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Out At Sea
Denver enjoyed the cold, so much so that he was excited to brave the weather of the Alaskan coast for its chill alone. The fishing and crabbing vessel – owned by Denver’s cousin, Jay – was impressive and well-stocked. Aware of Denver’s recent financial woes, Jay had offered him a position aboard the ship for several weeks. All Denver had to do was help wherever needed; this included pulling in nets, storing the catch properly, and cleaning. Sometimes, he even cooked. Denver enjoyed the variety of his work, and the pay was pretty good.
So far, they had been out at sea for about six days. They were long and surprisingly busy, but Denver still felt as if the trip was moving along quickly. In no time, he would be back home with his wife, Susanne, baking a potpie and watching Bush People.
It was the middle of the night, and most of the crew was sleeping. They had pulled in catch an hour earlier, leaving most men exhausted and sore. Denver, however, felt invigorated, and wished to stay within the wind a bit longer.
Currently, he was leaning against the side rail and looking down into the dark depths of the water. Panels of broken ice surrounded them in every direction, and (not for the first time) Denver wondered how it was fish lived in such cold water. Biology was beyond his understanding; all Denver knew was that most things died in extreme cold. How a fish could be swimming under a frozen lake struck him as strange and unnatural.
Fresh Pick – the name of Jay’s vessel – was bobbing with some force in the water that night, swaying Denver from side to side. He didn’t get sick, though; movement didn’t have much of an effect on him. However, his eyes were bad, and his vision was beginning to cross whenever he tried fixing his sight on something in particular. In the water, there was a Coke bottle that held his attention, still sealed (although frozen). He wondered how long it had been overboard and lost.
Something suddenly knocked against the Fresh Pick from the opposite end, and Denver nearly lost his footing in the slippery puddles of the deck. He leaned over the rail a little more and tried to see what they had hit (or what had hit them). After several moments of straining his eyes, Denver gave up and straightened.
It must have been a fluke.
I need to piss, he thought then, turning back toward the cabin. As he descended the narrow stairs moving him below deck, the Fresh Pick was struck once more, this time harder. Denver caught himself along the wall and cursed. He wondered if the crew was still sleeping, probably conditioned to such choppy movements.
In the bathroom, Denver drained his partner and exhaled in relief. The cold made him shiver, but he loved it. The only problem was the shrinkage of his penis; at least Susanne wasn’t there to make fun of it! That would have surely soured his mood.
Hungry, he headed into the kitchen next. There, he poured himself a bowl of cereal with milk. As he ate with his backside leaned against the counter, Jay appeared from the hall with tired eyes.
“Have you not gone to bed yet?” Jay asked as he turned into the kitchen.
“No need to,” Denver told him in between spoonfuls. “I’m wide awake, just about.”
“Shit.” Jay grabbed a beer from the cooler and popped off its cap.
“What got you up? The banging?” Denver asked.
“Yeah. We’ve hit something twice in the last five minutes.”
Jay scratched at his scruff and took a swig from the beer. “Couldn’t have been anything troublesome, or I would have noticed.”
“I have no idea. Nothing to compare it to, you know?”
Jay nodded in agreement. “The waves, probably.”
“No, I don’t think so. It specifically hit us on that end,” Denver said with a lazy gesture.
“Waves can hit you at any end,” Jay chuckled, drinking.
“Yeah, but…ah, nevermind.”
Jay finished his beer as Denver finished his cereal. As Jay went to leave, the boat shook harder than ever, causing Denver to drop his bowel. It shattered on the floor, sending a spray of milk against the wall and Jay’s side. Jay cursed and glared back at Denver.
“Damn it, where’s your grip?”
“Sorry, I had to catch myself from falling forward.”
“We’ve got to get you those sea legs.” Jay swiped at his clothing and left into the hallway.
“Hold up, Jay,” Denver said, following. “You mean to tell me what we just felt was nothing but a choppy wave?”
Jay shrugged and looked toward the stairs. “I’ll go check it out, alright?”
Denver nodded and watched Jay head up on deck. He then went about cleaning his mess. He was just about finished when he heard some banging around above his head, followed by a yelp and grunting. Denver wondered if Jay had slipped and hurt himself. He put the broken bowl into the trash and left the kitchen to head up for a look.
At the top of the stairs, Denver was surprised by the gust of wind that greeted him. The force pushed him back a step, but he fought against it and climbed onto the deck. Looking around, he called out Jay’s name against the howling cold. When no response came, he looked up toward the superstructure. Through its windows, he searched for Jay. From the deck, he couldn’t tell if anyone was up there or not.
He decided he would check it out. Up top, he found the station empty. However, from here he could see the bow and stern easily. Again, he called out Jay’s name, running his eyes along the deck. Then he saw it: blood.
