(Taken from the second act of the book, an excerpt of the protagonist fighting against an unseen enemy)
The moon outside shown brightly from our bedroom window. I couldn’t sleep, I never slept. Well that’s not entirely true, I napped, but more like a giraffe. The curtain was open and the ocean breeze blew through. David was gone on a trip, and I was just laying in bed, bored, thinking about plans for the next day. I was considering whether to just get up and eat, when I heard footsteps coming up the stairs.
The steps grew louder, and I could hear grunts and whispers, maybe half a dozen people. I paused and debated what to do. That was my undoing, I should have acted immediately. As I rose from the bed they burst into the room. There was just enough time to slip a small knife into the pocket of my night pants.
From the moon’s glow I could see their faces, I recognized one of them from the village. I was strong and fought back, but it wasn’t enough, a moment later I was thrown to the floor, wrapped in a blanket, and carried out of the room.
The streets were quiet. Even though I couldn’t see anything inside of the blanket, I knew the direction we were headed. These men were taking me outside of town.
I wriggled my arm from a locked sideways position, moved it down to my side, and managed to get it near my waist. In all of the jostling the knife blade had cut through my pocket and landed near my knees. I wanted my arm to be close to it, and could feel the metal pressing between my legs. The timing was fortunate, as I was unceremoniously dumped onto a hard surface. Before I could move ropes were wrapped around me, and the sudden jostling of the hard surface, along with some strange sounds, told me I was on a cart outside the village.
My guess is that the bastards were too cheap to afford horses, I could have sworn I heard some cows pulling us. After a while the cart took an uphill turn, and I knew where we were headed. They were taking me to the cliff. I struggled and attempted to scream, but the sound that came out was a muffled gurgle. An answer came not from someone who would help, but from a hard leather boot embedding itself into my stomach. I gasped, and struggled for breath. That’s when everything changed. One moment I was laying on the cart, and the next I was hoisted up into the air. Then there was nothing. The arms were gone, the cart was gone, and I was in midair. My breath caught in my throat as I processed what happened, they had dropped me. Water, they were going to drop me in the ocean. Not good.
I felt myself floating, and counted. One, two, three, four, then impact. Below the cliff I was reminded of the rocky outcropping. I had half expected the waves, but was in luck. They had missed, I was on land. Well, good luck is a relative term. It still hurt. My feet hit first, buckled under me, followed shortly thereafter by my legs, back and head. My body contorted in an unnatural position as my legs twisted out behind me. Air was forced out of my lungs and I gasped for breath. Then I screamed, gagged mouth or not. Sure, I’d be ok, but that fall had broken about two dozen bones.
For a moment I thought this was it, that they were going to leave me laying on the rocks at the bottom of the cliff. If this was just some unlucky robbery, I’d be fine. They could clear out my house for all I cared. Given a few hours, or days at the most, I’d be able to heal from my injuries. I’d lost limbs before and watched as they regrew. A fifty foot drop from a cliff wasn’t nothing, but I knew I could come back from it. And then I’d find the unlucky bastards and slit their throats.
I had my knife, and I knew eventually I could get myself out. If the last 200 years had taught me anything, it was that killing me was incredibly hard.
But that wasn’t it. They weren’t planning to just leave me there. In my pain I missed the sounds around me. I was surprised when I felt hands picking me up again. Breathe came back into my lungs, or least one of my lungs, and I tried screaming again. A sharp punch to the head, followed by another to my mouth, silenced that. So they had further plans, the drop was just because they were lazy. Now I was going to kill them twice. I groaned and heaved. At that point, my attackers and carriers stumbled, and I felt my legs falling. They touched the cold ocean water as it soaked through the blanket. A moment later I was dropped onto another hard surface, only this one wasn’t stable, it was rocking back and forth.
For the next few minutes I lay crumbled in a heap at the bottom of some boat. Again, these guys were cheap. It was some rickety row boat. From the sound of it one paddle was missing its flat end, and the other was being pulled by an idiot who didn’t even understand the concept of rhythm. So, needless to say it took them a while to get me out onto the water. And it wasn’t even high tide, from the sounds of it the ocean was as calm as could be. They were just idiots.
We were on the boat, again that’s a generous word for it, just long enough that I knew parts of my body had begun to heal. For instance I was no longer breathing out of a punctured lung. My breath had steadied. That’s when I felt hands lifting me again, and I got to say hello to the great big blue. Cold water enveloped me, and I gasped and flailed. Of course that didn’t do anything, since I was tied up in a blanket. I began to sink, slowly at first. Then I heard a splash above me, and a moment later my feet jerked downward and I began to sink, much faster. These murdering thieves weren’t content to just drown me, they wanted to make sure I couldn’t pop back up. That’s when I knew they knew. Bastards.
