Writing Prompt #50 — A Place Made from Coral and Sand

Prompt: Deep in the ocean where darkness reigns, life begins to mirror the surface. In the future, A submarine is built powerful enough to explore those depths. As a member of the crew, you experience first hand what that kind of environment does to a civilization.

Captain Wolf and I stood at the large, convex window at the southern end of the sub. The window was shielded by thin, bluish gray metal, serving as a curtain between the sea-life beyond and us. Although I had been serving Captain Wolf and his ship for many years, I still felt unease knowing that only glass separated me from life and a drowning death.

“Michael?” the Captain said, breaking me from daydreaming.

“Yes, yes,” I said, “sorry sir, continue.”

He walked around me to the large, square monitor off to the side of the window. He stood on his toes, pressed one of the dozen black buttons flanking the monitor, and the screen came to life. I walked over to him, hands joined behind my back.

“Today I will show you something no one has seen.” He pressed another button. A dull metallic sound issued from near the window. He was opening the curtains. “Look,” he nodded to the window with his pronounced chin, “what do you see?”

I glanced and saw nothing but blackness, as if I was staring into space and not the bottom of the ocean. “Blackness, sir.”

“That’s correct: blackness. It’s so dark in this part of the ocean that not even our eyes can decipher anything within. Now what if I told you, Michael, that there are things living in that darkness? Amphibian life, ever evolving, growing similar and similar to on-shore life.”

I shifted my stance. “Like, humans, sir?”

“Nearly. Now look, on the screen.”

The monitor came to life with an electric green hue. Night vision was on. There were outlines of things in speckled white, they were difficult to distinguish. Some figures had the shape of fish — fins, large, bulbous eyes, gaping mouths — but others were straight, as though they were standing, and some possessed two long, thin limbs that could’ve been arms or legs…

“Down here, there’s no light, as you can see. These species have evolved without light, wouldn’t even know what it was if they saw it, but from what I was able to gather, light can damage them severely.”

“Is that why you didn’t turn on the search lights, sir?”

“Precisely.

“What you’re seeing on the screen is the best we’ve been able to capture of them. Night vision, even in this day in age, is very rudimentary in what we’re trying to accomplish, but…” He looked at the screen, seemingly lost in his thoughts.

“But, sir?”

He shook his head. “Yes, sorry, but there have been advancements. Research, mostly theories and hypothesis, has been made. A group of oceanographers and marine biologists believe that these species can’t reflect light, like they’re air with a very, very thin frame… But they believe UV light will be able to refract within their bodies and reveal more of them. Moreover, the research has developed a device that shoots UV lights in a certain way — a certain ‘pattern,’ I was told — that would enter the figures without harm, revealing them to us. It’s in alpha stages currently, but I was able to procure a prototype for this voyage.” Captain Wolf pressed a black button, the metal curtains closed. He flicked a switch and the overhead lights dimmed. “Are you ready, Michael?”

I nodded, although he wasn’t facing me.

“Good, good.” He adjusted a dial near the bottom of the monitor, then another near the top right corner, then pressed a green button off to the left. The image of the screen flickered from electric green and white outlines to velvety purple with white outlines, then a deeper purple, almost black, with even brighter outlines. The screen flickered momentarily, then settled.

“Jesus,” I gasped.

“You see them?” he asked.

“Yes— yes, I see them… sir.”

There were upright moving figures with fins protruding from their backs. There were ones with two arms and two legs, walking across the sands of the ocean floor. Some had human-shaped heads with two eyes, but with gaping, amphibious mouthes; some had fins instead of arms but two legs; some reversed. Their skin was pale, ghostly, but I wasn’t certain if it was from the device or it was their true colors. Beyond the moving figures were crumbling structures made from must’ve been coral and sand; tall, spiraling like a seashell, towards the lighter seas above. The figures moved and swam from one low structure to the other, some venturing away towards the tall buildings in the distance.

A taller figure, one with bulging eyes from a human-shaped skull stopped mid-stride. It turned towards us.

“Sir?”

“Yes?” he said, his jaw slack, eyes wide with wonder.

“Can they see us?”

“They can’t see, at least from what the scientists told me. It’s so dark that they don’t need eyes. They use sonar, like dolphins.”

Another figure stopped, turned. A shorter one this time, with stout legs and two, webbed fins where its arms would be.

“Is it possible, sir, that our ship can create a sound they would be able to identify?”

He shook his head. “I doubt it and, even if it did, they’re would ignore us. We’re just onlookers, no importance to them or their species.”

More and more figures stopped and faced us, as if peering through the monitor at the Captain and I. My hands became cold, clammy, and the unsettling feeling of unease fell over me. “Sir, you think we should kill the light and head back to base?”

“No,” he said, lowly, “not yet, Michael… Not just yet.”

The tall figure began walking towards the sub. Others trailed behind, forming a wall of deformed, amphibious creatures. I hesitantly took a step back, stopped, then straightened. Even if they did come near the sub, they couldn’t pierce metal — they were fish byproduct, after all. I glanced at the window, the curtain was still drawn, then back to the monitor that began to flicker from purple, to black, to green, then black again.

“What the hell is going on?” the Captain said, reaching up to adjust dials, press buttons.

I looked at the window again.

There were dull noises coming from somewhere in the sub; normal things to hear: oxygen adjusting, metal settling.

“Damnit! Work!” The Captain shouted as he pounded on the buttons.

The curtains began to open. “Sir?”

He didn’t hear me over his shouting. The curtains were parting faster than usual, as if the gears were working double time. “Sir!”

The Captain shouted, “What?”

“Did you open the metal shield?”

“No, no, I don’t think, but maybe,” he said, walking over to me, the shield now entirely open.

I couldn’t see anything but blackness.

Then I heard something clink against the glass.

Then another.

Then a fissure shot across the window.

“Run! Run Michael!” The Captain screamed, grabbing my shoulder, forcing me to turn. My feet wouldn’t budge, my legs were numb. I stood stupefied at the window.

Another fissure across the glass, shooting off from the previous one.

The emergency lights within the sub kicked on, flaring red throughout the whole ship. The automatic system protecting the rest of the crew kicked on, the metal doors of the room clanged closed, sealed airtight.

I heard the Captain hammering on the steel door.

A spiderwebbing of fissures spread across the entire window.

Water spurted, trickling in through one of them.

“Sweet Jesus—”

The window gave way, glass and dark water flooding the room, red flashing lights reflecting within. Things moved around me, grasped me, reached past me and to the Captain, but I couldn’t see anything, couldn’t see what must’ve been the pale species come in like rioters. Through the commotion, I thought I heard Captain Wolf’s gargled scream, but soon after, I fell unconscious.

I came to sometime later, in a cot in one of the small, rounded rooms of the sunk. I was wearing different clothes, and my head was shaved. A nurse sat on a small tool in the corner, and she explained that my hair had withered and gray, either from fear or being touched by one of those things.

Before I could ask, she went on to explain that by the time the window has been self-sealed and the water was pumped out, the Captain couldn’t be found in the observatory room, nor could he be seen out in the seabed.

I wanted to ask her why took him, took the Captain and not me, but I knew she wouldn’t know anything more than I did, which was nothing. All I could do was smile weakly, nod, thank her, then fall back asleep. In there, in the dream world, pale figures listlessly walked across the dark sands, to sand huts and coral structures, but one stopped and looked at me and he had the Captain’s eyes.

Read my previous prompt, “Through Fire There’s Rebirth.”

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