Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The 82nd Floor

Howells had been trying to reach the 82nd floor since the previous afternoon.  As usual, he woke shortly after five in the morning just as the first shafts of sunlight began to stream through the tinted glass windows.  He absently wiped the drool from the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand and yawned.  Other workers were beginning to stir at the desks around him, their newly awaken faces as blank as creatures of the Proterozoic.

Howells retrieved his notepad from the inside pocket of his jacket and reminded himself of his location.  He'd made it to the seventy-fourth floor before sleep took him last night.  Eight floors now lay between him and his meeting at 10 o’clock on the 82nd.  He quickly flicked through his emails, trying to ignore the urge to delete the lot.  Checking his diary for the day, he skipped over his 9 o’clock on the 27th floor, focusing on his 10 am and engagements following that.  He saw he’d organised a corridor meeting with Jones by the water-cooler on the 83rd at midday, followed by a one o’clock on the 17th and a three o’clock training course at the learning tree on 30.  Ambitious.  After a while he was gripped by an overwhelming urge to piss, and he closed the diary.  Phone and charger stowed safely back in his pockets, Howells pushed his chair back from the desk and made his way across to the corridor where the flow of workers was beginning to increase.

Howells fought through the traffic to the bathroom the other side of the thoroughfare.  After queuing for a urinal and relieving himself at length, he queued again for a wash basin and tried to revive himself, splashing water on his face and smoothing down his hair which stuck up in a clump on the left hand side.  He massaged his left temple, which had the impression of a letter R on it from where he had slept on the keyboard.  Running his tongue over the back of his bottom teeth and feeling the furred gaps between his incisors, he spent a minute running his thumbnail along the joins trying to scrape out a little of the plaque which had gathered there and then set to straightening his tie and tucking in his shirt.  Two basins over Carter was performing the same ritual.

"How's the family Howells."

"Good last I heard.  I had a postcard last week.  Jack's starting school next month..."

"Ah -  exciting times ahead then!  Coming to the canteen?”

“Nope.  No time” Howell’s lightly fingered the sandwich he’d saved for breakfast stowed in his jacket’s inside pocket.  “I’m heading straight off.  On my way up to the 84th for a 10 o’clock”

“Haven’t got a chance in hell of making that on your own Howells.  After three weeks here you should know that.  Come with me.  A quick stop for a bite in the canteen then together we can make for the lift.”

At this, the man in between us began sniggering to himself”

Carter gave him a shove “Is something funny?”

“Lift!” the worker scoffed “That’s a good one!  Don’t you read company policies?  There’s no central shaft.  Lifts which only link certain floors together rather than running through the whole building prevent overcrowding and increase productivity by encouraging worker exercise.  Unless you know which lift links what you’re wasting your time!”

“Prevent overcrowding!” Carter cried.  “Did you hear that?”

Howells retreated from his basin, leaving the two men to their argument over the varying merits of single-shaft lift systems. He shouldered his way into the growing crowd to find a place in the surge of bodies.  Swept along by the tide of workers he passed office after office, some still with workers slumped over the desks.  He was heading reasonably smoothly for the stairs at the corridor’s end when a tidal flow caught him unaware. He nearly lost his footing and stumbled forward, the bodies pressing behind him knocking the air out of his lungs.  He wasn’t a large man, but he managed to regain his composure and gather enough strength to force his way out of the side of the surge to the left where he picked up the current forward again.  The man squashed next to him turned and, face far too close for comfort, especially given their shared plaque problems, spoke;

“Nearly lost you there partner.”

“Yeah - tell me about it.  What was that about?”

“Coffee Machine’s been installed just over by the window.  Damn thing’s been causing surges ever since.”

Avoiding any further major incidents Howell’s made it to the stairwell of the 75th floor, and left the stream of workers hurrying to their destinations.  He hunkered down in the gap beneath the rising staircase and unwrapped his breakfast sandwich.  He was just about to take a bite when a voice rose from behind him.

“I tell you.  Management here I come.”

A second voice sounded just to Howell’s side

“I’m just not sure.  It sounds like a reasonable system, but the company doesn't always…”

“Reasonable!  Think of the time saved.  No introductions at the start of every meeting.  No pauses for latecomers to introduce themselves.  VIS is the future.”

