The night was calm and had been uneventful. The breeze barely stirred the tarpaulin covering the tools on the ship's deck. The moon was not quite full but still bright enough to turn the sea's surface into a mirror when the thick cloud cover gave up trying to blot out earth's largest satellite. Currently the clouds seemed to have tired of the game they played and started thinning out allowing the moon to bathe the ships bobbing on the surface in its cold and sterile light.
Nick the junior pilot of the Mighty Mariner kept pivoting so his gaze would move left to right, or Port to Starboard as his instructors and training manual kept insisting, some habits just seem to refuse to die altogether. The ship was an old one, launched from the Sunderland shipyards in 73 the Makams had built her to last, still on the outside she looked rusty and weather beaten. Her interior especially the ships "bridge" was the definition of idiosyncratic. Keeping as much of the original furnishings as possible the skipper, a grumpy old timer by the name of Blake -just Blake apparently- was a pragmatic soul and endeavoured to keep the Mariner kitted out in the latest gadgetry money could buy. Whilst maintaining a healthy profit margin for himself and the company that threw contracts his way. As a result over polished hardwood panelling often framed the latest radio rig or GPS screen of the nineties. Nick had remarked in the ships cramped mess after a week (give or take) that given the odd collection of maritime technology and design a better name for the ship would be the Time Machine. None of his ship mates got the joke and stared at him for a minute before realising he'd finished making a joke. It was only a week after that incident that Nick confirmed his suspicions that he and he alone was a frequent reader, unless nautical charts, engineering maintenance guides and glossy over eighteens only magazines counted.
A prolonged sound from behind and to Nick's right made him start. Silently cursing his wandering mind he looked over his shoulder to the bridges other occupant Jerry "Biggs" Connor the radio operator. Biggs stared at Nick for a second before scowling a little, he held up his empty mug the one with a England flag on it and repeated "Want some tea mate?" "Oh" Nick began before nodding enthusiastically "Cheers". Biggs waved it off as he descended the short stairs heading deeper into the bowels of the ship "No problem, I'm having a refill anyway". Nick yawned and turned back to appreciate the view of well nothing worth appreciating. It looked set to be another night of gazing into the darkness metres beyond the prow and listening to the gentle sloshing of the waves as the Mighty Mariner rather daintily made its way through the great pond of the Atlantic. Technically neither Biggs nor Nick where supposed to leave their stations until relieved at the next watch but nights where usually dead air for the Mariners radio barring a possible accident, so there wasn't any harm in it unless Blake was about, and he usually stayed in his cabin from 23:00 hours till daybreak. Whilst alone Nick quickly gave up on his staring contest with the darkness and let his mind wander again. For some reason he kept going over what Biggs had said to him mere seconds ago, particularly the word "mate". Nick and Biggs weren't friends, given that the Mariner was his first ship and he'd been with the crew for a little over a month and was thus still "green in the gills" as the expression went, the lack of friends wasn't that depressing just annoying. Was Biggs being sarcastic? Nah, they weren't friends but they definitely weren't enemies either. Biggs and the rest of the crew had shown no animosity towards Nick, they just found the awkward ex landlubber a bit of an odd nuisance and so kept some distance.
Nick let out a sigh, was this really what his new career at Sea would be? Him overanalysing every little interaction with his shipmates and boring himself silly on night shift? The films and stories where an egregious case of false advertisement, they'd filled his head with all kinds of nonsense. When Nick had signed up with the Merchant Navy he knew he wouldn't be hunting Whales like Ahab or fighting pirates or sinking U-boats, and finding Atlantis was simply not on the cards. But he was at least expecting something
..MORE, everything was just so ordinary. In addition to all the big crowd pleasing action scenes the films had depicted a unique fellowship of men and increasingly a few women in the modern ones- whom where clever, hardworking whilst fun loving, disciplined and yet free to just set sail to another location anywhere on the planet and make a go of it there. It had been this aspect of a Seaman's life that had attracted Nick. Growing up a mile inland from the coast he'd spend more than a few afternoons at the Grimsby docks watching the ships mostly big cargo haulers with one or two trawlers and on rare occasions a Navy ship moor themselves and let their crews disembark for a few hours while they resupplied. Instead of some "otherworld" Nick had found Maritime life to be depressingly ordinary. It was like being inside a large lorry, only you had to manually operate the engine and sat nav if you wanted it to go anywhere.
