The old mariners called them the devils of the deep. These mysterious creatures were held to be responsible for plucking ships from the surface and carrying them down into the dark depths below, crew and all. Stories carried back to Europe by the first explorers held a morbid fascination for the people, and countless authors and playwrights had turned to this mysterious phenomenon as a useful and powerful tool in their storytelling arsenal.
Held in superstitious awe for centuries, misunderstood and believed to be myth, today science knows them as the Humboldt Squid.
This particular specimen was old by the measure of his species. Scarred by a thousand battles, and fat on the flesh of its own kind, it cruised the inky blackness of the abyss, supreme in its might. A smaller animal flashed out of the darkness, but immediately veered off as it spotted the larger predator, and the squid swam on unmolested.
Far above, a faint lightening of the darkness indicated the presence of the sun above the surface of the ocean, while far below the blackness continued unbroken.
Laura Metcalfe realised she was holding her breath.
‘Breath, girl! Never forget to breath!’ she admonished herself, relaxing her diaphragm and taking in a controlled breath. Although an experienced diver, she was unaccustomed to diving in waters this deep and dark, with daylight scarcely visible, and the unsettling knowledge that the ocean floor was still several thousand meters below. It felt strangely uncomfortable – almost as if she was floating in outer space, with nothing tangible to grasp a hold of, and she had to ignore the sensation that she was going to drift off into oblivion.
She watched the giant squid with no small measure of trepidation. These animals had been known to attack humans, and the specimen in front of her matched her in size and weight, and would easily overcome her if it should choose to attack. She glanced at her diving buddy, Grant, and he gave her the cut-out signal – time to go back up. She gave him the thumbs up, and spoke into the microphone of her helmet.
‘This never gets boring, does it?’
‘Never’, he agreed, his voice crackling with static.
She watched the giant squid making its stately way, when, without warning, it turned as if to strike. Laura’s breath caught in her throat as she watched the animal adopt an extremely aggressive posture, and she instinctively raised her arms to protect herself. Yet something was out of place. It wasn’t facing her directly, and as the thought crossed her mind, she felt the tremor. A light shockwave buffeted the two divers, and Laura now knew the reason for the squid’s strange behaviour.
‘A seismic tremor, Laura,’ Grant assured her, ‘nothing to be alarmed about.’ Grant was Laura’s professor back at Harvard, where she was finishing her doctorate in Marine Biology, and they had formed a pretty close bond over the few years they had known each other.
‘Man, that gave me the creeps!’
Grant chuckled into the microphone. ‘We’re in the Pacific Ring of Fire, and these things happen from time to time, Laura. Learn to roll with it and you’ll be just fine.’
Without warning, another shockwave hit them, and this one was much more violent than the first. As Laura tumbled through the dark water, her eyes wide with shock, out of the blackness something hard and unyielding hit her on the head, and lashing out wildly, her hand closed on Grant’s ankle.
No reply. Laura could hear her own breathing, unnaturally loud in her diving helmet. She fought down panic.
‘Grant! Can you hear me?’ she shouted again. She shook his leg, but got no response. Pulling herself up his inert body, Laura looked into his helmet, and blanched at what she saw. The glass of his visor was shattered, and his sightless eyes seemed to look right through her.
‘Oh my God!’ she screamed in horror and revulsion, letting go of his corpse and pushing herself away. As the terror she had fought now rushed back full force, Laura began a mad dash for the surface far above. Unmindful of decompression sickness, and forgetting all the rules of deep water diving, she clawed her way through the water, sobbing like an infant.
‘Ohmygodohmygodohmygod’ she gasped as she pumped her legs and flailed her arms, but the tantalising warmth of the sun above seemed as far away as ever. A giant squid appeared suddenly out of the darkness, and Laura screamed in terror. A suckered tentacle wrapped around her forearm, and a million insects of revulsion seemed to crawl down her spine as she fought to break free.
A third, and more powerful shockwave hit her, and she felt the squid break free as she was thrown through the water like a kitten in a washing machine. She lost all sense of direction, and as blind panic threatened to shut down all of her senses, she saw the blue gleam of the sun through the dark water.
‘Oh thank the Lord!’ she breathed, making her way weakly towards the light. Although now shaken and bruised, Laura seemed to be making good time, as the light grew steadily brighter. Gaining control of her terror, she realised that her panic could kill her, and taking a deep breath to calm herself, she paused in her ascent to take stock. She checked her dive computer; still 30 minutes of air – enough time to decompress on her way up.
Then she noticed something that threatened to unhinge her already shattered mind. The bubbles from her breathing apparatus were floating down through her legs! Her chest constricted as the implications dawned on her, and she immediately started to panic again. Thrashing this way and that, Laura twisted her head to follow the trail of bubbles, and saw, far above, the glimmer of light on the surface of the ocean. She had been diving deeper into the void. Looking back, she saw the second light, the one she had been following, and it had grown brighter still. Confusion warred with panic as she watched a blue light surging out of the depths of the abyss.
A bow wave of staggering proportions preceded the craft as it surged through the water, and Laura’s body was thrown a hundred feet into the air as it erupted from the waves into the bright sunlight.
The crew on the charter vessel watched in awe as a brightly lit object hurled itself into space at unnatural speed, but all that was forgotten over the next few days as the search and rescue operation continued and the mystery of the two missing scientists dominated the local headlines.
Some ventured that there was a link between the strange light and the disappearances, but most sane people acknowledged that diving with Humboldt Squid was a risky business at the best of times, and that the two hapless divers had met their end by the very creatures they had been studying.
Published Titles in the Johnny Roberts Series:
Book Two: Johnny Roberts and the Gods of Eden
Andrew Noble © 2016
Cover artwork: John Killin © 2016
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© 2016 Andrew Noble All Rights Reserved