Authors: Michael Bray
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Horror, #Sea Stories
Copyright © Michael Bray 2014
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For those of you who believe in monsters.
Though it matches the audio profile of a living creature, there is no known animal that could have produced the sound. If it is an animal it would have to be huge — much larger than even a Blue whale, according to scientists who have studied the phenomenon
Unknown NOAA source.
Of course it was a cover up. This thing was more than just an ice quake, if the public knew what we suspected it would have caused mass panic, so we released the ‘ice quake’ story and hoped it would stay down in the deep. We were wrong
Ross Ice Shelf
At a staggering 487,000 square kilometres, the Ross Ice Shelf is the largest of its kind in the world. Rising an impressive 160 feet above sea level at its highest point, its mass continues deep below the water line. A low rumble splinters the silence of the frigid Antarctic air, as a huge section of the shelf shears away and tumbles into the ocean. A pod of orcas veer from the destruction as more than three hundred tons of ice impacts with the ocean.
The creature stirred.
Roused from its slumber by the sound, it opened its eyes and set forth to investigate, each movement of its flippers leaving a concussion wave behind as it moved into open water. Thousands of gallons of sea water filtered through the creature’s body as it moved, allowing it to ‘taste’ the most miniscule vibrations of potential prey up to a hundred miles away. Swaying its head as it swam, the creature detected the fleeing pod of Orcas, able to pinpoint each of the seven whales to within an inch.
The Orcas sensed the giant closing on them and assumed a defensive formation, moving the calves into the middle of the pack. However, the creature was in search of a more substantial meal. It accelerated, angling towards the tail of the largest of the group – a twenty-foot male. The Orca was powerless to defend itself as the creature’s backward facing serrated teeth slammed down, slicing through bone and blubber with ease. The incapacitated whale let out a pained moan as its frightened companions continued on, desperate to put distance between themselves and this terrifying new threat. The taste of blood sent the gargantuan beast into frenzy. It took a second bite, completely severing the wounded whale’s fluke, spewing hot blood into the frigid waters. The dying orca’s cries reverberated around the ocean as the leviathan creature began to gorge itself on its catch.
There was a new predator at the top of the food chain.
Research vessel Neptune
62 miles off the coast of Alaska.
Relentless wind and rain battered the vessel as it struggled to stay on course. Andrews stared at the sonar, trying to ignore the nauseating movement of the boat as it ploughed ahead.
“We should have waited until after this storm,” grumbled the boat’s captain— a broad, barrel chested man with a thick black beard and steely grey eyes.
“Let me worry about the weather, Captain Smeet. You concentrate on keeping us on course.”
“Easier said than done. We’re getting slammed by the wind on the broadside and the hull is already thick with ice.”
“Ice?” Andrews repeated, finally tearing his gaze away from the radar.
“It’s seven below freezing,” Smeet growled as he steered into a giant wave. “All this spray from the storm is turning into ice and sticking to the structure of the boat. The men are out there clearing it, but if we take on too much, we’re dead in the water.”
“But you have it under control?”
As much as he wanted to, Smeet didn’t react to Andrews or his arrogance. The man had triple the going rate for him to pilot this floating asylum, and the money was more important than the satisfaction of putting him in his place, no matter how tempting an idea it was. Smeet stared at Andrews and tried to make sense of him. He was stick thin, and with his glaring blue eyes, expensive designer polo shirt and slick black hair, Smeet thought he would look more at home on a country club golf course than on the ocean.
“Captain Smeet,” Andrews repeated, taking off his glasses as a shadow of a smile appeared on his lips. “The men
dealing with it aren’t they?”
“Of course, but they aren’t happy about it. You should have listened to my advice and gone out tomorrow. I don’t know what’s so important that it had to be today.”
“It had to be today because I have waited for a repeat of this sonar hit for almost fifteen years, and I’m not about to be further delayed because of a little storm.”
“I’d call twenty five foot swells and eighty miles an hour winds more than a ‘little’ storm.”
“Aren’t we paying you so much because you’re the best? Or are you saying we should hire somebody more capable?”
“No,” Smeet said, shaking his head, “no need for that. Just be aware of the danger.”
“If this sonar hit is what I think it is, Mr Smeet, the seas will be the least of our troubles.”
Andrews wanted to say it, if only to silence the arrogant captain’s bleating, but it wouldn’t help the situation. Instead, he smiled.
