Authors: Michael Bray
RETURN TO THE DEEP
Copyright 2015 by Michael Bray
"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."
― H.P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature
"There's nothing in the sea this fish would fear. Other fish run from bigger things. That's their instinct. But this fish doesn't run from anything. He doesn't fear."
― Peter Benchley, Jaws
"Call me Ishmael."
― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
South Beach, Florida
The heat of the Florida sun had been replaced by campfires, which were spread sporadically down the white sands of the beach. The monotonous song of rolling tide had been joined by the sounds of laughter and the occasional song from an acoustic guitar. Barbecues were fired up, some couples paired off and found intimacy in the shadows. Others were content just to enjoy the ambiance as day gave way to night.
"It's haunted, you know," Fernando said, watching his friend for a reaction.
“Bullshit it is," Jim shot back.
"No, it is," Clayton cut in, dropping the glowing ember of his cigarette onto the beach and crunching it under foot.
"Oh yeah? And how would you know?" Jim asked, taking a swig from his beer and wedging the bottom back into the hollow he’d made in the sand.
"You know my cousin Frankie?"
"Is he the tall one? The one with the buck teeth?" Jim said, biting his lower lip and showing his own less than perfect set.
"Yeah, I know Frankie, he's a good guy," Jim said, finishing his beer and immediately grabbing another out of the box beside him.
"Yeah," Clayton nodded, flicking his eyes towards Marie, who was watching with interest as she let the surf roll over her ankles. "Well, he told me it all started a few years ago when a guy he knew went swimming out there, and never came back."
"I doubt that," Fernando said, trying to keep casual despite a shiver, which danced down his spine. "We'd have seen it in the news."
in the news."
"Oh yeah? Well
didn't see it."
"He washed up on the same day of the Boston Marathon explosion. I guess it got lost in the shuffle," Clayton fired back, locking eyes with his friend.
"So what happened to him?” Fernando said, giving a quick glance towards the ocean as it edged its way up the beach.
"They say he drowned, but everyone around here knows what
"What's that?" Marie said, watching the conversation unfold with eyes, which were part curious, part afraid.
Clayton flashed his best smile, the one reserved for girls like Marie who he hoped to add to his ever-growing list of conquests.
"I forgot, you’re not from around here, are you?" He said, letting his eyes linger on her bronzed midriff just long enough for her to notice.
"Ignore him; it’s just a story, and a stupid one at that," Jim said, watching the tanned, muscular Clayton give the eyes to Marie and feeling a pang of jealousy about his own skinny frame.
"What makes you so sure it’s just a story" Clayton fired back, aware that Marie was now watching him with interest. "Everyone around here, locals, I mean, know well enough not to go out there after dark."
"Would somebody just tell me what you're talking about?" Marie said, watching them both now with more than a little frustration.
"Forget it, it's nothing," Jim said, staring out over the ocean as he sipped his beer.
“So why won’t anyone tell me?”
“Nothin’ to tell,” Jim said, spitting in the sand and locking eyes with her, “it’s just a dumb story.”
“So why won’t you just tell it?”
"Hell, I'll tell it," Fernando said, fishing his cigarettes out of his pocket as he sat on the sand and crossed his legs. Without a word, everyone joined him, sitting in a rough circle around the dying embers of their beach fire. They waited for him to light his cigarette, and for a moment, there was only the sound of the tide as it made its endless ebb and flow and surrounded them. Fernando took a deep drag of his cigarette, exhaled, and began to speak.
"Some of you here already know this story or a version of it anyway. This is supposed to be the truth, the real story amid all the bullshit embellishments.”
“Check, Jack-a-fuckin’-nory over here,” Jim said, chuckling at his own joke. When he saw nobody else was laughing, he cleared his throat and waited for Fernando to continue. He took another lungful of smoke and exhaled, then turned towards Marie.
“Do you remember that thing in the news a few years back about the sea monster sightings around here?"
"Yeah, I remember," Marie said. “Wasn’t it supposed to have killed all those people in that boat race?”
“Yeah, the very same.”
“The news said it was a shark attack, a rogue great white or something. I remember my dad watching it in the news. I was only around fourteen at the time, so that would have been maybe four years ago I think.”
“Five,” Fernando said with a grin, “and it was no Great White.”
“My dad said the sea monster stuff was a hoax. People just getting carried away with the tale.”
"So the papers said, and anyone else who was involved in covering it up at the time." Fernando replied, elongating his grin. "People around here though, know that's not even close to the truth."
"Go on," Marie said, holding his gaze.
Enjoying the attention, Fernando went on. "A buddy of mine called Sam, has a brother who used to work for the government. Low level stuff mostly, but the point is, he overheard stuff. Secret stuff. Do you remember the official story they put out about the boat race attack? Not the shit they put in the news, I’m talking about the official report now."
"I only heard what my dad told me," Marie said, tucking a lock of brown hair behind her ear.
"Well, the official story was similar to the news report. They said it was a school of sharks. Great whites apparently mistook the boats for seals or some shit like that. Everyone knows it was bull, hell, anyone who lives this close to the ocean will tell you that, although whites do occasionally mistake the odd surfer for supper, they sure as hell don’t attack in groups. Anyway, that was the official story and like always, the government swept it under the rug until people forgot about it. Funny thing is, the two guys who survived the attack were killed in separate plane crashes within three days of each other, and less than a month after the incident. For me, that's too much of a coincidence. It seems to me somebody was trying to keep them quiet about what actually happened out there."
"Come on, get on with it," Clayton said, frowning at the attention Marie was giving to his friend.
