Introduction: Today’s short story brings us to the sea, and into the arms of whatever it is that lives below the waves. I’ve always liked the sea and have lived my entire life in cities that sit next to it, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t scare me a little bit. The thought of all that water, filled with things that we don’t know about? Yea, fucking terrifying.
Where did I get my scar? Why, that’s a good story, little one, but it’s a bit scary, are you sure you can handle it? Yes? Good, let’s tell it then.
You see, back in the day, your Grandad used to do a lot of travelling. I’d find a ship, any ship, and offer my services in exchange for a spot on board. Often I wouldn’t even know where we were going until we were out at sea, as I was driven by a need to see the world, but didn’t care where.
Doing this, I spent most of my twenties criss-crossing the world. North, South, West and East, I travelled in all directions and saw some incredible things. I got drunk with gnarled men in the North, their voices growling out from under their furs as we swigged vodka like it was water. I fell asleep on a beach in the South, waking with the sun on an island that looked like paradise on Earth. I climbed mountains and dived beneath the waves in warm oceans. It was quite the life, my little one, let me tell you.
However, there is one journey that stands out above all the others, not for where it took me, but for the trip itself. I believe I was in somewhere out East when I signed onto the ship, although it’s not really important. They seemed like a fine enough group, though. A lot of captains are cruel, hard men, but this one welcomed me on-board, sharing a drink with us all the night before we set sail. He was a good man, and I liked him instantly.
The problems didn’t come until we were a couple of days away from shore. In the night, we came upon a storm, and while we had seen it coming and prepared, it struck us harder than we’d expected. I remember being tossed around the deck, sliding in the water that gathered there from the rain. In weather like that, you attach yourself to something to prevent you from being thrown overboard, but it didn’t make the journey any more fun, and even if what had happened hadn’t, I’d have picked up more than a few injuries.
All through the night, that storm raged, and into the next day too. In fact, for the next week, we seemed to be caught in it, desperately trying to escape its grasp. It didn’t matter what we did, as it followed us, clinging to our mast and pouring rain, wind and thunder on our heads. In the distance, we’d catch a glimpse of clear skies, a world outside of the chaos, but it was alway too far away. The weather had us in its claws, and it was a long time before it let go.
When it finally calmed, we were all exhausted. As the sails went loose and the ship drifted to a stop, becalmed on an impossibly smooth surface, I remember collapsing to the ground, not even caring about whatever new hell we’d found ourselves in. I just wanted to sleep, drink and relax without the constant howling of the wind. As I sat there, I didn’t give a damn what happened next.
Or so I thought. For as I luxuriated in the silencce, the ship lurched. Now, ships move in a lot of strange ways at sea, little one, but they don’t move like that. It was like we’d been shoved to port, an unnatural way to move through the water. Then, as I stared around confused, pulling myself to my feet, it happened again, sending us back to starboard. I remember thinking that it was like we were a toy in the bath, being shoved around by an excited child. God, I was scarily close to right.
For as I looked around, I saw something that I will never forget. Rising out the sea in front of me was, well, I don’t know what it was, except horror. Whatever you’d call it, it was huge, dragging up with it seaweed and fish, water cascading off its hulking form and flooding over the deck, sending everything that had survived the storm over the edge and wiping me off my feet. That would end up saving my life, as the next thing I knew a monstrous tentacle swiped over my head, smashing through the masts and sending several of the crew flying through the air and into the water, never to be seen again.
I was left lying on my back, staring up at the beast as it surveyed the damage it had done with one dismissive wave. Its eyes were huge and black, set in the middle of a face that was part gargoyle part shark, but as I stared up at them, I could see intelligence there. It was thinking, pondering what to do next. This thing looked like a monster devised in the mind of the most hateful of humans, all black and twisted, leaving you unsure what was it and what was sea life that clung to its flesh, but it was capable of thought, and it had a decision to make. For a second, I could swear it looked straight down at me, into my eyes which were barely the size of a flake of its skin, and down into my soul, looking for who knows what.
Whatever the creature found, it seemed to make its decision for it. As quickly as it arrived, it vanished, ducking below the waves and leaving us sitting there, broken but alive. As I lay on the hard wood, I remember wondering if I had been driven insane, our days caught in the storm breaking my mind. If they had, my insanity had brought with it the destruction of our ship, and as I pulled myself up, I realised it had driven a foot-long shard of wood through my leg at the same time, leaving the scar that started this tale.
The journey back from that was, well, it was strange and hard. Among the crew there developed an understanding, we didn’t talk about what happened, and acted like the storm alone had broken our ship. There was plenty to do before we were able to sail, so conversation was limited anyway. However, now and then, someone would say something that brought back memories, and we’d all go silent, staring around us with fear in our hearts. The sea no longer felt like an adventure, but like a constant threat, staring up at us from below, more powerful than anything we could imagine.
We limped into shore, not at our intended destination, but a place where there was solid ground which was all we desired. Within fifteen minutes of making land, the captain had sold the ship, and without a word about it, he split the money between us all, equally, telling us to find another way home, one that didn’t cross the sea. It was advice I was happy to take, and have continued to take till this very day.