Darkwatch Cove

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They called it Darkwatch Cove. It was not it’s true, legal name, but this matters not. Darkwatch Cove it was to all but the mousey planners in Parapet Harbor’s municipal offices.

The sands of the Darkwatch Cove beach were white as snow and nary a piece of driftwood collided with and stuck to such that lasted a day or more for it would be scavenged by those who frequented the nightly bonfires and clambakes. Round about an hour before dusk, they would arrive, cars parking atop the embankment, lights shining out only briefly into the night above until someone below yelled for them to be quenched. They would giggle and smile as they scampered down the well-trod stone path to the warm little C-shaped cove, blankets and coolers and what fuel for the fire they could carry in their arms. Fires, some nights upward of four, would be set and as the stars popped into view above, music and frivolity would erupt as if Dionysus himself had given blessing to proceed as the sun set in the west beyond the cliffs above.

A marvel of the coast, Darkwatch Cove was, from above, shaped like a gigantic eye. Open at two ends, the crescent beach was cut into the rocky cliff over millennia and would only continue to be so until such a time as one end or the other were worn away. So said the geologists. But none of those who frequented the shoreline worried about such things, so far off into the misty future of adulthood. Said learned men also claimed that the pupil of the eye, the thickly wooded Isle that sat a quarter mile off shore, would also someday erode and become part of the ocean floor. Said youthful shoreline frequenters ignored this information equally for the same reasons.

Each year for untold generations, as the winter waned, spring roared through and summer settled like a hot wet blanket, sunset gatherings would occur. Pairings would be natural, disagreements in the night occur, food be eaten and drink imbibed sometimes until sunlight rose above the still blue sea. A casual observer would note, were one so inclined to watch from a cold vantage point, as many police and concerned parents had through the years that nobody swam in the cool dark waters. You see, there was a rumor that doing so was considered something one would not do were one right in the head, especially after dark.

The aforementioned scholars noted, in a series of lectures at the University on the local geography of the area, that prevailing currents cut the swath that become the cove by chewing their way through a softer stone over time around the island that sits offshore. The rocky lump of land, known only as such (and usually not spoken of in adult company) was in properly named Bartlett Island. It boasted sheer rock faces up ten feet all around but at its peak reached near fifty feet above the waves. It shared the same hard brown stone as the cliffs in the surrounding area but through deposition of guano and slow infiltration of mosses and lichens and their subsequent decay, soil was formed. Seeds dropped by avian visitors allowed a scraggly mess of bushes and shrubs to proliferate, but only the types that could live in salty mist fed, acidic guano derived earth. The Island was impassable. The Island was unreachable. The Island was dark and oppressive.

As much as one would suspect that contrary to the Island’s description, young men in a mood to prove their worth to young bathing suit clad women would attempt to find a way onto it, they did not. The far side, the ocean facing side, was far too wavy, deep and dangerous. The near side, well, the water was just far too dark, and there was of course, the teeth to worry about. The same current that swallowed up the softer rock and formed the cove had undercut the cliff face on the beach side of the isle leaving an above water opening with a jagged roof of stone. A hapless person caught by a wave or winds blown under the roof of these teeth would be best to lay down and hop to hope that they would be pushed back out. Were this fortuitous event to not happen, they would be rushed to the northern point where the roof lowered and upon it’s sharpened fangs of rock, the waves would press the victim and chew them mercilessly.

The beachgoers all knew the tales and the dangers. They would drink and sing and kiss by the fire or perhaps in the shadows beneath the cliff most evenings until the Saturday before first day of school. At some point, usually close to midnight, someone would begin with the tales. The Hermit was a prominent story referring to a homeless man who somehow found his way to The Island across the meager sea ice on a particularly cold winter. He would quietly beckon in need of help to early morning beach visitors who would swim or paddle out, climb up a rough vine rope he had constructed, and never been seen again. Another seasonal tale would be that of a sunbather who upon an inflatable tanning bed drifted too close to The Island to be chewed by the teeth then dragged under bloody and screaming by something dark and unknown. Tales of underwater ghosts of a sunken U-Boat who waited beneath for hapless swimmers to pull them under and interrogate them for information lost in the ensuing years. The most frightening however revolved around the school principal, Mr. Davison, who annually railed against continued use of the beach by local youth, veiling his concerns with morality but peppering his diatribes with strange references to something in The Deep.

