Riptide (Part 3)

I am so sorry I’ve been so long in updating but the government found me. They detained me for two weeks, drilling me with question after question about what I saw when I drove that young lady out in my boat. For the longest time, they didn’t believe my innocence in the whole ordeal but truly, all I knew was what I had heard in rumor and what I had seen with my own two eyes that day.

In the end, they offered me a choice: either volunteer for a suicide expedition or be forced to disappear somewhere far from the Outer Banks. Of course, I chose the former. A captain without a boat, without the salty sea air in his lungs, is no captain at all.

Using my knowledge of the local tides, they managed to guess where the riptide would be today with their shiny machines and big brains. We made our way under the cover of night in a sleek, black cigarette boat. It was only big enough to hold two, me and the guy aiming the gun at my head.

I guided my boat along the riptide just as I did over two weeks ago under different circumstances. I was free then, captain of my own boat, my only cargo a nieve, impressionable young girl. I didn’t worry about my speed this time and the trip went much faster. Before I knew it, we were at the end of the blue, glowing riptide, stopping at the brightest point before it dropped off into murky green darkness.

As I shut off the engine, my jailor lowered his gun and gestured to the storage compartment behind me. I reached in and found only one thing, some sort of advanced diving suit with all the bells and whistles. Back in my day, suits weren’t nearly as fancy. As long it kept in the air and kept out the water, we were content.

After another curt gesture from my forced companion, I stepped into the suit under the supervision of the small flashlight at the end of his assault rifle. The night was cool and the drysuit granted me a measure of comfortable warmth as I slipped it over my head. I pulled on gloves, fins, a weight belt with important items like a torch and a compass, then lastly, the harness holding the advanced equipment to keep me breathing throughout the long descent. I added my own personal touch in the form of a small knife, my lucky one, that they had given back to me upon agreeing to the mission. They obviously didn’t think me much of a threat.

I hovered at the side of the boat and suppressed a shudder as I peered down into that inky blackness warded off by the glowing stream of eerie blue. This place just wasn’t natural. The guard pushed the cold, hard mouth of his gun into the small of my back, making his message crystal clear. It was time to go. I turned and sat on the railing, counting down.

One… two… three.

Dark, green water splashed as I entered the water headfirst, watching the tide of light rise to meet me. The government agents I talked to thought it was passageway to the Lost Colony itself. Sure, old sea dogs had told me the tale a time or two, about the appearance of a glowing, blue tide at certain pivotal points in history and coinciding disappearance of entire civilizations, now forgotten or legendary in their mythos. Many people, sailors, explorers, scholars, had tried to solve its mystery before, to see what lay on the other side, but none had returned to tell the tale. I was certain the Lost Colony would be claiming another old kook before the night was through.

After about thirty minutes of letting myself drift downwards, I started to see the same outlines of buildings that the girl saw in her recordings. And, I saw the things moving along the ocean floor. I could hardly believe it when I first heard it myself but it’s true. There were people, or something like people, walking on the bottom of the Atlantic. 

But where are they coming from? Where are they going?

Fortunately, it was easy enough to answer the latter. An underwater vortex, bigger than any I’ve seen before, swirled before me. One by one, each glowing body walked robotically towards it, letting themselves getting sucked into its current. I watched as their lights were torn apart, the man-sized glow splintering into a million tiny lights tunneling down into what looked like the very pit of Hell itself, a gaping wound of darkness scarred across the ocean floor.

As I looked on from a distance, debating my next move, I spotted something. It was a diving suit stuck on the lip of the pit. Somehow, it still looked intact, at least from my vantage point. My rheumy eyes don’t work quite like they used to. I don’t know how I knew, but I knew it was hers, the young woman who I willingly brought to this terrible place, the girl that was my responsibility. 

But if her suit is here… then where is she?

Half an hour later, I still hovered around eighty feet away, perched on the top of a broken pyramid and stuck within my own head. I knew I needed to go in. If not to avoid the life of imprisonment waiting for me up above, then to discover the fate of all those who have tried this before me. 

It’s not that I was afraid to die. More than half a century seemed more than enough time for me. It’s just that I imagined going down with my ship. Maybe in a legendary storm, hoisting a sail, battening down the hatches, you know, like the captains in the stories. 

But, the fact was that I was no famous captain, hell I was hardly a captain at all. The boat was my uncle’s, left to me when he died some thirty years ago. Sure, I could drive the thing. I took it out every day. But, I wasn’t a real captain. I had no crew. I was a fisherman for god’s sake and a bad one at that.

A powerful wave struck me, interrupting my brooding and sending me spinning head over heels towards the vortex. The spiraling water rushed ever closer and I searched for something, anything to grab. At the last second, I saw the shattered remains of a stone monument out of the corner of my eye and managed to snag its edge with one hand, then another, as I pulled my old bones to relative safety. 

