This story was published in October of 2010 in the sadly now-defunct (but still available for purchase) Necrotic Tissue magazine. It represents the Dark Fantasy/Horror stream of my work. It is also partially autobiographical: Matt’s dreams are dreams I’ve had myself, and his obsession is one I share (if not to the same crippling extent.)
As Matt sank deeper into the Mariana Trench in the submersible vehicle Contender he thought about his dreams, his beloved, cursed dreams that had led him to where he was now.
He’d been around ten when the dreams started. Dreams of water, but most of all, dreams of things in the water. Some were peaceful visions, some horrifying nightmares. But all created a feeling in him that Matt hadn’t been able to name when they started, but had since learned the word for.
Matt fingered the controls for the submersible’s floodlights. Sweat broke out on his forehead, his back and chest. His hand shook in time with his heartbeat. No…not yet. Right now, surrounded by total blackness, he could imagine himself in a dark room, in the testing facility with the lights off. If he turned the lights on, he’d know where he was and the fear might set in.
In school, he had joined the swim team. The first time he opened his eyes under the water he saw terrible, gigantic faces leering at him from across the pool. It filled him with such excitement and terror, that exalted fusion the dreams always brought, that he had leapt from the water. He’d stood at the edge of the pool, trembling with the desire to re-enter the water, shaking with the fear of what he would see.
Driven by these feelings, he had slavishly, fearfully devoted his life to the study of the waters of the world, and their inhabitants.
His devotion had earned him a place on the Contender team (Matt had wanted to call it the Yog-Sothoth, since it looked like a congeries of glass bubbles, but Contender had been chosen as a play on the Challenger, the first ship to reach the furthest known deeps of the Trench.)
However, the near seizures of fear (or perhaps it was ecstasy) Matt some times experienced near or under the water had led to his being denied the right to take the Contender on its voyage below.
So he had stolen it. And now he sat, falling slowly, and musing on his dreams.
In one, Matt would be standing on a stone dock before a canal between indistinct houses or buildings. Half submerged in front of him was a large, whale-like, brown creature, friendly despite its huge mouth. It seemed to beckon him.
In another, a huge serpentine creature with terrible empty eyes rose from a lake beside a repulsive pale thing that hovered at the surface of the water. Matt could feel them both hungering for him.
Playing in the background, existing on the edges of all of Matt’s dreams was a titanic entity that also formed the centerpiece of his most awesome and frightening visions.
Sometimes it was octopoid, all tentacles and pulpy mass. Some times a crab-like humanoid with gigantic spiny limbs. Most often, however, it was a great serpent with immeasurable lamp-like eyes.
Guided by the feeble light from the instruments, Matt grabbed a CD and inserted it into the small player he’d brought with him. He set the headphones over his ears, and a sharp plink, plink greeted him, the first sounds of Pink Floyd’s Echoes. It calmed him, despite or perhaps because of its obvious connection to his unseen surroundings.
He glanced at the floodlight switch. No, still not time, he needed to go deeper before subjecting himself to that. He didn’t want to wind up bailing out after he’d gone this far. Especially considering what waited for him when he surfaced. A ruined career would be the first thing, not to mention the possible theft charges.
For a time, when science had failed to find Matt the answers he sought, he had looked to mythology, religion, folklore for information. He discovered that aside from the basic sea serpents and giant squids, a great many cultures had a legend of some great primordial aquatic beast, or of a huge ocean creature that was to rise at the end of the world. Many had some combination of both.
There was Tiamat, mother of all, the Kraken, the Beast of Revelations, the Midgard Serpent and his personal favorite, Leviathan, lord of all creatures of the waters.
They were all different, but the deeper Matt looked the more alike they seemed. They were all just versions of the same idea. They reminded him very much of the thing that lurked in his deepest dreams.
Genesis was very interesting to Matt. Most people didn’t seem to notice that the waters were there before God began the creation.
He gave a start as something luminous passed by the absolute darkness in front of him.
Just an anglerfish, nothing to worry about. He took a deep breath, trying to still his hammering heart.
