I looked in on some of the abandoned offices as I descended and I wondered what had become of all the workers. Had they met the same fate as Ms. Smith, banished to the forest below?
Below the lowest level of the complex, I saw a matrix of unearthed pipes that still clung to the building’s underside. I also saw something quite extraordinary—whereas before I’d thought that the building was simply floating through the air by sheer willpower alone, that turned out not to be the case, as I came upon two twin propellors gyrating underneath the mammoth levitating office block. They moved slowly, as if the air surrounding them was extremely viscous and required a mighty force to push through it. Perhaps the building was actually running on willpower and these propellers were ornamental. Seemed logical enough to me— or at least passable to the point that I could leave behind this mystery and continue on to the green canopy below.
Hand over hand, I approached the lush, green ocean rushing passed beneath me. When I’d been upon the flying building, the forest appeared to drift by lazily, but up close the tree tops sped by very fast indeed, and it was really rather terrifying to watch the branches whiz by below.
That said, I believe there are times in your life when you veer on the side of immortality and at times such as these, tremendous things are wont to happen. This was, for me, one of those times.
I released my grip on the rope and fell through the canopy, passing twittering masked spirits and great slithering basilisks yet to be discovered by the men and women of science. I fell at a dreadful rate, and all around me the trees curved with a profound, hypnotic geometry that entranced me and rendered me wholly unaware of my quick descent. So it happened that I was taken entirely by surprise when I hit a shallow body of water that had collected upon the forest floor. I suppose I should clarify that by shallow, I really do mean that this was no more than a mere puddle, but all the same, I crashed through its surface and much to my surprise, I emerged on the other side. My momentum was such that my whole body came clear of the parallel side of the pool, breaching a dimension that was not at all my own. It was filled with magnificent beasts, among which trod a pair of elephants with curiously long legs. I passed a second in this strange new world before I was once again returned to the puddle by gravity and pulled through to my home reality. Once I surfaced I found myself looking at a peculiar furry creature with the largest of large eyes. It was holding a fishing rod and sitting down like people do.
“What did I just see?” I asked Furry Thing.
“I believe that’s what they call The Inspiration.” It said, with an oddly grumpy little voice, “It always lies just below the surface.”
In spite of its grumpiness, I judged it to be a worthy companion. I asked if it would like to accompany me on my adventure.
“I don’t see why not,” was all I got. Through the forest we walked—and what a lovely forest it was. Never was there a finer architect than nature, and here it showcased some of its most exemplary pieces.
It wasn’t too long before we reached a shore where a lone vessel sat in wait. With the help of Furry Thing I was able to get the vessel ready for sea. All the while we worked I took sublime pleasure in tasting the ocean, carried to me on a plate by the passing breeze. The human being, as evolved and complex an organism as it may be, has not yet transcended the most primal of urges, those necessary instincts, nor would I ever hope that our species would. For I felt compelled by this visceral emotion to embark not only on a voyage across the flat surface of the ocean, but deep within its depths as well.
First Mate was the position I bestowed upon Furry Thing, and with that title fell the responsibility of steering our vessel out into the vast stretches of blue that lay before us. His tiny paws were surprisingly nimble and I commended him on his navigational prowess. It was a worthy First Mate if ever I knew one.
For awhile I stared into the faulty mirror below. It was a shell that held back a whole world of things that I’d yet to experience. Upon reflection, I’d lived my whole life above the faulty mirror, and there are many who would go the rest of their lives without taking the plunge into the unknown below. Was it for me to feel sorry for those who would never have the chance to dive into its cool blue depths? I should wonder at whether my adventures into the unknown made my life any more worthy or fulfilling than the next. Whether I would live a life any more worth living than the next was immaterial, for exploration was not a value I needed to explain to the world, but instead a passion that gave me drive. As I sat aboard the bow of my vessel, I considered the notion that to compare the passions of one to another is to trivialize the significance of the pair.
While in reflection, I drew upon a piece of paper that’d been tucked inside my jacket pocket. I sketched and I talked with Furry Thing.
“What do you think your purpose in life is, Friend?” I queried the critter.
“Bovine slaying.” He replied, and I was shocked by the rapidity with which he replied.
“Oh, like cows? Really?”
“Mhmm,” He said, looking over the side of the boat and off into the distant horizon, “It is my single, solemn life goal to hunt the spotted monstrosities till my own death. Most likely by their repulsive, grime-ridden hooves.”
“Uh-huh. So, how many have you killed thus far?”
We sat quietly and the waves lapped gently along our hull. At length, Furry Thing spoke up:
“It’s not that I’m in it for the thrill of the kill per se.”
“Yes, I guess this would be a disappointing existence thus far if it were.”
“Well it’s all about the chase.”
There were gulls navigating the air’s currents. Their caws greeted our ears with gifts of memories, an audio photograph pulled from a scrapbook of childhood vacations spent on North Carolina shores.
“Are there any cows in the jungle?”
“Not a single one.”