“Point taken. Now please, I have to get back to work. Keep us on course until I instruct otherwise.”
Smeet scowled and did as instructed as Andrews turned his attention back to the radar. He checked his charts, double-checking their position. Happy they were still on track, he picked up the printout from the sonar spike from a few days earlier. To the casual observer it was no more than a monochrome squiggle. To him it spoke volumes. He had underlined the section of interest in red pen and scrawled next to it:
what are you?
As the vessel vaulted over another wave, he only hoped they survived long enough to find out.
Twenty-three miles away from the
, the crabber
battled against the same storm. In the wheelhouse, Captain Sam Harris struggled to maintain control as the tiny boat was tossed around by the immense swells. A giant wave loomed out of the undulating horizon, blotting out the sky. The experienced captain steered into it, his stomach rolling as the hull smashed into the ocean as the wave passed under it.
Sam’s brother, Joey, walked into the wheelhouse, his sea legs managing to make light of the rolling vessel.
“It’s hell out there.” He said as he perched on the bench behind the captain. “One of the new guys has already quit.”
“God damn it, we can’t catch a break with these greenhorns huh?” Sam muttered as he fought against the elements.
”It is what it is. Either way, we need to haul these pots and get back to Dutch before we get torn apart. How long until we reach the first pot?”
“Any time now. You better get ready.”
Joey smiled, and lit a cigarette, billowing twin plumes of blue smoke out of his nostrils. “I’m always ready.”
“I know you are. Just do me a favour. Be careful, okay?”
The tension in Sam’s voice was palpable, and it made Joey’s stomach knot a little.
“I’ll get the crew prepped,” he said, pushing aside his own growing fear. “Then we can haul this gear and get the hell out of here.”
“Remember what I said. Be careful.”
Joey slapped his brother on the back then headed downstairs to gather the crew.
The four men stood by the hatch door waiting for the instruction to go outside. There was a brotherly camaraderie amongst Bering Sea fishermen, although tempers were often frayed due to the lack of sleep and threat of constant danger. With a one in four death rate amongst those brave or crazy enough to make a living on the ocean, the task for anyone new who joined the crew was a difficult one. Acceptance was only gained by sharing in with the backbreaking work and proving themselves strong enough both mentally and physically to captain and fellow crewman alike.
“Hey, Rainwater, how do you like your first taste of the Bering Sea?” Mackay chuckled as he shrugged into his yellow rain slicker.
“I’ve fished before you know, just not out here.”
“Fishing or no fishing, nothin’ can prepare you for this kind of hell. Just ask Grimshaw. He’s already quit and we haven’t even started.”
“I’m not a quitter.”
“That’s what they all say. I reckon Grimshaw would have a different story to tell now – if he could pull his head out of the shitter long enough to tell it.”
Rainwater forced his nerves aside and gave the middle finger to Mackay, and was even able to manage a wide grin.
“If your old ass can hack it, so can I.”
“You ain't seen nothing yet, boy. Wait till the ice comes, or we hit some of the big waves. Maybe you and Grimshaw can bunk up together.”
“Big waves?” Rainwater repeated, wondering how much bigger than the ones currently barraging the vessel could get.
“Oh yeah,” Morales added, nudging Mackay as he put on his gloves.
“I seen waves top forty, fifty feet out here.”
“Bullshit,” Rainwater said, then saw with dismay that Morales wasn’t joking.
“A few years back when I was fishing on the Kiska, we got capsized by a forty footer. We never knew anything about it until we were in the water. It hit us broadside and went through us like we weren’t there. We were lucky to survive.”
“And the dumb asshole decided to come back on the water,” Mackay cut in.
“What can I say, I love it out here. Maybe we are all crazy eh? What about you, rookie, you think you can handle life on the Bering Sea?”
“As if he had a choice,” Mackay interjected. “With daddy owning the boat, it was always gonna come to this, wasn’t it, kid?”
Rainwater wondered why the comment had bothered him so much. He knew they were trying to get a reaction from him, and that giving the new guy – or greenhorn as they were called a hard time, was all part of the initiation to life as a crab fisherman. Whatever the reason, he didn’t like to think he was getting an easy ride.
“I don’t expect any special treatment out here.”
“Is that why you changed your last name to Rainwater? You didn’t want to be judged as a Harris kid?” Mackay said, watching for a reaction.
