by R.T. Allenson
I remember how unbearable the mornings were at Port Hale. Not because the thick fog that settled over the town would never clear, but because the stink of rotting fish was heavy in the air.
They said it was red tide and I would have believed it if it not had lasted for almost six months. The coastline, despite all efforts, would always be littered with dead fish. Now and then, we would finally be able to clear a section of the shore only to be greeted the following day by the all-too-familiar sight of fish barely alive, choking on the sand and gasping for air – the waters having rebuked them.
It has always been my understanding that red tide doesn’t necessarily mean it’s red but the color of the sea was of an unmistakable deep crimson. Almost as if the very earth had bled from some enormous wound deep beneath the water’s surface. I thought of setting out into the waters using the wooden dinghy I owned but the fishermen would always advise me against such a stupid venture.
This did not stop me from walking along the coastline every chance I got to survey the damage the red tide had wrought. Although I did get used to the smell, it was still the smell of death, and that alone would behoove me. My wandering thoughts would balefully reward me each night with the sleepless dreams of blood-red waters, and of cold piscine eyes that stare at me from deep within the abyss.
In these nightmares, I would swim untouched and unharmed by the toxic seawater, swimming deeper and deeper where even the unnerving stares of the dead would dare not look upon me out of fear from whatever lay in the cold darkness.
Vividly, I remember – deep in that awful maw where even the sound of dreams would cease, in that cavernous trench where I drifted further down and finally touched the seafloor, a searing fear would come over me as I felt not the craggy rock of the depths but the unmistakable touch of skin against my own. I would wake in cold sweat – my heart racing for fear of whatever lay beneath the waters and the dread that my fantasies were real.
It was late in June when the fishing harbor finally closed down and my days as a porter came to an end. Most of the fishermen by then had already left; their businesses and livelihood ruined by the scourge, but a few of us remained, mostly townsfolk, to move the cargo left behind and would salvage whatever we could find. Every day would be the same thing and the air of hopelessness never lifted, like the fog or the smell.
Sometimes, I would just watch the crowds of people leaving town, each face twisted and stretched by sorrow. They all knew that life out there would never be as easy as it was in Port Hale.
I think I took it harder than most people; I can’t remember how many times I spent looking out mournfully into the sea and watch seabirds feed on the dead fish still being carried in by the rolling waves – blank stares piercing through the sky and into my very being. The fish were victims like we were to the spiteful whims of nature, but despite all my pessimism, I couldn’t stop the nagging feeling in the back of my mind that what happened wasn’t natural at all.
I was afraid that something else was at work and each night, I would dream the same blood-stained nightmare – of cold eyes staring from the deep abyss, and my fragile body diving deeper into that ancient cavern where I knew something lay slumbering.
Those same listless eyes were what greeted me each day but they were my own. I was doing absolutely nothing other than wallowing in my depression.
I had thoughts of moving to one of the bigger cities, but I never did feel comfortable in places where there were too many people where the sense of community felt weak or forced. Nevertheless, I began spending more time away from Port Hale, mostly because I was the only one left in town with a truck and there was no shortage of people moving or stuff in need of moving.
Daventon was the nearest town; about two hours travel from Port Hale, and it is where most of the fishermen relocated. It was tempting for me to move there as well. It was also a port town, although not as large and with fewer boats. Still, it made me feel better just being there. No fog, no stink of rotting fish, and best of all, the people were happy. Just seeing them like that made me hesitant to return home sometimes.
It wasn’t long before the government took action and by September, the people who remained in Port Hale were forced to move to the neighboring cities and towns. I moved to Adenburg where I found work as a construction worker and life for me at least went back to normal. At least, that’s how I thought it would be.
It’s funny how you can lose yourself in a waking dream or in a false life built by misguided self-confidence. I don’t remember much of living in Adenburg; only colorless memories that bubble and boil like awful things from the deep sea. I don’t even remember the names or the faces of the people I talked to. I could only think back on how emotionless they sound each time they utter their words – like machines in a clockwork race to a finish line with no prize.
The sun in the city is not as yellow as it is in town and there are no verdant trees to build a backdrop; no sapphire waves that roll blissfully into my dreams. There, the grey skyscrapers and its dark alleyways bring nightmares of emptiness and silence. The only loud sound is the ticking of the clock’s hand as it records each painful second passing by.
What’s funny is that the sound you hear is nothing like the ticking of the clock at all. The long hand is outstretched, tearing at the surface of time, like a drawn-out scream into space that lasts forever. Each day spent in that city was a nightmare of soundless, moving pictures. At night, Port Hale would call me back with restless dreams filled with unblinking eyes from deep beneath the sea.
My memories living in Adenburg are lost to time, but the one thing I recall vividly was that day I read the caption on the front page of the newspaper:
BLOOD-RED SEA IN THE PORT OF TERROR
The picture above it was the all-too-familiar seaside of Port Hale, still choked by rows of dead fish and covered by that detestable and unnatural fog. Three months after September and it was still the same death-ridden town of stinking fish and choking mist. Something was wrong with Port Hale and I wanted to know what it was.
The main road to Port Hale had a checkpoint and the only way I could back to town was through the shoreline from Daventon. I walked for a couple of hours until I arrived at a coastline littered with the still festering bodies of fish. Not far from where I worked as a porter was the decaying corpse of a right whale that the seabirds were still making a meal of.
I felt sick and that damnable fog did not help at all.
I took my boat into the sea, rowing silently through the blood-red waters and the rolling fog. Each time I padded the oar, I would hit something from underneath. Sometimes, I would see a shark devouring the dead only for it to die as well, choking on the blood.
I do not remember how long I was rowing, but I do remember arriving at a spot in the sea where the blood was at its absolute thickest. So thick in fact that the boat would no longer move no matter how hard I pulled and tugged at the oar. I told myself that this was it – the source of this nameless terror that had destroyed not only my life but countless others as well.
I did not know what came over me, but I do recall jumping into the blood-red waters. I held my breath, caring little for the stinging and pain and the lidless eyes of dead sea creatures staring at me, perhaps wondering why I would enter their hellish abode.
I was in my dream then, the murky depths in the deep dark cold. As I made my way deeper, I felt the seafloor under me, and as if by instinct, I touched it. The feeling was familiar, like that in my dream, but nothing could have readied me for what I saw then.
There, in that damnable abyss, what I thought was the seafloor was a face in that cold unnerving darkness. A human face with the unmistakable features of a still-developing infant!
A human face bigger than a whale, floating in the endless deep. And I remember my heart racing when, amidst the darkness, I saw its lidless eye twitch, as if it had recoiled from my touch. That damnable thing stared at me, perhaps wondering if I had the questions why it was unwanted – torn too early from its mother’s womb.
I struggled upwards – past the decaying corpses of sea creatures that were unwilling victims of an abortion from beyond our plane of existence. I did not care when water filled my mouth, nor did I give any thought to the whispering voices of the dead calling from beneath the waves. There was something more terrible in that deep, dark place, and it was still alive.
I do not know who fished me out from the waters, but I knew then that I would never see again. The water, they told me, had acidic properties, and it had bleached my eyes and rendered me blind. I lament this situation for although I would never again be able to see that enormous face from the beneath the waters, it’s all I can see now in my blindness, and in the darkness of my thoughts.
The nurse has left the window open. I know this because I can feel the cold, unforgiving air of Adenburg painfully caress my burnt skin. I do not know how far above I am from the streets, but I can tell I’m on a high enough floor from the harrowing cries of the people below.
I see the face in my mind one last time, nodding in approval at what I will do.
Time to jump.