I finished my drawings. We were in the middle of the ocean, or so it seemed, and the land was nowhere in sight. I looked to Furry Thing, who sat dutifully at the other end of the boat, steering us along a course that we’d mutually agreed upon not to discuss, else we risk going the wrong way.
“I think we’re here.” I stated, looking about the expanse of ocean that surrounded us. The water was crystal clear, and the sun was shining down hot upon my shoulders. Beneath us, I watched a great sea creature pass below us, something like a whale with loose skin and spines running the length of its body, its size dwarfing the sum of us and our vessel. Its eyes were enormous disks, black pearls that reflected nothing, bordered by a coloration that resembled war paint. Patterns marked the creature’s light brown skin; there were moving pictures, some that depicted schools of fish fleeing marine predators, and others that charted the ocean’s vast network of interconnecting currents.
I instructed Furry Thing to grab the other end of my sketch paper, and together we tugged upon the paper until we each stood at opposite ends of the boat, and the paper was stretched long across the benches.
“Shake” I commanded, and together we shook the tapestry until it began to grow quite heavy in our hands. Slowly, but surely, that weight evolved into tangible objects that bounced along the top of the tapestry. A diving helmet, and the corresponding scuba garb, along with lights and everything else that one might desire for a deep sea voyage was soon bouncing along the paper. With one final shake, Furry Thing and I flung the diving equipment up into the air and let them shower the floor of our vessel. The paper itself had disappeared in our hands.
I searched through the pile of equipment for the smallest picture I’d drawn, and then I stood before Furry Thing with two golden coins in my hand.
“I must leave you, Friend, but take this with you. We shall be able to meet once again when fortune permits, as long as we both hold on to our lucky coins.”
I handed one coin over to Furry Thing, who absorbed it into a hidden pouch on his furry body.
“I shall watch your descent, in case something goes terribly right. Then we may both share in the happiness.”
“And what if it goes terribly wrong?”
“For that I shall watch as well.”
This was good, and all was well, so I took a step up to the edge of the boat and began my descent.
Leaving the boat, I was soon enveloped by the ocean’s cool embrace, and briefly my senses were lost to darkness and a sort of panic; it took at least a full fifteen seconds before I could make anything out again. I was descending slowly into the water’s heart, and above me I could see the shadow of a skiff directed by my most loyal first mate.
Now there was blue. Vast blue. Impossible blue. I could try and describe it to you… but no, I think you know. If you’ve ever been under the ocean’s wake and opened your eyes, just for a second, you understand. It’s blue, that’s true, but it’s also deep in hue and you could capture that in a word, a phrase or a photo, but then you also feel it in your body. In that moment. That breathless sensation, that even if you could catch an underwater breath you wouldn’t because the sight would snatch it away.
Things began to appear around me. There were whales and sharks and dolphins; great underwater creatures, eclipsing the sun above me, and plunging me into the darkness below. For only a second the fear of eternal night gripped me, before it was torn away by the tail of a mighty aquatic creature. I looked above to the light. Stretching my hand out, I reached a finger to touch the last fading glimpse of light before…
Monsters. Now there were monsters.
A beast is an animal, perhaps an exceptionally savage one, but an animal nonetheless. If it is exceedingly terrible and cringe-worthy it’s a creature. But when that beast, or creature, becomes myth and oozes legend because of the sheer mind-bending, inconceivable nature of its being, then you’ve found your monster. Big or small, it doesn’t matter, it’s all about the way your gut twists and turns and your senses mutiny, shutting down and sending false signals to your brain. An eel that’s swallowed a thunderhead and now courses genuine lightening along its skin is still just a beast until you see it with your eyes and your eyes roll back into the safety of your skull. The great Bonefish is held together with magic, and holds the universe in its blackhole eyes. But it’s still just a creature of the deep until you feel it move through the water not ten meters away, taking in your horror and fear with its cold, life-eating eyes.
And they talked to me. My head was inundated with the voices of monsters. A million different tongues, languages from across our world and beyond; they drowned out my own inner-monologue, and I was no longer just Henry, but a reservoir of noise; I was filled to the brim with the songs of monsters.
Now darkness. Darkness and silence. When you’ve sunken lower than even monsters go, that’s all that’s left. The only sound came from my air tank. Whssssk. Ahhhh. Whssssk.
Air in. Air out. Then light. Organic light. It was musical; the light sang the songs of the living. It sang a melody about suns, flesh-bound stars that formed galaxies under the sea.
I sunk lower and lower, and for a moment I feared that my glass might break. That the ocean, kept so long at bay, might come creeping in— and yet, there was peace. Curiosity soothed the bite of fear.
A hand gripped my shoulder. Not a claw, not a fin, but a pallid hand turned me around to face an oaken door that lay along the bottom of the sea. The faint bioluminescent glow of jellyfish revealed not only the door, but the ruins of an ancient aquatic civilization. It must have come and gone ages ago, but then again, that hand. It was gone now, vanishing as soon as I turned to face the limb’s proprietor; its owner possessing an unimaginable speed to have disappeared so quickly.
I was alone now and the only way forward was through the door.