In desperate times desperate people head here – an online journal of Apocalyptic-themed fiction and commentary.

Leviathan of the Blades

Copyright © 2007 by Jefferson Swycaffer. All rights reserved.

Leviathan of the Blades

     Eric burst through the door, slapped his wet swim-fins down on my desk, and said, in a cold, quiet voice, “I quit.”

     Eric quits all the time. I’ve lost count of the times he’s shouted his way in and out again. There are still a couple of big dings in the plaster, out in the hallway, that he’s made with his fists, air-tanks, weight-belts, or whatever was in his hands at the time. He cuffed one of the engineers, once, and I took some persuading before I let him come back.

He didn’t shout, though, and that’s what made me sit up straight. He’d already turned to leave, had gotten halfway to the door, padding barefoot over the carpet, his blond hair darkened and wet, his blue and black wet-suit still spangled with crystalline beads of seawater.

“Eric. Come back here.”

He looked at me as if I were the worst enemy he’d ever had. His wide, tanned face darkened further with rage. Beneath the rage, I saw something else, something I wasn’t used to seeing there. Fear.

Reluctantly, his arms drooping loosely, his steps not entirely certain, he came back and dropped into the chair nearest my desk. There were papers on the chair, but he didn’t care, didn’t even push them aside.

We looked at each other. I was curious, mostly, and a little concerned. He was still caught in the throes of his emotions, but now his expression had gone limp and neutral, his jaw slack, his eyes half-closed. His hands rested in his lap. Water dripped down onto my papers — more bills than invoices, I’m sorry to say — and onto the rug.

“Tell me.”

He looked away, looked back. “Give me a drink.”

I poured. Eric’s a big man, and a bigger drinker. Blond and feisty and Australian and hostile to a world that hasn’t done him all that much wrong. He wasn’t particular about what he drank, so long as it was strong. I feel the same way, myself. I keep a bottle of Canadian Whisky in my desk, and — epicureans may shudder if they want to — we drank from plastic cups.

“I was out with a class.” That was all he said for a while. I waited. Eric. Eric Chubb, his full name is, but he doesn’t like being called “Mister Chubb.” He’s very insistent on the matter. He and I get along, God knows why. I called him “Mister Chubb” once too often, and he closed my eye, and I broke his nose, and we’ve been like brothers ever since, but I mean the kind of brothers who mostly fight.

“Beginners. Me and Dave. Class of nine.”

On cue, Dave stuck his head in round the door frame. He didn’t look at Eric, and he didn’t look at the bottle. He looked at me. I still didn’t know what was going on, so I looked back pretty blankly. Dave tried to say something in sign language, but since it was more complicated than “Come,” “Go,” or “Get Help,” sign language wasn’t going to do us very much good.

“Is anybody hurt?” I asked. God help us all if he’d left a student to drown.

Dave, in the doorway behind Eric, shook his head. No. Eric, slumped down in the chair atop my wrinkled and sodden office paperwork, looked up at the ceiling and didn’t say anything for a while. Dave gave up trying to semaphore me, and leaned against the wall by the door. Eric was probably aware of him, but if he was, he gave no sign of it. The afternoon sun slanted in through the windows, painting a large patch of warmth and light on the floor and the far wall. The fluorescent lights buzzed annoyingly overhead, one more thing I intended to fix… someday.

“Nine students. Tanks, suits, masks, flippers, weights. Good group. No one stupid among ’em. We swam out from the dock here. Nice weather, dead calm. Water’s clear, just super, you could see forever, you could see goddamn Japan, water’s so clear. We went out to the kelp forest.”

I nodded. I’ve been there, and I never grow tired of it. There’s a beauty to it, a calmness, a glorious isolation. I filled in the blanks in my mind, envying him the chance to go out and down, even with students. In clear water, it was more like flying than flying itself is. The giant kelp stalks grow up from the depths, an ugly greenish-yellow in color, and the sunlight shines down from the surface, growing weaker and weaker the farther down you go. The kelp fronds had a way of casting shadows and sunbeams, so distinct they sometimes seemed solid.

So far, everything checked: Eric, Dave, nine students. Their names were on cards in my file cabinet, their money in the bank, probably already spent and gone owing.

“I’m in lead. Nice. Good bunching. Kelp near motionless. No problems. We drop a bit. Pause and hover. Everyone breathing fine. Drop a bit more. Thirty feet. Forty. And who’s a drongo? Who gets tangled? Who gets their goddamn regulator ripped out of their goddamn mouth? Me, that’s goddamn who!”

“Eric…”

“Don’t. Don’t say a word.” He wouldn’t meet my eyes. Dave, by the door, waited silently. I could tell, now that I’d had some time to study them, that Dave was as much at a loss as I was. He didn’t know what was going on. And if he didn’t, I wasn’t going to be able to figure it out, that was for sure.

Time ticked by. The sunlight moved a half inch across the floor. Outside, someone turned on the air-compressor. Someone else told a lewd joke, the lead-up growing louder as he walked by just outside the window, then fainter again as he went round the corner. If I were to lean forward, I could see the mini-sub in its cradle, bright yellow paint clean and dry in the sunlight. Just past the fence, there was the Marina, with a clutter of narrow white masts sticking up like garden stakes. Beyond that, the sea.

“I should have died,” Eric said, his voice low. “I was tangled. The students… It isn’t their fault. They went up. None of ’em had a knife. I don’t let students carry knives. I didn’t have a knife. I’ve told ’em a hundred times, if there’s trouble, they go up. Three dropped their weight belts. They even looked to see nobody was below ’em, first, just like I’ve told ’em. The rest swam up. Dave went up with ’em. Then he came back looking for me. All very quick, only a few seconds. Easy. No worries. I can hold my breath that long and a lot more. I dunno if Dave had a knife.

“When he gets there, I’m gone.

“I’m stuck, and that’s a fact. Damn silly accident. My regulator has become an integral part of that flipping kelp. I tear at the fronds, snapping ’em back against the direction they grow. I do not panic. I’ve always figured I’d drown someday, but I also always knew it’d be clear-headed. Clear-headed to the goddamn last.

“The stalk moves. Moves down. The whole stalk. I’m hauled down with it. The power was what shocked me. Like nothing I’ve ever felt before. The whole length of the goddamn stalk is moving down like an elevator, and taking me with it.”

