The sun finally peeked over the horizon at 8:32 AM. At least, that was according to the diving watch that Lance Corporal Mayer wore. Due to the darkness that still permeated the sky, he assumed it was malfunctioning, although Gunnery Sergeant Whitley insisted it wasn’t.
Joshua Bauer yawned. The night had been long and hot. Though he wore a pair of thin, paper-fiber fatigues, the heat was harsh on his body–as a hybrid, he had difficulty sweating, and his gray coat made the tropical heat all the more hellish for it. He gazed over at Mayer and Whitley, both of whom wore more traditional cotton, but even with their human bodies, they were just as overheated as he was.
At least they can sweat just fine, he thought.
They’d been in the raft for over a week, and had spent much of that time exchanging bits of small talk. Joshua had learned Whitley was a proud father of a two-year-old girl, one who due had yet to see his face. His wife had been six months pregnant when he left for Vietnam, and he’d spent the past two-and-a-half years at sea. Mayer, on the other hand was the accomplished son of a CEO; only nineteen, he had proven to be a competent marine and had risen through the ranks quickly. Neither were commissioned officers, unlike Joshua, who had just received his discharge after over a decade of service.
Joshua had very little family. His father had gained his citizenship through a court ruling in the fifties; his mother the same. Neither were taken in by their respective families, though this was hardly out of the ordinary. He had no sisters and was only an average student, though he made a damn good quarterback. He was up for the bronze star, though he now wondered if he’d live to receive it.
Whitley mused that, had it not been for Joshua, none of them would have survived. The blast had caught the entire crew off guard. Joshua was silent on the issue, and was quick to change the subject whenever it was brought up. In his mind, their survival was still far from certain. In fact, Joshua thought, we’re pretty much fucked.
There was no water to drink, save for what the seawater still could make, and no food except for the occasional fish. But hunger and dehydration were the last of their worries. Rather, Joshua knew that they had still been within the danger zone when the reactor’s blast tore through the Roanoke–without a doubt, they had been exposed to a high dose of radiation. Mayer’s injuries made it clear to him how bad their situation was: his hands and face were blistered, and his right eye had started to cloud. Even Joshua, who was furthest from the ship when the reactor blew, had been vomiting for several days.
They could fish and they could filter water, but with the symptoms already present this would do more harm than good. Joshua knew that death was not a matter of if, but when; they were showing signs of anemia, and all three had painful sores inside their mouths. Mayer, in addition to his burns, was already beginning to lose his hair.
Soon, their skin would begin to ulcerate. Joshua’s vomiting would worsen, and their bile would begin to fill with blood. Their noses and mouths would begin to bleed as well, and they would die if rescue didn’t reach them soon. There was no guarantee a distress signal had been sent.
Instead, Joshua had decided to focus on pooling their resources. The meltdown had caused them to abandon to Roanoke in a panic, and none of the group had managed to gather everything they needed. They had, however, been able to obtain that still, a few metal cups, a few patches for the raft and a storm blanket. They did not have a first aid kit, or any tools for fishing, and they didn’t have any fresh water or rations.
Throughout the morning, they watched the sky. Even when the sun reached its highest, it seemed the day never got bright. They continued their routine nonetheless, gathering as much seawater as the still would hold and waited impatiently for the sun to heat it. They did their best to keep down what the few fish they caught, but their stomachs had grown too weak. By afternoon, Whitley’s hands had also begun to redden, and by early evening they found they could no longer stomach even the smallest bit of water.
They began to realize that they would not make it through the next day. Almost reflecting this was the lack of starlight in the sky; as night fell, sky was nearly pitch black. Even the moon–which by now was nearly full–gave off little light. As they began to doze off, Joshua could not help but notice that the waters seemed to reflect a sky that was not there.
At first, it seemed morning had awakened him, but the sight before him could have only been a dream. It was coming from beneath the waves; peering over the side, Joshua could see tiny, silvery-pink ribbons flowing through the water. Above, the sky was now filled with countless stars, more than he had ever seen. The moon was now gone, and in its place were stars that Joshua knew should not be there.