As I struggled to regain my breath, watching my oxygen plummet even faster, my brain caught up with what had just happened. Whatever had created that wave, whatever sent me spinning, must have been massive. 

I kept my head on a swivel, my aging eyes squinting until they watered, trying to make sense of the murky darkness on the outskirts of the throbbing blue light below me. I stayed that way for what seemed like hours and then, I spotted it.

It hovered a couple hundred feet away from me, it’s long body a huge blotch of shadow waiting in the darkness, somehow even darker than the sea itself. If I hadn’t been looking for it, I wouldn’t have ever seen it and even now, I could only spot it out of the corner of my eye. 

What is it doing? Why isn’t it attacking? It could’ve easily killed me on that first attack or any time since then while I searched in vain to find it but it’s just… sitting there, watching me. 

As I stared out into the blackness, the thing began to slowly drift towards me, it’s head down. The closer it got, the more details I could make out, many that the girl hadn’t seen the first time in her terror. Oddly, I felt only peace as it approached, despite a distant, screaming voice in the back of my mind that I pushed away.

The creature was easily as large as a blue whale, though its body was reminiscent of human physique with four limbs. A long, waving tail set it apart, along with a ridged spine running from the back of its head down the rest of its body. It drew within about fifty feet of me, then stopped.

Fingers as long as a man dug into the shells of civilizations long dead, then pushed off of them as the creature drew up to its full height, towering over me and raising its head. Crystalline, blue eyes pierced into me, its gaze ancient, cold, and unwavering. I heard another voice in my mind, deeper than I knew was possible to hear. To this day, I can’t remember what it said. I only distantly recall speaking aloud, saying something like “Yes… I understand. Thank you for your mercy. You are truly benevolent.” 

The words were not my own.

I felt my hands go numb, letting go of the fractured obelisk as the vortex dragged me towards it. This time, I didn’t fight. I don’t think I could have if I wanted to.

The world suddenly went black and the voice screaming in the back of my mind came to the forefront as I regained awareness and control of my limbs. I flailed about in the swirling darkness, the screaming coming from my own mouth now. Everything was spinning, spinning, spinning, around and around and around. Bile rose in my throat and I swallowed hard, nearly avoiding vomiting. An instinctive part of me knew that would’ve been the death of me.

Finally, the world began to come back into focus. Though I was still spinning uncontrollably, I righted myself enough to gaze above me. A circle of blue shrank before my eyes, the last sight of freedom. I was headed into the pit, into the Lost Colony. Everything went dark.

I woke up in bright, blue waters, spiraling upwards towards the surface. My diving suit, my belt, my breathing equipment, all of it was gone. I was completely naked. I wasn’t not sure when I lost them or how I kept my breath until I was above the water but I managed it. 

A thin, elongated boat like the ones you would see in the canals of Italy came up alongside me almost as soon as I surfaced. My gaze followed the sluicing oar up its shaft up to the captain of the strange vessel. A man in all black stood hunched over the oar, staring straight ahead.

He didn’t make eye contact as he spoke. “Do you have the toll?”

Still sputtering in confusion and treading water, I stared up at him, gaping. “The toll?” I asked.

He remained silent.

“I don’t have anything,” I said. “Everything I had is gone, lost somewhere in the water.”

“Then, you must pay another way,” he said in his gravelly voice, the sound like old bones clacking together. 

He reached to the side and retrieved something I couldn’t see, then turned and looked at me. His eyes burned like twin furnaces, my terrified face reflected in their glassy depths. 

I recoiled as he rested the oar against the boat and reached down for me with his left hand. The motion seemed to confuse him more than anything.

“Do you not wish to pass? All who come here must do so unless you prefer to spend the rest of your days in this watery prison,” he said, waving towards the clear waters.

I sucked in a deep breath, unsure what the man with fiery eyes intended. My hands were clammy, my muscles burned and my stomach sloshed like the ocean waves. I had seen more than enough of water for one day. Hesitantly, I offered him my hand.

He snatched it without so much as a glance and heaved backward, pulling me up into the boat. In a flash of black cloth, his right hand came from behind his back and thrust something into my forehead.

I bellowed as hot iron branded deep into my forehead, the skin crackling beneath its heat and filling the air with the sickly sweet smell of burning flesh. I wretched over the side, the pain and the lingering nausea from the vortex too much for my old stomach to handle.

After I had finished emptying the contents of my stomach, my fingers tenderly probed my forehead. It burned like hell, an ever present searing pain. They felt like letters but I couldn’t quite make them out.

