Let me tell you a story.
No, no, stay a while. The other men, these so-called sailors, they write me off as a blind, crazy old man too quickly. They would listen to what I had to say if they had any sense! A wiser man would heed my warnings! But these thick headed- more than likely they will find themselves dead because of their foolishness! But no, not me. I am no fool, and I will tell you why. I saw the blue-black waters. I did.
It wasn’t my first dive. But it was my last.
The sea was calm that day. The sun beat down on me and my partner while we sailed out far from shore. He wanted to explore a trench, he said. It was far deeper than any other dive we’ve been on, but we’ve done several hundred dives already. It was nothing we couldn’t handle, he said. My partner, he was a rich man; he could afford brand new diving equipment. A yacht. A submersible as well, if he was in the mood.
My partner, let me tell you, he was a good man. Kind, generous to the extreme, by he was an explorer something fierce. I didn’t want to be a diver, to be honest with you. But he had a way of convincing people. He would sail out there to the middle of the bay and sit with you to watch the sunset. The sun would glisten on the rolling waves, a sea breeze would bring cool wind and the scent of salt that tickled the nose. Sea birds would dive from high up and climb back into the sky with a silver fish struggling in its claws. There was nothing like the open sea; and I admit, I was soon asking my partner if we could sail out and see more of it. More of the waves, the calm, clear water. Dolphins and whales breaching the surface, sending spray up into the air from their blowholes, and us getting coated with sea water.
Well, the sea was calm the day it happened, like I said. My partner and I, we had our wet suits on, the diving gear laid out. We were waddling around on the deck with our gear half on, with our flippers flopping around. I asked him, where did he find this trench? As far as I knew there was no such thing in the area we were going. And we’ve been diving at that spot often, let me tell you. Good crop of oysters down there. Lovely coral for the missus. So he says, he saw it on his sonar. Sonar? Can you believe it? The man had so much money he could just have sonar equipment. Well he says There was a trench down on the ocean floor and we probably just missed it the last times we went down there. He showed me the readings from his equipment as well. The trench drew a solid, jagged dark line into the earth, like the ocean floor was split with a giant’s knife.
That man, as adventurous as he was, said he wanted to go down there. I told him, I told him right to his face. I went right up to him, looked him in the eye, jabbed my finger to his chest, and I told him.
You are a crazy son of a bitch.
Let’s do it.
He set the anchor on his yacht down and we pitched ourselves right over the side.
It started like all our other dives. We go over the side, adjust our equipment, get the breathers going, then start the descent. We passed brightly colored fish on our way down, they swam right past us in large, close groups. Tight schools of silver scaled sardines blew right by us, dolphins bobbed up and down as we swam. I even managed to hitch a ride on one, holding onto his fin while he raced past us. But once we got low enough into the sea, my partner signals over to me. He jabs his finger up, says he wants to go back to the surface. I flip him off; we haven’t even reached our last deepest dive point yet! What is he doing, turning tail? Still he goes up, I follow. When we break the surface of the water, my partner takes out his regulator and yells over the sound of crashing waves at me. Says he wants to use the submersible instead. It will get us deeper than we can by ourselves and has more air in its tanks.
I said fine, he’s the crazy bastard with the equipment.
My partner climbed back up the side of his yacht, holding onto the little ladder rungs on the side and jamming flippered feet onto them. He hauled himself up, I heard him land on the floor of his yacht with a wet thump, then saw his head waddle off to the other side of the boat. When the damn bastard came back around, he was already piloting the submersible.
It was a long thing, painted bright blue all over save for the bubble-looking front viewport. It had little fins jutting out on either side, and water pump jets to scoot it along. My partner told me how fast and deep it’s supposed to go, but I didn’t really listen. Details, details, let’s just get in the water and use the shit. So it was this long machine, much longer that it was tall. I saw my partner waving at me from the viewport; he gestures like I should get in.
