The remnants of an ancient civilization lurk beneath the waves and draw the diver down into the darkest layers of the sea, where the weird and the timeless collide.
Origins | Watery Grave
She saw it from above the surface of the ocean, a huge carving scored into the base of the sheer cliffs, deep below the ragged edges of the island. She’d heard this entire land mass, now mostly swallowed by the sea, had once been the site of a civilization that stretched across the Mediterranean, folded into the Arab lands, and far into Africa, down to the rift valley. Perhaps the carving was a god, or an emperor at least. She smiled, checked her oxygen, and dived further towards the grim, tentacled form.
She was strong, and young, pricked with invincibility, unencumbered by wisdom and the failures of age. She pulled at the water, seeking ever further down, consciously following the line of sunlight that sliced into the blue waters until they were devoured by a slow churn of darkness in the deepest layers below. She brushed past swarms of silver fish, with gold and blue trails flicking at her, puzzled by her persistence.
Something inside her pressed her on. She was excited. She had heard the stories, of this outcrop of islands, circling the edge of land like a gigantic maw, each jagged isle, a tooth stabbing above the surf, froth clinging to the wreckage of its glorious memories. She remembered the tales of lost cities, washed from the shores of their grandeur by the grim carelessness of a greater power. She’d seen a few murky photos, some fanciful drawings of the hidden treasures below, treasures that once had shone above the surface, as symbols of the great and powerful.
But now, she was within diving distance of her first discovery. She had read everything she could find on the underwater statues that stretched into the deep valleys of the sea floor, disappearing into the cracks and fissures of the tectonic plates that split the underwater worlds from the land above. She had imagined the huge carvings in the cliff dispatching the statues into the core of the earth, the sea and mud swirling at their feet, their pin-hole, stoney eyes facing forward, resolutely.
Again, she checked her oxygen. She would have to turn back soon, so started to glide down less vigorously, slowing her breaths. In the distance still she could see the carving, so similar to the photos, but more livid, chilling, it drew her on, and she began to notice that there were fewer fish, replaced instead by larger creatures, sea turtles, and eels. She drifted down silently, unwilling to disturb the reveries of this ancient place and its strange, foreboding beings.
As she began to feel a little giddy, she looked again towards the carving, and saw it move. No. An octopus perhaps, slithering in front, obscuring her view for a moment. She began to mutter to herself, taken by the mood around her, as the beams of sunlight withered before the darkness below, and she passed through another layer of the sea, to find no creatures around her at all, but deep below, still the carving and what seemed to be tiny pinpricks of light, perhaps the desperate eyes of deep sea fish, locked to the ocean floor, destined to gaze upwards, yearning for the freedom and the light above.
She checked her oxygen for the last time, certain that she must turn, but something else caught her attention. The seaweed shivered in long trails around the carved limbs before her, the carving in the cliff wall was so much larger than she had realized, its massive head several times the size of her whole body.
She muttered, ‘Oh, look at you, my beauty!” And now she glided further, following the line of the cliff, to the gigantic wonder. She was struck by the stillness, and the eerie glow from the thousands of eyes that cast across the edges of the carving. She realized there were other carvings too, most of them smaller than the one she had seen from above the surface, as though she’d been called by this one, amongst the many.
“Chosen?” She dismissed the thought as soon as she had allowed it to escape her mouth. A thrill of bubbles burst from her helmet. She swore, knowing she had wasted precious air by speaking.
She swam around the carving, noting the corral skeletons at its feet. She sighed, and determined to take a final look at the form, she swam closer. Her eyes traced the tentacles, clearly some evocation of an octopus. perhaps the gods had all been modelled on the great sea creatures, perhaps some of the other carvings would be figures based on turles and sea horses. She smiled at the naivety of these ancient peoples, their lack of sophistication, at the mercy of the elements, and, watching the creatures around them who surveyed the ocean roar, and the winds, and the tumid heat, sought to emulate their properties in manifestations of their gods.
Her foot grazed against the side of the carving.
A cascade of air pockets burst around her.
She reared back, as a huge eye opened before her, covering her entire view with its pale, pulsating surface, oozing at the edges, entrails of seaweed flung away by the lifting of the vast eyelids.
“Ah! The creature rose.
“Ah!” The diver swam backwards, struggling with her air, and the churning waters.
“Ah!” Both screamed.
The creature then shifted its bulk and two feet emerged. Its body wrenched from the cliff, and it fixed the swimmer with its eye.
“Ah!” The creature stood, flinging a storm of water backwards, roiling the darkness, sending it spinning upwards to consume the light, and so it scrambled up and ran, its great eye stolen with fear and astonishment.
“Ah, ah!” The creature looked back, and watched its dream creation dissolve: the sea, the swimmer, the storm. Unable to stare into the face of its cosmic fantasies the creature hung its head in frustration at its own timidity. This dream had been good, the aeons of sleep had fashioned so much detail from the dark waters of the universe, and the little swimming creature had been so real. But now it was all gone, and he would have to start again.[ends]
More in two weeks, (more from What is Time? next week)
There are many other stories in this series, including:
Here’s a related post, 5 Steps to the SF and Fantasy Podcasts
And a post on the life, work and gothic inheritance of H.P. Lovecraft.