in a low tone, “Phill, you’ve been planning a trip to Yucatan Peninsula for two years. You will finally have the time to relax after this project, and you’ve already made a reservation at that hotel. The only thing stopping you from buying the plane tickets is her answer. Just do it. If she says no, I’ll come with you instead.”

“Really?” Phillip snorted, looking over to make sure Marianna wasn’t heading back. “Didn’t know you liked me that much.”

“Yeah, I just love hearing you snore,” I said sarcastically. “I’ve wanted to take photos of the Sacred Cenote for a while, but I’ve never had the chance, and it’s safer to check out with someone who has a lot of diving experience, like me.”

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Phil nodded and thought for a moment before replying. “Would you be alright rooming together?” I smirked at this.

“So long as I get the bed, I’m fine with it.” I laughed as I started to walk towards the nearby diving station.

“What?” Phillip yelled, laughing and walking along with me. “I’m the one paying for the room in the first place!”

After talking for a few more minutes, I told him that I would see him later and rushed to the stern, ready to dive into the ocean below with my camera at the ready. How was I supposed to know that ‘see you later’ was really ‘goodbye.’

Once I reached the stern, I started to put on my scuba gear. Many people believe that putting on scuba gear is difficult and time-consuming, no matter how many times you do it. However, after the first few times and plenty of practice, it becomes alot easier. It took me about six minutes to get everything on and checked by someone else. I had just finished putting on my gear when Marianna jogged to where we were putting on our scuba equipment and started to put on her own. Since I had just finished, I began to help her out with hers, zipping up the back of her suit. A senior diver was going over proper breathing techniques and emergency procedures. They did this each time we were preparing to dive. An attempt to keep preventable accidents, well, prevented.

“So, were you guys talking about me?” Mariana quietly asked me, trying not to catch the lecturer’s attention. I feigned shock as she asked this. It was pretty clear that we had, but she didn’t need to know what Phillip was planning.

“Where would you get that idea?” I asked, zipping up her suit and turning around to pay attention to the lecture.

“Because-” Mariana began, only to get cut off by one of our fellow divers who shot her a dirty look. She gave them a small smile and waited for the safety lecture to end before continuing. I quietly chuckled, earning a few annoyed glances in my direction. After a while, the talk finally ended. Mariana kept shooting me looks to see if I would talk to her immediately before going to our station. I looked at her, gave her a small smile, and then walked toward the rest of our team. I smirked as I heard her walking behind me, purposefully stomping as she walked. I walked up and waited with the rest of my group to dive in as she caught up with me.

“Herman!” Mariana exclaimed, tapping me hard on the back. I turned around to face her.

“Yesssssss?” I asked.

“Just tell me what you guys were talking about, please,” Mariana said.

“Look,” I said, giving her a small smile. “I can’t tell you. All I can say is it’s about a good thing.” Mariana gave me a panicked look.

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“Oh god, is he going to propose?” She asked, rubbing her arm anxiously.

“What, no!” I blurted out, causing another group to look over at us. I waved at them before whispering to her. “Where would you get that idea?”

“Well, you were vague and said it was a good thing. What was I supposed to think?” She hissed back at me. “Besides, we’ve only been dating for several months.”

“Look, don’t worry about it,” I said, trying to not give away any more information. Mariana kept pressing me for answers, not giving up on learning what Phillip was planning for them.

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“Parry, it’s your group’s turn to dive!” One of the divers called out from their group. I nodded and gave them a thumbs-up, quietly thanking them for the save. Mariana sighed before waving the rest of the group to follow her to the diving point. One by one, they dived in until I was the last one on the deck.

I took a deep breath and then stepped into the darkened waves below. Non-divers usually think that, under the waves, the ocean is a quiet and peaceful expanse. That’s not the case at all. I could hear the sounds of Marianna and me raspily breathing in the stale oxygen our air tanks provided us. I could make out the stream of bubbles rising with each exhalation and the small sounds of fish darting past. It’s a cacophony of noise, one where if any of them were to disappear would mean a tragedy was about to unfold. I slowly made my way down with Mariana and another diver, only stopping to take a photo of a small school of sea trout swimming close to us. It was a peaceful day under the sea and a great day for photography.

It had been around ten minutes since we dived in. I was photographing one of my teammates collecting temperature readings nearby when Mariana swam up to me, waving rapidly at me to catch my attention.

“Hey Herm, I found something weird. Wanna see?” Marianna asked, the transceiver muffling her voice. Marianna always had a knack for finding things, from large fossilized teeth embedded in rocks to finding an actual WWII bomb that was still active. That was a long, nerve-wracking day. So I was both intrigued and nervous to see what she found. I hesitantly agreed to follow her and then instructed the rest of the group to follow us. I didn’t want them to get lost or in trouble without someone nearby. That was mistake number one.