Matt didn’t think he was crazy…not clinically at least. But he had his doubts…and so did the other people in his life. His girlfriend, Jen, had issued him an ultimatum just before he’d left the States. She was tired of him waking up shouting and sweating three or four nights a week. Tired of him paying more attention to fish and sea serpents than her. He needed some help, she said. He needed to find the source of the dreams and the feelings, so he could lay it to rest.
He told her that was why he was going, to try and find something, some resolution for it all. But then they’d decided his…fits…would be a liability, and told him he couldn’t pilot the Contender. That’s why he’d taken it, even though he knew it could destroy his life just as completely. He had to finish it. Hopefully the University and the rest of the team would be willing to forgive him.
Of course, his career had always hinged upon his encyclopedic knowledge and unshakable devotion. Many of his colleagues dismissed him out of hand solely for his talk of unknown creatures of the deep. They were arrogant enough to believe there was no more unknown. His act of theft would be all his detractors needed to have him labeled unstable. But it didn’t matter. He had to do it.
He sat back, letting the strange music wash over him. He was almost there now, nearly at the bottom. He made up his mind to flip on the floodlights when the song reached its climax.
There it was…a guitar riff that sounded almost like trumpets…announcing the end, the time for the Leviathan to rise. Matt flipped the floodlight switch.
And he screamed.
Before him was a face, like the corpse of a Chinese dragon. It leered at him, staring with mad purple vortex eyes. The head alone was bigger than the Contender.
The creature’s mouth opened. It looked like it was laughing. Then the head turned away, and Matt saw a long body with rows of long spindly limbs, like a centipede or maybe a brine shrimp.
Matt sat up, gripping his seat. He was breathing in gasps, his heart throbbing in his throat. Terror and wonder warred in his mind, along with relief that he had managed to maintain bladder control. Mostly at least.
Real, it was real, not just a dream. This thought looped in his head, over and over. He looked around at the swirling blackness revealed by the floodlights. He saw no other monsters, only the water and the tiny animals and bits of debris that floated eternally within it.
If there’s one, there has to be more. I need proof. No one will ever take my word for it. I need hard evidence for the small-minded naysayers.
He turned on the external cameras. Normally they would stream video to the research vessel above, but under the circumstances he set them to simply record.
The Contender continued to descend, now with Matt leaning forward in eagerness and dread, scanning the blackness for any sign of movement or light. His mind was racing. He hadn’t even known himself, not for sure, if his dreams were simply dreams, or if there really were things lying undiscovered here in the depths. Oh, he knew there had to be some unknown species but…the thing he had seen defied classification!
If things went well, if he could uncover enough proof, he could earn forgiveness for his theft, and finally exonerate his theories and beliefs.
He didn’t even allow himself to entertain the thought that churned the sluggish waters at the back of his mind. Wouldn’t fully acknowledge, even to himself, that while all that was true, none of it was the true goal of his heart and his search. Probably in part because he didn’t have a name for it, at least not a single name.
Looking downward, Matt saw that the descent was nearly complete—he could just discern the muddy floor of the Trench.
There was something moving across the grey-brown expanse.
Matt turned knobs and flipped switches, training the cameras toward the shape. The fear was less; this time his blood pounded with excitement. He was developing an eerie sense of déjà vu. He’d dreamed scenes like this so many times since he was a boy, and now here he was, experiencing it in waking life.
He moved the Contender toward the shape below as it moved at a right angle to the submersible. It was definitely a creature, bluish colored. It was shaped much like a lobster, especially the long, man-jointed legs. At the front of its cylindrical body was a strangely human-looking head. It looked like the face of a massive, ill-tempered baby, save for the gaping black maw.
Matt stared at the beast as his hands moved over panels, levers and buttons, telling the Contender to follow the creature, to keep moving. He felt as if his mind would flow away on the ocean currents leaving his body behind. He could barely process what he was seeing. Here was a totally unknown species of large animal life right before his eyes.
After following the creature for several minutes, Matt noticed spots of green-blue light floating just above the mud bottom. As he drew closer, he saw they were large circular creatures, four of them. Something like a jellyfish mated with an anemone. They were flat, fringed with tentacles, about eight feet in diameter. Small red spots—sensory organs of some kind he assumed—covered their luminous bodies.
