The seals on my helmet hissed as I pulled it up from my neck. The 311D series pressure suit was bulky and clumsy out of the water. I walked through the automatic door, out of the airlock. The room was empty except for five spaces along the outer wall to help don and doff the suits—without them they looked like butcher’s hooks, which gave the whole room a much more morbid feeling. Or maybe that’s just me.
Getting the suit off had become easy over the decade I have spent coming back to this research base. The base is on the edge of a tectonic instability in the Pacific Ocean that left a massive fissure deep beyond the ocean’s floor. A great place to be, not ominous at all.
Being free of the suit lifted a massive metaphoric and real weight off me. My feet sloshed through the inch or so of water that I had dripped across the metal floor, crossing the room towards the door out of here.
The sounds here are always some form of creaking and moaning—all this pressure will do that. But after years, you kind or ignore it. Only the out-of-the-ordinary sounds stand out after that point.
My heart started, fast and rapid. I was uncomfortably aware of its speed. I sat still next to the door, my hand hovering over its release. I held my breath waiting for it to either happen again, or for my heart to get out of my ears. After a few moments, nothing followed the tap. There were no other sound besides my heavy, anxious breathing.
I let my hand off the door release. As it slid open with a heavy metal clunk against the frame, my mind refocused. Calm down, you’re hearing things.
The locker room was just as cold as everywhere else in this station, much less pooling water though. It was filled with rows of stand-up lockers. Only five of them were ever in use. As the funds for our station dropped off, we went from a large group of people to a mere skeleton crew.
I removed my thermals I wore under the suit in exchange for a black t-shirt and the “Void watchers” jumpsuit. I wrapped the top half of it around my waist. There were so little people on the Beholder station that there lacked what most would consider “leaders.” So, the crew didn’t always follow the uniform code.
“How was your walk, Winston?”
Hearing the familiar voice of Raff was a good way to shake me out of the cage in my head.
I turned to look at him at the exit of the locker room. He wore his jumpsuit like mine, except it was covered with stains. Working as the station’s engineer came with the added benefit of extra filth.
“It was fine,” I said, with a half-hearted smile.
“What’s the problem?”
I didn’t want to tell him. Psychological issues down here where a big threat to everyone’s safety.
“Just tired is all. Walking around in that suit with bad hydraulics wore me out.”
He did something that was in between a sigh and a chuckle.
“Is your suit causing problems again?”
He took a few steps in and sat on the bench facing me, arms resting on his legs as he leaned forward. I always feel like I’m being interrogated.
“Yeah. Ever since the fall it’s unreliable at best. Input delay and even had some joint feedback.”
All of our suits were especially made for the individual. The inner sleeve fit us as tight as possible without constricting us. So we have to use them, despite issues.
“I’ll go take a look tonight after dinner, see if I can resolve the issue.” He gave me another smirk and pat my shoulder before getting up and walking out.
I felt my body relax a little as he left. I didn’t have any problems with Raff—or anyone on The Beholder for that matter. But ever since I fell 20 or so meters down the rift, they have been treating me quite differently. Every conversation will turn into an uncomfortable situation rapidly if I act even a little “off.” I can’t fault them for it. I don’t remember much from the incident. I must have rattled my head hard inside the suit and lost consciousness.
I jumped up at the sound. But before I could react, I heard static and Helen’s voice over the intercom.
“Winston, come to Dock 3 immediately.”
She sounded angry. Why does she need me at the dock? It doesn’t matter. I stood up, stretching my arms outward with a deep sigh, and walked out of the locker room, closing my locker on my way out.
The halls connecting each individual module of the base were bare and rusted severely. The floors were mere metal grates that were hell to walk on in bare feet. The connectors were meant to be replaced every year or so, but most of the base’s connectors had gone unchanged. Due to this, most were worn down. The old logos were gone or near gone, and there was a strong smell of stagnant water that was caught in the crevices of the tubular structure.
Passing the cafeteria, I glanced over and saw everyone but Helen sitting down together to eat. The little moments together helped with the feelings of isolation greatly.
After a few stairs and a ladder, I made it to Dock 3. A large pool of water sat in the middle. It was, as the name suggested, a place to dock our mechanized workers . The one docked now was clearly beat to hell. Wires pulled out of airtight metal plates that were seemingly bent back. The control center in the middle was surrounded by 8-inch reinforced plexiglass—plexiglass that was now cracked. Helen was on a step stool adjacent to it surveying the damage.
“The fuck happened to number 3?” I honestly couldn’t hide the surprise in my voice even if I wanted to.
She sighed heavily as her shoulders dropped in defeat.