The Creature began to stir lazily. The creature had no name as no Marine Biologist had seen fit to give it one or even record it and its kin's existence. It had been dreaming for several days, dreaming of the last time it had awoken some three hundred years ago. Whereas a man's dream memories are of past events both great and embarrassing skewered by exaggeration and impulse the creature merely dreamed of sensations. The sensation it was most fond of was feeding followed closely by the feel of tearing into prey to start feeding. The sensation it hated most and which memories of could be considered analogous to human nightmares was hunger. It had been feeling hungry ever since it crept out of the cavity in the bedrock it had been resting in for so long. Once free it began to drift aimlessly only moving to stretch its cramp muscles and claw at any irritating spot of scaled hide where barnacles had attached themselves.
To look upon the Creature would be to gaze upon some strange missing link in the evolution of many of the seas more common dangers and wonders. At a glance it looked like some aquatic God had used this Leviathan as a prototype to see what gifts it would bestow upon its more deserving servants. The Creature was vast, the size of a small Whale with a hump to match in place of a dorsal thin. Its face held two tiny black orbs for eyes, above a jaw filled with row upon row of teeth the size and shape of arrowheads. In fact it was the teeth of the creature and its kin that where there most frequent announcement of existence to the surface world. Often however this clues where attributed to an extinct species of shark of which the creature shared little beyond dentistry and attitude. And in place of ventral fins it had two amalgamations that could be described as arms; they were as thick as tree trunks and ended in webbed hands with a long claw on the tip of each finger, curved and wickedly sharp. It kept both arms close to its ventral belly only shifting them to scratch off a barnacle once in a while. If its jaw resembled that of a shark, and its general size and dorsal shape similar to a whale, then its rear was a relative of the Eel family. Albeit an incredibly large one, if the loss of a few teeth had inspired marine biologists to conjure up non-existent sharks then perhaps the rare discoveries of the Creature and its cousins by Sailors had inspired talk of giant Sea Serpents. It was through the lazy undulations of its rear half that the Creature moved through the sea, it travelled alone not counting the parasitic clingers on it had gathered over the years, the rest of the sea's occupants seem clever enough to know to give the Creature a wide berth. Had the creature been fully sentient this like of visible would have been infuriating as its hunger continued to eat away at its thoughts forcing it to fully awaken.
Its tiny eyes stared out at the darkness all around it; its sense of smell could only pick up trace smells of familiar prey far away. Instead of the musk of living fleeing creatures its nose was full of a strange chemical smell it could not remember scenting before. Its hearing too was filled with an alien sound a continuous THRUM THRUM THRUM that never altered or slowed in frequency. Intrigued the creature put more energy into its tail thrashing and headed for the source of the strange sounds and smells.
The steaming liquid was a welcome relief to Nick's morose thoughts. He swallowed the tea quickly not caring that it burned his throat slightly as the heat hit his stomach and spread to the tips of his fingers. Nick still hadn't gotten used to how adaptable the human body was to the chill of the night air out at sea. After mumbling his thanks to the Biggs the two returned to their posts in mutual silence. The boiling hot caffeine seemed to have cheered Nick up for he no longer lost himself in thoughts of disappointment and regret. So what if navigating on this old rust bucket wasn't full of adventure? It was regular pay and his first posting, at 25 Nick had plenty of time to transfer to a more exotic post if he wished after getting a Senior Rating, hell he could even give the Navy ago if he really needed some excitement. Though admittedly navigating for a Frigate whilst it chased down penniless Somali pirates in leaking rafts wasn't quite as fun as repelling boarders or giving Blackbeard a full broadside it still had some appeal. But those were decisions for later, focusing on the now Nick checked time 01:30 not too long before change over, then double check the ships speed and position on the GPS. Everything seemed to be ship shape as Blake was fond of demanding from his crew.
Yes on reflection lugging DVD's and books from port to port didn't seem so bad once Nick took everything into consideration. A shame everything was still so tiring, at the next stop which should be barring unforeseen consequences Felixstowe before heading on to Rotterdam to pick up some cargo for the return journey, Nick resolved to buy a battery DVD player and a thick paperback book, perhaps War and Peace that had a lot of pages, both should help pass his off hours and give him something more interesting to think about whilst staring at the darkness. Speaking of Darkness Nick squinted ahead and slightly to Port was that the light of another vessel? Of course it was they were in the middle of the North Sea too far out for a light house or guidance buoy. It was still a ways off and seemed to be heading off in another direction, still worth keeping an eye on if its lights didn't wink out, accidental collision was rare even close to port but Nick didn't relish being counted amongst those special few ship pilots whom managed to pull it off. If it didn't kill him literally it would certainly kill his career as a seafarer.