Joshua noticed Whitley cowering at his right. The marine was concealing a large ulcer on his neck, but it did not seem that he was hiding it from him. Instead, the Gunnery Sergeant was staring in horror at the sky, his breathing replaced with soft, inhuman wheezes and gasps.
“Gunny, are you–”
Joshua stopped mid-sentence. He ran his fingers through the fur on his scalp, only to feel it loosen and give way. A trickle of blood formed on the corner of his mouth. It shouldn’t have surprised him, but the fear he’d felt that evening was now present tenfold. He began to feel the bile in his gut rise, and he lurched over the side of the raft, vomiting dried, coffee-ground blood into the water.
“He’s coming,” Whitley rasped. Joshua looked back, watching as his comrade ran his fingers across his face. He pressed them deep into his cheek, pulling down. The skin sloughed off, and Joshua winced. Then, Whitley’s eyes rolled in the back of his head, and he arched backward with open jaws. Whitley let out a horrible moan, one so loud and ominous that Joshua could not believe it had been made by the human tongue.
Joshua grabbed the Gunny’s arm. His skin tore loose beneath his hands. Again, Joshua felt sick, but before he could bend over the side he vomited on Whitley’s chest. Disgusted, he pulled back and apologized. Whitley seemed unfazed.
“He’s coming,” Whitley said again. His words sounded even more forced than before. It was almost as if something else were speaking through him.
“Who’s coming?” Joshua asked. He almost didn’t want to know, but he was worried his friend’s mind was beginning to slip. He felt that he needed to keep Whitley with him, keep the Gunny talking.
Daeche.” Somehow, the sound of that name seemed to echo deep in his mind. “The Sea-God,” Whitley said. A surreal smile crept across his face, and he dragged his tongue across his lips. With another moan, Whitley crawled forward, digging his nails into the rubber. Joshua grabbed his shirt in a desperate attempt to pull him back, but he didn’t have the strength to stop him. In horror, he watched as Whitley pulled himself onto the side of the raft. “I’m coming,” his friend said. “Wait for me, Daeche. I’m coming, I’m coming….”
“Gunny!” Joshua croaked.
Whitley laughed hysterically. “Joshua Bauer,” he said, his voice a hoarse whisper. “You’re just like her. So loyal, so sweet.” Then, he let go and sank into the water below.
The ocean began to boil. Joshua tried to scream in protest, but he could not make a sound. Instead, he found himself recoiling as some unseen fiend tore his friend apart. Then just as quickly, it stopped. After a bit of hesitation, Joshua forced himself to lean over the side and saw nothing.
Not even a drop of blood remained.
Joshua sank back into the raft and reached for Mayer’s hand. To his horror, the spot where the young corporal had once laid was now empty, yet it was slick and warm to the touch. Joshua barely had time to grasp this when he saw them–two torpedo shaped lights cruising from the horizon. At first, he thought they were sharks, but he could soon make out their long, eel-like tails, their narrow snouts and blank yellow eyes. They moved with a nearly snake-like elegance, their bodies rippling through the water. Soon he could make out their jaws–crooked, trap-like caverns lined with thousands of needle-like teeth.
At first Joshua thought he was hallucinating. These creatures were wrong–enough so that they felt like a nightmare conjured by a dying mind. They gave off a disturbing aura, one that made his hair stand on end. He sat, frozen in terror, his mind screaming for him to hide. He knew the that the slightest movement would cause them to attack.
One of the creatures broke the water, its eyes briefly connecting with his own. Disobeying his instincts, Joshua ducked into the bottom of the raft and pulled the storm blanket over his head. Almost immediately, the raft was racked by heavy thud. He panicked, throwing off the blanket, and found himself staring face to face with the horrible fiend.