Startled, and aware of how precious his hidden snack might be, Howell’s hid his sandwich back where it came from.  Now unwrapped, the eggy mayonnaise began to slide from between the slices of bread into the cloth pocket.  He coughed.


“Ah… Hello there Sir”  Through the dull light Howell’s caught a glimpse of a man.  His hair was ragged and long, his face bristling with a dirty beard.  The man clearly hadn't washed for several weeks.

“Err… Yes.  The V…I…S…?”

“Visual Identification System Man!”  The man’s eyes were aglow with passion.  "Every worker is allocated a tag which they pin to themselves.  They can then be identified because the tag..." He paused for effect “…is printed with their name.”

“I’m telling you Seymour, it might not meet with company approval.  Just think of the printing costs”  The other man was cowering from the feet of the passing workers.  Similarly bearded, his head was badly balding, strips of mottled hair wisped lonely from patches on the sides and back of his scalp.  He was sweating profusely.

“How long have you two been here” Howells asked, his mouth half full of the remains of the sandwich he’d now retrieved and stuffed in his mouth whole.

“I’d say around 3 weeks now” said the second man.  “We were on our way to the Managing Time seminar on level 36, and realised we weren’t going to make it, so we popped in here so Seymour could tell me about his idea.  He’s quite brilliant you know…”

Before he was waylaid any further, Howells mumbled his goodbyes and rejoined the crowds.  By 8 o’clock he’d made the 79th floor.  He rose the last few stairs and emerged on the lobby to find a vast green forest.  Workers were slowing their commute to stare wide-eyed at the foreign world.

"...trialing this on the 79th before rolling it out across more levels..."

“Just when you thought they were out of ideas, the company excel themselves.  Amazing ingenuity...”

“...I've heard that being this close to nature will make workers more relaxed and so increase creativity and productivity...."

“...closer to man’s natural self, ridding our layers of guilt and repression built up through the human artifice..."

The forest was a eclectic mix of flora and fauna.  Vines stretched up here and there, reaching for the ceiling, desperate to escape their confines.  In places they were beginning to creep up into the edges of the air-conditioning vents.  Small pacts seemed to be made between plants - glossy Hederchium and Dahlia Imperialis flourished side by side.  In other places a struggle was going on - in the centre of the plantation a large body of lupins grew tall, a floral city moated by other smaller plants.  In places at the edge of the crop though, these other plants had begun to sabotage their rise. Here a rampaging Mentha Spicata was overwhelming the smaller lupins, over there a snarled lupin lay trapped by knotweed it's stem dangerously close to snapping, it's head pointing to the floor.

Either side of this jungle, the streams of workers flowed unabated, sprinklers soaking their shirts to their skins, some seemingly unaware of the water or the change in the building's environment.  As he was bustled along, Howells noticed rogue workers in the undergrowth.  Ties cast aside, their trousers and shirts stained with chlorophyll and dirt.  Howells watched one woman as she stalked underneath a giant foxglove.  Her gaze was wild, her bloodshot eyes met Howell's unflinchingly full of a kind of intense confusion.  A return to the primitive culture of Homo Sapiens perhaps.  Deep within himself Howells sensed a instinctive recognition of something in her stare that he couldn't place.  A return to an age before language?  A prehistoric urge to mate?

Their shared moment was soon broken by Howells forward motion and the growing crowds soon lost interest in the synthesized boscage and his progress sped up again.

He'd made the 80th floor by ten past nine, and his jacket was almost dry.  As more and more commuters joined the throngs however, congestion became a bigger problem and frequently all movement would stop for a few minutes at a time.  Chances of making the start of his meeting faded and then died.  However all was not quite lost, he was nearing the stairs to the 81st floor by 10.25, and allowed himself a slight feeling of elation.  He might make the end of the meeting.  Better late than never eh?