We followed Mariana a few yards before she pointed toward something in the sand below us. I swam closer to it, wondering what she could be pointing at. I looked down and saw a large indentation, about the size of a full-grown minke whale, in the sandy bottom of the ocean floor.

“What about it?” I asked her. She signaled to us again and directed us to a line of identical indentations leading to something just beyond our sight. I didn’t know what to make of it. I’ve seen micro-depressions before, but never this high up in the ocean, never spaced as evenly as these were, and never in a weird half-cylinder shape. And that’s when someone, I think their name was Joe or Joseph, I don’t know, suggested that we follow them to see where they ended. And we all agreed. Of course, we did, it was scientifically interesting, and we wanted to know if there was a correlation between the holes and global warming. This was mistake number two.

The holey trail was oddly consistent, with a new indentation every few feet from the last one. It was odd, to say the least. We really should have turned back. After all, the only thing we could see were those indentations. We didn’t spot any life near them, no traveling fish or underwater plant life. I had seen something like this before in places like the Gulf Dead Zone, but while that place was full of fish corpses and dead coral, this place had nothing. No underwater plant life, no crabs scuttling on the sandy bottom, not even fish swimming nearby. The only thing to see in that empty place was holes trailing off to some unknown finish line. And, after a half-hour of swimming, we reached that finish line. All those holes lead up to one monstrous chasm whose bottom was hidden from our powerful flashlights. We were just going to mark the spot, head back, and investigate it further tomorrow. However, one of us decided not to wait and swam into the pit. I think it was Veronica or Joe? Whoever did it, fuck them. Either way, that was mistake number three.

Two members of my group swam after them, yelling at them to rejoin the rest of the group. Mariana, a couple of others, and I started to set up buoys around the area. We didn’t have enough oxygen to explore the sinkhole today, but by marking it, we could check it out later. We had just finished when the ocean floor began to rumble beneath us, startling all of us. Even though the seismometer hadn’t indicated any seismic activity before we left, we were caught in what looked and sounded like the center of an underwater earthquake. I floated where I was, waiting for the tremors to finish before heading back to the boat, but I noticed one of the divers hastily swimming up from the hole. Never a good sign. I figured something had happened to one of the other divers, or the earthquake had frightened them, so I started to swim to them. The rumbling got louder, and the sand quaked underneath me more violently, but I ignored it. I just thought that the earthquake had unnerved my fellow diver or that the other diver was in trouble and they were trying to get help. That’s the most logical thing to think in that situation, right?

“Hey, what’s wrong?” I called out to them, hoping nothing was wrong with their transceiver. They stared at us, alarmed, and signed rapidly, messing up every other word. Before any of us could decipher what they were trying to say, something massive from the pit propelled up before slamming down onto the diver, crushing them. We saw the body of our colleague crushed underneath a mass of what looked like red veined rock.

Something horrible started pulling itself from the pit, lifting up the sandy ground as it rose. Marianna managed to snap out of her confusion and horror first, signaling the others to move back away from the ever-growing pit. Somehow, we managed to get far enough to avoid getting hit by the debris. Standing in front of us was a monstrosity ripped straight from the darkest depths of my nightmares. Caked in what looked like rotten mud, showing off a patchwork of matted red flesh and prehistoric-looking bones, was what looked to be a giant on the back of an even more massive horse. Melded together, the horse and the humanoid thing on its back turned to face us, all evidence of the previous violent act covered up by the motion of the ocean. A soft yellow light glowed from their one eye, shining an unwanted spotlight on all of us. None of us moved. We didn’t dare to. At least, we didn’t, until it snatched and crushed Karl like some giant mantis shrimp. That’s when we started to run…well, swim away from it.

With each passing minute, I would hear a flurry of bubbles from the other divers screaming behind me as they were dragged away. Each time, it was someone a little closer to us. I turned around to check how many people were behind Mariana and me. If anyone was still between us and that dreadful thing. All I could see was the vague shape of the behemoth growing massive as it approached us. Air tanks littered the ground, and tattered flippers swirled around in the kicked-up clouds of sand. I could see the hull of the ship in front of me. Only a few minutes away from swimming up to the surface, dragging ourselves on board and telling everyone to head back to the main shore as quickly as possible. I remember thinking that none of the crew would believe us. That they would either think we were suffering from over-exposure to nitrogen or that we were playing a terrible prank. However, I couldn’t think about that now. We were close to the ship, but the monster was charging at us. I looked toward Mariana to make sure she was still behind me. I could see her eyes behind her goggles filled with horror but gradually relaxed as she saw the bottom of the boat come closer into view. We were going to make it. We were both going to make it.