“It got hooked on something?” I suggested weakly. It was a stupid idea, really. Kelp harvesters don’t come in that close, and they pull the stalks up from the surface. A submarine? Hogwash: the big submarines, the ones from the Navy Base on the other side of the point, don’t come near here, not this close to shore, not through the kelp beds. Small submarines, like our own mini? They stay the hell away from the stuff. A mini or an Alvin can get tangled just like a man. And they’re making them more powerful these days, but not powerful enough to drag down a whole stalk, with or without a man knotted in it.

“I’m going down. Deep. The light’s going,” Eric said. In the office, the light was fading a little also. Just the sun going behind the clouds, I thought, but I still shuddered a little.

“The water’s cold, real cold. The thermoclines are sharp. My ears… Well, hell. Some way to die, eh? Then…”

He sat up, got nearly to his feet, his face twisting up in disgust. I thought for a minute he was going to leave, to walk out on me with his story half told. Then he settled back, rested his chin on his fist, and thought for a while, looking away and down into some private infinity where I couldn’t follow.

He turned to me. “Boss, it was a devilfish. I mean that. God damn it, I mean it.”

Eric never calls me “Boss.” Dave does, all the time, but Eric, never. Devilfish? I believed him. Right then, he could have told me is was Davy Jones on a surfboard, with a school of mermaids dancing attendance, and I’d have believed him.

“A squid?”

“Octopus. Big…” He closed his eyes. He opened them again. There were tears in his eyes, something I hadn’t lived long enough to ought to see.

“It was an octopus. Tentacles forty yards long. Five yards thick at the roots. Head like a hot air balloon. Eyes…”

He jerked to his feet, and threw out a mouthful of obscenity at me on his way out. He took a swing at Dave, but missed. Dave fell back anyway, inside my office, landing on the carpet just as if Eric had decked him. Maybe he was expecting the punch to land, and the expectation floored him without the need to be hit.

I went partly around my desk and partly over it, and later I learned I bent one of the hinges of the door when I shoved through. All I knew was that if Eric went into the water, I’d never see him again alive, and if he went out to his car and drove away, I’d never see him again at all. I caught up with him on the plank walk outside, where the sunlight and soft breeze and seagulls circling for scraps all were horribly normal, sickeningly normal in a world that wasn’t even a bit ordinary just that moment.

It’s funny what we remember. I remember Judy, in the front, at the phone, looking at us through the big front windows, which some seagull had decorated for us with a smear of his droppings. I remember seeing the guys down in the boatyard going about the usual maintenance chores. I remember seeing some of the students, Eric’s and Dave’s students, at the near end of the dock, half out of their wet-suits. They were freshing their gear, bleeding off their tanks, and muttering to each other about what had happened. I remember tucking in my shirt. And I remember Eric, standing there, barefoot, bare-headed, otherwise covered by his wet-suit, his hair already half dry, but still all tangled and uncombed.

He’d turned left, toward the parking lot, towards his car.

“Eric.”

“George. It’s been nice knowing you.” He turned away. I grabbed him by the arm and hauled him back around. He’s good in a fight. Maybe I’m better. I certainly was better then, and he knew it, and didn’t resist. He let me turn him around, didn’t even try to shake me off when I held him by both shoulders, the way a mother will hold a son when she’s about to shake the truth out of him.

“Eric…”

“An octopus, George.” He looked me in the eye. “Big as I said. Eyes as big as the mini-sub, just as yellow. The suckers down the arms’ undersides, even bigger. Big as the swimming pool out back of your house. Then, smaller towards the tips of the arms. Goddamn. You know what an octopus looks like. Just bigger.”

“It was hauling the stalk down?”

“I dunno why. I saw it. It saw me. It saw I was trapped. It reached for me.” He spoke now without hesitation, but without very much energy, as if it were all in the past, all unimportant. “Then the suckers, the sucker-discs, split open. Each and all of ’em. I dunno how. They had slits down the middle, and there were blades inside, some sort of bone. Semi-circles, with a chip missing. Sharp as God’s own straight-razor. They slid out of the middle of the suckers in a long wave, rippling right down the whole length of the arm. Then, just like a stage magician, it passed the tentacle by the kelp stalk. Didn’t even seem to touch it. The stalk fell apart into a million bits. Fragments. The water was brown with them, all floating out. It was like being in the middle of a bowl of Japanese soup.

“The tentacle touched me. I was close to out of air. I didn’t know if I minded drowning, though. Better than being cut into sushi. I thought that’s what it was going to be. I thought I was the meat in his soup. But the blades, the rippers, were gone. They’d slid back, recessed into the tentacles again, somehow. The arm touched me. It was hard as stone, George. Hard as stone, I swear to you. Not the least squishy, like you think an octopus is going to be. Hard as stone.

“It picked me up, and put me at the surface, just like an old lady shopkeeper putting a can of beans back on the top shelf. It let me go. I lay back and breathed fresh air for a while, worshiping the sky. I looked, and saw the dock, twenty feet away.

“I swam in.”

He looked at me, a deep, soul-shuddering wonder rising up from the depths. “George, that wasn’t ten minutes ago.”

I let him go. He walked barefoot over the concrete walk, out into the parking lot. I walked by his side. I couldn’t think of anything to say, and he had nothing to say to me, not just then.

Eric’s car was a clobbered up old Falcon, dirt-brown, older than he is, with a two-year accumulation of trash in the back seat. He never locks it. Never even rolls up the windows. I’ve tried to tell him…

He climbed in, started the engine, started to back out.

At the last moment, he stopped. He tried to smile, but it didn’t come out right. The muscles were all working, but the eyes were dead. “See yer, George.”

He was gone.

I watched, watched while he bounced out of the lot onto Beach Boulevard, disappearing into light traffic. The last I saw of him that day was that fading glimpse of his smoking tailpipe and bald tires, seen between the palms that line up in a long row along Beach.

Eric. Eric Chubb. One of my best divers. He didn’t even write to collect his back pay. Not much of a windfall, though, and I had to explain everything to the tax and labor people so he didn’t do me any favor that way.

I thought about it long and hard for the next few days. Dave took over diving instruction, and a couple of days later we hired a new guy. It wasn’t the same, but life goes on.

In my office, a week or so later, in a lull between crises, I sat back, counted the cracks in the ceiling, and thought it over. What the hell had Eric seen?

Could he have been drunk? No. Not possible. I knew the man as well as anyone can know a man like that. Other drugs were out too, for the same reason: Eric wouldn’t take that kind of risk. Not in the water. He’d drive drunk, without a care in the world, but he’d never dive unless he was stone cold sober.

Had he just cracked? Lost his wits? Panicked? Nitrogen narcosis? Tainted air in his tank? Food poisoning?