Just as his hopes rose though, cries came from behind him, and an almighty surge swept him off his feet.  Howells managed to regain his footing just as a second surge hit.  In front of him, the queues were in disarray.  Workers lay in piles, limbs protruding from the carnage at unlikely angles.  He was caught up in a third surge as workers stampeded forwards, rushing over the crowded piles of bodies.  Howells looked down at one man’s bloodied face, his jowls torn in places, his forehead swollen purple from lack of oxygen.  He cried out for someone to help the man but there was no way he could be heard above the relentless sound of marching feet.  He looked away as the man’s eyes turned glassy and he was propelled forwards again.  Surges were hitting the crowds from all angles now as workers began to panic.  Howells found himself thrown to one side where he lay on top of a pile of bodies with still more on top of him.  He closed his eyes and must have briefly lost consciousness because when he opened them again the main body of the crowd had passed by.

Howells rose, shrugging off the bodies above him and emerged to survey the destruction.  Workers - some alive, some dead - lay all around in bizarre unnatural poses.  A strange bell sounded and he turned away from the scene to find that just 10 feet away from him lay an open lift.  Climbing over the bodies, Howells managed to get inside the elevator just as the doors closed.  Howells looked around him for a button.  Up one floor to the 82nd, and despite everything he might make the final moments of the meeting.  But no matter where he looked, Howells could find no sign of any buttons.  The lift was sheer and polished on all four sides.  In desperation he called out “Eighty Two” over and over, his voice rising hysterically until it died in a whimper.  Howells sat on the floor of the lift and began to weep.  After a while his tears dried and he began to take longer breaths.  Now pull yourself together he thought.  Maybe the lift is moving after all.  Perhaps the feeling of desperation is for nothing.  He rose to his feet and pressed his ears against the doors.  Could he hear a slight noise of the mechanism or was it just his imagination? No there was definitely a noise, a slight whirring sound.  The contraption was moving, albeit at a minuscule pace.  He sat and waited.

After what seemed like a lifetime, the bell sounded again and Howells hurried back to his feet.  As the doors swung open though a familiar sight greeted him.  A miasma of roots and vines stretched before him, rows of lupins and delphiniums lined his vision.  Howells loosened his tie, threw off his jacket and crawled into the damp depths of the jungle, a maniacal smile across on his face, his wide bloodshot eyes wild.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Dark Stones

For this week's Flash Fiction Challenge, Chuck sent us to this website for our title: http://mdbenoit.com/rtg.htm

The random title generator was kind and among a few impossible sounding titles lay this one:

Dark Stones

They say this country was once nothing but trees.  A vast forest filling every space from the Northernmost tip down to the Southern shores.  The story goes that Redcliff, well that’s where they cut the first tree down.

One tree quickly became hundreds, and Redcliff grew in size in the growing clearing.  Men used the wood from the trees to build shelters, and then as the town grew and craftsmen became more skilled, the shelters became more and more advanced.  The trees made homes.  Redcliff, well it grew to become a small city, its wooden houses bustling for space in the winding streets as the market sellers bustled through them.  If you'd looked down on Redcliff from above, it would have looked as if someone had just rearranged the trees rather than destroyed them.  But after a while, that changed.  Men began to look for alternatives to wood.  Instead of using the forest's bounty, they used dark stones, quarried from Startemoor and dragged down vast tracks to the city.

Those dark stones from up high on the moor, they'd stood there for many, many years.  They'd seen the last fall and more.  Well, I think something of the darkness seeped from inside those stones, and bled into the men themselves.  The dark leaked into them until they were as cold and hard as the stones themselves.  It shouldn't surprise you.  Men have been seduced by things weaker than stone before.

Who am I?  I am a stranger here.  I am a man of nature.  I live in the shrinking woods which surround this town.  I live in the sea which laps at the harbour below.  I hide in the other darknesses - the shadows of those huge dark-walled houses, and watch the black spaces in between those stones.  For the dark there, that is where men forget to look.

One of these new dark stone houses belonged to a man named Yeddon Crane.  He was one of those rare men who suit darkness.  A thin, wispy, unkind man, with angular jutting features and graying hair which looked itself like it had been quarried from up there on the hills of the moor.  He was cruel, but weak, until that house was built.  The evil in those stones, it completed him, and made him crueler still.  It found a home for itself there in his soul, and grew.  Crane began to make money from the work of others, through extortion, blackmail and threats. And as his power grew, so too did his home, as he bought up more of those stones until his was the largest building in Redcliff - a giant, ugly, sprawling place which seemed to suck the light from the air around.  He called it Nagrak.

