The call of the void

The call of the void

A Story by Hendro Smit
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In the depths of the ocean lurks the darkness that we wish we could shut away but what if we tried to see into the abyss? What would we find? Would it find us?

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Prologue

From the Journal of Sir Steven Harker Patterson, 17 September 1870


In French, they have the expression: L’appel du vide“ or simply the call of the void. It’s that little voice that whispers in your ear when you stand at the edge of a cliff, the voice that says “Jump”. It is the natural human instinct to seek out destruction, the call of entropy so to say. As an explorer, I have no reason for the things I do but for the need to see what lurks behind the next hill, beneath treacherous waves, and in the darkest caves. I would like people to believe that I do what I do to shine the bright light of human discovery over a world that has been largely untamed or that I strive to honour king and country through my actions. In truth, it's no more than morbid curiosity that drives me.

The call of the void. That is what drove me to search for the Argonim ship of Lemuria. What I found silenced that voice inside me. What I found was never meant to be seen and the scars of what I found haunt me to this day.

This will be my last entry, in this journal I have documented my failed expedition and the events of our journey. I caution you, do not follow in my footsteps. That way only madness lies.


 

Part 1

The news had arrived as I was finally taking a moment to read after a long day of research and field work, clearly, life had other ideas for me tonight. Peter burst through the door with his dark curling hair in an utter mess and a look of pure excitement on his face. “we’ve found it!” he yelled as he put the hastily opened letter on my desk, being careful not to spill my drink. “The map to the Argonim’s wreck, it was recovered from the lost city dig site in Peru. I don’t know if it’s exactly what we’re looking for yet. The old gits down at Cambridge obviously wouldn’t tell anyone but you. We need to be on our way before dawn.” My eyes were feeling heavy, I hadn’t been able to sleep in the past few days and something always came up when I was just about to settle in. I felt cranky, sue me. “And how is it that you ended up acquiring this world changing information? This may just be my memory failing me but I don’t recall telling you to riffle through my mailbag” I said as I took a sip from my tea, no point in letting it get cold after all. “I’m sorry… uh sir, I just… I was excited and couldn’t help myself” He had started to turn a few shades of red, his face really rather reminded me of a boy who had been caught trying to sneak into the girl's bathroom.


Peter had become my research assistant years ago, he was just a boy back then really but his excitement and enthusiasm always gave a bit of life to my dreary little office and I’d grown fond of him. Now, of course, he wasn’t a boy anymore. He had strong attractive features and stood nearly a full head above me but he still had the thin gangly build of his youth. I decided not to be too critical of him, after all, if he was right then this could be an amazing opportunity for the both of us. “Oh come on then let me take a look at what these old gits said.” I half chuckled.

 

To Sir Steven H Patterson

We urgently request your presence to discuss a recent discovery of great importance. A carriage will be made available for you and accommodation has been seen to. Please make haste.

The Cambridge institute of natural history.


“They do seem awfully vague but I gather you’re right Peter, there isn’t much else the old academics would stir us up for. It’s not like I was going to get much sleep tonight, get your things packed and ready” I rose and grabbed my coat off its hanger. “Ready for what exactly? Where are you going, sir?” Peter stammered. “We are going on an adventure dear boy, now pack your bags, we haven’t a moment to waste!” I stood in my door looking out to the stormy streets and smiled as I stepped out into the rain.


Part 2

Our Ship was an old ragged sailboat with a busty barmaid as its figurehead, it seemed completely out of place when compared to the state of the art equipment we had loaded onto it. Still, it did the job and after we had traveled down to Cape Horn we had been hard pressed to find anyone willing to take us where we wanted to go. The southern seas have always been a place of myth and legend, the waters at the bottom of the world were almost unparalleled in sheer ferocity. Giant waves would rip ships to cinders in an instant and the frigid waters would be just as deadly to us would-be travelers. The view from the deck of the ship reminded me of rolling mountains falling away beneath us, the dark grey waters like cliffs and valleys. I could hardly keep my breakfast down most days in that surging cauldron of water.