“I was hoping you would be able to tell me.”
The tone was accusatory. If the tone wasn’t, then the glare over her shoulder was .
“How could a person do that kind of damage? You think I did? Are you fucking kidding me?”
“Well it was fine last night. It was docked since then .” She stopped working and threw some kind of spanner on top of the toolbox that was rolled just a few feet behind her. The look she was giving me was like I had just told her some God-awful truth.
“Why do you think it was me? And why the fuck would I want to hurt these things? They are meant to survey the ocean floor and the abyss mouth. What would anyone on this station have to gain by destroying them?” My lungs felt empty after that barrage of words. It felt like I hadn’t talked that much in a month.
She took two steps down off the step stool, dabbing some sort of grease or hydraulic fluid from her arms with the bottom of her t-shirt.
The room felt airless. I remained silent. The sound of clanking metal is all I heard as she dug through several shelves of the toolbox.
“Look, ever since you had that accident, you have been acting off and I—”
I cut her off. I didn’t want to hear anymore.
“I’m off? Ever since that fall I have been treated like a fucking threat to you and everyone else here!” I took a breath and relaxed my volume a bit. “Like I’m insane. Like I’m trying to hurt any of you. You know what it feels like to be treated like that? For merely being unlucky enough to have a bad fall.”
She stopped rummaging through the tools and looked at me, hunched over the toolbox.
“Winston. Its five of us down here. We only have each other. Your story doesn’t make sense. The guard rails are ten meters from the edge. You’re telling me you slipped and got flung ten meters?”
Her tone was giving me a headache, but she had a point. I couldn’t tell her how I fell. And I was afraid saying that again would only reinforce my apparent insanity.
She stood straight up, putting one of her heavy boots on the edge of the step stool. “Go get dinner. I got a lot of work to do here.”
I felt rage in my throat. But I took the not-so-subtle hint and walked out of the dock.
I decided to skip dinner. The walk to my room wasn’t far, and I didn’t want to handle the feeling of being uncomfortable and trapped by mundane conversation. I turned the handle and swung open the large heavy bulkhead door to my room. It was the exact same as everyone else’s. The most we could do to give it some of our own character was pictures or posters, or a few personal items. The only thing I had on the wall was a picture of a lake. It wasn’t my picture, wasn’t where I grew up or anything, I just remember seeing it in a store and enjoying it. I decided to take it down here with me. Several of the team have made fun of me for it—how I’m surrounded by water and the one thing I chose to bring with me was a picture of more water. I don’t think about water though when I look at it. I think of a cool breeze. A calm day. Trying to explain that has been largely pointless. To them, the picture was meaningless. I sat at the edge of my bed, exhausted. I just wanted to close my eyes and escape all of this.
I sprang up at the now all-too-familiar noise. My ears ringing, I took a step out of my room and stared into the hall. I saw no one else coming from the cafeteria to investigate. Am I just hearing shit now? Maybe they are right. Maybe I am losing my mind. Hell, I couldn’t even explain their accusations away. I had no idea how I fell down the trench. I was walking, then I was falling. It was instant, like a punch to the gut. One second you can breathe, the next you can’t. I just remember the turbulence, the sudden shift in direction, clawing for anything to stop the descent.
It just felt like I had blacked out when I came to.
I tried again to sit at the edge of my bed. Letting my head collapse into my hands, trying to calm down. What am I supposed to do? I still had months left on my stay here.
I felt a wave of nausea hit me. It was like I dropped five stories. My stomach went into my throat, the room melted into a spin. I fell onto my back and tried to breath deep through it, gripping the sheets of my bed as if that would stop the rotation.
“Please stop. Please stop.” I kept mouthing under what little breath I had. Begging to anyone that would listen.
Each breath felt like a relief. The spinning was slowing to a stop. On the last big breath, I closed my eyes, grounding myself. When they opened, the lights were off. The place was quiet, except for a distant tap on the outer hull echoing through the base like distant thunder.
Why were the lights off? The only time they all get turned off is if we are working on the electrical. I could see the dull pulse of the red warning light seeping through the tiny spaces of my bulkhead that was inches from secure.
Standing up was surprisingly easy given the feelings I was just battling. I guess it could have been adrenaline. I felt cold, a bit out of breath, but oddly spry—like I could sprint a mile.
I took a step or two from my bed to the bulkhead and swung it open slowly. The creaking of the hinges filled the silent space. The hallway was dark except for a few of the pulsing emergency lights illuminating six foot or so intervals with dark red light, the same lights I saw creeping into my room.