When Nagrak had no room left to grow into, Yeddon Crane built it upwards until its shadow could be felt in almost half the city.  Crane locked himself in that house, his fortress, and around him grew a group of men forged from the same evil.  Men who followed Yeddon Crane and delighted in the grand acts of violence that he demanded of them.  Acts which kept Crane's own shadow felt across Redcliff. Each evening Crane would wander the rooms of Nagrak, caressing the walls, feeling the dark power that leeched from those stones.

Eventually his house grew so high that it could not be built any taller.  The top turrets moved slightly in the breeze and occasional stones fell from the highest towers, crashing through the lovingly thatched roofs of the surrounding families’ homes.  After a while, a series of “mysterious” fires began to plague those homes around Nagrak.  Crane’s megalithic construction spread out again, built on the ashed remains of those wooden homes and the cremated families unlucky enough to be inside. Nagrak's outer walls eventually reached the edge of the forest and once again the wood prepared itself to shrink back from the axes of men.

By this time a small ecosystem had begun to thrive in the walls, floors and ceilings of Crane’s house. Birds nested in its towers and upper stories.  Bats swooped from its eaves.  Small rodents and mice made homes for themselves in the dusty cracks in the corners of Nagrak's many rooms, and in the most remote recesses stray cats hunted them in packs.  Above all, insects thrived throughout the megalith, and joining them from the trees at the edge of the forest crawled a small black and orange beetle - Nicrophorus Susurrus.  It crept into the dark places between the stones of Nagrak, heavy with eggs, and added to the ecology, beginning to trail through those crevices and cracks in the walls leaving a trail of thousands and thousands of eggs, fertilised using the stored sperm from her previous precious sexual conquests.

None of these creatures halted Nagrak’s growth.  Crane had the forest felled all the way to the base of Chuckwell Hill and Nagrak replaced the trees.  By this time the building dwarfed the rest of Redcliff.  Easily large enough to be called a town in its own right, its various wings and corridors sprawled across the previously forested plains and Yeddon Crane still stayed entombed in its walls. His nightly caress of the stones had become more ardent.  The power in those dark stones was a drug to him.  He felt a strong need to become as close to the walls as was possible and most nights his stroking gave way to touches of his tongue.  He kissed those dark stone’s crevices as erotically if they were his lover.

One such night, in one of Nagrak's huge lofty central halls, Crane’s lust became unbearable.  It was overwhelming.  A passion he’d never felt for another.  Along with his lascivious embrace of the walls, Crane began to use Nagrak’s craggy gaps for his other swollen desires.  That night however, Crane didn’t just love the walls around him, for within those crevices he thrust into, kissing and licking feverishly, lay the eggs of the Nicrophorus Susurrus.  Oblivious - lost in his desire - Crane devoured them.

A few months later Yeddon Crane sat in a huge chair sipping at a glass of wine, waiting for his men to bring a man before him.  A man who had had the temerity to walk on Crane’s land without invitaton.  Crane had felt unusual all day, but as he sipped at his drink and heard the clatter of his arrival he began to feel better.  Power flowed through him as he prepared for the man.  He would make sure he knew how worthless he was before he met his end.  He would make sure he begged for mercy before he begged for death.  The door was thrown open and the poor soul was dragged in.  He’d already been badly beaten, his face was swelled with bruising and blood dripped from a deep gash in his head and from his battered lips.  Crane smiled thinly.