The captain, like his ship, was a rough and stalwart man. He wore only old functional clothes and his fiery red beard had been neatly cropped, his hair was also neatly parted and was starting to show distinguished specks of grey at his temples. He was a man that wouldn’t be out of place on the deck of any ship of the king’s armada but for the tattoos he bore on his chest and arms. His large powerful physique and towering height may also have caused him to stand out from the crowd a tad too. The images of dark tentacles drifting up the side of his neck almost seemed to be pulling him to the depths of the abyss and the hideous scars on his arms seemed to wrap around the images of rusted, broken anchors along with further reaching tentacles. He always had an old flask of whiskey bearing the jolly roger at hand and his presence was permeated with the smell of burnt tobacco and liquor. The captain was an old superstitious sailor but an interesting enough fellow.


“You know the sharks followed us out of port” the captain the said as I stood at the bow of the ship and watched the sun setting over the ocean. “the sharks?” I said, caught somewhat off guard by his sudden appearance. “Aye, the sharks. It is said that they follow in the wake of doomed ships or doomed men, quietly waiting for a meal.” The captain’s voice was quiet and seemed almost resigned. “I hardly see a reason to throw years of my planning to the dogs just because a few fish followed our boat.” I grumbled. “ I doubt they’d like being called fish,” the captain said as almost to himself. “Mr. Patterson, I may not be a learned man but if there’s one thing I know about it’s these seas. They’re like a living thing, they breathe and move as they wish and sometimes they talk. They tell us old sailors when there’s danger afoot or when we might have a bit of luck. But now they’re not talking, they’re screaming and we’re too deaf to listen. You can feel it on the winds, in the creaks of the ship. We are all but doomed already, Mr. Patterson. The sharks, they know just as well as I, they want to be there to strip the meat off our bones when Davey Jones takes us.” The captain looked at me as he took a deep pull of his flask. “Nothing but superstition, I will not have you spreading this nonsense to the men so kindly keep your thoughts to yourself captain. It’s a long trip ahead, I don’t want you losing yours.” I said putting steal into my words. “this is my life’s work and you will not ruin it.” The captain stared at me for a moment and slowly put the necklace of bones he wore around his neck to his lips and began to walk away. “For your sake, I hope you’re right Mr. Patterson. I did try to warn you.”


Part 3

Our expedition team was small due to the size of our deep-sea craft, State budget restrictions or something like that. Frankly, I’m surprised they didn’t just say “We aren’t wasting good money on you crackpots” and be done with it but we got enough to do the job so I shouldn’t be too harsh on them. Peter acting as the de facto mechanic and driver, Dr. James Summerset as the acting physician and biological expert and I as the team leader were the ones who would be going down to the site and we would be staying there for three days. We would be exiting the craft through the “moon door” periodically to venture into the site with our diving suits and collect information and samples from it. The most unsettling part was that the ship, the captain and the crew wouldn’t be waiting for us at the surface. In these oceans just waiting around would be tantamount to suicide so the ship would leave and only return after our three days were up. By hook or by crook we would have to stay here until then.


Our ship, the Anchor, was a revolutionary piece of equipment, it could withstand the immense pressures at these depths with ease and its onboard power could run a small neighborhood for a week. The moon door was a hole in the base of the ship for all intents and purposes, the air pressure of the ship kept the water out and so it gave us easy access to the ocean when necessary. Our suits were also state of the art, the atmospheric dive suits would protect us from the dangers of decompression and would serve as insulation from the horrid cold of the ocean. The suits were able to operate independently from the ship for three hours at a time, powerful onboard lights and large glass domes around our heads negated the problems of visibility quite ably and detaching the dome made it easy to get in and out of. The suits were unfortunately predominantly made of fixed metal parts and joints almost like an overlarge suit of armor so moving in them would be very difficult, oven mitt-like hands also made our dexterity in the water next to nothing.


