McCann had pulled me aside from the cab I had been trying to call. There's something I want to show you, he had said.
I had heard the other crew gossiping about him behind his back, eyes mean through folds of cigar smoke. On occasion, raunchy laughter sliced through their hushed voices. They thought he was crazy, with his endless bouts of silence spent staring at the horizon, poking at the wet, dull rope with the knife he always carried with him. And the muttering—he would mutter and moan in the cabin, rocking in his hammock, curled in a ball. I knew I should have stopped them; he knew the way they talked about him. I had seen him sending forlorn gazes towards our group, bitter with solitude. It was the guilt that had me nodding, despite the way my bones swayed with the sea wormed far too deep inside me, despite how I ached for sleep on a steady bed that didn’t rock with the roiling waves.
I had followed him back to the dock, the ocean gurgling against the ship. I had been foolish. I loved the sea, and so I had thought the journey would have been fun. Don’t need a crew, he had mumbled, both fine enough on our own. Should be a quick trip. I had agreed; spending time with the men of the crew had exhausted me. I preferred the silence of an empty hull without the reek of cigarette smoke nor the snorting snores laden with sleep that kept me awake. We had taken to sea without trouble; I had watched the port vanish from the gentle horizon, thinking that with its departure, it left only him and me and the open, vast ocean. But I would know better soon.
He spoke with me more than he ever had before. I learned things about him that I had never heard before. He had grown up on a farm with two siblings, one younger and one older. He told me about how he dreamt of the sea before he saw it. That something in the depths had reached forward and staked its claim on him before he had ever known it; that he dreamt of a black ocean under a horizon clotted with the sunset; dreamt of sand littered with brown seaweed and tiny, sloshing crustaceans. He said that in his dream, it was as if the washed-up remnants were eye crust on a trembling beast with coal eyes, drying with endless exhaustion. It was a metaphor I liked, and when I smiled, he smiled too.
There were times, though, when I could not decipher the meaning of his words. I once wandered to the deck and found him with his hips pressed tight to the railing, his skin ghoul-white as he leaned over, his eyes closed with his lips parted as if to taste the spray that came up in misty clouds. It was a rough sea, and to me, it resembled a mighty forest, each wave swaying and rising like branches and leaves shaking and shuddering apart from the wind. The sky shattered into multicolored pieces, and the sun shone down over the world, leaving glowing traces everywhere. The sea was so green and so, so empty.
I had set a hand on his shoulder. I knew he was adverse to touch, but he had not seemed to mind. I had told him to be more careful. The boards rose and fell with the waves underneath our feet.
“Do you ever feel overwhelmed with it all? With being alive?”
I had frowned. “I'm not sure what you mean.”
“You’ve never . . . Let me put it this way. What would you do if I told you that you would die tomorrow? How would you feel?”
“Terrified," I swallowed. I did not like to think about it.
“I don’t know.”
There was a fire brimming under his eyes, spitting and flaring, and its intensity touched a part of me that I knew had not emerged in a long time; an animalistic fear, an untouched sense of trepidation. I could not have known what it was then, how his teeth were a bit too sharp, his eyes a shade too blue, almost sapphire in the golden light. While my hair was curling in wet ringlets, his was dry. I did not know what it meant then, the way his skin glowed in the light, unnatural and unbending. Not the way I knew now.
“No, no, think! Why would you be afraid?”
“Because there’s so much out there. So much that I wouldn’t see," I said, frowning at the words. The realization of them came as they bumped against my teeth. I did not want to die. I had never thought about death before. The conversation made the realization all the more daunting.
“Yes!” He gasped. “Exactly! Except—except!—it’s still all out there. Right now, it’s there, and only through the threat of death can we see it. But it’s there and even when we’re alive we’re missing out on it.”
I stayed silent, too uncomfortable to speak. A wave came and sprayed our faces. I wiped my hair back, but McCann did not open his eyes. It was uncanny, the expression on his face.
“I can make sure you see it,” He had said. “You’re the only one who understands. I know you do. I can make you see every corner of this Earth, see every sky.”
“Because I’ve done it myself.”
“How?” I had repeated, desperate to understand, to give him the satisfaction he wanted from me.
His grin had made me nervous, then. I thought of what the crew had said. That he was teetering on a tightrope of madness, and one breeze would push him over. I thought that I agreed then—there was an intensity in him that rose something painful in me. I was beginning to understand that a secret was being kept from me, and my pride had made me bold. I should have turned back. Instead, I nodded when he told me again, “There’s something I want to show you.”