He drew breath to address the wretch, but a peculiar feeling overwhelmed him and he felt a tickle in his throat.  He lifted his wine to clear the blockage, and noticed a strange small black and orange beetle on the stem of his glass.  And a second on the rim.  He set the glass down and another beetle fell on to the table beside it.  Crane slammed his fist down crushing the beast.  He felt a surge within him.  A black blur began at the corner of his vision.  The strange tickling in his throat grew, and an scratching sensation began underneath his foreskin.  He coughed, and something rose into his mouth.  A single beetle.  Identical to the others.  Crushing that one between his fingers, Crane looked up.  His followers faces were etched with panic, they were mouthing words at him and pointing, the bleeding wretch on the floor had begun to scream.  Crane struggled to make out the words, his ears felt blocked somehow - as if he was under water.  All he could hear was a rising hum.  An alien noise.  He looked back up to question his men but they had begun to back away, their faces contorted with fear.

Before he had a chance to understand what was happening, Crane noticed that the walls around him were crawling with those same beetles.  The blur at the corner of his eyes spread and in just minutes Yeddon Crane was blinded by a flow of black and orange crawling from his eyes.  His optic nerve and retina crushed by the stampede and his cornia's scratched and pupils bloody from the tearing of thousands of legs.  In the blackness of his amaurosis, Crane fumbled for his chair and got to his feet clumsily. He felt a surge in his throat and Crane tried to scream, but his voice was choked back as hundreds upon hundreds of Nicrophorus Susurrus filled his throat and nasal cavities, all making their way to the surface.  They swarmed from beneath his clothes - his groin and rear pits of agony, and his naval torn open as the beetles crawled from his every orifice.  No one was there to help - his men had long fled the room, tripping over each other in their haste and Yeddon Crane, once the most powerful man in Redcliff, lay near death on the floor, covered in a swarm of orange and black.

In a final spasm of suffering, Crane died.  The walls and floor of the rooms of Nagrak teemed with the Nicrophorus Susurrus - the "Death Seed" Beetle.  Those who had made their way upwards, made the already precarious top towers even more unstable and stones fell from Nagrak's heights.  Down below, beetles still crawled from every orifice of the dead man and unable to find the woodland their genomes told them to expect, they began to bury back in through the cooling skin - using the corpse of Yeddon Crane as their ancestors had used the trees which once stood here.  As the colour drained from the decimated body, the stones of Nagrak momentarily seemed to take on a deeper hue themselves.  Then the stones faded again, as the only man left in Nagrak stood up before the insect ridden corpse, bloodied and laughing hysterically.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Where the Boats Go

So a little late to the party, but last week's Flash Fiction Challenge was to set your ipod to shuffle and press play.  The name of the song = The name of your story.  My random track was "Where the Boats Go" by M83.

click to listen to M83 Where the Boats Go

For such a short track, it sparked a behemoth.  I failed utterly to stick to the 1000 word limit and even now think this short story needs expanding a little, but here it is in it's current state...

Where the Boats Go

Dr Paul Clifford looked up from his paper, his face reddening from the morning sun. “There’s absolutely nothing in here.  Absolutely bugger all Sheila.”
His wife glanced up from her tea.  “Calm down Paul” she said “there’s obviously no new news about it”
“But they’ve been leading us on for two days!  Building up the story.  They can’t just leave it”
“Paul.  It’s news, not a film script.  There might not be an ending.  They may never know what happened to that boat”

Clifford huffed and picked up his paper, returning to the front page for a third time for news on the Solatia.  Sheila sat opposite, drinking her tea and idly reading random sentences off the back of the broadsheet in which her husband was immersed.

It’s difficult to pin down the exact moment when Clifford’s life became so intertwined with the fate of the Solatia.  He read the original newspaper reports same as I’m sure you did.  A boat disappears and of course the newspapers go wild.  But millions read those stories in the papers and to my knowledge none of them became drawn in like Dr Clifford.  At the time the usual groups claimed responsibility for the Solatia - ISIS, Aleph, the YLF.  There was two full days of sensationalist headlines and madcap theories, the news networks brought in experts on areas where boats had disappeared before - the Bermuda Triangle and Devil’s Sea, and tried to link these places to the area of the Northern Pacific where the boat had vanished.  Dr Clifford watched it all unfold, but again, millions of others did the same.  And now three days after the tragedy, it had suddenly all gone quiet on the Solatia.  The front pages were full of new stories - a war brewing in Africa, a new set of taxes outlined by the government, a celebrity death.  The Solatia had been edged out of the papers.  All of those questions they’d set up over the last two days and now no answers.  A fifty thousand tonne metal ship ferrying two and a half thousand souls disappears in our world of GPS navigation and satellite tracking, and no-one has any answers?