I launched myself onto the diving platform, scrambling up and onto the ship. Soon, another showed up. Then another. Then another. They either scrambled onto the deck, throwing off gear or sat away from the water and watched it, stunned. This attracted several sailors, other diving groups, and scientists to rush over. Most of them tried to check on and talk to the divers. A few looked over the sides to see what was causing so much distress. One of the scientists ran up to me and started to probe me about what had happened. I didn’t reply. I ripped off my flippers, stared at the platform, and waited for Marianna. But she never left the water. And all I could feel at that moment was nothing. All I could do in that horrible peaceful moment, was stare at the still ocean and try to calm myself down with my own thoughts.

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I remember thinking that maybe it was over. Perhaps that thing couldn’t breathe air and was just stuck hunting its prey underwater. Or it was busy killing those that couldn’t escape the water in time. Either way, we would have to carefully study it from the safety of our ship and find a way to contain it. Because if there was one, then that means there were likely more. Those were my thoughts at the time, as terrible as they were. I think I was trying to ignore that that thing was killing many of my colleagues and friends. However, those thoughts were quickly dissolved as a humongous geyser flew into the air, spraying the boat and everyone with a torrent of water. Standing between us and the warm light of the sun was that monstrous figure, its exposed muscle system glistening in the sunlight. The algae that once coated its body was now sloughing off, revealing more exposed bone and adipocere-covered skin. Its pseudo-human head flopped sickenly back without the water’s support. The thing maliciously glared at all of us on that ship. And, horrified by what was in front of us, we stared back.

The thing loudly bellowed as it charged towards the boat, overtaking everyone’s screams, not slowed by the water, and quickly gaining on our small vessel. There was no way the ship was faster than that thing or that we could slow that monster down, but alot of us on that ship tried. Alot of them threw whatever they could pick up at the thing, completely missing it. Not like discarded flippers, tiny wrenches and rolls of scotch tape could do any damage. Many others ran for the lifeboats, releasing them from the ship and trying to get as far away as possible, only to get lifted out of the water and crushed or chucked. As for me, I just stood where I was, too scared to move. That was until Phillip ran up to me, a flare gun in his hand and a worried look spread across his face.

“Herm, where’s Mariana?” Phillip asked, panting. I pointed at the thing, battering sailors off the boat as if it were a child having a tantrum. Phillip looked at it and then back to me, tears welling up in his eyes. He then walked past me and charged toward the thing. I ran after him. Of course, I ran after him. I wasn’t about to let him go up against that thing. This was the same guy who confided in me that he was terrified of dolphins because of a shitty horror movie he saw as a kid. And there he was, charging towards a skinless horselike monster that killed our friend. Phillip pointed the flare gun carefully at its one large, pus-yellow eye and pulled the trigger. A brilliant red light burst from the gun, hitting it in its featureless human-like face. The thing to let out an ear-splitting screech, making my ears ring and petrifying me. It must have stunned Phillip because he kept fumbling with the gun’s ammo as he tried to reload it. He never got the chance. The thing grabbed him before he could fire a second shot. It picked him up like a rag doll and slammed him hard against the deck. Blood flew everywhere, spraying me and those nearby with warm blood. And, just like that, my best friend was gone. And again, I couldn’t grieve.

I ran. I ran past my colleagues and sailors, who were scrambling to escape down the narrow halls of the research vessel and up the metal stairs. Everyone was slipping and sliding on seawater that somehow managed to get into this part of the ship. Once in a while, there would be the loud screeching of metal being torn, followed by several horrified screams of sailors and scientists being grabbed and pulled out of the ship, sometimes getting cut by the torn metal siding. I didn’t know. I never looked back to see how it happened. I was too busy focusing on getting to the control room and calling for help. Looking back on it now, though, who exactly was I supposed to call? Her Majesty’s Coastguard? Search and Rescue? Any Marine in earshot of our radio? How could they help fight against a giant skinless, horseman thing of mythical proportions? Would bullets even work against it? I ran into the control room as the door slammed shut behind me. I could hear the sound of tiny fists slamming against the door, in their hysteria, not caring if they wound up breaking their hand against the firmly locked metal door. It didn’t matter. The door stayed firmly shut. Soon the panicked knocking was replaced by screams and howls, then silence.

“Captain, what are we going to do?” A nearby sailor asked.