I paddle my way around the submersible, past the painted words that said “Nephthys I,” in bright yellow, let me tell you. My partner pops the hatch and I pull myself in, bringing some sea water in with me. I screw the hatch shut tight, and just in time; the waves were starting to get choppy. The inside was not tall enough for both of us to stand in, and it narrow as anything. There were some benches to rest on, racks and hooks to hang our gear, extra air tanks for the submersible itself.
My partner was sitting by the viewport with his hands on some joysticks. Screens beeped and whirred all around him. He said they were sonar. Again with the sonar! He pointed at some more screens, with one showing a big ass crack. It was just pure black on a static, moving scan image. He said again, we’re going to check it out. I asked him, what the hell’s the name of this thing? He smiled, said Nephthys is an Egyptian goddess of the sea. I told him I’ve never heard.
The submersible was big enough for the two of us, but not tall enough for me to stand the whole way. I sat on the bench, hanging onto the back of my partner’s chair while he fiddled with controls and screens and joysticks. Now, it’s not that I don’t understand what the scans mean. It’s that I was a foolish, impatient bastard, I was. My partner said he wanted to check the trench. So I said, fuck it, let’s check the trench.
What I should have done at the time, what I should have said, was how bothered I was about the sonar scan of the trench. It was a still cut of black, almost like it was cut out of paper and stuck on the screen, while everything else around it was alive and well. It looked dead and still, and I tell you I was scared. My heart pounded in my chest when I saw it, but it was too late, I said I would check out the damn trench. I should have said something to him, I should have. But I didn’t. I was a fool.
My partner piloted the submersible like he’s done it a billion times now. I asked him, how many times did he use it before? He told me, that crazy bastard, he told me, he’s only used it this one time.
I damn near hit him in the head. He decided to use the damn thing for the first time on looking into this mysterious trench? My partner just laughed, saying he’s had practice on land with the controls, I shouldn’t worry.
So he pilots the submersible down to the bottom of the sea. My eyes are glued to the viewport, let me tell you. We quickly pass the schools of silver fish, the dolphins, almost scrape against these beautiful, gleaming corals. That’s when we spot it.
See, we used to go diving here for oysters. We’d pry the things off of rocks using little pocket knives, stuff them in a bag, and bring them back up to sort on the boat. But when we got to the ocean floor, you see, it was different. It used to be sand bars, rocks, crabs, everything tinted a little bit green from the sunshine floating down. But instead of sand, there was this dark, gaping hole. No, it wasn’t a hole; it was a gash. Long and thin, just barely wide enough at its widest part to let the submersible through. Even with the front headlights on, me and my partner couldn’t make out anything past the opening. It was pitch black.
Me and my partner took a second. We looked at each other, I raised my eyebrow. He gunned the submersible into the trench.
Our bright blue submersible dropped into the trench. It was like there was no water, nothing that would hold us up. I thought for sure we were going to die, but according to the submersible’s scans, we were floating. It didn’t feel like being in water; you could feel the push and pull of waves. There’s a buoyancy, the soft bopping up and down, you know the very water around you is alive, holding you up and letting you swim in it. There was nothing like that down in the darkness.
But the pumps worked. As fair as we knew, the submersible was still working, sucking in water and pushing it out behind us to keep us going. My partner swiveled the headlights around, trying to shine some light. There were jagged rocks all around us, pressing us in, coming in close, too close. I heard the rocks scrape against the metal of the submersible, I tell you, the sound echoed inside the damn thing, rattling the teeth in my head, raising the hair on my arms. In the headlights, we saw the rocks were jagged because they were split. Broken.
The shape of the trench was like a funnel, getting narrower and narrower the farther we went. The rocks kept closing in. There were long ones, with sharp tips, some with fish impaled on them. The fish were bulbous, too round and covered with spines, eyes bulging out of their little heads. My partner swiveled a light over to one. It gasped in the light, mouth wide and sucking in water, flailing its tiny fins. Just as suddenly as it started, it stopped. One of its eyes started right at us, into the viewport.
The two of us were dead silent in the submersible’s cockpit, we were. We didn’t dare breathe or make a sound. I heard an echoing in my ears, louder than anything. It was the sound of silence, I realized, and something was missing.