I sat forward, stood from my chair, and looked out my window over the ocean. Out there, a couple of hundred yards offshore, a pair of people skippered a ten-foot catamaran through light swells and a gentle breeze. The hull was yellow, and the single sail was striped in red, white, and yellow. They were flying a skull-and-crossbones, just for a lark.

I don’t know what I’d have done if I’d seen a forty-yard long tentacle shoot up out of the water and curl around the boat. The image came to me for no reason; I couldn’t help but stand and stare, waiting for it to happen. The cat was light and flimsy, and Eric had said the tentacle was as hard as stone…

Minutes passed. The boat sailed peacefully on, going north to south, my right to my left, until it was gone from sight. A strange sense of relief came over me. My armpits were damp, and my forehead prickled. It was early in the afternoon, but I didn’t care: I poured myself a drink.

Then I was back in my chair and dialing the phone. Two rings and an answer.

“Can I talk to Professor Bishop, please?” I asked the secretary. Bishop’s the man at the Oceanographic Institute I deal with the most, although I’m on good terms with half the staff and maybe a quarter of the teachers. When someone wants to hire use of our sub, Bishop makes the arrangements. He and I also make a point of sending students each other’s way.

A minute later, and Bishop’s rich voice, deep and secure and accented with the patient tones of someplace German that isn’t Germany — Tyrolia, I think, but I can never remember — came on the line.

“George? How are you? What’s up?”

I’m not one to wear out my welcome with pleasantries. I gave him a “Good afternoon,” and a half-hearted, “How’s the family?” before I came to the point.

“Doc, how big can an octopus get?”

He didn’t answer right away. I expected him to come back with a question of his own, something along the lines of “Why do you want to know?” but he surprised me.

“Is something going on that I ought to know about?” he asked, his accent deepening just the least bit.

“Huh?”

“Your man Eric asked me the same question, just last week.”

Last week. Made sense. “Yeah,” I drawled. “He’s the one who saw it. He’s not my man anymore, though. He quit. The octopus was too much for him.”

“He quit?” Bishop was shocked.

“Yeah. Didn’t he tell you?”

“No. He merely asked the same question you did. I told him what I could. To wit — ” and Bishop’s voice grew tight and controlled, the professional voice of the lecturer ” — there is no necessary limit to the size of the octopuses and squids. Specimens have been taken of the giant squid massing in excess of four hundred kilograms.”

“An octopus, not a squid. What about arm-span?”

“Hm. Something under seven meters.” He didn’t like being corrected. That brings out the worst in educated types. Come to think of it, it brings out the worst in us all.

“One more thing…,” I began, wishing I could just skip it and hang up. It was more difficult to ask than I’d thought. It sounded ludicrous and banal to me; how must it sound to Professor Bishop? “Did Eric ask you anything about…”

“Yes?” Bishop purred, oh so patiently.

“Anything about blades or rippers along the tentacle?”

I swear, I could feel him smiling at me over the telephone. But the answer was yes. “He asked something about it. I had to disappoint him. An octopus has its cuttlebone, and it has its beak, but the tentacles are entirely boneless. Now — are you going to tell me what this is all about, or are you, like Eric, going to be evasive? I’m eager to learn the truth, frankly.”

The ugly truth, the whole ugly truth, and nothing but the ugly truth.

“Eric saw it, or claims he did. Then he quit. I think the sight of it broke his nerve, and Eric’s type of diver isn’t worth anything when he’s lost his nerve.”

Bishop was silent for a while. A long while. I began to wonder if he’d somehow forgotten I was still on the line. Then, softly and reluctantly, he spoke. “An octopus the size that Eric described — tentacles forty yards long — is possible. It is just vaguely possible. It would not be comfortable near the surface. It should, instead, stay deep down, where the water pressure can work to its advantage. Down, two or three thousand meters down, there it would be amazingly strong. Up at the surface? It would be a weakling in comparison. But, George, the rippers? Not possible. Simply not possible.”

That was that.

Or it should have been.

Life went on. We took on a new diver. The sub made a couple of runs for the Marine Biology students. We outfitted a larger expedition to a Black Smoker — an undersea volcano — along the flanks of Hawaii’s new island, only a seamount now, but it will have beaches and forests and ferns and lorikeets in another twenty thousand years when it finally breaks the surface. I didn’t get to go along on that one: I was more in demand for the scurvy, dirty, boring, rotten jobs. Those are where the money comes from.

Scouring bottoms. Bringing up lost valuables. Unwinding cord or cable from propeller shafts. A little welding, now and then.

The summer waned and was lost. The water grew colder, and the currents reversed. The waves hit the beach at a different angle. I kept busy.

In October, I was called out to help bring up the body of a drowning victim. That’s about as bad as it gets, for me. But this time, it was just a little bit worse: the victim was a suicide. She’d been young, and light, and childlike, with long blonde hair, and she must have been pretty as she fell through the air after jumping from the center span of the Bay Bridge. Her hair was one of her few features not ruined by the impact with the water.

Another diver and I worked together. We got most of the child swept up and in bags, while police boats idled alongside, rising and falling in the chop. The water was cold, and the air, in its perverse way, was colder. Otherwise, it was just another sunlit day in paradise.

We climbed out, were assisted into the police launch, and handed over our gleanings. No one had anything to say. We were given coffee and doughnuts, and the next morning I prepared an invoice for services, and had Judy mail it to City Hall.

Eric had been gone for four months, but his absence still hurt. It still left a hole. At first, it had been like a missing tooth. Now, it was more like a missing button on an old shirt. You could go a few days without thinking about it.

The phone rang. I got it before Judy did.

“Nichols Marine,” I intoned, in that sing-song voice that people expect to hear when you answer the phone.

“May I speak to Mr. Nichols, please?”

Easy enough. “That’d be me. What can I do for you?”

“Have you seen today’s newspaper, Mr. Nichols?”

I was right on the very edge of saying, “Call me George,” since to me, “Mr. Nichols” is my father’s name. I didn’t quite get it out, though. The newspaper? Was it about yesterday’s suicide victim? No one had interviewed me, so I didn’t see why they’d name me.

“No. What’s up? And who’s this?”

“I’m Pastor Andrew Brent. Churches of God in Ministry. May I ask you for an appointment, perhaps later today? Just to talk?”

I blinked. It beat coming round door-to-door, I supposed.

“Well…yeah. But not for long, and I’ll warn you, I’ll throw you out if you get tiresome. Door or window, all the same to me.”