His chest tightened. As the creature pulled back, he could see four more shapes looming on the horizon. Joshua’s first impression was that they were turtles, but as they neared he realized that they were far too massive. They lacked shells, instead having visible ribs and spines despite their rounded bodies, with elongated necks and spiny teeth. These monsters however seemed to ignore him, focused instead on their single-minded trek across the night sea.
At the sight of their bodies, he was unable to control his nausea. Once again, Joshua lurched forward, vomiting a thick stream of dark blood. He prayed that he was hallucinating, that these creatures were only in his head. He didn’t know which was worse. These creatures were too terrifying to be real, but he couldn’t bear the thought that he had cracked.
He wasn’t ready to die.
Joshua’s pulse began to race. He felt alone, helpless and terrified. He knew that regardless of what he saw, the radiation was taking its toll. Still, the light that crept from beneath the water burned his eyes, and he could not believe that a simple trick of the mind could lead to such pain.
The creatures had dove into the depths, no longer intent on tormenting him. For a brief moment he felt a sense of peace, and he dismissed the notion that any of it was real at all. He could almost imagine seeing something beneath the waves, something that cast a fog over his mind and made him want to sleep.
Then he saw it: a massive fiend easily twelve times the size of his raft. Its body was almost shark-like, with large hook leaning over its head, topped with a stump covered in tiny teeth. As it opened its jaws, he could see a massive wheel of saw-like teeth in the front of its throat. Joshua’s mind reeled from its sight, and every swoop of its tail instilled in him the urge to scream.
Then the creatures began to attack.
The shark-eels lunged at the bottom of the raft, lifting far above the water’s surface. Joshua held on as tightly as he could, determined to keep himself from falling. As the raft splashed back down, he watched in horror as they charged again, this time ramming the raft from the side, tearing through the rubber and nearly throwing him in. As they readied for a third strike, Joshua grabbed the still, and as they struck he brought it down with all his might, but he only managed a weak swipe.
Go away–go away you do not belong here. By now, these words were assaulting Joshua’s mind, drowning out his own thoughts and tearing away at his sanity. He leaned into the rear of the raft, resting his face against the rubber, and tried to scream at the creatures to leave him be, but he only barely managed a whisper.
The monstrous fish was now circling beneath him. Gathering his last bit of strength, Joshua placed his legs over the side of the raft, and began kicking. It took so much effort and he managed so little, he knew he couldn’t get the raft to move far. Still he refused to resign himself to these beasts. But with each kick, the pain in his legs increased exponentially, until finally he could no longer move.
I can’t do it, Joshua thought. I can’t.
The behemoth surfaced. Almost as quickly it dove back beneath the waves, the force of its massive body pulling both Joshua and the raft down. For a moment, he tried to fight the current, but he knew it was hopeless. With a cough, a bubble of air and blood rose above him, and he thought, That’s it. I’m going to die.
But as he sank into the depths, the light on the ocean floor overtook him. He found himself staring at what appeared to be a city–one constructed of massive, ethereal white stones. Surrounding it was a massive bed of bones and rotting fish. Many of the creatures they belonged too seemed impossible–they ranged from ribs and skulls far more massive than those of the largest whales, to the smallest spines and shark-like jaws. Many of the fresher corpses were missing their fins and limbs, and all were decaying–their flesh melting into black, putrid sludge, their bones becoming a sickening brown and disconnecting seemingly impossible ways.
Then a shadow began to fall over him. Joshua looked up to see the giant creature circling above. With each swipe of its tail, the forming vortex pushed Joshua further into the depths. As the entity above him began to descend, Joshua found himself among the bones, kicking frantically to reach the surface. His lungs were burning from the lack of oxygen, and he felt his mind begin to cloud. He realized that his consciousness was fading.
To his horror, he saw the creature open its colossal maw and dive toward him. With more quick swoop of its tail it had nearly closed the distance, and Joshua found himself staring into the being’s throat.
Joshua closed his eyes and waited for the darkness to take him.