“I have my reasons. I want to be judged on my own ability, not because of the family name.”
“Oh don’t worry about that,” Mackay said. “You will be on that bait station and knee deep in shit and fish guts before you know it.”
“I can’t wait,” Rainwater mumbled, which seemed to amuse Morales and Mackay.
“Don’t worry, kid,” Morales said, “just think of the money you will make for this trip. They don’t call it the hardest job in the world for nothing. Better hope daddy keeps us afloat eh?”
Joey joined them and walked to the outer door.
“Showtime ladies, let’s go haul some crab.” He said as he opened it and strode out on deck, allowing the fierce wind and rain to blast into the boat.
“Come on, rookie, let’s get haulin'” Morales said as he lowered his head and walked against the wind.
Rainwater pulled the hood of his jacket over his head and followed the others outside.
As nauseous as he had felt when he was inside, it was nothing compared to the terrifying conditions on deck. The rain drove down hard enough to sting, and the wind roared almost as loudly as the broiling seas that tossed the crabber with abandon.
The process of crabbing on the
was usually a five-man affair, however, with Grimshaw already quit and seeing out the rest of the trip below decks, it was left to the rest of them to haul their gear and see if they had caught any crab. Failure to do so would mean nobody would be paid, and the entire venture could go under. The reverse was that if the pots were full, they stood to make upwards of $30,000 each for their efforts. As always, Joey as deck boss operated the crane and pulley system, which would be used to drag the 90 lb crab pots out of the ocean. Mackay was on the hook, which he would toss to the floating buoy markers for each pot and reel them in. When the (hopefully full) pots were pulled out of the ocean, Morales and Mackay would guide the suspended steel and mesh container over to the sorting table. From there, it would be emptied, and the crew could sort through their catch, tossing back any juvenile or female crabs to ensure the grounds were sustainable in future and sending the precious cargo into the holding tanks in the ship’s belly.
The task itself would be hard enough, but with the boat rolling and swinging under assault of the storm, and it made the potential for serious injury or death a very real possibility. As was customary with rookies, Rainwater was in charge of the bait table. His job was to cut and bag the pre-frozen fish, which would be used to bait the crab pots. He had already cut and prepared a huge amount of the frozen cod and could no longer feel his hands. It was something of a rite of passage, and he carried on without complaint. Everyone started their fishing careers exactly where he was now - prepping bait before eventually moving up the ladder.
“First pot coming up,” Joey yelled, squinting against the wind and sleet.
Mackay set his feet by the four-foot high rail, ignoring the swirling certain death of the ocean below him, as the vessel swayed and drove through the waves. He threw the hook.
It arced through the air with expert precision, and even despite the violent seas and wind, landed exactly where the experienced fisherman wanted it to go, snagging against the buoy ropes that were attached to the crab pot that was sitting on the bottom of the ocean.
Mackay reeled in the line as Morales stood behind him, looping the rope to ensure it didn’t tangle around Mackay’s legs.
As the buoy was pulled against the side of the deck, Morales took it and hooked it over the winch spool, and Joey immediately started to haul the pot to the surface. Rainwater couldn’t help be impressed at how the three of them worked. They moved as one, a well-practiced machine going about their business with frightening efficiency, despite being a man down and exposed to some of the most frightening and violent weather that the twenty- three year old had ever seen.
For the next two hours, the crew hauled their pots, stacking them on the deck of the boat as they were emptied of the valuable king crab. Their yield had been good, if not spectacular. Even though his hands had been numb for well over an hour, Rainwater continued to prep bait, stopping only when the sorting table was full of crab, so he could help in removing the ones that couldn’t be sold and tossing them back into the ocean.
The storm had increased in ferocity, and now the boat was being broadsided by huge waves that were washing over the deck.
“How many to haul?” Mackay shouted above the bluster
“Three more.” Joey said from behind the winch.
Mackay looked to Rainwater.
“What do you say, rookie, wanna throw the hook for this next one?”
Rainwater looked to his uncle, his father’s twin.
“It's up to you,” Joey shouted above the bluster. “Just don’t screw it up and make us have to circle around.”
Rainwater walked to the rail, flexing his hands to try to restore some warmth and feeling to them. He noted that the rail was only a little above knee height, and the briefest loss of balance or lurch of the boat could send him plunging into the ocean and certain death. As if reading his thoughts, Mackay grinned and handed over the hook, the last few hours’ work having done nothing to remove his exuberance.