Brent chuckled, but it was a hollow chuckle. “I’m not going to try to convert you. Not today. Maybe another time.” Another chuckle. Then he dropped his bomb. “It’s about a man who used to work for you, a man named Eric Chubb.”

The tide went out of my soul.

“Come on around.”

“What time is best for you?”

“Any old time.”

“Two o’clock?”

“Fine.”

“Thank you.”

“Bring the newspaper,” I added, but it was a foolish thing to say. Ten seconds after he’d hung up, I was out the door and jogging at best speed toward the liquor store on the next block inland, to pick up a copy of the daily Nation. I didn’t even wait to take it back to the office with me, but tore it apart right there in the liquor store’s parking lot, stuffing unwanted pages into the trash can beside the door. The wind was cool, and I hadn’t stopped long enough to grab a jacket, but the chill I felt had nothing to do with the weather.

The Nation: a local newspaper with a wire service subscription. I went through it quickly, looking for the story Pastor Brent had spoken of.

International news and the front page: nothing. The usual wars and threats of war. Local news: nothing. There was some follow-up coverage of yesterday’s suicide, but nothing worth a second glance.

I found what I wanted buried in the “Human Interest” section, between advertisements for ChemMyriad Solvents and Halcyon Computers (I used the solvents already, and you couldn’t pay me enough to go anywhere near a computer). It was a short story, one column, only an inch and a half in length.

No more submarines?

Taos, NM. Eric Chubb, a retired deep sea diver, is the founder of a splinter branch of the Churches of God in Ministry. He claims that deep sea divers have stirred up Biblical beasts and demons from before Noah’s Flood. “Every dive brings us closer to doomsday,” he told his congregation. “I have seen Leviathan with my own eyes.” Mr. Chubb, formerly an employee of Nichols Marine in Sunset Beach, wants the human race to return entirely to dry land. “Divers are not evil,” he said, “but diving is,” citing a number of Biblical verses to support his views.

     Short, sweet, and unsigned. Thanks, Eric, for the advertising, and keep your left up when you see me next, you rat, or I’ll break your nose again for you. I was mad, black mad, when I walked back. I crossed the street without looking, and heaven help the car and driver that tried to hit me. There was no question in my mind, just then, that I was both immortal and omnipotent, buoyed up by a vast, pure, and fulfilling rage.

     I crashed in through the front door. Judy, who’d seen me this way once or twice before, was suddenly very busy with paperwork and filing, but once I’d passed by, I could feel the pressure of her gaze on the back of my neck.

Nothing got done in that office between that time and two o’clock, when Pastor Brent knocked at the door. Judy, in the front office, murmured a few words of warning to him before sending him back to me.

Brent was very pastoral in his appearance: late middle age, greying hair cut close and kept tidy, a care-worn face, an Irish nose, sea-grey eyes, tight-lipped mouth. He wore the traditional dark coat and white-tabbed collar, but if he had a Bible on him, it must have been in microfiche format. It surprised me, a little, that he didn’t have the Good Book under his arm; I guess I’d always thought it was permanently grafted to ministers’ ribcages.

“What in the Sam Hill is going on here?” I burst out, a good deal louder than I’d intended.

“I wanted to ask you the same thing,” Pastor Brent said, his voice an orator’s delight, well-trained, mellifluous, intrinsically comforting. Little lines appeared and vanished again at the corners of his eyes: laugh-lines, although he didn’t smile in any other way. It wasn’t a good time to be seen to grin, as he had instinctively observed.

“Sit down,” I said, all ill of grace. Brent sat.

“Mister Nichol — ”

“Call me George,” I said, the words slipping out all of their own before I could stop them.

Brent paused a good, long time. “George. I’m sorry about this. It isn’t my doing, and it isn’t my fault, but nevertheless, I’m sorry.”

“What is going on?”

He paused once more, then dove in. “There are a growing number of people who believe that we are living in the last days of earth.”

I should have thrown him out that instant.

“There are reasons to believe that our days are numbered. There are signs and wonders, and who has the wisdom to interpret them? Yes” — he held up a finger — “every age has signs and wonders. But surely this is a different time.

“Pastor Chubb has seen — ”

I cut him short. “Who?”

This time, he couldn’t help grinning, and I could tell that it was a tired, sour grin, with not much humor in it. “Pastor Eric Chubb, of the Churches of God in Ministry situated in Taos, New Mexico.”

“The same Eric? Who’d have thought the broken-nosed old so-and-so would find religion?”

“He does seem an unlikely man for it, does he not?”

“Get to the point,” I grated, my voice growing dangerous. Push me far enough, and something gets broken, and between yesterday and today, my patience had been stretched mylar thin.

“Pastor Chubb says he has seen Leviathan,” he said, but there was an ominous note of uncertainty in his voice.

“He saw an octopus,” I growled. “He was probably drunk at the time,” I added, knowing I was slandering Eric but too far gone to care.

“He says saw the devilfish. The Devil Fish. George, do you understand how important the sea is in the Bible?”

“No. And I don’t really care.”

“From Genesis to the Revelation, the sea is at the heart of it all. From the moment that the Spirit of God moved across the face of the waters, to the Sea of Galilee where Peter and Andrew fished, the sea is special in the scheme of all things. The Flood rose from the fountains of the deep, and Jonah was saved from drowning, secure in the belly of a great fish.”

“Will you get to the broken-down point?” I bellowed.

He looked at me oddly, and, although I’ve been looked at oddly by many a man, there was something in his calm gaze that sat me down, shut me up, and sobered me from the rage that had been like liquor inside me.

“You don’t swear,” he observed.

“No, I don’t.”

“Why not?”

“Good upbringing.”

“Punishment, or example?”

“Both. Dad had his fists, and Mum had her manners.” I shook my head, amazed at myself. I was giving away too much, and my defenses were down. Were this man to make a serious play for my soul, well, maybe he’d get it, and I wasn’t interested in going to his church, buying cookies at his bake sales, singing in his choirs, or explaining what I did for a living to the wives of his parishioners.

But, “That’s very admirable. Surprising, alas, in this age of easy profanity.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“The point is this: Pastor Chubb is preaching against diving. It is his revelation that diving is wrong, and that we are trespassing in the sacred deeps.”

“‘We’ meaning me.”

“Eric mentions your name in his sermons,” Brent said, somewhat guardedly.

“Eric used to work for me, and that’s all. He quit one day, and claimed he saw the world-champion cuttlefish. Did he send you to convince me? Are you here to make me get out of the water?”

“No. I’m here to ask you about it.”

“Why? What do you care what I think? Go back to ‘Pastor Chubb.’ Tell him he can have the desert if he wants, but I’m still a diver.”