Captain Cromwell looked fearfully at the closed door before quietly but gruffly responding. “All we can do now is pray and sit tight.” And that’s what we did for what felt like forever. We just sat quietly, listening carefully to every groan the ship made. Every indiscernible slap of water against the ship’s hull felt like that thing was lightly and playfully smacking the boat. That noise used to lull me to sleep. Now, I couldn’t stand it.

After what felt like years, I got to my shaky feet and started to slowly make my way to the VHF radio. I still didn’t know if anyone could really help us, but it was worth a shot. Right? I thought so at the time. Not so sure now, though. One of the researchers opened their mouth to say something, probably to stop me, only to be silenced by a sour look from the captain. Captain Cromwell then got to his feet and quietly walked over to me. He clasped me by the shoulder and made me sit back on the ground before going towards the radio, his hand slightly shaking as he raised the transmitter to his mouth. Just as he was about to call in the royal navy or ask passing ships for aid, a large hand crashed through the room’s ceiling smashing the captain into the floor. Blood flew everywhere, spraying the walls and us with what used to be Captain Cromwell’s plasma. We didn’t even get a chance to run or scream. Another smack killed half of the sailors, and the rest were slammed into one of the walls, ripping it from the ship. Soon, the entire floor was covered in blood, guts, and pieces of the boat and fellow sailors. The only one left was me, my back to the furthest wall and an aluminum bottle held in front of me like the world’s shittiest knife.

“Stay back!” I yelled, lashing out at the long fingers trying to grasp me with the metal bottle. I was unaware that the thing was open until I heard the metallic clattering of the bottle’s metal top hitting the floor and felt cold water spray my leg. A loud ghastly scream rocked the ship, making me fear the worst until I saw the hand quickly withdrawing from the room. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had just found the only thing to protect myself from it. To fight back. Slowly, I picked myself up and started to sidle away from the hole in the ceiling and underneath one of the metal tables.

Before I could get very far, it ripped off the rest of the ceiling, picked me up like I was a cheap plastic doll, squeezing me in its grasp, and slowly raised me up to its face. It breathed its foul fiery poisonous breath into my face, scalding my eyes and searing my lungs. I burst out coughing and spluttering, trying to find some clean air, but that proved to be a mistake. Bile rose in my throat, and my head started to spin. It lifted me up until I was face-to-face with its single, large yellow eye. That miniature harsh sun illuminated my frightened face, making it laugh. Something worse than death was maliciously staring me down, so I did the only thing I could think of. Desperately, I started trying to wrench one of my arms free, hissing at the pain of trying to free it from a vice-like grip. It still hurts, and I can barely lift it now. Somehow though, I managed to get my arm free along with the bottle without spilling it everywhere. I didn’t know if it would work. For all I knew, last time was just a fluke, and it was just messing with me. But I could feel its hand start to squeeze around, causing my bones to creak. Desperately, I chucked the bottle at its humongous eye. Cool fresh water splashed onto the thing’s eye, causing it to let out a thunderous shriek and drop me down onto the deck. Now, blinded by freshwater, the monstrous being started to tear apart the ship in a blind fury. How I managed to not get thrown across the ocean or ripped in two along with the ship’s keel is a mystery. I fell several feet onto the debris-strewn and blood-soaked deck and passed out. When I woke up, several of my bones were broken, I was on a small piece of floating rubble, and this radio was within crawling distance.

And now, I’m just sitting here on this wreckage talking into the voyage data recorder. Why I and the ship’s VHF radio survived where everyone and everything was slaughtered by that monster is beyond me. I have no way to get help. I’m trapped on this floating rubble, unable to control where it’s going, unable to see the closest island, and night is coming. My only weapon, a canister of fresh water, is empty. I tried contacting nearby ships using the radio, but no one responded to my pleas. Hence why I’ve been relaying the story ever since waking up. I doubt anyone could help me now, but at the very least someone will hear this story. I also managed to snap a picture of the thing, but I have no clue where my camera is. I had it while swimming away from that thing in the water while I was running through the ship and listening to the cries of my fellow crewmates, and I know I had it when the Captain was crushed. Though, even if it was within arm’s reach of me, I wouldn’t want to look at it. It’s starting to get so cold, and I don’t think I’ll be able to see tomorrow. I hope that this record survives and my camera survives as well. That way, maybe one day, someone can figure out how to kill it. As unlikely as that is. The sky is darkening more, and the roar of the sea grows louder and louder with every second I sit here. I’m no longer obsessed with the ocean but fear its deceptive beauty covering all that lies beneath its surface.

Credit: A. Reader

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