Pillars in the Deep

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The whole Blackpool Bay dock area smelt like fish. Old, barnacled fishing boats lined it sides as weathered men dourly stomped awkwardly around, their land-legs seemingly less developed than those they had at sea. Fish and other slimy things were hidden away in crates and being loaded into small, unmarked vans. Even the old man behind the front desk at the seedy B&B looked a bit like a fish, bulbous eyes and scaly skin around a small, piscine mouth.

He could not wait to be under the waves. He could not wait to be away from all this offputting small-townness.

That night, in his cramped little room, he read and re-read the passages from the old, tattered diary his mother had left him. He had never known his father, but he felt a bit closer to him coming here. He could not wait to get under the waves. He fell asleep like that and dreamt about large, looming dark shapes that whispered to him from the ocean’s depths.

***

The world changes the moment you go under the waves. The sound, light and speed of the above world disappear. They are replaced by silence, darkness and a smooth, elegance in your movement that he liked to imagine astronauts experienced in outer space. He had always felt very comfortable under water.

All he could hear was his own breath as he descended below the water beside the rock. The locals did not seem to have much to say about it, but the old diary spoke about “the lone rock halfway out of Blackpool’s bay”.

This was it. This was that rock.

The top of the rock was weathered and covered in barnacles and seaweed. Even a few feet down, this muck all obfuscated what he was looking for.

And then there it was.

A few feet below the water level, the rock’s form began to smooth. Its surface began to appear square. The flowing, bunched seaweed growing from it ended. And, the rock started to look more like it was a carved pillar.

He sank slowly deeper and deeper, besides the old pillar. He was now sure of this. Like the diary said, as he went deeper, the manmade nature of the pillar became more obvious. At certain points, he thought he even saw indentations like designs–swirling and fluid–that might have been designs carved into this ancient structure. They had likely been weathered away by thousands of years of the ocean pushing passed it.

Eventually, he came back up to the boat. The light and sound hit him first. He instantly missed the underwater, but it was time to go back to shore. He had not gotten to the bottom of the pillar. He had not even seen the bottom yet. He could not believe that it went that deep. It was only a mile or two from shore on the edge of the bay. He made a mental note to bring extra oxygen, lighting and some flares tomorrow.

***

That night, while he hungrily ate some strange, seafood stew, the piscine innkeeper enquired as to what he had seen out there.

He smiled and recounted the strange pillar that lay nearly outside of the bay. He asked, rhetorically, who could have built it and why?

The innkeeper smiled–with his face, the smile looked like an octopus squeezing through a small hole–and replied that perhaps whoever had built it underwater had meant it to stay there away from outside eyes. It almost sounded like a warning or a threat.

He had smiled and laughed at this absurd statement. Obviously, this pillar had been built ages ago on dry land and the ocean had crept inland and covered it up. This much was logical. He snorted at the absurd small-townness.

But, tossing and turning that night in his little room, he could not stop thinking about how bizarre the innkeepers logic was. When he eventually fell asleep, his dreams were again filled with large, dark things whispering strange things to him from below the waves. One of them, in particular, rose from these dark waters and slithered up onto land towards him.

He awoke in the morning covered in sweat, but he could remember no more details of what had bothered his dreams so.

***

Far below the waves, besides the smooth pillar, he cracked an underwater flare. Its red light flared out, casting a hellish, red colour in the darkness around him and the stone beside him.

He let go of the flare and watched it sink slowly further and further down. It was a long time and the red light was a small speck before he thought he saw it come to rest.

He almost felt relieved, but he mentally snorted at himself. Of course there was a bottom to this strange bay’s ocean floor. There was always a bottom.

He had an extra oxygen tank with him, and he began to descend further. His eyes kept glancing at the red light on the ocean floor, but he was more focused on the pillar that slid by him. The deeper he got, the more detailed the designs on it became. He was starting to make out figures amidst the swirls and curves carved into the stone. The figures seemed almost-human but had fish-like faces, gills in their necks and webbed hands and feet. Some stood in strange poses while other carried forked weapons or bunches of other, smaller fish.

What an incredible civilization had produced such vivid art, he pondered as he floated deeper and deeper down. What other wonders could such a lost civilization be hiding? What could have motivated such a civilization to build such a pillar and for what purpose?

He was nearly at the flare now. He could see it resting amidst scattered stones on the ocean floor. Its hellish red light cracking against the darkness down there. It cast eerie shadows that flickered off into the ocean floor’s shadows. He swore he saw one of these shadows actually slither away. It looked like a silvery humanoid shape for a split second before slipping out of the light and back into the darkness down there. But, he quickly dismissed the thought. If anything it was probably a fish or octopus or something else that had caught his eye.