“Have you ever seen the creature he speaks of?”

“No.”

“Do you think it’s really down there?”

“How should I know? Eric said he saw it. Isn’t that good enough for you?”

“No,” Pastor Brent said, his voice freighted with grave dignity. “It isn’t. I am here at the request of the council of the Churches of God in Ministry. Pastor Eric Chubb is leading a break-away sect.”

I confess, I blinked stupidly for a while, trying to work it out. Ecclesiastical synods are as alien to me as diet clinics or haberdashery shops. My beliefs are like my tucker and my attire: informal, absolutely.

“You’re trying to figure out…” I murmured, dead slow.

Brent nodded.

“You’re trying to figure out if Eric’s a heretic or not. If he’s crazy, or if he’s inspired. If your whole church ought to swing into line behind him, or if you ought to repudiate him, bar him, excommunicate him, whatever it is you do with people who put a weird topspin on your beliefs.”

“We’re troubled, Mr. Nichols. We’re very troubled.”

We talked some longer, but I couldn’t help him any. I didn’t know what to say. In the end, we were both stuck with the same question, and no way to answer it.

What had Eric seen?

# # # # #

     A year or so went by. The Churches of God in Ministry got a bit of mileage in the press out of their inchoate schism. In the end, Eric’s side won a half-hearted victory. The Church took it as doctrine that diving wasn’t good, and people ought to stick with fresh-water, not salt. Their followers went vacationing on land, sold their boats if they had any, and moved to places like Fort Worth, or Denver, or Taos.

     Fine, I thought. Easier for the rest of us to find parking places at the beach.

But my shop was a sort of attractive nuisance to them, the more so since I was making pretty good money just then. So every few months, they’d gather on the sidewalks, marching around with little signs, sing a few hymns, and then go home.

The first time, I was livid. I’d have grabbed up an oar and gone out into them, laying around me and cracking heads, but Judy held me back.

“I’ll call the cops,” she shouted into my face, while I was raving about how I’d break the whole pious lot of them into kindling-wood.

“I don’t need the cops to get rid of them!” I snarled back.

“I’ll call the cops on you!” Judy said.

I looked at her foolishly, and she looked at me as if she were watching her job float away on the tide.

“On me?” I stammered.

“You can’t chase them away. They have a right to be there. They’re on the sidewalk, George. Public property. They’re marching peacefully, and that’s their right. If you break them up, then you’re the bad guy.”

Apparently, I hadn’t been an American long enough, as it made no sense to me. I quieted right down, and shut myself in my office to pretend to work. Naturally, Judy kept her job. I gave her a thank-you and a bonus, too, for keeping me from ruining everything. In the end, the protesters went away again, and that, I supposed, was that.

They came back, a month or two later. And again, and again. I soon learned to ignore them, turn them my back as I went in and out. They never laid a finger on me, and didn’t block my doorway.

The biggest protest of them all added up to about two hundred people, arriving in buses, all nicely dressed, holding up hand-lettered cardboard signs. “Diving Into Satan’s Flooded Basement,” one sign had it, with a cute little drawing of Old Nick in a wet-suit that even gave me the creeps. “The Devil’s In The Deep Blue Sea,” another read.

One sign, larger than all the others, and more nicely lettered, simply said “Job 40:20.” I didn’t know what it meant, and neither did Judy. The next morning, she came in and showed me the verse from the Bible.

“Or Leviathan, wilt thou find a hook that will draw him to land, a line that will hold his tongue fast? Canst thou ring him, or pierce his jaw with a clasp?”

Always good with answers, Judy. She had the rest of the chapter all written down, and it was harrowing. Leviathan, there, was given accolades as the monster of all monsters, with a mouth spitting flames, a heart like an anvil-stone, a hide hard enough to turn a spear or arrow aside, and worse. I remember one verse particularly stuck with me:

“He makes the deep sea boil like a pot where ointment simmers; how it shines in his wake, as though ocean itself had grown hoary with age!”

     I looked up from the paper, in time to hear a knock at the front door to the office. The door was open; it was a diving shop. People don’t need to knock. They just walk in.

     I straightened. At the door stood Eric. Eric Chubb.

He looked like hell, but, then, right at that moment, I suppose I did also. I couldn’t think of a thing to say, and just stood there, gaping, for all the world just like a gaffed fish too stupid to realize it was drowning in air.

His hair was clean, close-trimmed, styled in a fancy blow-dried razor cut. He’d even had his nose straightened, straightened from when I’d bent it for him. It made him look a lot more handsome, but it didn’t make him look any better. He had on a dark suit, with a little white tab at the collar, just like a priest.

Mercy on me, he was a priest. A pastor, anyway.

“Can I come in, George?”

“Yeah…” I regimented my scattered wits. “Judy, a drink for Pastor Chubb.”

“No.” He held up a hand, a commanding gesture that brought both Judy and me to a halt. “I will not sup with you, for you are defiled with the waters of the devil.”

“The… The what?”

“You still descend into that oceanly hell.” He looked at me with something strange in his eye. “You still put yourself at risk. You still imperil your soul. George, listen to me. Please. I come before you to beg for your understanding.”

I stiffened. “Eric, you know me. And I know you. You were a diver too.”

“Mary Magdalene used to be a whore. She put that behind her. George… George…”

I knew what it was I saw in his eye. It was love. Love for me. Eric, God bless him and God pity him, had come back to try to save me. I was flustered and helpless. What in the world can you say to someone under those circumstances?

“Eric, listen to me…”

“No! You listen to me. The sea is not man’s home. The sea is the desert of the spirit. Diving beneath the sea is a descent into hell of the body. George, stop doing it. Stop giving yourself to the devil. Stop dipping your soul in the oceanly hell.”

As gently as I possibly could, I said, “Go back to New Mexico, Eric. I’m sorry. But I’m still a diver.”

“You don’t understand…” He stopped himself. I might not understand, but he did. We’d been mates a long number of years, and he knew when my mind was made up.

“It has to end like this, doesn’t it?” he sighed.

“I guess so.”

He rubbed his nose, and, I swear, if it hadn’t been for the suit and collar, he’d probably have felt enough at home to lean against the wall, just the way he did in the old days. He looked ten years younger, just then.

“Hell, Georgie, we’ve been through such a lot.”

“Yeah… Place hasn’t been the same without you.”

He didn’t care for that. The little muscles of his face stiffened, tautened, and in a cold moment, he’d aged back the ten years once more. Upon reflection, though, he saw I meant it well, and relaxed again. But his face didn’t grow young again.

