By: Hayden Van Wormer
Hayden Van Wormer is an Army veteran, terrible musician, internet ordained reverend, and a cynical, pessimistic SOB who lives in Maryland by way of Alaska. He is currently an MFA student at University of Baltimore’s Creative Writing and Publishing Arts program.
I am a broken being who wanders the shore, a moaning soul trudging atop seaweed and bits of broken shell. I am an empty vessel stripped of worth, forever in search of a lost forbidden knowledge. I had possessed the key to the world’s truths once, and I cast it away. I still cry through my broken eyes, and churn the sand with my fists and thrash the waves, begging to be accepted back to the fathomless depths, to be embraced in the fold of cosmic greatness, but I am rejected.
Eight years ago I rowed my little wooden dinghy across the bay, faded wooden oars making the rusty oarlocks squeak against the paint chipped gunwale. Briney water slapped lightly against the planks as a bell from an unseen buoy clanged nearby. Fog had rolled in that morning, thick enough that the bow of the 12′ boat was hazy from my seat astern. I’d strung a line of crab pots the previous night and they required checking. I adjusted my black watch cap and grabbed my gaff hook to haul in the first pot. The mesh wire trap rose from the depths, mud clogged bottom making it heavier than it ought to be. A small crab fluttered wildly inside the trap, brilliant flashes of blue and white flickering off its chitinous crustacean hide. Its sharp legs clicked against the steel frame and in its pincer it held a scrap of rotted chicken neck. “Go home little crab,” I said and dropped the crab in the frigid brackish bay. The pot sank slowly and the crab’s colors faded until the murky bits of sea sludge obfuscated any view of the small creature. The rope tied to the trap now appeared as if passing through a portal to a different dimension, held taut from my hand, simply disappearing an arm’s length into the water. I dropped the small yellow crab buoy overboard and resumed my rowing position, headed towards the next trap.
A sound from the depths crawled its way out of the water, over the side of my dinghy, up my chest and hauled itself into my ears. A titanic shift, a gargantuan grating from deeper waters in the bay. The earth had popped the bones in its spine, stretching after a timeless sleep.
Concentric ripples lazily crawled along the surface towards my boat, originating from a point unseen in the fog bank. I peered into the impenetrable mist, half expecting to see the breach of a whale, or a drifting merchant ship, but was met only by the passive uncaring gaze of the fog.
There was a pull I felt in my mind, an itch, and I needed to row towards the epicenter of this tectonic movement. Fish hooks sunk into my psyche dragging me forward. My arms worked the oars, my back hauled the collective weight of the dinghy across the surface, abandoning my pots in the mist astern. A sheen of sweat dampened my shirt despite the chill, such was the fervor with which I rowed. My strokes reached a fever pitch, and my oars bent and creaked against the strain, my breath became ragged and spittle flew and foamed on the corners of my mouth, and my boat smashed against a rock, splintering the bow. I scrambled forward, abandoning my sinking boat to mount the small rock in the middle of the bay. I had crabbed this bay for decades and had never seen this feature. It had never existed and I was fascinated by its sudden appearance.
Wedged in a small crevice, I found a pale leather book, pages tattered and dripping with sea water. I sat for hours embedded in the fog atop the cold sharp rock. I could focus on nothing else but absorbing the knowledge within the salty pages. I drank it in, truths of sights unseen by man, of creatures millennia old slumbering beneath the earth, and of cosmic power incomprehensible to the human brain. The words weaved together, a mystic incantation that demanded I scream it aloud to awaken these behemoths so that they may reclaim the earth as the rightful rulers. Some force held within those elegant lines of handwritten text compelled my eyes to continue reading and shaped my lips and I chanted the words over and over, louder and louder until a maelstrom surrounded the rocks. Lightning burst across the sky and I was bludgeoned by torrents of wind and rain. A colossal groan reverberated from the depths of the whirlpool surrounding me. I was awakening one of the ancients and they would cleanse the world of man! I tried to stop, to shut my mouth and close my eyes, but my teeth shattered and my lips moved of their own accord. Without thinking I grasped the handle of my fillet knife slung on my belt and plunged the blade deep into my eyes, bursting the fluid filled membranes and blinding myself, shattering the spell that chained me to the book. Free from the leathery tomb’s intoxicating pages, I dove into the water intent on returning the book to the depths that vomited it into the world of man.
I swam down, blinded and freezing in the icy waters, chest bursting and I involuntarily sucked in the briney sea, filling my lungs. Humanity could not have this knowledge. Deeper I plunged… persisted, intending fully to drown with the cursed book, until…until I awoke on the shore, rejected by the ocean and her ancient masters. Abandoned by the gods of the sea, and I felt loss. A gaping hole in my soul now existed, and nothing but the beasts of the deep could fill it. I screamed out to the sea, now aware the book was gone and thus my connection to the ancients of the world. They will choose a new medium, some seaward soul who will act as a lighthouse towards which they will channel their lumbering fury and scrape the barnacle that is man from the hull of the world. I pray for this daily, and yet all I hear from the ocean is its endless churning. But I know what waits below. I know what waits below.