Again I counted. This time to thirty. I was wrong about the lung, it had started to heal, emphasis on that starting word. It felt like it was going to burst after the first ten seconds. Well great, this was going to be harder to get out of. My legs and hips were broken, my head was cracked, and the fingers on at least one of my hands were a jumbled mess. You’d think this would be enough damage to incapacitate me, but lucky for me I had a thing about getting hurt. If damage occurred, I’d just wait it out and heal for a few hours.
Just then I didn’t have hours to wait though. My lungs were ready to explode. So, I bent my body and tried to wriggle my hand for the knife. I then encountered the first good fortune I’d had all night. I found it. It was lodged into my calf, must have gotten there when I hit the rocks. That was lucky, impaling my flesh and all, otherwise I might not have found it. I pulled, and felt a shudder go up my leg. Already skin had closed around it, attempting to heal the wound, as I pulled it re-tore the skin. Yeah healing sometimes had it’s downfalls.
After an agonizingly long period of time, probably another 10 seconds, I managed to get the knife up toward my chest. I held it in my good hand and started cutting at the blanket. In a few seconds I had cut out a small hole and could feel the ocean current through the opening.
By now my lungs had had it. I was beginning to waver mentally. I started to pull the knife back in when something brushed past me. An instant later it came back and a thing lunged at my finger. It was probably just a fish. But standing at the bottom of the ocean, lungs burning, barely holding onto my wits, I did what anyone would do and dropped the knife. Having done its good deed for the day the fish retreated, leaving me knife-less.
That’s when I went into full panic mode. I thrashed my arms and legs, pushing against their bonds with every ounce of energy left. It wasn’t enough. I couldn’t hold on any longer. I instinctively opened my mouth and gasped for air. Water came rushing in and down into my throat. I gagged and choked and felt the wave of burning salty liquid enter my lungs. This was it.
I was about to answer the question that had plagued my mind for centuries. Could I die? Nothing else had worked, I came back from everything else. I even drew some inspiration from that old movie, Groundhog Day. But unlike the titular hero I never restarted, just kept going and worked through the pain. That’s when I had a moment of clarity and realized I’d never been drowned before. In that moment I did the only sane thing left, I laughed. Well it was more of a gurgle and heave, but inwardly I was laughing. Would drowning work? Now this isn’t to say that I wanted to die. David and I were rather happy with how our life was finally going, and I’d just as soon be back in bed. But when you live as long as I have, you gain a morbid curiosity for this sort of stuff.
So I was curious what would happen next. I didn’t black out, I thought that was the natural next step. Instead something strange happened. I guess it reminds me of a nature show I watched once. The crazy guy on camera had been bit by an insect, and was using a venom extractor to pull out the toxins. He described feeling the venom literally moving up his arms. The feeling I had was similar in that I sensed my limbs, organs, and veins and muscles all seizing up at once. The funny thing about it is that my brain was cognizant enough to recognize this happening. My best guess was that my body, used to healing itself no matter what occurred, was choosing the areas to focus on and ignoring the rest. My limbs ceased to function, I was paralyzed, but able to think.
My brain and heart, and other critical functions, somehow kept going. I’m not sure how, because oxygen was in limited supply around me. My body fought for its very life, with every pump of my heart, and with every firing of the neurons in my brain. Somehow my body did its thing and kept working.
I stood there, frozen in place, pondering my next moves. Knife, ocean, rope, blanket. I considered each of these, and imagined myself getting out of it. Slowly I developed a plan, though my thoughts were barely cohesive. If I could force movement into any part of my body then I might have a chance. As I started to concentrate on my fingers I could feel them moving in the dark, just slightly. The effort took more than I expected, and I blacked out. When I came to I tried again. I had little sense of time. Minutes, hours. They all floated past.
When I woke again I felt for the hole in the blanket. Only, the hole wasn’t the same hole. Around it I could feel the growth of some sort of weed or underwater grass. Something was growing on the blanket. That’s when I realized that I wasn’t alone anymore, small fish were swimming in and out around me.
The problem came with the crabs. To this day I hate the little alien creatures with every ounce of my being. It must have been like those documentaries on TV, where the little sea creatures find a dead whale and feast on its body. Something about me screamed dead to them, or maybe these guys didn’t have a particular affinity to dead things. My inability to fully move was just enough to keep them interested.
At first there was just one. A small crab found its way through the hole in the blanket, crawled down, and investigated. It decided to see if things were good, if I was food. It pinched at my pants, and then started to pull. Its little pinchers must have gotten tangled up in the fabric, because initially I felt no pain. But after some time it reached the prize that it sought. It broke through and got a taste of what it wanted, my leg.
