Brian J. Jarrett
Copyright © 2017 Brian J. Jarrett
Elegy Publishing, LLC
All rights reserved by the author. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted by any means without the written consent of the author.
This book is a work of fiction. Any names, people, locales, or events are purely a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to any person (either living or dead), to any event, or to any locale is coincidental or used fictitiously.
This one goes out to Dean Wesley Smith.
Thomas Low stood on the bow of the fishing boat Easy Money, surrounded by the smell of fish guts and sea water, wishing he was anywhere else. Darkness surrounded him, twilight now had given way to the darkness of night. Night on the Atlantic turned out to be a lot different from what Thomas had expected when he signed his name on the dotted line. It wasn’t just dark on the open water; it was like a blanket came down from the sky each night, covering him and everything else in an inky black mess that couldn’t be wiped off until morning came and banished the bleakness for another day.
Day after day of this pattern, with the smell of sweat and salt and fish and blood and guts hanging in the air like a bad soundtrack to an even worse movie.
He had no one to blame but himself, and that might very well be the worst part about it. His parents were right, same as Tammy. The last he’d spoken to Tammy, she’d told him as much. Man-child, she’d called him, her face red and her eyes brimming with angry tears. She said he was afraid of commitment, afraid of responsibility. She said he was unable or unwilling to grow up and become a man.
He’d taken offense to that last comment, and he sent her packing. Tossed her right out of the apartment and onto the street. He felt sort of bad about that the next day until he saw her Facebook relationship status change from It’s Complicated to Single.
Single. Fine; if she wanted to play it that way then so be it. He unfriended her right then and went on a three-day whiskey binge to soothe his battered ego.
That had been eight weeks ago, before he’d signed up for the voyage from hell. Easy money…how ironic that he stood on a boat bearing that name when the money she provided was anything but easy. Fact was, he’d never worked harder in his life. Not even during his six-month stint at McDonald’s or the job stocking shelves at a warehouse. Up to now, those had been the worst.
What I wouldn’t give to be making Big Macs for minimum wage right now, he thought as he stood on the deck and stared into the unfriendly darkness of an angry sea.
The wind picked up, bringing with it a new batch of salty sea air. He used to like that smell, but that had been while standing on a beach somewhere, baking in the sun and watching pretty girls walk by in bikinis. Now his best friend was a drunk named Arnie; a man with leathery skin and four teeth in his head who’d just as soon smack Thomas in the face as he would look at him.
Lately, Thomas wasn’t sure if he’d taken the job because of spite, because he wanted to get away from Tammy and his soul-sucking factory job, or if he was just a fucking idiot. Hell, he wasn’t even sure if he wanted to know the answer to that question. One thing was for sure; long nights at sea allowed a man time for introspection.
He had six more weeks on the boat; then he was done with his contract.
Six. Fucking. Weeks.
It might as well be a million years.
Thomas took a deep breath, trying to ignore the fish smell clogging his nostrils. The fog had set in about an hour after dark, blotting out the stars and the frightening depths around him. Now the fog had begun to creep across the deck of the ship, tendrils of the milky-white stuff coiling around his feet like the tentacles of a deep-sea monstrosity from a Jules Verne novel.
Thomas heard a door open and close. A figure appeared on the deck, stopping to light a cigarette before heading Thomas’s way. Smoke wafted up and away from the man, dissipating into the moist air.
As the dark form approached, Thomas recognized him.
The grizzled fisherman sidled up to Thomas and grunted. He took another drag off the cigarette and stared into the mist surrounding them. “Cain’t sleep, eh?”
“Something like that.”
Arnie nodded. Beard stubble sprouted from his deeply-lined face. “Happens.”
“Why are we here?” Thomas asked. “Why would we just come out here to sit?”
Arnie shrugged. “Captain got orders from the coast guard or something, so he says.”
“You don’t think that’s weird?”
“I suppose. I don’t get involved in shit like that. I got orders, and I follow ‘em.”
A few moments of silence passed as the two stared out into the dark water. “How much longer you got?” Arnie asked.
Arnie nodded again. “First tour, right?”
“Seems like forever, I know. I been doing this goin’ on twenty years now.” Arnie paused and stared into the mist surrounding them. “It’ll be over before you know it.”
“How have you put up with it for so long?”
Arnie took a drag off the cigarette. “Don’t know nothin’ else. ‘Sides, what else would a guy like me do?”
“You could go back to school.”
Arnie broke out in a laughing fit that caused him to double over and nearly drop the cigarette. Thomas frowned as he waited until the older man regained his composure.
“Rookie, sometimes I wonder who’s dumber, you or me,” Arnie said, wiping his eyes.
Thomas flashed a weak smile. “Just sayin’.”
“A guy like me ain’t going to no school and you know it. No need to bullshit me.”
Thomas didn’t argue.
“Your ass should be in school,” Arnie continued. He took a deep drag from the cigarette. “You’re fuckin’ wastin’ away on this goddamn steel trap here and you know it.”
“I don’t know about that.”
Arnie huffed. “Lot a guys, they sign up for this ride ‘cause they’re runnin’ away from somethin’, or they ain’t got any skills to do anything else. I can tell who’s who too, you bet your ass I can. I can tell the first minute I set eyes on ‘em. I took one look at you, Rookie, and I could tell you ain’t cut out for this shit.”