He watched raptly as the blue-tinged lobster-thing moved into the group of jelly creatures. It raised its head, and two black, clawed appendages shot from its gaping hole of a mouth and grabbed one of the floating jellies. In the blink of an eye the appendages retracted, the glowing creature disappearing into the crustaceanoid’s mouth.
Grabbing the controls, Matt maneuvered the Contender around to film the creature from a different angle. Skimming along the bottom, out of the corner of his eye he noticed another drop-off to the left.
But that was impossible. He was already at the deepest part of the trench. He circled again and yes…there was definitely a drop-off. The floodlights couldn’t reach far enough to see if it went anywhere or determine its dimensions.
The lobster-thing was moving off in another direction, but Matt barely noticed. He was too busy warring with himself, trying to decide if he should take the Contender down this new avenue of exploration.
The war was a short one. Matt directed the submersible toward the drop off. As he descended, he noticed points and lines of faint ghostly light below, a little like fireflies on a summer night, or the specks and jags of color that dance before your eyes if you hold your breath for too long.
For a moment, Matt considered turning back. All those lights…he knew what they were but…no. Wonder and curiosity conquered fear, and he plunged ahead into the abyss.
He kept the submersible near the wall of the drop-off. In front of him was only black water. He didn’t know if he was in a secondary trench or if the space before him was open water.
In a few minutes, he had caught up to some of the lights. First there were the jelly-anemones, just like the one’s he’d seen a few moments before, but in a wider range of colors. He passed directly through a swarm of them; to Matt it was like the Fourth of July. They were frozen fireworks, drifting slowly around him.
The longer strands of light he had seen from above resolved themselves into truck-sized vaguely shrimplike things. Their spherical bodies…or perhaps they were heads…sported a profusion of spidery limbs and a gaping sphincter-like mouth. A long luminous tail, or maybe abdomen, flowed behind.
Matt felt suddenly lightheaded, and realized he’d been holding his breath as he’d swiveled this way and that, trying to take in everything around him. He exhaled, breathed deeply again and again.
He knew he should go back. He had collected more than enough evidence to convince the most close minded of skeptics. And he had learned, for himself, that there were things, incredible things in the deep places of the world.
The bio-illuminated creatures drifted out of sight above him, and Matt was again surrounded by swirling darkness.
A terrible thought occurred to him. Perhaps this was a dream. Falling. He had been falling ever since he’d taken the Contender, since he’d climbed in and lowered the vehicle by remote control from the vast crane-arm of the research ship. Falling as he so often had in his dreams.
So, was this real, or another vision? Would he wake up with that hollowed-out feeling he knew so well, Jen sleeping peacefully beside him?
The Contender lurched; suddenly all around Matt were enormous fan-like fronds, orange-red. He was falling, tumbling, buffeted by the living fans of some gigantic crinoid thing that spun and danced like a huge ballerina on fast-forward playback. Then it was past him, serpentine central stalk undulating like a distraught earthworm, the submersible still rocking in its wake.
Matt gripped the controls, eased the Contender back into an easy, controlled descent.
No, not a dream, this was definitely not a dream.
He looked down, through the clear polymer floor at his feet, afraid another mad dancer would rise up and dash him and his frail vehicle into oblivion.
Then he realized he could no longer see the wall of the upper Trench. Just as he came to this realization, the floodlights died, and he could see nothing at all.
But he could feel. He could feel a wake, a movement in the water that set his vehicle swaying and bobbing once more.
And he could hear. No, it was almost hearing, but not quite. The sound of the movement he could feel. It trembled at the edge of his mind, as if someone had set the sea to boil like a pot of ointment.
Then light. A yellow light, it was blinding to his dim-adjusted eyes.
Eyes. Eyes like two yellow moons fallen to shine their endless light in the furthest depths. Eyes so vast a ship could sail into the depthless black pupils.
Coils upon coils, longer than a hundred rivers, swirling, writhing circling the world before his eyes. Out of his dreams it came, flickering, changing, immense.
The great maw, the cavern, the abyss opened before him in a soundless roar that filled his mind with the crashing of waves upon the unformed shores of Infinity.
Matt screamed in terror and worship.