“Remember Dave?”

“Yeah… How’s Dave?”

“Teaches welding. Dry-land type welding. Right here.”

“Good.” He bit his lip, but couldn’t help asking. “He doesn’t teach diving any longer?”

“He had a touch of bronchitis. Doctor says he shouldn’t breathe tanked air.”

Eric nodded sagely, as if it were something to be expected, as if everyone who had anything to do with diving should suffer for it. An icy flash of rage slashed through my mind, but I bit back any words I might have said.

We chatted a bit longer, old times stuff, and he spoke a little with Judy, too, while I stood watchfully by. All too soon, it was clear how uncomfortable we all were. He wanted to lecture me, while my throat was aching for a drink, and poor Judy was pink with embarrassment at having to see us this way.

Eric straightened. “Are you sure you won’t change your mind, George?”

“I’m sure, Eric.”

He bent his head, and backed out the door, onto the porch.

“God bless you, George Nichols.”

And then he was gone.

No further words. No parting quip. No flash of humor. I waited fifteen minutes, fifteen minutes standing there like a foolish statue of a diver in his front office.

“Lord have mercy, Pastor Chubb,” I whispered, and returned to my desk.

It was at that point I finally realized that, whatever had happened to him underwater that day, it would have been kinder to him if it had killed him. The Eric Chubb I had known was gone forever, destroyed in a way that was worse than being dead.

I couldn’t let it stop me. I couldn’t let his mania do me out of my profession. I was a diver, and an engineer, and those were both good things to be.

But for the next few days, I couldn’t help but feel like a magdalene who hadn’t given up her trade.

# # # # #

     About six months later, something happened that opened up a big, immediate demand for divers. I was suddenly spending a lot of time in the “oceanly hell.” I didn’t see any Leviathans, however, nor did I see the sea boil like an ointment pot. In fact, I didn’t see much of anything at all while I was on the job, for a very good reason. The water where I was working was fouled and cloudy, the dirtiest water I’d ever swam about under. That was why the firm was doing well, and why divers were needed.

     There’d been an enormous break in the city’s main sewer pipe, and raw effluent was draining into the ocean, millions of gallons a day. Repairs were a crash priority, and the whole of the city’s budget was made available, with state and federal assistance. It was a good time to know how to work underwater.

Above the surface, the stink was amazing, even as far north along the shore as my dock and anchorage. Beaches were closed, water use was limited, everyone was told not to flush their toilets, and still the sludge vented out through the broken sides of the pipeline.

It was an old pipe, forty-eight inches in diameter, made of reinforced concrete sections about eight feet long, prefabricated and lowered into place by some civil engineering team long ago. It ran about two miles offshore, down into the cold depths where no one cared. There, the untreated sewage spilled out, rising in a great brown-black roostertail until the warm water cooled, at which point it sank away out of sight. Ultimately, the nutrients enriched the sea-floor, adding their own bit to the benthic slime at the bottom. The last time the pipeline had needed repair, some walloping giant of a container ship had gotten careless with its anchor, but that breach had been more than a mile offshore.

This time was different. The line was old, old and fragile, and it hadn’t been kept in good repair. While surveying the damage, we found dozens of little breaks, and weak places where you could crack right through the concrete with just a tap of your hammer. The big break was actually a series of shattered pipeline sections, where the pipe’s walls had collapsed in entirely, leaving the bare ends of the steel reinforcing rods sticking out into the water.

Murky water. Dark water. Foul water. You went swimming in that muck, and you came out tasting sewage for hours. We had to use special types of masks and mouthpieces. I, for one, was glad I’d kept all my immunizations current. It was a good season for hepatitis; at least ten surfers came down with it, and they had to send patrols out to chase them away from their beloved shores.

Underwater construction is always dangerous. We get paid the good money, but we take the risks. It was a common joke, those weeks, that we were getting paid almost as well as plumbers, but the fact was that we were doing well for ourselves.

Not all of the diving was dangerous, though. Some descents were milk-runs, the kind where nothing ought to go wrong. Naturally, it was during one of those that things went sour.

I was down in the deep end, something like a hundred and twenty feet underwater, where the colors are all washed out to murky greys. This was a long way below the big pipeline breach. I was with a team of two other men, looking for weak spots in the pipeline. A survey party, little more. We had little plastic flags and a spool of wire, and our job was to find places that needed fixing, and to wire the flags there, sticking them fast, and bringing back a report so the city could fill out a proper work-order.

The guys were Navy, and I felt more than a little honored to be along with them. They’d spent more hours underwater than I’d spent in bed. Veterans. Experts.

One of them, nicknamed “Snapper,” a scrawny, careful-moving grey-hair from Florida, told about demolition diving in Vietnam, back when he was a beginner. Then, he said, he couldn’t weld a straight seam, but now it looked like he could do anything underwater except sing or pitch baseball. He was so slow and deliberate in everything he did, I got the impression he was simply slow. Then he tricked me into putting five dollars down on a footrace, and left me twenty yards behind out of a hundred.

The other, name of Jake Hamm, a black man with the look of a boxer about him, was quiet about his life. He was a private, reserved type, and didn’t spend a lot of time explaining himself. In a rare burst of autobiography, he told of his childhood in the poor parts of East St. Louis, and how he hadn’t been a boxer, but a street-fighter. He accepted a beer, showed his teeth, and claimed to us that it was only when he was immersed in cold water that his broken nose and cauliflowered ears didn’t hurt like sin.

Today, he might have to take the pain, as the water was warm. Warm and comfortable, and it would have been clear, save for the human wastes washing by in little cloudy streamers, leaking from that good-for-nothing pipeline.

“It stinks bad enough up here,” Jake growled. “It’ll be good to get under.” We were standing half in, on the diving platform attached to the side of a small Navy auxiliary boat, waiting for the signal to dive. The water swirled by our legs, nice and California warm.

“And when we’re under, we won’t think about anything other than coming back up.” Snapper ribbed his partner in that comfortable, practiced way that told me they were friends. Good enough with me; I liked diving with people who knew and trusted each other. It’s a lot safer that way.

“And what about you? Aren’t you the guy who was picketed by the ‘Holy Earth, Sinful Sea’ brigade?”

“Yeah. The Churches of God in Ministry.”

“They ministered you real good,” Snapper teased. “Any reason why?”

I didn’t want to say, but Jake, after eyeing me dourly, answered his partner for me. “Their founder, that Pastor Chubb fellow, used to work for Mr. Nichols.”