“You bastard,” I growled through clenched teeth, barely stifling the temptation to throttle him. A more logical side of me knew I needed to keep him alive for now. He was the only person… or whatever he was, that I had right now. He seemed to know more than he was telling me.

“What does it say?” I asked the man, who had picked up his oar immediately after branding me and had begun rowing again. 

“Perhaps, one day, you will be able to read it,” he said, then went back to silent rowing as if that answered my question.

I sat back on the wooden bench, trying to gather my thoughts. For the first time since arriving, I noticed what surrounded me. 

Water stretched out in every direction as far as I could see. It was pure and clear, the brightest blue water I had ever seen, glowing like the riptide of people that first led us to this place. In contrast to the shimmering ocean, everything else was shrouded in darkness beneath an eclipsed sun that drooped low on the horizon. I could make out the shadowy shapes of what looked like small crags and other rocky formations in the distance and the captain in me wondered how we would make it safely through the dangerous waters.

None of that is what held my eye though. 

Directly in front of our path, a landmass floated above the water, a circular island that looked like it had been ripped out of the earth and hung in the air by some giant being. An large metal band surrounded the circumference of the island and a jagged spike still jutted from its bottom as if it had been torn up recently. Small lights nestled in the shadow of the mountains that adorned its top where a great, red pillar of light shined down from the heavens. Chains trailed from every part of the floating island, attaching to rocky formations or disappearing beneath the still water as if it might fly away without them.

The man in black deftly navigated the constant stream of rocky outcroppings as I gaped at the floating island. Each one had the potential to tear a hole in the boat and leave us stranded god knows where for god knows how long. I knew I couldn’t expect any form of rescue.

I started to see items scattered across the tiny, stone islands that we passed. Pottery, tools, scraps of what might of been clothing. One even had some primitive looking weapons but we were too far away for me to reach them and the ferryman wasn’t stopping for anything. He had his eye locked on the island floating above.

“Where did this all come from?” I asked him, my eyes flicking from the large floating island and the detritus around me.

After a long moment, he spoke. “From other travelers. Ones that came before you.”

“And where are they now?”

The ferryman raised a bony finger towards the floating island before us and said no more.

The rocks became increasingly littered with objects as we continued on. That’s when I saw the bodies.

The first was of a naked, young man. He had been tattooed in strange, colorful paints all over his body. The entirety of his back was a flayed, bloody mess and ropes bound his wrist ending in a long rope. It looked like he had been tied to something and dragged behind it until he died a slow, horrible death.

The next was an older woman. Her scalp was missing, her eyes open and glassy, her mouth twisted in an eternal scream.

The bodies continued to pile up on the rocks, just as the items had, each of them killed in a terrible, gruesome way. I wanted to look away but something forced me to look on. I owed it to these people to witness their final moments, see how they had died. Perhaps, they could save me from suffering the same fate. 

Just when I thought I had endured enough, I spotted something familiar about a pair of bodies on the next approaching rocks. They laid in an unnatural position, both of them facedown so that I couldn’t make out their faces. If there was a chance, even the smallest one, that I knew the person or something about them I needed to know. What if it was the girl? I needed closure. 

Before the doubt started to blossom, I willed myself to jump from the boat onto the flat rock, spurned by the need to investigate, to see what had sparked the recognition. The first body belonged to an older man, probably around my age, though he was far more overweight than me. He laid face down in a small puddle of seawater.

I turned him over and recoiled in horror. Strips of loose flesh hung from the man’s horribly disfigured face, small black crabs crawling all over, their tiny claws picking flesh from his cheeks and nose. I dropped the poor man in a panic and his body hit the hard stone with a sickening thud. 

Afraid of what I would find, I moved to the other body. This one, though still male, appeared much younger and unmuscular. I flipped him over and jumped back, ready for another disgusting revelation. The thin face of a youth stared back at me, untouched by the crabs.

Unfortunately, I recognized him. He was the boy from the lost posters I had seen posted all around some weeks ago. He was the same boy whose recordings that girl found, that started this whole mess. I could only assume the older man was his uncle.

Glancing back towards where I had left the boat, I expected to see it long gone. To my surprise, it was there, moored against the rock and waiting for me. The ferryman’s eyes stared up at the ever approaching island in the sky, the eclipsed sun now dwarfed by its shadow. 

Content to see I wasn’t being left behind, I hurried to find something to cover the men with in some semblance of decently. I felt it was the least I owed the poor souls. Broken pottery lay all around with thin pieces of splintered driftwood and seaweed interspersed, none of it large enough to cover the bodies. When I was about to give up, I stumbled up two large, perfectly round rocks at the far end of the outcropping. They were smooth in my calloused hands except for one side on each, which was engraved with letters. 