I tapped my partner on the shoulder, I told him, I the sonar’s stopped beeping.
I never knew you could see a person’s heart stop. He looked at his equipment, the screens, the scans. The sonar had stopped beeping, the results on the screen were from the last thing it registered. A thick, black mark taking up most of the space on the screen, with only the very edges of the monitor still flickering with normal sonar static. The depth reading on the result said it was somewhere around 12,000 feet. My partner turned to me, eyes wide and sweat beading on his forehead. He told me 12,000 feet was the sea floor, when we first entered the trench. He tapped a panel on the controls, it read 25,000 feet. The equipment’s stopped working for a while since we came in.
I could hear my heart pounding in my ears. I told him, maybe we should call it a day. Maybe we should go back up to the yacht. Maybe just get some oysters for dinner, right? Maybe bring back some coral that’s been knocked off as a mantlepiece for the missus, right? My voice bounced back to me around the hollow innards of the submersible. I sounded frantic in my own ears.
But my partner wasn’t listening to me, I tell you, something else got his attention.
He was staring out the viewport, pale as a sheet.
The trench was narrow enough to almost trap the submersible with the jagged rocks just about to break through the hull if we so much as moved. My partner was staring into the darkness, since the headlights weren’t pointed straight ahead. I muttered to him, I said, what are you looking at, you bastard? So I reached over to the panel and moved the headlights myself.
It was…. It was…
At first, I thought it was more darkness, that the trench went on much deeper than where we got stuck. Then I saw, it was shiny, reflecting the light back on us. Like there was a film over something just past the viewport. So I swiveled the lights again, looking up and down, trying to make sense. Then, a sheet of rock, or it looked like rock, crusted with barnacles and shit, it came down over the film. Another sheet came up from beneath, crashing into the first sheet. Then after a second, both retracted.
The damn thing blinked.
We couldn’t move. Felt like our blood froze in our veins. We couldn’t take our eyes off of it, and while we watched, it moved. A film in a shade lighter than the darkness moved, a circle contracting just behind the film. It was focusing on us, the people staring at it through the viewport. It moved, moving upwards away from the viewport, huge as anything, it took forever to disappear from view. I wished it hadn’t moved, I’d have liked to stare at the eye instead. I thought that they were more rocks at first, but these, no, these caught the light. They were thin, packed close together, and long, so long. I thought they looked like spears. Then I saw they were embedded in something raw and red; teeth. Good lord, they were rows on rows of thin, sharp teeth.
Then we heard it.
There was a sound, it was soft. A laughter, like a woman. A woman giggling. It sounded flirty, close to my ear, charming. I saw my partner’s head swivel. I asked him, what was that? I told him, we have to get out of here. He didn’t hear me.
The woman’s laughter was in my head, in my ears. It was a lovely sound, you know, so light and happy. I wanted to be with her, I swear. She sounded like, like a goddess. Yes, I wanted to see her, to touch her. I felt like I didn’t want, I needed to be out there, to be with her. To hold her in my arms. But the diving suit kept a flap taught over my ears. Her voice was muffled a bit, try as I might to hear. Then I saw my partner.
He kept muttering about a girl, a girl, a girl. He had to get to that girl. He shot right out of his chair, pushed past me, and headed for the hatch. His hands were on the wheel, turning it with all his might, before I could even scream. The hatch opened just a crack, a hiss of gas escaping, then the water. Lord, the water.
Water started flooding into the submersible. It was thick, bluish and black, like two kinds of ink mixed together. Murky and vile, it had no smell, but I just knew I didn’t want to touch it. I didn’t want any of that on me, not a drop if I could handle it. But my partner, my partner, he was standing under the had then it came pouring in. It drenched him immediately, and I heard him laughing. Taken over by something, laughing open mouthed, laughing as the blue-black water rammed its way into his mouth, down his throat, filling his lungs. I heard his laughing, but under it, so softly, I heard her laughing. It was like the best joke in the world. Infectious, I tell you, I wanted to laugh along with them. With her.
But the blue-black water was rising.