The fishmen–as he now mentally called them–carved into the pillar were now clearly visible. Some of the carvings were in nearly pristine cut down here, which surprised him. They should all be equally as worn away unless someone or something was preserving them down here.

He reached the ocean floor and realized that the scattered stones were not random. They looked like the remains of an old road. This was not in his old diary. Perhaps this was one of those old Roman roads, but curiosity clutched him and set off swimming down this old, lost road.

The road led straight out from the pillar at the edge of the bay into the open ocean. He had only a little bit left in his oxygen tank, so he decided that he would go until it finished before switching over to his remaining tank and heading back to the surface.

The old road led to the edge of an underwater cliff. Swimming up to it, he saw the coastal plate fall away dramatically to reveal the true open ocean.

But, vastly more surprising, he saw the road continue far down there. It must be a bit less than hundred or so feet further down. It must have been miles away, but, for some reason, there was some latent light down there. It had an eerie blue-silver colour to it. And, amidst this light far down there, he saw another pillar. In fact, the old road went straight out away from the coast and the quiet little bay, and it was dotted on both sides for as far as he could see with these vast, huge pillars.

And then he saw movement.

Far down there, just above the old road and between the great pillars, there was something. It was small and silvery, but it floated upright like a man would. He was sure he saw something forked in its hand, or fin. And it was looking directly at him, where he floated atop the underwater cliff.

For what felt like an eternity, he floated there looking at this thing looking at him.

Suddenly, his oxygen tank flashed a warning at him. He looked down, checking its level on his arm. It was almost finished, and so he flipped it over to his spare tank.

When he looked up, there was just the old road dotted with these huge, ancient pillars leading straight out into the ocean. Whatever thing had just been there looking him was now gone. He was alone atop that underwater cliff, but it still felt like something old, dark and slimy was watching him.

***

The next morning, he was still thinking about what he might have seen below the water. He wondered if his father had ever seen something like it. There was no mention of this in his diary. The strange creature that had floated down there felt further and further away from real-life. He was starting to think that he could not have seen it correctly. It was probably his memory embellishing it.

He was sitting outside a small cafe on the docks. It was not fancy, but it was in walking distance from his fishy little B&B and it served nice strong coffee. He was still not sleeping well. His dreams kept on being haunted by something that slithered out of the sea to confront him.

He sighed and slouched back in his chair. He would have to leave for and go back to the real world soon. Soon all this would be a distant memory too. He tried to forget the strange dreams and the weird sights below the waves. Rather, he looked around, trying to burn the images into his brain of the quaint Blackpool Bay docks and all its shapes and forms of life. It was strange to think that he, however distant and unknown, had a tie back to this place. He wanted to try and remember every detail.

The old, barnacled fishing boat lined the harbour. Crates filled with fish and other things from the deep were being offloaded most of the boats. Small vans zoomed around the docks, being loaded up with these crates.

And then there were the people:

Weather, old barnacled men stomped around the docks. Many of them looked decidedly uncomfortable walking on land. He chuckled to himself as he imagined them as the relatives of the strange fishmen he had seen carved onto the pillars in the deep. But then the more he thought about it, the more he looked, and the more fish-like the people around him looked. Wrinkled, dried out fish that kept returning to their home waters each morning on their boats. He started looking around for gills in their necks, and many indeed had tattoos there. Maybe that is how they hide them, he pondered, his heart starting to beat faster in his chest. One, two, no a handful–no every single one of these people had these strangely, round heads with large eyes just a little too far apart, much like a fish’s eyes. Perhaps, he began to think to his horror, perhaps the innkeeper is right and that pillars were built below the waves in the first place. Perhaps they were built a civilization of fishmen who later crawled out from beneath the waves and now hide in plain sight…

“Hey, you want another coffee or anything, sir?” a voice interrupted his strange musings. He almost jumped out of his chair, but regained his composure quickly.

He looked to his side and saw the waitress. She was a small, squid-like girl with long, curly hair much like tentacles wrapped around her bulbous head. He found himself checking her neck for gills, but she was wearing an old, red scarf there.

“Uh, no thanks,” he replied, “Just the bill thanks. I have to go home,” and then, to his surprise, he volunteered something unnecessary, “It’s inland. I’m going inland.”

The waitress nodded and smiled at him before turning and slithering back to get the bill for him. He distinctly felt like he a small, defenseless fish floating around dark rocks where tentacles could whip out any moment. A cold shiver ran down his spine and he made a mental note to never come back here, diary or no diary.

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