The next day, we came across a cove. I remembered frowning. I had not known of any islands out in this direction. When I had looked at him in question, he said that bad weather usually deterred sailors from coming close. The lie stung at my ears, prickling the hair on the back of my neck, but I had not questioned him. We hopped across rocky formations that kissed the sandy shore. The stone was dark as obsidian under my feet, wet with the tides, yet there was no life on this island. No sea roaches were peering from the higher jutting rocks, no algae clinging to the dark surfaces. There was not warbling from any bird nor rustling amongst the foliage. Nothing other than the whistling wind. We wandered into the jutting mouth of a cave, and the entirety of the darkness fell over me. Despite the humidity, a shiver wracked my body.
“What is this place?” I had asked.
“You’ll see.” He led me further. I hissed his name, a wretched trembling in my gut halting my steps. Something was wrong. Something was not right, and I was beginning to realize the gravity of what that meant.
“We can’t stop now,” His voice had been desperate, his fingers sealing around my arm. "Only a bit further now." I nodded, grasping for courage.
He continued to lead me deeper into the cave, never faltering in his steps despite the oppressive darkness. I did not dare speak as he led me to an opening in the vast cave.
Blue, unearthly light split the shadows, all coming from a steady source, a gaping chasm that ended the mighty cavern within the cave. Giant stone chains rumbled, marked with dappling engraves that leaked blue like puss, the same color as his eyes, spilling out of the stones shaped like lotus seed pods. I had never been so afraid, and the sound that cut through the air—a deep, trembling, unnatural moan—shook me to my core, filling my ears like water, drowning out all other noise. McCann began leading me toward it. I jerked, desperate, but he was strong, dragging me even as I resisted.
"McCann," I hissed. But as I watched him, something had shifted; a piece clicking into place, settling there. He was at ease here. More than that, he was excited.
“Finally, finally! She’ll be so happy once I show you; she’s been lonely for too long, and I haven’t been able to bring her anyone in a long while.”
“Let me go,” I gasped, writhing. His hand tightened, and my vision blacked out from the slicing pain as my bones splintered. He did not stop, pulling me closer and closer to the chasm. The moaning grew louder and louder, ringing deep and loud, like a fog horn right in front of me. I could see black smears of dried blood, puddled and then streaking towards the edge in gruesome lines as if pulled down to the depths; I could smell the metallic twang that clung to the rocks. I screamed, but I could not hear myself over the crushing noise. He brought me past the cavern and held me down as something rose from the depths. The chains shuddered and squelched as something moved below us. Deep, void eyes appeared from the darkness. They stared into me, huge and tough like the skin of a dolphin. Its hair streaked back in long, ebony waves, falling over shoulders wider than our entire vessel. I could see the spikes of bones jutting out from underneath the thin, translucent skin. Water dripped, dark as oil, from it as it rose to meet us.
I was begging now, inconsolable as the moaning split my ears open. McCann was strong enough to hold me down as it approached. I watched the flaps of its lips pull back into a sneer, exposing flat, gnashing teeth longer than my arm and twice as wide. He pulled out a dagger I had seen him cut ropes with on our voyages together, and he slit a bloody line across my stomach, adding to the puddles there. I screamed, my voice dragging out of my throat like barbed wire. I could hear the shape of his grin when he spoke.
“Look what I brought you!” He laughed. He finally released me and kicked me closer to the edge. My blood came out in globby fits, and I tried to hold it in my stomach, but my hands grew slippery and my fingers trembled. I fell to my knees, trying to scramble away as he pushed me closer to the darkness. “Look at how good I have been!” The leather flaps of what should have been a nose rose in an exhale, tight to the rest of its skin. “Show us. I told all about it. Show us the corners of the world!” It grew closer and closer, and at the edge of those eyes, those thick, bulging eyes, there was seaweed, clumped and dried around the eyelid. I looked at him.
“You—” I started, but he shook his head.
“You’re welcome,” He said with that same grin. And then he kicked me over the edge.
The agony went on for what felt like years as I was crushed and torn apart down the molecules. He was right, in a way. Through Her, I could see the farthest reaches of the world, but I was trapped, stuck in the cove for the rest of eternity. There were no sensations of touch, smell, or taste. I could not remember anything aside from the mawkish taste of blood that had bubbled up in my mouth in my final moments. And there, I was doomed to watch as he pulled another crew member aside after a long voyage, doomed to do nothing as he said to the unsuspecting man, with that look in his eye, the same thing he had once said to me.
“There's something I want to show you.”
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.
Hey Lee, I like the story. I'm curious though, what is the creature? I couldn't piece it together, so I'm guessing it was some kind of mythical creature
It's a sea monster of sorts that lives in the cove :)
Way to go Disco. I really dig it. Creative. Imaginative. Exciting.
Thank you so much!