And so with the last check of our equipment and a firm handshake we began our descent into the abyss that was, hopefully, home to the ancient Lumerian ship we had been searching for all these years. Peter was practically buzzing with excitement, his hands struggling to find a comfortable position to rest as he took the craft down to depths unknown. James was reserved and serious as he always was, he stroked his gunslinger’s mustache and stared out the porthole possibly contemplating what burst of insanity had brought him down here. I sat inspecting the dials and readings to be absolutely sure that nothing was amiss, I certainly wasn’t nervous, there’s simply no proof of that. None of us said anything until finally, the ocean floor came into view and with it, the great jagged crater, nearly two miles across, edges ringed with towering, inward arching cliffs. At its center, there was what I could only describe as a ship but that was as apt a description as calling the Pacific Ocean a pond.


The Great ship lay broken, seemingly torn in half and its original almost sphere-like shape was not much more than an after image. At its edges, dark mechanical towers and great gears protruded from a pristinely smooth surface. There were beautiful bioluminescent seaweeds growing throughout the wreck giving it an eerie moonlight glow but what really made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end was giant white coral banks that held the ship in the perfect approximation of a human hand. Fingers just raised from the ocean floor, possessively curling towards the wreck.


Part 4

We were all ready for our first explorative venture into the wreck of the Argonim, our suits were all equipped with short-range radio transmitters so we stood on the departure deck of the Anchor fully enclosed and ready to go. “Is everyone ready?” I said engaging my radio. “yes sir” came a quick, disciplined reply from the crew. “And the ship has been secured to the ocean floor? I do not want to come back and find out that all my equipment has gone walkabout.” I chided to settle a few nerves. “Yes sir, this old girl isn’t going anywhere before I tell it to.” Peter almost boasted. “Well, then there isn’t much else to say but good luck and be safe.” We plunged into the dark water and began moving towards the wreck.

Our lights may have been powerful but they did have a limited range and we moved slowly in the water so it was a difficult and somewhat blind journey across the ocean floor towards the old ship, that is until we crested the hill and the softly glowing figure of the ship came into our view. I wouldn’t have believed that nature could glow so brightly if I hadn’t seen it myself, the moving of the swell made strange shadows writhe and dance giving the whole ship an almost animated atmosphere. James and Peter were tasked with investigating the left and right portion of the ship respectively and I would be walking into the great chasm that was torn through the ship.


I navigated the great dead coral banks with relative ease and stepped up to the break, my heart began racing, a little voice in the back of my head screaming at the movement of every shadow. The inside of the ship was oddly organic, pipes and dark spines all with an oddly chitinous quality lined the many passages that spread from where I stood. On the floor of one passage, I saw what looked like an old pirate's saber sunk into the ground its sheath set through the guard forming a cross. I don’t know why decided to pick it up, it almost drew me towards it, my hand reaching out to it almost by its own will. “I need to have a weapon in case something happens” rationalized to myself feeling quite mad in that moment but not fighting it. The sword was not rusted or broken, somehow it remained perfectly preserved, the salt water doing nothing to dull the perfectly honed edge of its blade. The sheath was made of a beautiful red tinted wood with intricate carvings in a language I did not speak, the handle was wrapped in a similarly tinted red leather but what really unsettled me was the guard, it had been made of a human skull far too small to have belonged to an adult and the bone shown a pristine white.  I started walking deeper, letting my light peer into the places hidden in shadows but when I stepped on a section of uneven floor it snapped beneath my foot and collapsed. I pushed myself backwards to avoid falling into the belly of the wreck. I landed roughly in the debris behind me, feeling sharp cutting impacts at my back even through the metal plating of my suit. Suddenly there was a great surge of movement and thousands upon thousands of horseshoe crabs surged out of the ship and swam towards me, my heart jumped into my throat and I lifted my arms to protect my face but they merely swam past me trying to exit the ship by any means possible. A milky blue substance started spreading into the water from the passages of the ship and with a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach I realized it was their blood. Something was killing them.


