by James Robert Smith
When I was a young child, my family and I lived on the Atlantic coast, moving, at various times, from the Carolinas to Georgia to Florida as my father felt so inclined. Always, we lived on the edge of the sea where he had easy access to the marine creatures that he studied. It was here that I first felt the call that became such a passion to me.
As a youngster of only eight years, I would often travel the wide swatch of sand that made up the beaches with which I had become so familiar. Barefooted, I would climb the high, bleached dunes and observe the waves' constant crush against the shore. And always I would hear the subtle call and feel the gentle tug that seemed to draw me toward the depths. Had my innocent mind been able to interpret these sensations, I might have raced away from the beach, away from the beckoning sea where I could be sucked down amidst the swirling waves. But I could not fathom these alien desires, and so I merely watched, listened, and waited.
Often, my mother would ask me, "Why do you sit and watch the sea for so long?" I would merely shrug in my child's way, expressing ignorance of the cause of my actions. In truth, I 'was' ignorant of the reason for my infatuation with this ocean. The call had not reached the intensity it would achieve in later years nor the clarity it finally attained.
My father, seeing the strained concern of my mother's face, would explain: "Anne, it's only natural for the boy to be interested in the sea. After all, it's the source of his father's livelihood. I, for one, am more than delighted in the interest he's showing." Afterwards, my mother would seem satisfied with his words, though I know now that she only feigned acceptance of his reasoning.
As the seasons passed, my obsession grew. Even on those rare days when the icy wind blew in with some northern-birthed storm, I would leave the warmth of our home to be close to that endless, frothing horizon. On such occasions I think that even my father wondered if my actions were those of a sane mind. Still, I did not let this obscure urge interfere with either my schoolwork or my social life. These facts alone allayed my parents' fears.
By the time I was fifteen, the call had reached a frightful power. No longer did I venture into the salty breakers. I feared some ancient and eldritch force waited just beneath the surface to draw me screaming to some awful place. As great as my fear was, it was not enough to outweigh the morbid curiosity I felt toward whatever was the source of this magnetism between the limitless waves and myself.
One month before my sixteenth birthday, I was visited on a lonely beach by a lean, dark-skinned woman. I watched her as she made her way up the tide-sodden stretch of sand. She moved deliberately in my direction, never hesitating, using the same careful pace. When she was parallel to where I reclined atop a dune, she turned and faced me. The wind plucked at her black hair, and the whipping strands obscured her face.
When her eyes fell upon me, I knew that I was as she was. In the instant I realized this, I held my body rigid in the foolish hope that I would be unnoticed by her. I was afraid.
As the woman stood between the sea and me, the strange calling fairly screamed within my skull. I writhed there upon the sand, strange thoughts rattling my brain. It was as if this woman were a transmitter beaming these monstrous titterings. For the first time, I was able to comprehend some of it.
Gradually, this great orchestration ebbed and I was left exhausted. I lay where I had rolled, at the base of the dune, wind-blown sand sticking to my sweating skin. Through closed eyes and ringing ears, I 'felt' the dark lady approach me. She knelt beside me and, placing one hand upon my heaving chest, she spoke.
"Do you know?" she asked. Her voice was like an echo—hollow and unreal.
I opened my eyes and beheld her face. Her features were small, delicate, but those familiar eyes at once induced a kind of terror in me. Her pupils were depthless things and I feared they would draw up my soul from my body. I must have gazed at her for quite some time for she brushed my face lightly and asked once more, "Do you know?"
I shook my head from side to side, unable to speak.
"Soon," she breathed. She rose and continued down the beach. In a few minutes, she had disappeared.
During the nights that followed, I began to dream vividly of the dark woman. In my dreams we floated weightlessly together as vague shapes and slithering shadows danced about us, staying just on the periphery of my vision. Each dawn I would awaken, my knowledge of what I knew must come a little greater every day. Soon (as she had said), I could comprehend what was expected of me and prepared myself to return to the place where I had met her.
