XXXVII

This is a story of discovery.

Growing up we were taught how more than 80% of the ocean remained completely unexplored by mankind, and that less than 10% of all marine life had been identified. Almost inconceivable just how little we knew about the world lurking beneath the surface.

But the curiosity of man, and humans being humans, we just couldn’t leave well enough alone. The next great “space race” playground for those with more money than morals. Billions of dollars spent traversing the deepest darkest crevasses seeking a groundbreaking oceanic discovery. And money, obviously.

Looking back it began with a specific sequence of minor, largely ignored, tremors in the southern Atlantic. Then in the mid Pacific a ring of undocumented, long dormant, submarine volcanoes roared to life for the first time in millennia, triggering massive ash fallout and widespread tsunamis along the eastern seaboard of the Americas and throughout most of south-east Asia.

Far from the seasonal environmental disruption resulting from the spiralling climate crisis that humanity had long become numb towards, this event would catch the attention of the entire globe. And with good reason.

This isn’t a story of what we found, it’s a story of what found us.

Off.A short story in 12 small parts.

II

You think you know someone. We had left dinner early, not even lingering long enough to consider dessert. Eve seemed in a particular rush but wouldn’t say why. Maybe it was something she ate.

We were headed towards the station when her phone rang. Barely removing it from her inner jacket pocket she glanced at it and dismissed the call. I couldn’t see who it was, but I do the same with work calls all the time so I wasn’t concerned.

As the lights of our train came into view Eve casually turned, looking half at me, half through me – just as she had done a thousand times before – and smiled.

“None of this is what it seems. Jasper will explain.” she said softly with an oddly apologetic tone. The words had stunned me, was that her intention? Turning further to face me, she took two quick steps backwards, my outstretched hands clutched at the air.

She was gone.

XI

They landed on April 7, just before dawn. There had been no warning, no hint at all that this was coming. We weren’t prepared, but they were. Coming in from the south-east was the last thing any of us were anticipating.

Since then they’ve moved swiftly along the coast as far west as Texas, and north towards Georgia. They’ve seized control of 5 states, with their efforts currently concentrated on making it to the makeshift capital in Chicago.

XV

We both know that you know where they are.

Tell me.

Where can I find Zenith?

IV

Their nightly routine was always the same.

“Sam, it’s time to go to sleep, lights out…”,

“But Mum,” he protested, “I don’t like the darkness, I’m afraid of the monster in the closet”,

It was always the same reason, like a recording being played back repetitively for comedic effect. The response of Sam’s mother too was always the same.

“Sam, we’ve been over this, there are no monsters in your closet, I promise. You’re perfectly safe in bed.”

Sitting bolt upright, arms crossed, Sam would never back down. The resulting compromise was always to leave the night light on.

The soft yellow glow of the night light was just right, and as always its presence ended the nightly battle peacefully.

Even better yet, it perfectly masked the pair of glowing yellow eyes that belonged to the creature Sam’s parents kept under his bed.

XXVI

Right, well whatever I was lying on before, I’m not lying on it now. I suspect that if I could see anything that I would have noticed everything fading to black when I sat up. Well, at least I now know that there is a floor. Quick glance across at the clock, it’s now 11:38, guess I really did blackout.

Normally my eyes would have started to adjust to the room, but I still can’t see anything except that stupid clock. It is taunting me. The glow from it’s display isn’t helping at all. It isn’t bright like you might normally expect, almost like it is running low on power.

III

A sunlit afternoon, my younger self chasing a familiar yet distant face through the tall grass overlooking the sea. This feels like a memory, but I know that it’s not. I dream so rarely that it’s usually easy to tell when my mind has escaped reality.

Right now in this moment I’m about 12. I haven’t actually been 12 for decades. And possibly I haven’t felt this free for just as long.

Nothing seems to matter, no consequences, no expectations, no judgement. There are other people around, they don’t see us or simply don’t care, it doesn’t matter which. Relaxed, free, comfortable, all the things missing from everyday life.

V

Upon arrival they sat, impatiently, in the van as the gates to the compound slowly opened. The journey had been slow, in the same way a long afternoon at work is slow, although in reality it had only taken a little over an hour.

There was still an uncomfortable feeling lingering within the group, unsure if they had been successful. Sure, they heard – and felt – the blast, but the haste with which they had left meant that the charge hadn’t been set in the location that had originally been planned.

It would likely be a couple of days before they knew for certain if it had worked.

XXXI

I’m back to the table that I had awoken on an hour ago, it’s right next to the immovable filing cabinet. My eyes seem to be slowly coming to grips with the light levels, I can’t make out any defined shapes, just patches of dark and patches of not-quite-as-dark.

Using the table to pull myself up, I slowly examine the length of it. There is nothing else on the table. Maybe cleared off before I was put there? Still doesn’t explain why.

Absolute nothing helpful in the room. 12:01. I’m clearly trapped in here, but oddly calm – or at least calmer than one would expect in such a situation. Maybe it’s the idea that I can’t find a way out, so there mustn’t be a way in for anyone or anything else.

XXIX

Eyes still aren’t adjusting. Odd or not, I can’t decide. 11:43. That was a long five minutes.

Wait, what was that? A door? Different to the noise earlier. Closer. Or am I imagining things. I need to find a way out.

Reaching a corner, I at least know that the wall doesn’t extend forever, still nothing that resembles a door frame though. Moving down the second wall I run into something.

Well, not ‘run’, more like shuffle slowly into something. It isn’t as big as the drawers, and it’s cold, metal. Two handles on the front, a filing cabinet maybe, a small one. I yank on the bottom handle, not expecting anything, but it opens. Almost scared to stick my hand into the open drawer, I poke around slowly to see if there is anything in there.

XIV

When the first pod of whales beached themselves no one really thought much of it. When, two weeks later, a second pod beached themselves several hundred miles south, again, no one thought much of it.

That was 8 months ago. Now, not only are the beachings a daily – world-wide – occurrence, they aren’t limited just to whales.

There have been several reports of dolphins, sharks, and in some instances giant squid.

Initially scientists had suspected that it was the result of climate change or rising pollution. However, after months of testing and analysis on the deceased sea creatures they found no evidence supporting that theory.

They had come to one conclusion – they weren’t simply beaching themselves they were trying to escape from something…