In between his lectures at the University of Redcliff where he worked in the Marine Biology department, Clifford began daily visits to the library .  He would check the day’s newspapers from all over the world, and a good selection of websites too, hoping for more news on the Solatia’s disappearance, but he found nothing.  It was as if the event had never happened.  Old news is no news.

After a couple of weeks his wife thought Clifford’s interest in the boat would wane, but if anything the opposite was true.  He widened his search and began spending longer and longer at the library, trawling through hundreds of conspiracy theory websites looking for alternative ideas on the Solatia’s fate.  He phoned international news agencies daily asking for reports, and spoke to a friend who worked at the local radio station, but if anything new had emerged on the fate of the ship, it was being kept very quiet indeed.  It was as if the lack of news made Clifford even more interested in what had happened to that boat.  His wife became increasingly frustrated with her husband’s aloofness.

“Paul” she said one day.  “Look at you.  You don’t talk to me any more, you spend all of your time in that library and you are jeopardising your job and our marriage.  And for what?  An unfinished news report?  You have got to let go of this thing.  It’s gone too far.”

To be honest, it wasn’t just Sheila and his job that were suffering.  Everything in Clifford’s life now seemed insignificant in comparison to his new research project.  He tracked down the ferry company executive, and then the original disaster helpline, and rang both with a carefully constructed alibi.  He was worried, he told them.  He was trying to track down his elder brother who’d been missing for two months ever since the night the Solatia disappeared, and he was worried he might have been aboard.  The executive wouldn’t answer his calls and the helpline refused to speak on the phone about the boat’s whereabouts, but they did offer to send a representative out to Redcliff, so that they could go through the passenger list with Clifford and discuss the few details they did have.  Clifford agreed, and they said they’d contact him with a time and place.  No longer than half an hour later the phone rang.

“Is that Dr Clifford”
“Hi there.  It’s Laura from the RFR offices.  We’ve arranged a representative to meet with you.  Rather than you coming out here to our offices, we’ll send him over to you.  As luck would have it he’s passing near Redcliff next week  He’ll meet you at Joe’s cafe on Clearbrook Street at 8pm next Wednesday.  Does that suit you?”

A week later, Dr Clifford left the library earlier than usual dressed casually in faded jeans and a hooded jacket, and made his way across to Clearbrook Street.  It was a clear night for once and the streets were a bustle of people all making the most of the brief letup in the rain.

Perhaps all of those conspiracy theory websites had gotten to him a bit - for some reason, he was a little suspicious of this meeting.  He was an hour early and rather than going straight into Joe’s, he bought a pint at the Howl and Pussycat opposite and watched the door to the cafe, hidden amongst the crowd of smokers in the Howl’s darkened doorway, nursing his pint, and waiting for the “representative” to arrive.  Joe’s was pretty empty, and not one new arrival went in between 7.30 and 8.30.  Around 9pm, his phone alerted him to an answerphone message.  Odd that - full coverage and no missed calls.  Just a message.  “RFR regrets that our representative has had to cancel the meeting with you this evening at short notice due to unforseen circumstances.  Sorry for any inconvenience.”  Dr Clifford swigged back the last of his pint, deleted the message, and retreated inside the bar to refill his glass.  His wife was away visiting her mother, something she’d taken to doing more and more these days, so there was no rush for him to get back.

It was a few more drinks later that a long white arm reached into his view, pushing a small cardboard beer mat into his view.  The owner of the arm - a strangely ageless girl with long hair bunched up into an untidy ponytail, dark wisps falling across her face and framing her piercing blue eyes - exchanged a glance with Clifford.  He suddenly felt naked.  The meeting of their eyes was open and naked, as close together at the bar as they would have been if they’d shared a bed.  The glance was held for a little longer than was comfortable and for one strange moment, Clifford wondered if she was going to move in and kiss him.  Then she moved her eyes down to the mat.  In blue ink scrawled across it was a name “Captain Robert Shackleworth”.