My bare footsteps echoed as I progressed. The cafeteria was empty. Did I pass out? Has everyone gone to their rooms? The table was littered with old food trays. Mold consumed what scraps were there, chairs were knocked over. What is happening?
I moved back down the hall to the barracks, turning toward the direction of the docks.
I spun around to confront the noise, my bare heels scraping on the metal grating as I took an involuntary step back. At the end of the corridor, barley out of the red hue, I saw a figure—a nightmare—peeking around the corner. My knees felt weak. I could barely take one shallow breath. I felt knots in my stomach, my limbs grew cold. I wanted to call out, but something in me told me not to. I took another step back.
It peeked further out from around the corner. I could make out long fingers that gripped at the wall’s many uneven surfaces. Hands like massive spiders, tips of fingers creating scraping noises that filled my ears. Its face didn’t look real. It had a low set mouth, a constantly moving tongue that ran across triangular teeth jutting out of the jaw that almost appeared as bare bone, and two large eyes sunk into its skull. It’s deep dull blue flesh contrasted off the dull red that washed over the entire creature. The back of its head seemed to inflate with each disgusting stuttered wheeze of a breath it took, each one sounding like a mocking laugh. I took another step back.
It hunched forward, bringing its torso low to the grate coming out from around the corner fully. It walked on its hands. As more of it appeared, I could see that its legs were just a mass of writhing tendrils. Starting near the waist, they wrapped and contorted around one another like a forest of seaweed, each one’s movement seemingly independent of the rest. Some gripped and moved it along the ground as others aimlessly floated, as if in water.
It dropped open its mouth to let out a broken gurgle. As it reached out with one of its long, lanky arms, across the metal grating it tapped three times synchronously with its breaths of mockery. My skin crawled. Sweat beaded down every inch of my skin. Each step backwards it followed suit, as if in time with me. I couldn’t—wouldn’t—turn my back on this living mockery of life.
My heart was already beating through my ribcage, and now it seemed as if it would rip through my skin. I could feel sweat beading down my forehead, pooling in my eyes. As it slowly reached forward with its other arm, it tapped again across the gratings and began pushing its body forward.
Tap…tap..tap… in between each heavy fall of its extended, bony digits. Its bear trap of a mouth hung low, breathing in my fear. If I stood still, it did as well. Just staring, breathing in deep and slow. Its eyes had no pupils, but I still felt its gaze fixed on me. I felt my stomach churn and my head splinter with pain.
I kept backing up down the hallway. My bare feet and my own excessive breathing were all I could hear—all that took my mind off the horror in front of me for split seconds at a time.
My back hit the ladder that led out towards the docks, the red illumination seemingly parting in the presence of this creature. Only so many feet away from me now, I could see the deep ridges that ran across its pale body. Geometric, pulsing with a bioluminescence that was drowned out by the pulsing red light.
Tap…tap…tap… Its fingers spoke again. The hand reached towards me. I could hear its skin stretch taught, a sickening cracking as it lurked its hand forward. I took in a deep breath to try to yell as the red warning lights shut off, leaving me in a void of nothing. Not ambient light—nothing.
The normal overhead lighting flipped on. It revealed the same as the dark—nothing. The creature that stood only a disturbingly long arm’s length away was gone. There wasn’t a sign of it. The breath that had collected in my lungs for the scream was let out in frustration as I slid down to a fetal position, my back against the ladder. I struggled to get air in my lungs. They burned like hell.
Maybe I am losing it. Maybe I fucking lost it a long time ago. Days blurred down here. Everything blurred down here, like being underwater with your eyes open. I can’t stand this place anymore. Maybe this is its way of rejecting me, pushing me out like a bad organ.
After what felt like minutes I stood up. Deciding to find and talk to Raff—or anyone honestly. He would be in bed by now, so I headed down the corridor to the bulkhead next to mine. Still trembling, I knocked.
My legs felt weak, rubbery. My eyes lazy, dragging. No answer. I knocked again and shouted, “Raff wake up. I need to talk to you.” My voice cracked weakly. Despite the struggle to even achieve the low volume it did, my voice still echoed down the corridor.
Nothing. I knocked again, hoping he was just in a deep sleep. Still my heart rate increased. Noth—tap…tap…tap…
I stumbled back on my heels. My heart pounded in my ears, surrounding me with a cacophony of white noise, drowning out anything else around me. Even with the siren call of my own blood in my ears, I heard a word. Whispered and deep.
It sounded as if it came from beyond the bulkhead, from the other side of inches of steel. It couldn’t be Raff.
I got up to run as my vision faltered. Black consumed the edged of my periphery. Fireworks of white stained my sight. I fell forward, head and chest scraping against the metal.