Denver hurried down to the deck and turned for the stern. Around the corner, amongst a stacking of crates and equipment, he found Jay. Or, part of him, at least. There was nothing but a severed arm there, a puddle of freezing blood at the stump.
“What the hell?”
Denver was panicking now, the cold rushing down his throat and burning his insides. Where was the rest of Jay? Was he alive? What tore off his arm?
Denver began to scream for help. The wind, however, swallowed his cries with ease.
From the opposite end of the stern, beyond the crates, Denver heard a flurry of movement, quick and heavy. He circled himself to see if it was Jay but found no one and nothing there.
I need help, he decided, turning for the stairs. If no one could hear him screaming, then he would just have to go get them himself.
Below, in the sleeping quarters, Denver first approached the bunk belonging to Hart and Franklin. Both men were fast asleep and snoring loudly in competition. Denver shook Hart roughly and yelled at him to get up. As Hart slowly fluttered his eyes, Franklin leaned over the top bunk and cursed Denver.
“What the fuck is wrong with you, man?”
“Jay is gone! All I found was his arm!”
Franklin and Hart exchanged looks.
“Huh?” Hart said, sitting up.
“Jay went on deck. And when I went looking for him, all I found was his fucking arm,” Denver said excitedly, sweat forming on his brow. His heart was racing a mile a minute, and he felt as if he would pass out if he were to continue talking.
Franklin climbed down to the floor as Hart rubbed at his face. “Come on, man. You didn’t find nobody’s arm. You must have been dreaming.” He placed a hand on Denver’s shoulder and pointed toward an empty bed. “Go back to sleep,” he said.
“I wasn’t sleeping,” Denver told him, nearly gasping for air. “I was with Jay right before he went up on deck. I swear.”
Hart looked at his friend. “You going to check it out, or do I need to get up?”
Franklin waved him off. “Hell, I’ll do it.” He turned back to Denver. “Well, let’s go, I guess.”
The two men headed upstairs, one dressed for the weather (Denver), the other not so much (Franklin). As they stepped into the whistling cold, Franklin cursed and hugged himself tightly. “Let’s make this quick,” he yelled over the wind.
Denver directed him toward the stern where the crates were stacked alongside their equipment. There, he found the dismembered arm, allowing himself a brief internal victory for having not imagined it.
Franklin froze in place, confused and frightened. “This a joke, man?”
Denver cocked an eyebrow. “Are you serious? No!”
“I think so. He was the only one up here, and now he’s gone.”
Franklin looked around in place, as if he would easily spot their missing captain when Denver could not.
“I’m telling you, he’s vanished,” Denver assured him.
“Shit, maybe he went overboard.”
Both men hurried to the rail and looked out at the surrounding water. For several long minutes, neither man spoke. Their eyes adjusted to the darkness, and they scanned the broken panels of ice as best they could. Finally, Denver spotted something and pointed. “There!”
Franklin followed his finger. “What is it?”
Sure enough, one of the bobbing blocks of ice was stained heavily in dark red. However, there was no body in sight.
“We’ve got to call for help,” Franklin said, turning toward the tower. “I’ll get the Coast Guard on the radio.”
As he hurried off, Denver remained at the rail, watching the water closely. Something caught his eye, but it was gone just as quick as it came; something scaly and large. A good catch, no doubt. But not Jay.
From above, Franklin screamed. Denver barely heard him over the wind, and thought he imagined it at first. He turned to look over his shoulder at the superstructure, and then back to the water. He thought nothing of the sound at first, but then a chill shot down his spine. Something in the air had changed, getting his attention. A warning.
Denver left the rail and headed for the stairs. He climbed them slowly, wishing he was armed and not knowing why. When he reached the top, he found the station door left open. Denver stepped inside with some hesitation, and saw something that caused his heart to leap into his throat.
Franklin was on the ground in the corner, a fish-like creature crouched over him. In its hands appeared to be Franklin’s intestines, wrapped around its claws and being fed into its mouth. There was blood pooling out from the fisherman, who appeared to still be alive. His eyes were wide and fixed on Denver, pleading for help.
Denver couldn’t move, couldn’t speak. All he could do was watch this monster eat Franklin’s innards, not yet aware of its spectator. Then, finding some small amount of strength, Denver began to move backward to the stairs, wanting to get Hart and the others before the thing finished its meal.
As Denver backed out of the station, Franklin’s terrified eyes followed him, tears glistening even in the darkness surrounding them.
Denver turned himself around as he came to the steps, and nearly fell in surprise when he spotted another one of the creatures below. From the front, he could better see its defining features, a monstrosity in the likeness of the creature of the black lagoon. Or that thing from The Shape of Water. They were basically the same, a fish-man with claws and sharp teeth.