“What is this?”  Clifford asked, abruptly breaking the spell

“I know what you are looking for.  It is what we are all seeking.”

“What is this?  Is it to do with the Solatia?”

“You seek answers.  A fitting ending to your great story.”

Clifford began to be frustrated by the woman’s ambiguousness

“I need to know.”

The strange lady turned to face him again and once more Clifford was struck by her peculiar agelessness.  It was as if she’d always been there, as if she’d crawled from the sea’s primordial ooze and made straight for her bar stool there at the bar.  She leaned in even closer and whispered in his ear “You must follow what draws you in.”  Her breath was warm on his ear, sending a tingle running through him.  Something more than sensual, the feeling was almost familiar.  “Tell me, what do you want from me?” she whispered.  Clifford was still digesting the words when she kissed his earlobe, her tongue flicking gently around his pinna…

When Clifford returned home the following morning, his found his front door open.  The apartment had been broken into.  Everything was wrecked.  His study had been worst hit - all his research into the Solatia lay around trashed or had been stolen.  He sat down in the middle of the room, a tear rolling down his face.  He was woken still sat on the floor surrounded by debris, by the ringing of the house phone.  Clifford had no idea how long it had been ringing.  He checked his watch - 11am.  He’d missed his morning visit to the library and his first set of lectures at the University.  He made himself get up and lifted the handset.

“Paul?  Is that you?  Why aren’t you at work.  You sound awful.”
“Sheila - I… I… Something’s happened.  It’s to do with the Solatia…”
“Paul.  Listen to me for God’s sake.  This time I won’t be coming back from my mothers.  You’ve pushed me too far.”  She sniffed back the tears.  Real or faked, Clifford couldn’t tell.  “The thing we had is over.  You care more about that damn boat than about anything.”
And then silence.  “Paul?  Can you hear me?  It’s finished Paul.”
Clifford set the handset gently back on it’s cradle and gazed around him at his dismantled office.  Perhaps that was the moment that he gave in to the Solatia’s draw - the tipping point.  Everything escalated from there.

When he’d found a new apartment, one close to the library and with a landlord who allowed him to pay in cash and was happy to withhold his name from the rental agreement, Clifford began looking back in more earnest though naval records and newspapers of the past fifty years.  His hours spent in the library became days at a time.  The attendents became used to asking him to leave when they were closing up.  His absences at the University became a disciplinary matter.  The Dean spoke to him in person about his behaviour.

“Paul.  If you need help.  We can try and suggest someone.  I know about Sheila Paul, I know it can’t be easy, but these absences.  The University can’t be seen to tolerate them Paul.  I’m sorry but if things don’t change we are going to have to part ways.”

Clifford left the meeting and headed straight back to the library.  All he could hear were those whispered words “You must follow what draws you in”.  His research had begun to pay dividends.  Clifford had found something very strange.  The Solatia wasn’t the first.  He’d found records of three aircraft and at least six other boats which had gone missing in the same region.  There were no records of wreckages of any of these vessels being found or of any survivors.  It was around this time that the black outs started.  Clifford would come round slumped over the microfiche viewer at the library, or at his office desk.  They became more and more frequent and his doctor sent him for tests.

It was around then that the second boat disappeared.  The papers went crazy for a day or two again, but only one even mentioned the Solatia, even though the second boat, Ramesus’ Fortune had vanished only a few miles from where the Solatia had last been tracked.

Again Clifford tried everything to get more information.  And again, all his enquiries found no answers.

He was called into the doctors

“Paul.  Sit down.  I need to talk to you.” Paul looked around and sat down on the hard wooden chair opposite the gp.  He felt the wooden struts dig into his back uncomfortably.
“Paul, the test results show a Pineal Tumor.  I’m sorry Paul, it’s in the advanced stages.  Let me outline the options available…”

Clifford only found he could truly dedicate himself to his research after the University had made good on their threats and terminated his contract.  Determined to find out more, and aware that his time may be running out, he now found time away from the library to take classes which might aid his search.  He had a refresher course in deep-sea diving, and began to take lessons in Japanese.  He began researching the Japanese papers from the time of the Solatia’s disappearence, painstakingly translating the original articles himself.  None of the papers threw more light on the missing boats than the Redcliff papers had done.  But in the initial report of the boat’s disappearence one paper did use a word Clifford didn’t recognise from his studies.  A word which didn’t appear in his Japanese dictionary. “Akkorokamui”.