All will hush and those in the shadows will cease their hormone laced ventures to listen if not creep back to the safety of the bonfires glow. The one telling the tale, usually the alpha of the males, would call for quiet and recommend more fuel be added to the blaze.

Timothy Davison was a third year student in the Applied Sciences program of Miskatonic University down the coast. He was as some would describe with derision, a skeptic. He never gave the time of day to religionists, diet fanatics or those who took part in séances. He was at heart, a scientist. His hobbies, when not in pursuit of  study, were renaissance in nature. Art, spoken word prose, avian biology and geology. In such, with regard to the latter, he was interested deeply in the formation of Darkwatch Cove havinh visited numerous times as a child. Mapping and discussions of the history of the formation were his Saturday morning breakfast at the local library and he made as many meals as one could on so little gruel. He met a like-minded friend of sorts at a study club related to Geographical Interpretation and Orienteering and struck up a plan to explore the cove one summer. Both he and his new friend (some say Randy was his name, some say Ralph, some Rudy) spent the winter learning how to use diving gear at the local YMCA. They scrimped and saved and what they did not need for tuition and food they spent on used gear purchased through newspaper ads posted up and down the coast. When summer was upon them, they waited until the third week in June, nineteen sixty-five, just before high school students were out on vacation. The water temperatures were not yet summer-warm but tolerable for wet suit diving, so plans were made, tanks filled and gear cleaned. Together they drove to the cove.

The sea and the inner waters were glassy and wave free, a mere lip of crest moving slowly up the beach from south to north. They donned their suits, strapped on their tanks and walked backward into the water. Masks were spat into, rubbed, rinsed and pulled over their heads and onto their faces. Flashlights in hand along with small picks to collect samples of rock which would be placed into bags slung from their belts. As one, they turned into the waters and lay face down onto the surface. Moving together, they swam against the surprisingly strong current using snorkels to save on air until needed toward the south most edge of the exposed overhand.

The floor of the cove was smooth, sandy and free of much plant growth, most likely due to the constant current. Beyond rock throwing distance, pebbles and flat skipping stones ceased to be encountered and the bareness of it led to some disorientation. More than expected they both had to look up and toward the island to keep their bearings firm. More than expected they had to tread water and yell at the other until they noticed they were becoming turned about. Eventually they reached their destination, tired and unexpectedly cold.

A sense of slight dread filled both as they realized how close to open ocean they were. They rested a few minutes only, treading water as they drifted northward along the face of the overhang, both laying on their backs occasionally to push themselves out from the overhang. When near half way down the length of the island, they decided unanimously to proceed with what was becoming obvious to be a bad decision. They pushed back snorkels, inserted SCUBA mouthpieces, turned on and adjusted each other’s tanks and  dived down into the cold clear depths. Near immediately they found that they needed to switch on their flashlights. The angle of the sun was with them but the overhang and rocks drew them closer into areas not reached by light. It was a stony forest of fallen boulders, shards of rock, waterlogged trees and oddly, pieces of cut curved wood, likely the remains of small skiffs. The current seeming stronger, both swam down and grasped what handholds below they could find. Timothy shone his light into the dark and could make out the sheer smoothness of the wall beyond the overhang, the ocean having carved it in such a way over time to give it the appearance of polished concrete or granite. It glowed white in the light, white and, yes, yes, as he looked closer he thought he could see some sort of markings. He tapped the shoulder of his friend and pointed toward the symbols, but when he turned he saw that Ralph, or Randy, what have you, his friend was fixated downstream, under the teeth. He was pointed to where the sharpened rocks met with and dug into the water, waves reaching up to lick them clean. His light however was fixed down toward the bottom of the ocean, thirty feet below the teeth where round stones and what looked like small branches, white and green with algal growth lay in a tangled mess among the rocks.