Thomas frowned. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
“Look, Rookie, a man’s gotta know his role. Not everybody’s cut out to work in an office or be president or be a fuckin’ doctor. Not everybody’s cut out to slop fish guts and spend their days floatin’ on a tin can in the drink.” Arnie fixed Thomas with a stern and unforgiving stare. “It ain’t that one job or another makes you a man, Rookie, it’s that you fuckin’ decide on one and commit to it. Find one, work it like a twelve dollar mule and take care of you and yours. That makes you a man.”
Arnie took a final drag off the cigarette before tossing it overboard. He exhaled a large plume of smoke into the air. Instead of dissipating, the smoke seemed to freeze in place. It hovered, the tendrils like so many fingers undulating slightly on the breeze, teased by vibrations in the air that could not be seen.
Thomas watched the smoke carefully. “What the fuck is that?”
Arnie’s face screwed up. “You got me, Rookie.” He reached out a hand and ran it through the still cloud.
The smoke scattered.
Then it reformed.
“I’ll be goddamned,” Arnie said.
Then the smoke began to move. Slow to start, it twisted in a counter-clockwise direction as it began to flatten out into a disk. It continued to spiral, turning in the air as the wind began to pick up around them.
Thomas glanced at Arnie, but the older man’s face had lost the confidence it normally boasted. Now he looked perplexed, bordering on afraid.
Thomas heard voices began to chatter around him as the hands began to emerge from below deck. They spilled out into the cool night air as it took on a static charge that made the hairs on Thomas’s body stand on end.
“Somethin’ ain’t right,” Arnie said.
Thomas couldn’t disagree.
A shrill shrieking sound erupted, forcing Thomas and Arnie to cover their ears. It sounded as if it was coming from all sides, from above and from below. Thomas could feel the sound pass through his body, vibrating his insides the way a microwave oven might reheat day old meatloaf.
The sound intensified. Men dropped to the deck. Some cried out; a few even jumped overboard, screaming as they went. Thomas watched in amazement as men ran toward the railing with their ears covered before leaping up and over, disappearing into the swirling mist.
Just when Thomas thought his eardrums might explode, the sound stopped as suddenly as it began. A blinding light replaced it, forcing Thomas to shield his eyes. He stared through splayed fingers at the brightness coming from the ship’s starboard side as he desperately tried to determine the source. An approaching ship, maybe?
No ship had a horn that loud, much less a light that bright.
Thomas noticed dozens of small cyclones in the fog begin to spin in a counter-clockwise motion. Beside him, the cigarette smoke hung in the air where Arnie had exhaled it, spinning in the same direction as the fog.
The light brightened, becoming a blinding white orb before shifting to a soft blue glow. Thomas blinked hard in an attempt to see through the sun spots that were now obscuring his night vision. He wiped his eyes and stared hard at the blue light. The glowing light formed a disc that began the size of a manhole cover and expanded to the size of a house in a matter of seconds.
Once expanded, the intensity of the light decreased enough to allow Thomas a better view of the thing. He saw shapes appear in the now pale blue light; dark figures backlit in that odd blue glow.
He studied the shape of those figures and saw arms, legs, and heads.
He heard splashing sounds, quickly realizing that the sound was coming from the water just below the glowing blue disc. Whatever those things were coming out of the light, they were falling into the sea, striking the water like a kid doing a cannonball at summer camp.
Thomas turned toward Arnie. The older man stood transfixed, his eyes locked on the glowing light that had now begun to leak dark and twisted figures; like cockroaches crawling out through a hole in a kitchen wall.
“Arnie, do you see—”
“I see it, Rookie.”
Thomas tried to speak. Instead, he stood open-mouthed and speechless as he stared at the glowing blue disc.
Out of the corner of his eye, Thomas saw movement. He turned to see three bony fingers reach up and over the railing of the fishing boat. The fingers were long, the skin black. A bright white claw tipped the end of each finger, extending a half-inch beyond the fingertip.
“Arnie!” Thomas cried. “Behind you!”
But it was too late. The creature leaped up and over the railing with superhuman speed and grace. A long, bony protrusion extended from the creature’s arm like a sword, penetrating the older man’s back and erupting through his chest. Dark-red blood pumped from Arnie’s severed aorta, arcing three feet in the air before splashing down on the slimy deck.
Thomas heard himself scream, far off and distant, like being underwater. His bladder let go, saturating his jeans with warm dampness. He whimpered like a small child as the dark figure, barely visible in the low light, sank serrated teeth into Arnie’s neck. A split second after that a huge chunk of the man’s neck disappeared into the creature’s impossibly wide mouth.
Thomas saw another creature climb over the deck railing, its skin black and smooth, its limbs long and gangly. It tackled the closest fisherman and began to feed while the man screamed.
Thomas looked back at Arnie, but the old man’s eyes had lost focus. They stared straight ahead, open and dead.
Tearing himself away from the horror around him, Thomas glanced toward the railing. He had a clear path, but it wouldn’t last long.
He ran toward the railing, closing the distance quickly.
Six feet away, one of the black monsters appeared.
Thomas ducked as the creature extended its bony sword appendage. He lost his footing and fell hard, sliding across the wet deck and slamming into one of the vertical support posts of the railing. He spun out and over the edge of the deck before plummeting to the cold and dark water below.