The Creature peered up at the source of the strange sensations; this prey was large, that was good, large prey made for a large meal. The prey was also a surface skimmer, the way it bobbed up and down meant much of its mass was exposed to the air. The Creature was capable of breaching the surface for short periods of time and had done so in the distant past. It hated the sensation of open air on its crusted scales and resolved to drag this new prey down into the depths first before it began to feed. The muscles of its jaw tightened in anticipation of ending its hunger for a time. The flexing opened its lips and exposed its teeth to sea. Salty water poured down its throat as the creature pointed itself in the direction of the prey beast put on a burst of speed and moved in for the kill.
Just before its head rammed into the underbelly of the prey the Creature pulled up and lashed out with its arms. The claws at the tips of its arms were over two feet in length and strong enough to embed themselves in the reefs of corral and bedrock of the sea floor. Nevertheless the claws only found purchase for a few seconds before the prey broke free. The Creature was confused; it had never encountered a prey coated in such a slippery hide. All was not lost however as its eyes could see six gashes in the prey's hide running parallel for almost a metre, prove the prey could be hurt. And if it could be hurt it could be killed.
The Creature retreated for a time letting the distance between it and the prey grow. The chase was not over however, once the Creature could no longer see the prey and had to rely on scent and sound to fix its position in its mind it circled round determined for another pass, only this time instead of clawing at the prey it would ram the prey and batter it into submission before tearing it apart. This would be a challenge the first the Creature had had in a long time, still the size of the prey meant it would be worth its weight literally- in flesh for sustenance. The thought of its future meal excited the Creature pushing its bestial to further heights of excitement and its tail thrashed even quicker shortening both the distance between it and the prey and the time it had left as a living vessel.
"The hell was that? You asleep at the wheel Nicky boy or what". Nick winced in embarrassment rather than pain all of a sudden from out of nowhere the ship suddenly jarred the speed went from just under 20M to zero for about five maybe ten seconds. Enough time to throw Biggs into Nicks shoulder and spill the dregs of his tea in his face splashing the back of Nicks head. The speed kicked in again nearly throwing both of them to the hard metal floor. Nick was too busy trying to figure out what had gone wrong to notice either Biggs insults or his damp neck. The obvious answer was no less ridiculous then an impossible one, they'd hit something. Not hard enough to cause serious damage to the Mariner touch wood panelling- in fact it was probably less of a collision and more of a snag or a clip. But a snag or a clip on what was the question, they were quite literally in the middle of the sea and the charts even the old ones with great big sea monsters on them- showed this area Humber on a heading into German Bight without correction to be clear of rocky outcrops and large reefs.
Remember his training after a few moments mental procrastination Nick pulled back the throttle reducing the ships speed. When confronted with uncharted waters home to hazards such as shallow water or submerged obstacles slow down and either stop and weigh anchor or slow as much as possible and use every form of obstacle navigation available including eyesight. Since it was still dark outside the latter was out for the time being, and since they couldn't be sure there were no more obstacles whatever they were- around the ship it would after to be an overnight stop. Blake wouldn't be happy when he found out which would be soon as ships custom necessitated he be woken and informed of the stop over, if the jolt hadn't woken him up already. Still as angry as Blake would be over delay it would be nothing Nick was sure compared to how angry he would be if he awoke to be informed his ship were sinking. The ship came to a stop relatively speaking of course the sea would keep it in motion even after the anchor was cast over the side. Speaking of which with only him and Biggs confirmed to be up and on station the rest of the crew awake and at work would be the engineers in the Sterns lower deck- and with Biggs setting the radio onto standby with his eyes clued to the GPS longitude and Latitude coordinates ready to give a distress call should it prove necessary. It was a precautionary measure and one that probably wouldn't be needed but on a ship orders where orders, and the operation procedures where the operation procedures. This meant it would be Nicks job to go brave the cold night air and deploy the Anchor and if Blake had not made his presence known by the time he got back, go wake the old blowhard up. Making a conscious effort not to sigh again it was a bad habit to develop after all- Nick open the door to the deck brace himself against the chill, and thinking warm thoughts descended the ladder steps and began making his way to the Anchor near the Bow, making sure to clutch the lip of the ships side for support the water had started to get choppy.