“You don’t wanna fall in there, rookie. By the time we spin this sack of shit around to come back, you’d already be dead.”
Rainwater tested the weight of the hook in his hand. It looked as light as a feather when Mackay was throwing it, yet, to Rainwater, it felt incredibly heavy and uncomfortable.
“A couple of things,” Mackay said. “First, keep your feet on the ground. You don’t wanna tangle this line around your feet and get pulled overboard. Second, don’t throw the hook at the buoy. High seas, strong currents, throw it a little way ahead instead. The hook will snag itself when you haul it in.”
Rainwater nodded, and Mackay stepped aside.
“One last thing,” Mackay said with a grin.
“Its bad luck for a rookie to miss his first throw, so make sure you snag it in one.”
Rainwater squinted out into the darkness, trying to spot the yellow buoys against the undulating ocean.
“There it is, lad, throw the hook,” Mackay shouted.
Rainwater threw, the hook arcing through the air. He was sure it was going to be a short throw, however the wind carried it behind the buoy. He began to pull it in, smiling to himself as the hook snagged the rope.
“Good throw,” Mackay said, clapping him on the back as he helped to reel in the rope. Morales hooked the line onto the winch, which Joey activated, and pulled the steel pot that they all hoped would be stuffed with crab towards the surface.
“You might make a fisherman yet, Rainwater,” Morales said as they waited for the pot to surface.
Rainwater grinned, thinking he might just find acceptance. The pot came up, and the three men cheered, as it was stuffed to the brim with king crab.
“Red money right there boys!” Morales said as they prepared to swing the haul on deck to the sorting table.
Rainwater grinned, and glanced out over the water, a landscape of rolling, undulating crests that barraged the boat. He saw the seventy-foot rogue wave immediately, heading towards them broadside against the wind. It looked more like a wake, but its sheer scale said it was impossible. His stomach tightened, as he knew it was going to hit them.
“Look out!” he screamed.
Morales looked up, and though the grizzled fisherman had seen it all, the terror in his eyes said this was something that even he was unprepared for.
“Holy fuck, down, get down!” Mackay yelled, and dropped to his knees behind the rail.
Rainwater was frozen, watching open mouthed as the wake came closer. Wake was the right word, because as impossible as it seemed, he knew it wasn’t a wave. Both Rainwater and Morales saw it break cover, an arched blue-grey back that rose above the surface of the water. Rainwater had only an instant to try to comprehend how immense the creature must be. With nothing to compare it to, he could only stare.
“ Morales...” was all he managed before the creature’s back slammed into the underside of the fishing vessel, launching it fully out of the water as it passed.
The crab pot, still suspended from the winch, slammed into Morales, smashing his body with the same force of impact of being hit by a freight train. His body twisted through the air like a rag doll before it was swallowed by the rolling, black, Bering Sea.
Rainwater was thrown into the sorting table, his head hitting it hard enough to make white flashes explode in front of his eyes.
The boat slammed back into the water, the creature barely registering its presence as it went on its way. As soon as it touched down, it began to list, its portside dipping towards the water.
“We’re going down!” Joey yelled, scrambling to his feet.
“Where’s Morales?” Mackay said, shouting to be heard above the wind.
Rainwater couldn’t speak, too afraid to do anything but try to process what he had seen.
Mackay shook him by the shoulder. “I said, where’s Morales?”
“Overboard...” was all Rainwater could manage.
The portside rail was almost in the water, the boat listing at a sickening thirty-degree angle as it struggled to stay afloat.
“Come on, we need to get suited up,” Mackay said, struggling to his feet and helping Rainwater back towards the interior hatch where Joey was readying the survival suits.
“Put these on,” he shouted. “I need to get to the wheelhouse. You two get the raft ready, this thing will be at the bottom of the ocean within ten minutes.”
With that, Rainwater’s uncle was gone, heading back inside the crippled ship. Mackay and Rainwater started to climb into their bright red survival suits as the boat creaked and twisted closer towards its watery grave.
The wheelhouse was in disarray. Its windows shattered by the impact, the wind howled through the small room. Sam was in his seat, his bearded face set in a determined grimace as he tried to keep control of the vessel.
“Sam, come on, we have to get off before she sinks.”
“I can keep us afloat.”
“You can’t, we’re taking on water. The ship is gone. Come on, let’s go.”