The light of the seaweed suddenly switched off and with it all of my electrical equipment and lights blinked out, a deep earthly shake began to bubble beneath my feet. I was utterly alone in this dark horrible place, and something didn’t want me here. I lurched to my feet trying to get my bearings and started stumbling to where I thought the exit was. The seaweeds seemed to cling to me and pull me backwards like hundreds of small hands grasping onto me, furiously trying to stop me from escaping. The rumbling of the ship began to feel more intense and I struggled against the water and the heavy suit to get away as fast as I could, my heart felt like it was leaping out of my chest. In the corner of my eye, I thought I saw great wisps of darkness clawing at the walls, getting closer and closer but when I turned to look there was nothing there. I could have sworn I had only just entered the ship but the longer I fought to escape the more it seemed like there was no end to this place, had I gone the wrong way? The crack I was moving in began feeling tighter and tighter like it was closing down around me. I felt something wrap around my leg and it pulled me off balance, dragging me backwards for a second, out of sheer terror I swept the sword I had clung to towards my leg and suddenly I fell out of the wreck. I landed in the sand in an explosion of silt.


I stood up slowly, trying to understand where I was and what was happening, I found myself hundreds of yards away from the wreck stood in the sand. I breathed a great sigh of relief and wished I could wipe the sweat from my brow. Then a sharp, cold thing moved up my back, sharp legs grabbing onto my skin. It was inside my suit. I screamed trying to hit where the creature was moving but it didn’t even slow, it crawled over my shoulders and suddenly even more spiny legs began climbing up my stomach. I screamed louder, writhing in my suit trying to escape from the horrible creatures climbing up my body and cutting deep slashes into my skin as they moved. They reached my face and horrible black spider-like creatures pulled at my mouth and my nose, their strength was unthinkable, they forced my mouth open and I could feel them wriggling in, thousands of them surging down my throat and crawling into my nose. I couldn’t scream, I saw the world turning darker slowly began to slip out of consciousness. Before I embraced the darkness I felt a strong hand grab onto my arm and pull me up, Peter’s face looked terrified.


Part 5

“You gave us quite the scare there sir.” Dr. James said in a business-like tone as he looked at a chart he had brought along, he had a definite sense of detachment in his voice. “Your vitals all check out and you seem to be in perfect health Sir Patterson” “That’s not possible, those things, they were trying to kill me, they were inside me” I almost screamed touching my hands to my throat and chest realizing the cuts had disappeared. “You simply had an episode when you entered the ship, Steven. A psychotic break, it was probably from all the stress or it could have been due to your severe sleep deprivation of late. It is nothing to be ashamed of but it could have killed you today.” He put the chart away and he had clearly written the situation off as nothing important. “But Peter saw them on me didn’t you Peter?” I pleaded. “I didn’t see anything, sir, you were just on the floor writhing around, I thought you were having some kind of seizure. I couldn’t really see much of your face with all the silt in the water, it may have been possible.” Peter said, looking worried and running his fingers through his hair. “Don’t be preposterous! Obviously, it was all just in his head. This is not a world of fairy tales where the big bad wolf comes to eat us all up. The world just doesn’t work that way.” The doctor had a quiet intensity in his voice that made me shudder. “And would you please put that horrid old sword away.” I looked down to my right hand, it still clung to the skull bearing sword with hardly any consent from my body. “You wouldn’t let us take it away from you, sir. Even when you were hardly conscious” Peter said apologetically. “It gives me the creeps.”

The doctor walked to the moon door and peered down into it. I rose from my bed and walked towards the center of our bell-shaped vessel where the doctor stood. “I saw what I saw James. I don’t think I’m losing my mind. We are in danger.” I spoke softly and seriously, trying to keep the hints of madness in my voice from coming through.  “Of course you did and the mermaids were there to take you to wonderland too, weren't they? We can not give in to this idiotic thinking Steven. This is a world of science and we cannot forsake it for our own fear. I am a man of science and I will be damned if I…” A great tentacle reached out of the water of the moon door and wrapped around the doctor's throat, cutting him off mid-sentence. Then it tore him out of the ship, bones snapping as he plunged into the water. Several more of the tentacles raised from the waters and began moving towards us.