Clinging on for dear life Nick made his way over to the bow, deploying the anchor was a simple task requiring only a brief fight with a lever that gets stuck about halfway every time. Despite the rather mundane task Nick was on edge, something was making him uneasy it was probably nerves this was the first time he'd had to work in what might considered a dangerous situation without the voice in the back of his mind telling him to calm down it was only a practice drill. After taking a breath to steel himself Nick placed both hands on the stubborn lever and braced himself, before he could so much as twitch a muscle the something hit the ship, with such force that Nick was knock back. The back of his legs hit the ships side and pitch him head first into the sea.
Flailing his limbs trying to find which way was "up" Nicks head eventually broke the surface, spitting out the salty water Nick tried to find the Mariner whilst doing his best not to think of the freezing cold water he was submerged in. Seeing the lights of the ship at last Nick was about to shout for all he was worth, if Biggs hadn't seen him go over he was dead. His screams for help choked out of his throat instead. Nick was stunned by what he was seeing; he felt a second deep chill in the pit of his stomach that had nothing to do with the seas cold embrace.
The Mariner had begun moving again only this time it was rocking back and forth on its side, the propellers certainly couldn't do that. The rocking ceased or rather lessened, but now the ship appeared to be disappearing
. "No!" shouted Nick "please, please no, this can't be happening, come back and help me, please". Nick practically whispered the fight had gone out of him; there was no use shouting and screaming anyway. The Mariner wouldn't be coming back for him even if everyone on board knew he was overboard. The old ship was disappearing under the waves.
If the Creature had been capable of believing in such an abstract concept as luck it would probably be doing the aquatic version of thanking its lucky stars. The prey had slowed down, so much so that it might have well not been moving. Maybe its earlier clawing had done some damage after all. This seemed unlikely to the Creature as even its simple mind understood that damage usually meant the leaking of precious fluids and the prey beast had yet to shed a drop. Still that was a puzzle that could wait, forever actually as now was the time for action, vicious and destructive action. The Beast ploughed straight into the prey's left flank so hard it punched a hole in the side as big as a full grown seal and as long as a swordfish pointed nose and all. The prey still stubbornly refused to reward the Creatures efforts by leaking its blood but it was clearly stunned and confused since it took no action to evade or defend itself. Excited the Creature shoved both claws into the opening and began to tear, the prey's armoured hide resisted like no other had before it and it was many seconds before it finally started to give widening the wound to what should have been a fatal size and yet still no blood. Still the surface skimming prey was starting to list onto its wounded side and slump deeper into the water telling the Creatures primitive mind that it was making some progress. And still no defence or attempt to escape.
It was time to end the fight, the Creatures claws dug in deep, securing purchase in the preys innards, -which where almost as hard and thick as its outer armour- the Creature pointed its snout towards the depths and began thrashing its tail, the prey resisted at first but as the sea continued to fill its entrails its back broke and its rib cage buckled. After that it didn't take long for the prey to be completely submerged. Once accomplished the Creature knew it was over, the surface skimmers it had broken apart and devoured in the past didn't last long was they'd gotten their heads wet. This prey as strange as it had been was proving to be no different. Bits of it had started braking off now; curiously some of the bits seemed to have been alive and completely different to the main prey beast. Parasites or spawn? It didn't matter in the end they'd be food for other weaker predators, pretenders to the Creatures throne of Aquatic Dominance. When it bored of its destructive fun tearing up the strange prey it would begin to feast as was its right and need. Then it would drift letting the currents decide its destination finding new prey to begin the cycle all over again. It had lived in such a manner for millennia and should the thought in the future enter its mind to change its pattern of behaviour it would respond in what would approximate to human terms as a shrug or snort of derision.
Nick just couldn't think clearly anymore, nothing made sense. He knew in his still beating heart that he would not outlive the Mariner and his crewmates much longer. He was tired and freezing; he could barely feel his arms or legs and there were no ships anywhere near close enough to respond to the distress call, if Biggs had even managed to send one in time to rescue him. This night was to be his last; Nick tried to think of something profound or poetic but in the end as his head went under and refused to come up again, all he could manage was an acknowledgement that the last ten or so minutes of his life had been interesting.
This is the first short story I ever completed not counting school assignments. I entered it in HG Wells short story competition this year (2012). Sadly I didn't make the short list still you won't succeed if you don't try.
I love this!
Thank you very much, a shame you weren't on the judging panel
This is an amazing story, and very well written. You should write more.
This is brilliant!