One said, ‘Burned their village to the ground. Took their women and killed the rest. 23/7/1590’ in neat, careful script. The other was written with hurried, jagged lines and said ‘Village is gone. Only sea and rocks. Where is God now? 18/8/1590’

In the end, I gave the two men a sailor’s burial, using some old rope to bind a rock to each of them and pushing them into the sea. They sank quickly with the added weight and I watched until their bodies were small, black pin pricks in the bright, blue water. I climbed back into the boat and the ferryman resumed his work without a word.

Just as we were nearing the edge of the island’s shadow, something moved out among the misty rocks. It wasn’t moving fast so I assumed it wasn’t a threat but it was persistent. There was intention to the movement. On the edge of my seat, I waited, holding myself back. Whatever had killed those people so terribly could still be out there and I couldn’t risk exploring willy-nilly.

Out of the fog limped a young woman, her hair plastered to her messy face, scratches up the right side of her naked body and across her breast. It was the girl, the one who had got me into this mess in the first place. And the one that I had brought to the Lost Colony, knowing full well about the tales surrounding this place. She was my responsibility.

Without a second thought, I leapt from the boat, narrowly managing to keep my footing as I ran across the rocks. The girl raised her head to look at me, her eyes widening in shock, then she was collapsing into my arms, neither of us caring about our nakedness. There was another normal, living human being in this place and that was cause for hope.

Unfortunately, that hope was short lived. As I we began to move towards the boats, the chains nearest to us tightened without warning, their rigid lengths straightening all the way up to the floating island. With my arm under her, the girl and I limped back to the boat as fast we could. I was unsure what was happening but I knew it wouldn’t be good.

Then, the island fell. 

It descended more slowly than I expected, which gave us time. I urged the ferryman to row, to get the boat away from the island about to come crashing down but he remained silent as ever. I lunged for the oar just as the ferryman lifted it from the clear water and brought it around to slam me across the chest. My body crumpled back to the boat floor, my head hitting the bench hard. The girl rushed to my side and I could see the shadow of the island growing larger behind her. 

“I’m okay,” I insisted, grunting as I raised my head.

“You’re not. Stay still, I’ll deal with this,” she said. 

Groggily, I watched as she spun on the unsuspecting ferryman, getting within his guard before he could react and slamming her fist into stomach. It came away bleeding black, the viscous liquid dripping off of an oddly familiar knife, my lucky knife. 

The ferryman’s hands loosened on the oar and he fell backward into the water without a sound. No splash, no screams of pain. He was there and then he was just nothing. 

In the distance, the great weight of the island came crashing back into the water, sending up a skyscraper sized tidal wave. The girl rowed for all she was worth but the rocky pass made for slow movement and in the end, there’s no outrunning a wave like that.

We gripped to each other tightly as we were swept up in its powerful currents, spinning without hope of ever stopping. I forced my eyes open, blinking and searching desperately for the surface. I saw nothing, only clear blue for miles around. 

The current dragged us on and my lungs burned. 

Then, I saw it, a dark vortex in our path, swirling up toward the surface from a pit of black. Just as we reached it, a giant, five-fingered hand reached out from the depths of the pit, gripping its sides and pulling until another long arm extended from the hole along with a second hand. A large head followed after, its bright blue eyes burning like white, hot lightning. The guardian of the vortex was not going to let us go willingly.

Powerless in the currents, we failed to avoid the gripping hands. One hand snatched each of us and I felt one of my arms dislocate with a sickening pop as the girl and I were pulled apart. The impossibly strong hand squeezed tight around my body like five thick, man-sized boa constrictors. I could feel my oxygen running out, my body about to pop like a grape under the enormous pressure. 

Then, something small and cold was in my hands. I opened my eyes and saw my lucky knife resting there through bleary, stinging eyes. The monstrous hands had gotten close enough for the girl to reach out and hand it to me somehow. Her eyes locked with mine and she nodded. The hand around her tightened and she exploded in a bloody cloud.

I screamed, air bubbles escaping my mouth, and slammed the knife down with all my might into one of the giant fingers. The fingers spasmed and the pressure around my body loosened enough for me to wiggle free before they clamped down again. 

I swam with everything I had left in me, my vision growing dark, twin hands grasping me for me. Sea water flooded my lungs as I felt the swirl of the vortex and saw only darkness, though whether the pit or my death, I didn’t know.

I woke up in my bed, my head throbbing and my throat raw as if I had been coughing all night. I figured it was just a bad night of sleep, along with a terrible, vivid dream. As my senses returned, I realized my head wasn’t just throbbing, it was burning, a terrible pain lacing across my forehead. I rushed to the bathroom and leaned over the sink, coughing violently until I vomited what looked like pure, blue water. Breathing heavily, I glanced at myself in the mirror. In my reflection, I read the word “CROATOA” branded across my forehead. 

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