If I could have screamed at that point I would have, if I could have shook it away, I would have. I moved my hand close and tried to push it away. It moved off and I fell fell mostly unconscious again. That was one time where it was convenient. The problem was, I woke later by more pain. This time it was around my neck and right eye. Two of the crabs were digging around in areas they found to be more accessible. Namely, the fleshy parts of my head.
In all of the decades I’ve been through, in everything I’ve seen, and in every death I’ve experienced, watched, and imagined, nothing has ever come close to what I experienced at the bottom of that ocean. I’ve been through pain and torture and near-death. This wasn’t the same thing, this was something entirely different.
Little by little, the crabs, later joined by larger animals, started to enjoy their feast. My body fought and healed itself, but it couldn’t fully regenerate everything. My ears were eaten, then my nose. My toes were eaten, and large chunks of my thighs, neck, legs, and breasts were torn off. I silently screamed and fought it, and then I’d black out again. Each time I mentally resurfaced and felt the pain of being ripped apart, alive.
This hellish nightmare state continued. It would have been over quickly if I hadn’t been healing, that only prolonged it. The feast didn’t stop. The crabs and small creatures kept coming. Pretty soon they were crawling over the outside and inside of the blanket. My skin and clothes were ripped to shreds. That’s when I thought that it would finally be over. This was a losing battle. There were too many of them, and not enough of me.
That’s when things started to change. If they hadn’t gone for my eyes I might have known, I might have realized that something was changing. Little by little, my body fought against the invasion and regenerated were it could. It didn’t have any specific intelligence about where it healed me, except that it seemed to focus on things that were vitally needed or things that I was attempting to use. For instance, while the little devils got one of my hands, and all the fingers on it, the hand that originally poked through the hole healed itself. Awake or asleep I shook that hand just enough for them to leave it alone.
Later I came to again and re-entered a state of consciousness. Before, every time I’d attempt to push the animals away, lack of oxygen and constant pain, along with the inability to move from my confines, would be too much and I’d black out. But now something had changed, I wasn’t tied up anymore and could move, just a little. The animals had torn away the blanket from around me. I instinctively moved my saved hand and realized it was freely mobile. Using every single ounce of strength and sanity, I fought against the urge to start freaking out and pulling at the creatures that surrounded me. It was like being covered by bees from a hive, they dreamed across my body, nibbling and pulling where their hearts desired. One crab was going to town on my larynx, shredding it up and digging into my neck. I could have sworn I actually felt it poking around inside of my throat.
That particular crab got my attention and I reached for it. It was a smaller one. Not like the larger ones that crawled around my feet. I grabbed it, and held tight. It wriggled in my grasp and attempted to turn its pinchers on me. I kept holding onto that crab and slowly tightened my grip. After a few minutes I felt a slight crack. I relished the feeling of power that came back to me in such a small act. It was my way of fighting back. I squeezed until the crab stopped moving, ignoring all the rest around me. Then I dropped it, and knew it had fallen to its grave by my feet.
Slowly, very slowly, I started shaking my shoulders, and found my other arm. I found it with my free hand and tried to move it. Only, it wasn’t an arm in the normal sense of things. Past the elbow a fleshy strand of skin hung around a protruding bone. My fingers from my good arm felt the bone, and must have touched a nerve. A shudder and groan erupted from me and I flailed as hard as I could. The pain awakened something insight of me, it was like turning on all the lights at Christmas. Suddenly I was back online.
With my good arm I began pulling crabs away, left and right. I focused on the ones attacking my head and face first. My rapid movement and shuddering must have sent some sort of signal to the rest of the crabs. It would seem they decided that there was now better food to be found. At first they began to drop slowly, then all at once, I could feel the weight of them moving down my body, shoving and pushing against their neighbors to get to the ocean floor.
I stood there wriggling and shaking as much as I could, continuing to move my arm around my body as fast as I dared. I didn’t want anything thinking I was dead again. When the last of the crabs had gone, I was able to stop and take inventory. I felt around with my good hand. My body was riveted with gouges and holes. I could feel through my rib cage in a number of areas. In at least two places I found tiny fish inside my skin attempting to dig further. My eyes were gone, I knew that by the fact that I couldn’t see anything. I decided I wouldn’t feel for that place, better not to right now. I felt down my legs, the clothes and blanket were all gone. Just my skin, or whatever remained of it, was there.
After a moment I bent and felt my feet, or what was left of them. They were bound by rope and something else. My hand felt over the rope and touched on the additional object. For a moment I puzzled on the shape. Then I remembered, it was a metal chain, and it was coiled around my legs. Something about that wasn’t right, but at the time I couldn’t put two and two together.