It pooled around my feet, I was still wearing flippers, my full diving gear, I slipped my mask over my eyes and popped the respirator into my mouth. My partner, he had pulled his suit down to his waist and taken off his tank to pilot the submersible. The water rose quickly, and it was up to my own waist. By then, I couldn’t hear his laughter anymore. The mask blocked it out, I tell myself. I couldn’t hear because of the mask, the mask, and not the water filling his lungs, his body, drowning him. It wasn’t from him being swept away by the water, up and out of our bright blue submersible. It was the mask. Just the mask.
Out of the corner of my eye, the Rows of needle-like yellow teeth moved again. It moved, up and down, up and down. Eating. I didn’t need to see the cloud of blood foaming in the water, the light from the viewport casting ghostly shadows. No, I didn’t need to see. I didn’t want to see. I saw the rows of teeth part, opening and showing a vaguely red-tinged cavern. I shut my eyes as closed as I could get them. The water rose above my head, filling the inside of the submersible completely, and I felt it sinking. It was sinking, descending, right down into the mouth of that thing.
I kicked off from the bench, hands scrambling, scrambling to find the hatch. It was blown open, the force of the water ripped the joint and the hatch itself clean off. I was panicked, I was sure I didn’t have enough air in my tank to make it the whole 25,000 feet back up to the surface. And the yacht and the sun, good lord, what did sunlight even look like?
I was in the blue-black water, I knew. It was like nothingness, floating but in nothing. Hanging, suspended in air, but finding it hard to move my limbs. I shut my eyes, my mind was replaying everything in sharp detail. The eye, teeth, whispers, my partner, blood in the water. Over and over again. Over and over again. I didn’t know what was up or down. But I pointed my head the opposite direction of the horrible, horrible teeth, and I kicked. I kicked till my lungs were burning, till my head was swimming. I rammed myself into jagged rocks; they tore at my suit, my tank, my mask. I kept kicking, I had to keep going. Anything was better than staying there.
My chest felt about to explode, my heart about to burst, but adrenaline took over, flooding my veins. It burned, it burned like acid, eating me apart. I didn’t know if it was me, or the blue-black water that had seeped into my suit, into my skin. I tasted water, I breathed in water, I prayed to whatever gods would hear that it was lovely, blessed salt water and not the blue-black murk.
It took me a full minute to realize I had breached the surface. It was warm, I gasped for air, I remembered the little round fished impaled on the rocks in the trench, gasping for air, desperately clinging onto life. I never made it onto the yacht, let me tell you.
I think I was found by fishermen, at least that was what they told me. I know they found sludge, clinging to my wounds or seeping out of them, blue and black and shimmering in the light. Every time I opened my eyes, I would see the film over the eye, the teeth, the blood. Clouds of blood, always, always in my mind. My partner, that crazy bastard, I hear him, laughing in my sleep.
Every waking moment, with the light in my eyes, I’d see it. The water rising. Rising around my ankles, my waist, my partner being drowned in it. Then the rows of teeth, it’s like I could still see them, coating themselves in blood, red, red blood staining the water. I didn’t want to see it, let me tell you. I didn’t want to, didn’t need to see it. I put my own eyes out, you see, I did, jammed a fork right in there. Better nothing than blood, the gooey mass of whatever was left of my partner, my friend. All I see is darkness now, and I’m not sure I prefer this. It was dark, just like this, down in the trench.
I told anyone who would listen about the trench. I told them to find it, my partner’s yacht, maybe they could find the submersible as well. No one did, I tell you, no one found the damn trench. Sailors and scientists came back to me, they said, there was no evidence of such a thing ever existing. They showed me scans, sonar screens, there was nothing there. Nothing there! As if it didn’t exist, as if my partner dying in the trench, being eaten, never happened. As if the blue-black waters never existed.
If you have a mind about you, don’t go looking for it. Don’t chance the blue-black water. Don’t listen to the laughing, that horrible, laughing siren where the sun has no power, where light doesn’t exist. I swear, it was her pet. It was her pet she was feeding, all too delighted to feed. We were the prey foolish enough to walk right in.