"Sorry," he said, flashing a grin at them, his brown eyes flickering in the dull glow of the fire. "Anyway, that was the story, and as they had planned, it was all forgotten. So, fast forward a year or so, and my brother's buddy gets discharged from his post with the government. He wouldn't tell anyone why, but my buddy said it was obvious that he was pretty pissed about the situation. One afternoon, Sam comes home to find his brother slumped in the chair, absolutely shitfaced, mumbling on and on about how it was unfair, and it wasn't his fault. Sam was curious, so he started to ask questions. His brother told him how it wasn't sharks, but a whale. A big one. Some kind of undiscovered supersized thing that nobody knew existed."
"That’s even harder to believe than the shark story," Marie said.
"I haven't finished yet," Fernando snapped. "As I was saying, he claimed it was some undiscovered kind of whale. He said he was part of a team that traced this thing out to Antarctica of all places, where it was supposed to have made some kind of lair, a cave hollowed out of the ice. They eventually ended up collapsing the cave and crushing this thing inside. Remember that Ross Ice Shelf collapse that happened around the same time these sightings happened?"
"Yeah," Marie said, showing interest again in the story. “That was a pretty big deal too as I remember.”
"Well, that was a lie too, or at least the reason it happened was. It wasn't a collapse, but a controlled explosion designed to kill this giant whale and its offspring."
“Offspring?" Marie whispered, flicking her eyes towards the ocean.
"Oh yeah, apparently it had little whale babies with it too. Sam's brother said the mother was killed and one of the babies taken away for study."
"I still don't get it, what does that have to do with here?" Marie said, close to losing interest again.
Fernando jabbed a thumb over his shoulder to the shadow of the hulking aquarium visible down the beach, a black smudge against the twilight. "Rumour is that they took the young one in there for tests, research, all kinds of crap like that."
"Into a public aquarium?" Marie said, shaking her head and dislodging the stubborn bang of hair from behind her ear. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
"That's the thing," Fernando went on. "It's common knowledge that only a small portion of that place is open to the public. More than half of it is sealed off. You ever noticed how tight the security is in there? There's obviously something in there that nobody wants us to see."
"It all sounds a bit far-fetched," Marie muttered, starting to lose interest and turning her attention back to Clayton.
"No it's true," Clayton said, giving her that grin again. "It's been a bit of a curiosity around here since that thing opened. They say it’s closed off, ready to develop future attractions, which, I suppose is plausible, although you have to ask why none of those developments have happened yet."
"Still," Marie said, pointing at Fernando with a half-smile on her face, "how does
know so much about it?"
"I just know," Fernando said with a shrug. "The point is, they say the creature's mother wasn't killed in the ice collapse, and tracked its baby to the aquarium. Apparently, it hides in the deep water just off the coast here, feeding on those brave or stupid enough to swim out too far whilst it waits to be returned with its young."
"Oh please," Marie said, chuckling while taking a sip of her beer. "This sounds like a Twilight Zone episode. Surely, you don't believe any of this shit?"
"It's true,” Fernando grunted. “People go missing out here all the time. They go out for a swim and never come back. Some people who did make it back to shore say they can hear the spirits of the dead, crying in the darkness, and warning people to stay away from the water."
"Still sounds like an urban legend to me, and a shitty one at that," Marie said.
"Then you swim out there. See if anything gets you," Fernando snapped, put out by her dismissal of his story.
"Screw that," Marie replied, glancing out over the ocean. "I’m not swimming out there just so the rest of you can laugh at me."
"I know how we can find out for sure," Clayton said.
"Fishing rod?" Fernando shot back, hoping his joke would hit the mark. Nobody laughed, and now Marie had turned her intense stare back to Clayton.
"No, not a fishing rod," Clayton said, holding Marie’s gaze. "The aquarium."
They all looked at the giant shadow of the domed structure.
"What about it?" Fernando said, surprised how jealous he was becoming of the attention Marie was giving his friend.
"Well, you say it's all true. Marie says not. Why don't we go up there and take a look for ourselves?"
"Hey man," Jim said, shaking his head, "I don't think that's a good idea. If we get caught, I'm gonna be in a world of trouble."
"I’m not suggesting we go break in or anything stupid like that. I’m just saying we could go and take a look for ourselves."
"They have night security up there, I've seen them patrolling the grounds," Jim said.
Everyone looked at Marie. When she noticed them staring, she flushed and looked at her feet, which were half buried in the sand.
"Alright," Clayton replied with a grin, "what about you?"
Fernando looked at the shadowy structure, then at Marie, and finally at Clayton. There was something in his friend’s eyes, some primal competitive edge, and an almost daring look, which gave Fernando little choice. "Okay, let’s do it."
“Alright then, let’s make a move," Clayton said, getting to his feet and brushing sand from his jeans.
"You wanna do this now?” Jim said, giving Fernando an uncertain glance.
"Why not? The place should be closed now. It should be easy, that is, unless you're all scared of a couple of over the hill security guards."
"No, of course not...alright, I’m in," Jim grunted.
"Let’s get to it then."
Clayton started to walk down the beach, Marie in tow and carrying her sandals. Jim and Fernando hung back, keeping a watchful eye on the looming structure ahead. Jim lit a cigarette and listened to the tide roll against the beach as the group walked towards their destination.
The aquarium was an imposing domed structure of glass and steel. During daylight hours, it would be jammed with tourists eager to see the variety of exotic marine life housed within its walls. The outer courtyard, usually as full as the inside with people pausing to grab a snack or a cold drink, or maybe even throw a few coins into the ornate wishing fountain, was completely deserted. Through the array of glass doors fronting the entrance, there was a single light barely penetrating the shadows from the security office.