Then, I felt something that gave me a shock, if that was even possible down here in the water. My left foot had been halfway chewed through, up to the ankle. I was careful not to touch the open nerves at the end. Since one of my feet were gone, I was actually able to slip my left leg out of the chain and rope. And just like that I was free. Well, partially. There was still a literally ocean above me, but one step at a time.
For the next few hours, or perhaps days, time is hard to tell in between consciousness and blackout, I walked across the bottom floor of the ocean. I was completely disoriented, unable to see, and without any internal compass. That was when panic truly set in, and I almost lost it there. I was cold, hungry, and dying every moment. I just wanted to have the pain end, or find my way to the surface.
Finally I found a large strand of kelp that was blowing in the proverbial breeze. A strong ocean current had bent it in my direction. I grabbed onto that kelp with my good hand and pulled as hard as I could.
The energy required was exhausting. I kept pulling, then I felt another piece of kelp and pulled on it. I still couldn’t see, but I sensed that I was traveling upward on a long slow grade. With any luck it would lead me to shore.
That moment finally came when I reached my fingers up for the next strand of kelp. They landed on nothing, I kept feeling around, unsure about what this meant. My brain was trying to process what to do next. Then it hit me, I was touching nothing because, for the first time since entering this watery grave, I was touching air.
That moment was one of the happiest of my life. I sobbed uncontrollably and gulped in more water, I convulsed, and nearly blacked out again. I reached up and quickly felt for the air above me, to just to make sure it was there.
I continued moving forward, hand in the air whenever possible, looking for a way up. The ground was running flat at this point, with no more slope. Finally I bumped into a slimy, mussel ridden rock that jutted out in front of me. After some searching I found a tiny hand hold and grabbed onto it. I heaved my head out of the water and attempted to take a breath. Right then a wave crashed my head against the rock, and I started coughing and went into a full on spasm. I sunk back down.
This would call for another tack. I hobbled past the rock, and continued around, until I found a tiny crevice through it on the other side. I jammed my bad arm joint into it, ignored the pain, and reached my good arm out to find another hold. Using the last bit of my strength I pulled myself up. Got my head and chest above water and tried to breath again.
Nothing. I forced a cough. It didn’t work. I pulled myself a little higher and somehow was able to seat myself up on the rock. I was now half way out of the water. I leaned over, pulled my bad arm out, and used my good hand to shove my fingers into my throat. My body responded and I heaved.
Then it came, thick phlegmy liquid came pouring out of my throat. I heaved and vomited, each production of liquid encouraging a fresh wave of heaving. Then it all happened at once, I was no longer pouring liquid out of my mouth, something else had happened. I was breathing air again. I cried, fresh tears welled up in my eye socket as I tasted the sweetest air in the world. It was pure and salty and delicious. With some discomfort I laid down across the rock, head up, gasping in air.
If anyone had seen me then on the rock, I would probably have validated all the tales of silkies, zombies, or undead creatures. Maybe I would be the origination of some of those stories. My body must have looked like a corpse. I was stripped to the bone in a dozen places. No nose, no ears, no eyes, a foot missing, an arm missing, and toes missing. Holes chewed into my ribs and thighs, and a dozen other wounds across my body. I might have just stayed down there until nothing was left and the fish had their fill, but my body resisted.
Slowly I started healing. Much slower than normal. My skin began to regenerate and pull together. The thousand tiny cuts and rips, along with the larger wounds, started to heal over. Several hours passed, and I managed to drift to sleep. I was asleep, really sleeping for the first time since entering the ocean. This wasn’t black out unconsciousness, this was normal rest.
I woke up and felt chilled to the bone. The whole time down there I had felt the cold of the water, but somehow my senses had cut off that feeling. Now I was shivering uncontrollably. I listened to the sound of the waves beating against the rock, and felt water spraying against my body.
Feeling with my good hand, I reached up into my face and felt around. My nose was healing over, and I could tell the gaping hole wasn’t as large. A thin piece of flesh was converting the single large hole into two holes, where nostrils would soon form. My ears were filling back in slowly. Then I checked my eyes. One of them was still a deep hole, a socket. Nothing there except that gap. The other though, it was there. I could feel it beneath new flesh from an eyelid. Using muscle memory I slowly tried to open my right eye while holding my hand over my left.
The light blinded for a moment, and I had to blink my eye closed. After a minute, I tried again. Everything was blurry and my vision couldn’t focus. After several more attempts something finally kicked in and my brain registered sight. I could see the the shape and color of the rock, and the water around me.
I looked to my left, where I had crawled up, and saw the setting sun. Then, in the other direction I saw the moon. It was a full moon. I’d been underwater for a month.