It took all I had to stand up again. Lifting my head up from the floor, behind me the bulkhead swung open calmly.
I stood and faced it, swaying as if I was on a capsized boat. I waited for the nightmare to wonder out after me, but nothing came out. I took a few shaking steps towards it till I got to the edge of the bulkhead.
The room was perfectly lit. Not a mystery, not a horror could escape me in this light. God, I wish they had. The metal floor was bent downward like something had burrowed into it. The bed Raff had slept in was covered in blood. Worse—skin, nails, teeth. Fingers and bones were left strewn about the red-stained sheets. I could feel vomit rising into my throat. I spilled it all out against the metal grating.
What the fuck is going on? This can’t be real. I turned to move down the corridor of bulkheads, slinging each one open as vehemently as I could. My body was scared of what I would find, but my mind needed to know.
All but Helen’s room was the same. Exactly so. The blood, the body parts. The metal floor ripped up into the maintenance spaces. Helen’s room wasn’t touched, as if nothing had happened. Her room gave me hope that there was someone still around. My mind felt like it was unraveling. I needed something anything to ground myself. I prayed to whoever would listen that she was alive.
It took less than a minute to get to the docking bay at a full sprint. When I got to the top of the ladder into Dock 3, I could hear the same tapping that accosted me through this sea base.
Across the pool of water where the mechanized working drone was hanging, I could see Helen on her knees, hitting her head over and over against the metal wall.
“Helen?” My voice felt as if it barley carried.
Her ritual didn’t stop. Tapping continuously. As I moved away from the ladder and around the pool I could see blood pooling under her, smearing on the wall where her head was being struck.
“Mother called them home.”
Her voice didn’t sound right. It carried through the tension in the air effortlessly and felt as if it hit me in the stomach.
I got to the corner of the pool, now only maybe 20 feet from her. She looked away from me as a child might from a disappointed parent. Up close I could see the grotesque nature of her being. Her skin was taught and torn in some places, revealing pale white ridged skin underneath. She moved away from the wall, and I could see a pile of teeth laying in the recesses of the floor.
She ignored me and started to drag herself across the floor towards the pool. Her legs looked broken out of places. I could see things writhing under her plastic-like skin. As she got to the edge, overwhelming anxiety came over me.
She heaved repeatedly until gore poured from her stretching distended mouth into the dark blue canvas of water. She slid into the water and floated there, lifeless. Tears ran down my face. I couldn’t be alone, not now. I need help, I need to know that this isn’t real. I’d rather be insane.
As her body started to sink, hands reached up out of the depths to pull her down. The water’s color changed to a soft teal glow as the hands wrapped their bony fingers around her mangled corpse to drag her deeper.
I fell back, at this point not being able to stop the tears. I didn’t know what to do. My eyes faltered again, my vision lazy. My body flashed cold and my stomach turned as all of what I had inside came out at once.
“I want to go home.” I mumbled under my breath over and over. “I want to go home.”
My eyes flashed towards the sound, and I instantly felt cold. A weight fell across my body, pulling me down. The only thing I heard was gasping breath. I gripped at myself, digging my fingers into my legs. I tried and tried but I felt nothing enter my lungs. I fell back against the metal floor. The jolt shifted my eyes again, towards the black and cold. There was a small bit of illumination across my face. I saw a pane of glass in between me and infinite black. Small particles drifted by me. I was in my suit. Falling.
“Oxygen gone. Oxygen gone. Oxygen gone.” The automated woman’s voice repeated in my ear.
I felt the same three taps across my suit. I attempted to turn, but I was too weak. I caught glimpses of things moving through the black. A faint teal glow would precede them.
Each gasp hurt my lungs. There was nothing else but panic. Seconds felt like minutes as my vision’s periphery was being consumed by black. As my sight left me, I felt a dropping sensation and a hard thud. The seals on my helmet hissed as something pulled it from my suit. I gasped hard as my vision started to come back. I couldn’t move. The weight of the suit made it impossible in this position. I craned my head back towards the dry dirt below me. The creatures from my mind, the ones that accosted me through my own dying fever dream, moved through the dry dirt towards an obsidian black obelisk. Its edges were impossible to define—it struck my head like a migraine to stare at. I tried my best to move, my body so weak I couldn’t even reach the emergency release on my chest. As oxygen flooded my body, more and more panic came with it. Thrashing and moving to escape this metal cage was all I could focus on. In the midst of my struggle, I felt the ground tremble. I looked back again at the obelisk. Tears were forced from my wide eyes. My body went limp, and my breath calmed.