Several hours later and Clifford had read several accounts of the Akkorokamui.  Ainu Legend told of an immense sea creature - close to an octopus in form, but around 120 metres in length - which had been spotted in several locations around Japan, Taiwan and Korea since the 19th Century.  One account told of the Akkorokamui’s supranatural glowing red colour, of its giant staring eyes and a noxious dark fluid it emitted.  The tales of the creature had spread to religion, with inclusion in Shintoism where the octopus like nature of the huge creature meant that it is impossible to escape it’s grasp.

Six months later, Clifford had read every article, book and website on the Akkorokamui which he became convinced had something to do with the disappearence of the Solatia.  Almost three years to the day the boat sank, armed with his research on squid and octopus migration patterns, and convinced that the Akkorokamui had moved from Northern Japan into the deeper waters of the North Pacific near the area the Solatia had vanished he flew from Redcliff out to Tokyo.  His first trip to Japan.  He peered out of the window during the crossing, cross referencing the flight plan and trying to spy below through the cloud cover in hope of seeing red glows beneath the dark ocean.

Clifford caught a connecting flight to Hokkaiko and checked into the Daiichi Hotel on Funka Bay.  He began daily visits to the harbour to haggle with the local boat owners, trying to persuade one to take him out to the spot where the Solatia had vanished.  Eventually, on the promise of a small fortune - the whole of his savings - one trawler man Naiko agreed to take him as far as the edge of the area.  He was down on his luck fishing and I don’t think he could turn down the offer of such a lot of money.

Clifford met Naiko the next morning at the crack of dawn and they set sail.  Jirota, his young boathand Naiko and him.  The bay glistened red with the rising sun, in the East, the snowy peaks of Mount Komagatake were just visible.  They set out across the still water, and after a while Jirota came to join Clifford on deck.  They spent the journey sharing tales of the Akkorokamui, Jirota’s stories passed on from generation to generation.

After a couple of hours, Clifford’s GPS reading told him that they were nearing the edge of the area the Solatia had disappeared.  Naiko was getting uneasy and was muttering quietly to Jirota and after another few minutes, the boat began to veer round to the left as he turned the wheel.  Clifford quickly unpacked his diving gear and without a word to the trawlerman launched himself over the side of the boat.

As he descended into the icy water and kicked out for its depths, Clifford could hear the boats engine fading as Naiko and Jirota headed back to shore.  Clifford pressed on deeper and depper past squid and pacific coast jellyfish,  and then as he drew deeper, he began to pick out Giant Spider Crabs on a sharp ocean shelf to his right.  At one stage in the gathering gloom he thought he glimsped a huge Frilled Shark meandering through the water, almost a memory of an animal, a decendent of the Earth’s past.  The marine ecosystems reminded him of his work at the University, the deep water he passed through acting as a metaphor for his life.  He carried on further still, past a vast Hydromedusa lighting up the surrounding water like a bioluminescent dream catcher.  Despite the growing pressure, Clifford paused only to switch on his headtorch as the water closed into blackness, continuing deeper and deeper in search of the answers he knew must lie somewhere down there, hid behind a pair of huge lidless eyes…

Several days later, a body washed up on the shores of Funka Bay.  When they uncovered the corpse, it was bloated until split open and tarnished blue beneath it’s covering.  Burst blood vessels abounded like a map over it’s skin - the deep water pressure of the Pacific had obviously paid it’s toll.  From dental records the man was identified as one of the unfortunate passengers who’d been on board the boat Solatia which had disappeared so mysteriously just over three years earlier.  As the first body to be recovered from the craft, the Japanese television stations ran specials looking back at the disaster, and the papers ran articles speculating on the fates of the other souls on board.  However, despite an extensive post-mortem on the body, and a thorough search of the ship’s records, no-one was able to explain the deep sea diving suit he was wearing when washed ashore.