Denver gripped the handrails tightly, his breath caught in his chest. Before he could decide on a move, Hart appeared from below deck, just five feet over from the creature’s current position. As he stepped up into the cold, he shivered and called out Franklin’s name. The creature heard him, turned, and launched itself through the air like a frog. Hart only caught a brief glimpse of it before being knocked to the deck with enough force that his head bounced off the ground, splitting his skull.
Denver hurried down the steps as the creature began to shred Hart with its claws, blocking the stairs going below deck. Unsure of where to turn, Denver decided to hide. He ran for the crates surrounding Jay’s severed arm and began to empty one of its contents. As he started to climb inside with the lid held over his head, he heard Hart awaken enough to scream in agony.
Then he crouched down and closed the lid over the top of him.
When hours had passed and Denver felt close to death – his oxygen supply having been practically used up, despite the crack he’d produced from time to time – he finally emerged from within the crate, gasping for air. The sun was starting to rise now, and the wind had died away.
All was quiet.
Denver was stiff, but he did his best to ignore the difficulty he felt in moving. He left the crates and headed cautiously in the direction of the stairs going below deck. There, he found a large smear of blood from the spot Hart had fallen and leading overboard. The creature had taken him to the water, apparently. All that remained was the remnants of half a hand.
Rather than go below deck, Denver first decided he should look for Franklin in the superstructure above. He doubted the man was still alive, but felt compelled to seek confirmation, nevertheless.
At the station door, he leaned his head in just enough for a look but remained outside. In the far corner, he saw Franklin right where he’d left him, eyes still open but now lifeless. His torso had been torn open and devoured like a baked potato, leaving chunks and blood all over the floor. Again, there was no sight of the attacking creature.
Finally, Denver forced himself to check below deck, afraid of what he would surely find.
As the sun continued to rise, Denver reemerged from below the Fresh Pick, his face pale and his mouth dry. He had searched everywhere for a survivor but found none. Some of the crew had been butchered in their beds. One had been caught in the bathroom. Another had fought back with a fire ax, but ultimately failed. The scene below was bloody and horrific. Of the remains, most were half missing. Eaten or taken away.
Denver couldn’t sail a boat, nor did he know how to use the radio. He would, of course, try. But he knew it would be of no use. The inevitable night would return, and this time he’d be all alone to face its prowlers. Though he’d retrieved the bloody axe from below, he was sure it would only buy him a minute, two at most.
Without hope, Denver huddled in a corner with his weapon and awaited death, his only comfort the saturating cold.
This was originally a rewrite of a prologue to another novel. In that story, the vessel was attacked by an alien ship, not creatures of the deep. Nevertheless, that original story influenced the writing of this one. I debated on giving it more action, but ultimately decided to lean heavier on atmosphere instead.
The idea of water creatures has always spooked me for some reason. As a kid, I once watched a movie on TV in which a ship of pirates sailed into a cave and were attacked by something that shredded them into giblets of gore. I was young enough that those images stuck with me, giving me nightmares for years to come.
In dreams, I’ve had these creatures visit me. It’s been many years since the last time, but I still remember them. Their large, white eyes and enormous jaws lined with sharp, needle-like teeth. Can you imagine being feasted upon by one of those fuckers? Yeesh!
As for the brevity of this story, that was influenced by my current reading stack. Lately, I’ve been devouring short story collections, including Spicy Constellation & Other Recipes (Chad Lutzke), Strange Tales of the Macabre (E. Reyes), and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (Alvin Schwartz). Most of their entries average ten pages or less. I tried to do about that with this one.
This story was written on the night of July 24, 2019
Aiden Merchant is an independent author, working under various pseudonyms. He writes horror, suspense, drama, science fiction, fantasy, and whatever else fuels him on any given day. He currently has one collection of short stories available (Dead As Soon As Born).
His next story collection, KILL FOR THEM, will release in September. Before 2019 ends, there will also be some Kindle Singles along the way.
Under his real name, Aiden has been a music journalist since 2008, appearing in such international articles as Alternative Press and Outburn Magazine. Though his days of hitting the road for shows and festivals has since passed, music is still a passion of his that taught him how to write in a critical manner. Reviewing stories is still new to him, but he is very much interested in developing a style of his own.
Aiden is a father of one, married, and living in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee (USA). He is originally from further north, as is his wife. He loves to write, read, and explore the outdoors.
Dead As Soon As Born
There is evil inside us all, and no one lives forever.
In this debut collection of short stories from Aiden Merchant, you will bear witness to murderers, monsters, and other horrors.