I grabbed hold of the sword and rushed in front of Peter slicing the tentacle off as they darted towards his throat and he screamed ducking away. A great sound of pain and fury filled the ship and it shook terribly, black smoke billowed from the severed tentacles as they shriveled and turned to broken husks on the floor. It seemed a fascination with fencing in my youth may come in handy today. I lashed out with my blade and struck at the monster’s reaching arms, where my blade touched its flesh, fire would spread. I drove it out of the ship and felt a numb ecstasy spreading from my hand as I clutched the sword. I roared with triumph as the monster retreated. “Sir” Peter said as he stared at me wide-eyed. “are you okay? What’s happening to your arm?” I looked down and saw dark tendrils staining my skin, like tattoos that came from where I held the blade but the images moved and writhed across my skin as I held it. “I…” I stammered. Then the ship began to creak violently, valves burst and bolts began to sheer under immense pressure. “what’s happening?” screamed Peter. My eyes shot to the large windows of the Anchor’s bridge and to my horror I saw the tentacles wrapping around the ship and the glass beginning to crack with sounds like gunshots. “Peter! Quickly get into your suit, we need to get out of her right now!” I screamed and ran towards the suits. I slipped the sword into the sample bag at my suit’s side and jumped into it with pure reckless speed. We closed the latches of the suits as the water began to rush in through the cracks forming in the ship. Then we entered into the depths once more.


“Hurry, we need to get away from the ship, if that thing crushes it the reactor will be compromised,” I yelled over the scratchy radio. We took great strides trying to run from the Achor as it was enfolded by the great beast. Suddenly pale white hands ripped out of the sand and began grabbing at our feet, I lashed down with my sword clearing a way for myself, that same feeling of pleasure now coursing through my body. Then I realized Peter had nothing to protect himself, I turned as quickly as I could and saw them dragging him down. Horrible creatures with tentacles falling from their mouths and eyes opening and disappearing all over their bodies held him in their pale arms as he struggled. I tried to move to save him but I was too far away already. I saw him scream as they lifted a crude wicked knife and pierced his suit, from their mouths those same spiny creatures swarmed and surged into the opening. The suit filled with water and with blood, the red water filling the glass bulb around his head as his body shook and contorted in inhuman ways. Then a pristinely white skull became visible as it floated against the glass, black creatures swarming out of its mouth and eyes.

I ran and realized there was no way out, my suit was far too heavy to swim with and the great crater was not something I could climb out of. Tears began to blur my vision and I ran aimlessly away. The great tentacles were coming for me, they rushed through the water and ripped my feet out from under me as another wrapped around my body and began to squeeze. In desperation, I opened my suit and jumped free from it, swimming to the surface. Somehow I still had the sword with me though I do not recall how I kept it from falling to the depths. The monster grabbed hold of me and to my horror, I saw the walls of the crater begin to rise and close like a gaping maw to swallow me whole. Then the core of the ship exploded in intense brilliance. The heat and the pressure tore the monster still clutching it to shreds and struck me with intense force. I swam away, my head spinning and my breathe failing me. I swam out of the reach of the great jaws as it slammed closed and felt my strength failing. I vaguely saw a disturbance in the waters above.


The last thing I saw before the world turned to blackness was a strong tattooed arm grabbing hold of me. The image of an anchor wrapped in tentacles resplendent upon it under the fiery hairs. “You’re going to be okay Mr. Patternson. I’ve got you.”

 

Epilogue

There is such a thing as evil. We have tried to shut it away for thousands of years, tried to hide behind our lights and our knowledge but the fact is, it’s still there. Lurking in the darkness, in the depths we never dare to enter. The fear of the unknown has been with us since before living memory. It was put inside of us to protect us from the things that go bump in the night. Aye, there is such a thing as evil but sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes the sea saves you from a murky grave for reasons you don’t quite understand. You’ll never be the same after you see those things you wished weren’t real but you’ll live and that’s more than most get. I tried to destroy the sword Mr. Patterson held as we pulled him from the ocean but flames simply glided around it and it broke my favorite hammer. So I threw it in the drink, let the gods of sea and wind decide its fate rather than I.

© 2017 Hendro Smit


Author's Note

Hendro Smit
The first in a new series of short stories, topics for further stories are encoraged.

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Added on April 2, 2017
Last Updated on April 2, 2017
Tags: deep sea, horror, short story, Lovecraft, experimental, sad, terror, monster

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Hendro Smit
Hendro Smit

Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa



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