“Yes, he did. And call me George.”

“Why’d he quit?”

“He says he saw the devil.”

“Not the devil,” Jake corrected me. “A devil-fish.”

“An octopus?” Snapper chuckled incredulously. “The guy quit on diving because he saw an octopus?”

I was saved from having to answer by the sounding of the “all clear” buzzer. The diving signal. We pulled our masks down, checked our air one last time, and stepped off the platform.

Down. There, it got cool, and then cold. Jake got his anodyne after all. We swam in a loose formation, angling down toward the pipeline as we descended. I accepted the tanked air, breathing in, breathing out, just as I’d done a hundred times. Above us, the trails of bubbles rose, little silvery jellyfish rising to their fate on the surface.

Ahead and below, at a crazy angle over the bottom, the pipeline came into view. It developed, really, the way an image comes onto a polaroid photograph, gradually acquiring form from the void that surrounds it.

Even through masks, even breathing bottled air, that water reeked.

Snapper, senior among us, went first. His legs moved slowly, expertly, so that he got every possible ounce of propulsion out of each lazy stroke of his swim-fins. His and Jake’s suits and belts, and even their tanks and weights, were all featureless and black, painted to be nonreflective. I also noticed that Snapper and Jake each had a knife.

Snapper first, then Jake, and then me.

Sand had built up around and over the pipe, here, protecting it from the action of the currents. We were deep enough that only the rowdiest of storms could kick up any real turbulence.

We spread out a little, and put our masks close to the concrete. I brushed away sand from a join, the vertical seam where pipe sections had been connected. The concrete was rough, pitted, and when I looked closely, I could see bits of the reddish, ribbed metal of the steel reinforcing rods.

Jake found a proper crack, and flagged it. Snapper found another. I saved my flags, and we moved on.

The pipeline sloped away, gently in some places, more steeply in others. Sometimes, it vanished completely from sight, buried under the drifting sand of decades. Other times, it was held completely away from the undersea hillsides, bridging small, chasms where the sand gave way to rocks.

We were getting on toward our time to return. Jake was out of flags, and I had only a couple left. Just ahead and below, there was a rock-tumble, a natural fan-shaped scaur where some avalanche had deposited boulders to make a talus slope at the bottom of a steep decline. The pipeline angled awkwardly through the midst of it, down in the black shadows under stones bigger than townhouse blocks. It was held in place with a couple of well-rusted cables of twisted steel strands.

Jake and Snapper went to look at the pipe. I detoured, just a moment, to look at the eye-bolts that held the other ends of the cables.

Everyone says, afterwards, that they remember just where they were when they learned there was trouble. When the President was shot, when the space-shuttle exploded. I remember where I was the day I learned my old home in Darwin had been wiped out by a spring cyclone. I suppose the same effect was at work that day, underwater, too.

I remember every strand of the wire, every flake of rust. I can conjure it to my mind’s eye without the slightest effort. The eye-bolt was anchored well, set into a flat surface in a small boulder, one only about as big as an elephant. The cable was looped through it and clamped fast. The whole affair was “Ship-shape and Bristol fashion,” as we still liked to say who’d never been to Bristol in our lives.

I looked up. Jake was borrowing a flag from Snapper. Snapper was tapping at a section of pipe with his hammer. I saw Snapper’s face through the transparent mask. His eyes were shadowed, so I didn’t see his emotion when he felt the stones start to shift.

As seaquakes go, it wasn’t large. The pipe rode it out just fine, flexing and giving as it was meant to do. Nor did the great stones travel far. Even the cable held tight, although I heard the weird atonal “ping-ing-ing” noise that stressed metal makes underwater.

There were other noises as well: the heavy “clack” of larger rocks, and the whitewater rush of sand and gravel, and beneath it all a deep, heavy groaning, as profound as the death-cry of the whole tectonic plate, yet, for all of that, not very loud at all.

It was a small rock, one that probably hadn’t moved an inch in the last hundred and fifty years, that slid down the slope and caught Snapper right on the point of his right shoulder.

He sagged, and the watermelon-sized stone rolled down his ribs, grazed his hips, bounced off of his left foot, and came to rest in a little sandy hollow near the pipeline.

Jake reacted fast, moving to his partner and checking, first of all, his air supply, then his vital signs. I got a little altitude, and then, as the rocks weren’t dancing any longer, drifted closer.

Hand signals. “Do you need help?”

Jake: “No.”

I waited. Jake palpated Snapper’s shoulder, watching his partner’s face, looking for the grimace of pain that might indicate broken bones.

The world shuddered a second time. This time, the old pipeline gave up its long struggle against stress and force. The fatigued old concrete split open, releasing its burden of dark, watery liquids. A cloud of the stuff began spreading, and in moments, Snapper and Jake were almost completely obscured.

I remember thinking, even then, that it was a little like the wash of ink released by an octopus.

Jake lifted Snapper, and I swooped in and under to help. His broken bones could go hang; it was no time to dawdle about. But we were too slow, all three of us.

The concrete sections fell in two separate directions. One massive section came down on my leg. I clearly heard the sound of the bones breaking, and wondered, with a kind of cold dread, how long it would take for me to feel the pain.

Another section came down not far from Jake, dragging the old length of cable across his chest. The cable wasn’t smooth; it sawed right through his wet-suit and cut deeply into the muscles of his chest. There were no colors to be seen, so deep underwater, but I knew that one element of the grey cloud that fogged the water was now blood.

When I next was able to see him, my heart sank. He was pinned under the cable, strapped down like a patient on an operating table. His back was pressed against the floor of the little sandy hollow; it was easy to see, though, that he could never dig himself free. There just wasn’t room. Only Snapper was free, and of us all, only Snapper wasn’t able to swim. He was still unconscious, knocked right out from the moment he’d gotten his injury.

The surging, gummy muck from the pipeline drained over us in gouts. Sometimes, the water was so thick with it, we couldn’t see our own hands. Sometimes, the water cleared, and we could communicate a little with hand signals.

It was just that we didn’t have anything to say. “So long, mate. Been nice knowing you. Give my regards to Broadway.”

Three men, two trapped, one out of it, on a dirty rock-pile on the floor of the sea. We watched the bubbles rise up toward the surface, and envied them their brief, fatal freedom.

Then…

A shadow, at first. Just a dark patch in the filth that was muddying up the water.

It grew. Swelled. I noticed it first, pointed it out to Jake. He looked. He stared.

The tentacles grew distinct. They were bigger, much bigger, than Eric had led me to imagine. Behind it, vast as an oil tank, tan and rubbery and bigger than a man could imagine, the body heaved up over the edge of the rockpile.