Timothy turned back toward the symbols carved into the wall. He scanned the floor and could see a large jagged rock near them that he could definitely grasp if he swam hard enough. He turned back to his friend wishing to indicate that they should tie a rope between them, but his partner was no longer there. Shining his light downstream he could see him not swimming but gliding with the current toward the teeth, breaking all existing rules about partner diving, endangering both with reckless curiosity. Glancing back at the markings and the target handhold, he debated moments only, swore to himself, and turned back toward the north. He would swim carefully toward his friend and insist they return. Perhaps he had not seen the markings. If he did, he would definitely be intrigued. Light shining back, forth, up down, he could no longer see him, only the round stones and sticks and a rapidly dissipating red haze.

He set a course from rock to rock, sunken tree to sunken tree until he traversed the fifty or so feet to where he assumed his friend had traveled. Glancing up at the teeth he took care to not let go of the tree stump he had grasped, nails digging into the soft waterlogged wood. He had already noted that to escape, they would have to push outward and kick up to the west quite hard to escape being crushed between the rising stone floor and the toothy sharpness above. He shone the light toward the wall beyond the overhang and again, unable to see where his friend had been pushed, he could make out more markings but unlike the previous, these surrounded a circular hole cut into the wall. As he watched and peered inside, shining his light into the depths, he was able to make out a man’s leg, clad in rubber, shaking as a dogs tail does, from side to side, not how a man would swim. The flipper became dislodged and the leg slid wetly from view.

He kicked back instinctively, let go of his flashlight, reached down to grasp it as it sank and saw that the round stones were not stones and the sticks were not sticks. You can imagine what they were.  With all his might he pulled on the rocks between he and the waters of the cove, thrust himself into the open waters and swam as fast as he could. He soon realized that the weight of the tank was slowing him so he unbuckled it and let it drop behind as he surfaced, stuck the snorkel in his mouth and continued frantically toward shore, a burst of bubbles and an underwater howl issued loudly behind him.

Usually at this point, someone outside of the circle of light would throw a large stone or a piece of driftwood into the waters. People would jump, some would scream and laugh and grab hold of a boy, or girl nearby, some would of course swear and some would spill their drinks. The night would end soon after and people would slowly make their way to their cars and home rightfully scared. Timothy Davison quite often would watch from the escarpment above until he was sure all had gone home safely.

And far out in the cove, The Deep sat waiting, hunger driving it closer to shore each year.

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Book Review – The Deep by Nick Cutter

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I usually cringe when someone says “you’ll enjoy this book, it’s weird”.  This usually comes from well meaning friends who know of my affinity for Lovecraft and other “weird fiction”.  What they don’t know is that I am terribly picky about what I will and will not read and more often than not, a recommended book ends up unfinished.  I have this little rule you see.. if I am not “into” a novel by the mid-way point, I put it away and most usually never return to it.  Life is short, I will not waste valuable reading time on something merely because someone else enjoyed it.

The Deep by Nick Cutter was not a put aside at or before the half way point.  The Deep is true to form, traditional, thoroughly enjoyable if not a tad disturbing at times (in a good way) weird fiction.  I loved it.

It has been reviewed elsewhere and I will not summarize it here because frankly even giving away as much as is on the description on the cover is more than you should be allowed.  Leave it to say it is damn good. It is scary.  It will give you the willies and will make you jump when you hear a noise behind you in the basement after you shut off the light.

I give it 4.5 out of 5.0.

(and I cannot even tell you the MINOR small petite little thing I wish had been explained a bit further because even giving you that may ruin the surprise for you).

Buy this book, read it exclusively at night, preferably by candle light near water.