The water was warmer than he expected. His diving suit seemed to keep away the chill that should be spreading through each limb in this deep of water. As a researcher, he knew that the darkness was natural, the glimpses of fish floating around him caught in his flashlight shouldn’t spook him. But something about being this far down with his crew so far above, floating on the surface sent shivers down his spine.
After years of research, his crew was nearly positive they were in the correct location of the Patriarch’s final resting place. The ship had disappeared in the 1700’s and only a handful of crew members had survived. They told harrowing stories of sea monsters and treasure, but after nearly twenty days lost at sea, nearly dying on a rowboat until a fisherman spotted them, no one believed the stories.
But the further down he went, the more he started to believe.
Static blasted in his ear for a moment, breaking the eerie quiet of the ocean.
“Parker, do you think this is it?”
They were a small crew, just Parker and his two friends from college. He was a marine biologist, Maria was an archeologist, and Ben was a historian. They had hatched this idea to join forces his junior year and discover underwater treasure but he had never expected to get a call from Maria stating that she and Ben had actually gotten a location. He had given her bits of information over the years. How the currents tended to run in this area, what fish and larger predators would be swimming around.
“I don’t know, Ben,” he responded. He spun around, trying to get a three sixty. His flashlight cast a wide net of light, but the water was filled with particles and each one shone brightly. Gleaming fish moved around, each more beautiful than the last. His speciality hadn’t been deep ocean diving, but he was the only one of the three with any experience diving so here he was.
He wished he could just stay still for a few moments, basking in the feeling of being in the water. Despite the heavy load he was carrying, he floated and glided, his flippers guiding him however he wanted. There were jagged rocks poking up and he slowly followed them down. They were beautiful and he watched the fish swirl around the points and crannies. He loved the water and the things that lived in it.
“I’m going deeper,” he said and started descending slowly.
The rocks became more numerous and he wound his way slowly through them, trying to stay in open water as much as possible. He didn’t want something to surprise him or for him to startle something. While most underwater animals in this area were harmless, surprising something, especially something large, could provoke aggression. And the dark swirling water seemed to hint at something dangerous.
“Parker?” Maria sounded concerned. He wasn’t sure how long it had been since he last spoke, but he guessed it must have been a bit.
“I’m still here. No sign of a wreckage yet.” He swung the flashlight down, illuminating a fair distance. He could see fish fleeing the light and more rocks, but he couldn’t see the bottom yet. “It’s deeper than I thought here.” They weren’t that far off the coast.
“Be careful,” she responded.
Something crossed his flashlight for a moment and was gone before he could blink. He whipped his light around, trying to find it again, but he saw nothing but the same fish scuttling away.
It had been large and quick. His breath quickened.
“Did you guys see that?” he asked. There was a camera that was feeding back to the boat.
“We didn’t catch anything,” Ben responded. The static felt almost quiet compared to the blood pounding in his ear.
“There,” he said as it swam past again. This time he was able to get a better look. It was at least a hundred yards off and that comforted him, but it was definitely something large, greyish, and keeping to the edges of his light.
He was still pointed downward and he slowed, halting his descent. He wasn’t sure he wanted to keep going, towards something he wasn’t sure he could identify. He had always been rational, scoffing even at the idea of treasure because that seemed so unlikely. But all he could think of was the sailors’ stories, full of teeth and brutality.
“I…I think it was a fish,” Ben said, full of hesitation.
Maria let out a gasp while the line was still open before static cut out. There in front of him was a fish. He wasn’t sure what type because it was larger than any fish he’d ever seen. It had three black stripes on its body and was nearly the size of a great white shark but looked nothing like one. It was like the numerous other fish swimming around, only they were all the size of his forearm.
“It’s okay guys,” he said, taking a deep breath. The fish was gone again, but he was sure that it wasn’t aggressive. He had studied the smaller versions and they weren’t aggressive fish. “There’s strange things that can happen this far down, but I can keep going. I’m fine,” he said and he tried to believe the words. His hand still shook, causing the light to waver, making the water seem almost like it was rippling around him.
“Is that…?” Ben trailed off. Parker searched for what Ben might have seen. He was still calming himself and scanning for any other giant fish. There, between two rock crags below and to the right, was a piece of weather-worn wood poking up. If he was right, that looked like it may have been the top of a mast once, worn down by water over the years.
He swam closer and the giant fish appeared again. It seemed curious, this time only fifty yards away. It darted away from the rocks though as if it didn’t want to get close.
Parker frowned but kept moving forward.
“I can’t believe it,” Parker said and Maria started to rattle off facts about the wreckage so they’d be able to identify it. He still couldn’t see more than the mast sticking up, but the closer he got, the more his smile grew. He ignored the giant fish, swimming closer and closer, popping in and out of the flashlight beam. Unless it suddenly grew sharp teeth, he had nothing to worry about.
He swam around the final large chunk of rock and the ship presented itself. Much of it was worn away, but it was definitely a large ship from an era long gone. Fish swam around and through the hull, which had large holes in it. Some seemed natural, but there seemed to be a few that were almost perfectly circular as if something had punched through the hull. He wondered if maybe it had gone down by cannon fire rather than bad weather as was the general guess, though he’d never seen what a cannonball would do to wood.
Unable to contain himself, he spun around and thrust a fist up in victory, swinging his flashlight with the other.
He stopped as quickly as he could. He had seen something.
He slowly swung his flashlight in a grid, trying to figure out what he caught a glimpse of. It had seemed like his giant fish friend, but different. The rocks could easily have hidden something else.
“What is it?” Ben asked, noting his behavior.
“I think I saw something,” he answered, trying to keep his breathing even.
He landed on the giant fish and it started to dart away as usual. But this time, it stopped and swung back into the light. Fascinated, Parker swam closer. It was still an easy twenty-five yards away, but the distance didn’t feel like very much. A large outcrop was behind the fish and Parker watched as something slowly made its way out, keeping the fish in the middle.
His hand began to shake badly as he realized what he was looking at. Whether it was a giant squid or some other marine animal, the only thing his brain could think of was ‘sea monster’. It’s tentacles surrounded the poor giant fish.
Parker turned and started swimming as fast as he could, praying he’d be as lucky as the delirious sailors who had survived hundreds of years ago.
This story was in response to The Haunted Wordsmith’s Elemental post. I encourage you to check it out!