We were saved. Eric had told how this giant had saved him. It was friendly. And yet I couldn’t help cringing back, trying to curl back around the rock that held me pinned. A hermit crab, seeing that dire, eight-armed form creeping near, might have felt some of the terror I felt.

One tentacle brushed past, only a few yards from me. Another stretched upward, past Jake, and seized a secure hold on the rocks above him.

The yellow eye, larger around than five men could have reached with their arms outstretched, hove up into view. Jake and I froze into stillness, hypnotized, stunned like a bird by a snake.

Nothing that big, nothing that powerful, could have anything in common with ordinary humans like us. How does one supplicate before something like that?

I saw the double-row of suckers. I could have fit into one of them without effort; they were as big as the circular beds in the fancy suites in a resort hotel.

Eric had been right, I thought stupidly. Eric had been right all along. He had spoken of the tentacles erupting with blades… and as if the thought had summoned the reality, the tentacle twisted, just the slightest. Each of the suckers opened, parting like a bivalve, and a clean, white blade snapped out. A semicircle, with a notch missing, all the same shape, in a long, ghastly double-row.

The tentacle brushed the rock next to the one that trapped me. I could hear the noise of the individual blades clacking against the surface of the stone. Slowly, with a hideous stately deliberation, the tentacle wrapped around the stone.

It lifted that stone away, plucking fifty tons of rock up out of the sand the way a child grabs up a pebble. Gravel and sand and smaller rocks fell back into the hole where the stone had been.

When it threw the rock away, I could see the scars on the surface of it, scars where those blades had chipped away flakes of stone a good yard and more across.

It reached down again, caught up another stone, and, in dragging it up from the rockpile, cracked it in two between its tentacles. The impact reverberated through me, and the currents eddied and swirled, briefly enveloping Jake and me in a snow-storm of sand particles.

With the third rock removed, its strategy was evident: it couldn’t safely lift the cable from atop Jake’s chest, but it could lower the rockpile, gently, nearby him. This time, when the disturbed sands slid away into the crater where the last stone had been, the sandy bed under Jake’s back settled, just a little.

Just enough. Jake wriggled free.

I exulted with him. I hadn’t been so heartened in years. Jake’s chest was torn up, and he swam as if his left arm was hurt too. No one would have held it against him if he’d bolted for the surface. But he turned over and bent down to lift Snapper, to drag him up into the water, safe from any further shifting stones.

He waited, then, to see what would happen with me. I waved cheerily, knowing I was about to be rescued.

Sure enough, the next monstrous tentacle twisted around and, ever so gently, pulled the stone up off of my broken leg.

It hurt. It hurt like fire and ice and needles. I accepted that, because it meant I was going to live. With an awkward one-footed kick, I got moving, up into the water toward Jake. I even had the bravado to move to where I could help him carry his partner. Just three guys, saved from sure death. Three cocksure guys.

The tentacles came back one last time, separating Jake and Snapper from me, wrapping around them, enfolding them, wrapping them away out of sight entirely.

I didn’t understand.

A few moments passed. The tentacles writhed, knotting with the power that could break rocks, then slowly opened again.

What floated free looked no more like two human beings than a mouthful of chewed hamburger looks like a cow.

I think I went a little insane then. Anyone would have. But — I don’t quite know how to put it — it was a cool-headed kind of insanity. I didn’t panic. I didn’t strike out for the surface, or try to find a weapon, or tear off my mask. I wanted to be sick, but I didn’t want to drown that way, choking on my own breakfast.

I went a little insane, but I don’t think that’s the explanation.

The great monster, the Leviathan with blades in its arms, the thing that had saved Eric and which Eric denounced as a demon, swam quietly up near me. Its tentacles dangled down, down to the rockpile and farther, looping and coiling and stretching farther than I could see. The top of its loose, bag-shaped head was far above me.

It put its eye near me. I hovered there, only a few feet from a giant yellow window, slit the way a cat’s eye is slit, with a big bar of inky blackness.

Man, it said to me.

How did I hear the word? In my mind, I suppose. The voice, which wasn’t a voice at all, was as cold as ice. It hurt to hear — or to imagine, for I suppose it could all still have been a hallucination.

Man, child of Adam, do you know who I am?

I didn’t.

I am your enemy, and the enemy of every one of your kind.

There was nothing I could think of to say. I stared into the eye, and kept on breathing.

After a long, long while, I asked, framing the question in my mind: Why?

It waited, as patient as the sea itself. I controlled the thousand frenzied emotions that were eating away my mind, and asked again. Why did you save Eric?

The answer was colder than any water I had ever entered.

I saved him in order to harm him. I saved him in order to harm you. In life, he is an injury to all men. He does my evil. That is why I have saved him.

Minutes passed. I waited. I waited to die.

That is why I have saved you.

Slowly, the Leviathan swam away.

I watched it go. I watched it descend into the darkness, stretched ahead with some its tentacles, drawing the others after him, slithering down into the depths.

I looked up. I surfaced.

Dangerous as it was, I was short on air. I went right up.

A dozen eager faces looked down at me as I splashed up into the air. Two dozen eager hands hauled me out of the water. It was evening, with a sky full of high clouds tinged pink by the sunset.

“Where are the others?” demanded the diving master.

I shook my head. “They’re not coming up,” I said.

There were other questions, which I suppose I answered. None of that seems very clear to me now. Eventually, the boat turned around and gunned its engines for home.

I had to take decompression in a big tank back on shore. It was uncomfortable. Painful as anything. My leg had to wait its turn, and I sat through the re-pressurizing and de-pressurizing — hours in all — wearing a towel and a rough splint. I could wiggle my toes, although it hurt like blazes.

I saved him in order to harm him. What had the demon meant? Was it the truth? It applied to me, too; so it had claimed.

I thought about it a lot. For the next couple of days, I didn’t have much to do other than think.

A monster had spoken to me. A demon octopus, as powerful as an army, as strong as any lifting crane, with a forest of pale, bony razors hidden in its tentacles, had spoken to me.

It had told me that I was, by my very existence, a detriment to the human race.

How does a man live with that?

I knew, when I got out, I was going to have to go to Taos, New Mexico, and look up Eric. Pastor Eric Chubb.

What would I say to him? What would I tell him?

The truth? That he was an injury to all men? That I was, too?

I didn’t know. I just didn’t know.

Maybe I would fall to my knees by his side, and pray.

Maybe I’d break his nose for him again.

I didn’t know.

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