And so, one morning I arose very early; I crept silently from the house. Once away from my home, I flung off my shoes and raced over the low dunes toward the sloping beach. I topped the last of those sandy hills and beheld the sea as only a damned few had ever seen it.
In the blue semi-darkness, the waves leapt and towered and bubbled with a strange, almost life-like animation. Just beneath the surface, amorphous shapes billowed, glowing with phosphorescence that lighted the depths, banished the shadows. There, my sanity receded farther than it ever had, relinquishing control to the single command that now droned unceasingly. As one totally possessed, I made my way to where I knew the woman waited.
Naked in the pre-dawn cool, she stood; the waves lapped anxiously at her ankles and sucked hungrily at her feet. She raised her arms and offered her hands in invitation. I shed my clothes and followed her into the breakers where she turned and grasped my hands in hers. We swam to where the sea floor dropped away from our bobbing forms. She drew me to her, and the glowing surf closed over us.
In the instant our bodies sank beneath the surface, shimmering tentacles of something living entwined about us: tangling ropes of pliant substance that enwrapped our limbs and tugged gently upon our torsos. At once the ocean was a colorless void where something seemed to call from below, something that even then was rising to greet us.
I became aware of a presence beneath, and the dark woman pulled me tighter to her and tried to avert my questing eyes. More of the sentinels swam to us, their arm-thick bodies tugging urgently. Pulling my shoulders free of the clinging things, I gazed downward at that which approached. My scream sounded in the depths.
My eyes fell upon a nigh-forgotten god who had heaved its bloated bulk up from the dark liquid chasms where it lived. Great questing feelers of mucilaginous texture sped toward the woman and me, spreading, shaping themselves into massive blankets of flesh in which to enwrap new converts. Behind those boneless arms floated the god's hideous face, a compounded mass of eyes and of tooth-filled maws, a pulsating corruption that appeared (after that first, mind-numbing glance) to bear an expression of strange hunger.
I seemed also to be suddenly seized by an aura of ancient and consuming evil I had never (even vaguely) suspected during my association with those unknown forces. I sensed this evil and I fought to be free, to be quit of this alien horror.
The dark woman knew what I attempted and made fast her hands about my wrists. Her grip was far stronger than I would have suspected and only after a vicious struggle did I free my arms. Even then, she attempted to refasten her body to mine; her fingers clamped repeatedly; her nails dug painfully into my flesh. Finally, I managed to free myself with a savage kick and made frantically for the surface.
For an instant, my way was clear. But all the while I had battled the woman, the attendant amoeboids had gathered in response to some silent command, and they swarmed about me. Their ropy bodies whipped against my own, and some of them wrapped tightly about my arms and legs to drag me downward toward their approaching master. Still, I was able to struggle upward, away from my doom.
At last, the shimmering waves seemed to be within my reach. There was a sudden and mammoth surge from below as one massive godhand raised up to block my way. The huge thing spread about me, and I at last resigned myself to the inevitable. I watched in relieved amazement as those constricting tendrils passed wraithlike through my body. My stubborn resistance had broken the spell, and I was returned to my own plane of existence.
I looked back once more and watched as the dark woman was pulled down toward unknown fathoms. Her eyes seemed to reflect the horror of the coming eternity she would spend alone among the mindless minions of a patient and vengeful evil.
I found myself floundering in the real sea, beneath stifling and cloudy waves, swimming with river trash and detritus. My head broke the surface; I gulped in great amounts of salty air. The water stung my eyes, blinded me for a short time. Weakly, I made my way shoreward and found myself not far from where I had entered the ocean. I climbed back into my clothes, there to pass into oblivion. My father found me later that morning, unconscious upon the beach.
Even though the polychaetes my father found adhered to my chest and back were of a type never before identified, and even though there were numerous puncture wounds upon my arms and legs as those made by long nails, my father forever remained silent of the event. He seemed only relieved that I went no more to gaze mindlessly at the unending waves. I do not know what he suspects of the incident, for he never mentions it nor inquires as to how I should have been found soaking and insensible at the ocean's edge.