The City in the Cleft

On a life raft in the middle of the South Pacific.  I feel my memory drifting.

I can only tell you how I got here. It was in a seedy corner of the world, near the sea, where bad ideas gathered. I met him in a cantina off the Rio Chepu. He told me that beneath the sea there were older waters, from an older time. He told me we were connected to these waters, the way bacteria’s connected to the runoff it inhabits.  He said all things came from the same place.

“It’s in that idea that we understand ourselves.” He grinned. Tall, with rough hands. Hands that had been digging.

“Enlighten me,” I said.

“We all come from the sea. Most of our makeup is water, around sixty percent. Imagine us dragging ourselves ashore; seeking something. I want to find out what we dragged out with us and what we left behind. Those answers, I think, are below in a cleft which hides a city. A city where the first ideas were born.”

“Like what’s-it-called. Atlantis.”

“Atlantis is a speck in comparison. I’m talking about something older than myth. A City at the inception of the world. Inhabited by god-knows-what. Can you even fathom the knowledge we’d find there?”

“All that wet sand. Crazy.”

“Only the area around the Cleft’s been explored,” he ignored me, “They say if this City had been there, it’s so deep in the abyss we don’t have the means to reach it. They were too closed minded. I have the tools. I have the means, Ms. Caul. That’s why we’re here.”

“Is this shit written somewhere? It’s L by the way, and buy me another drink if you plan to keep talking.”

“In an apocryphal book of the Tanakh, the Old Testament, called the Witness of Sohm. It makes a direct comparison between this City and the Leviathan which shows up later in the Book of Job. This thing has a thousand names. Old things are often polyonymous.”

“Right. Just so we’re clear I don’t fucking care about any of this. No offense.”

“None taken. I’m not paying you for your brains, or your good looks.”

My other drink came and I stopped listening. Instead I watched a nearby table where the pescadores played knife games over dented silver coins.

Eventually I said: “You’re paying a lot for this expedition.”

“Double what you think,” the professor said, “I hired a second gun.”

“Expecting trouble?”

“This is my life’s work. I won’t let some hungry locals, scoping for American tourists, ruin what I’ve staked my career…no, my life on. One too many colleagues with bad stories of pirates on the Rio. Not me. No chances.”

“Insurance then?”

“Anyone tries or thinks about trying to stop this is a threat to the collective knowledge of mankind. I’m going to find out what’s below the Cleft, what’s left of the City, and I’m going to close the gap on the origin of all life on Earth.” I could barely see his face as he stood, the fading yellow light turned it into shadows. There was something about his words that sobered me. Something in them, swimming beneath the surface.

I didn’t want to care about what he said. I wanted to just care about the money, I wanted to care about 300 rounds-a-minute from 9mm submachine guns and what I knew how to open with a knife. He paid too well, this was all too easy, but I couldn’t afford to be worried about that.

We headed to the pier where his research vessel, the KOMODO, waited on the thick waters of the Rio Chepu. The boat’s coxswain met us on deck. He looked at me and I’d seen the look before. He shared the superstition of the pescadores, down to the alcoholic tremble in his hands.

“Women are bad luck on ships,” he said.

“This is a boat,” the professor replied, “So I guess it’s alright. Comprende?”

The fog was thick and black trees grew out of the water. The Rio Chepu waited. The South Pacific waited. The City waited. It had always waited.

The professor approached me, a well-armed man in tow.

“L, this is…”

“Ed’s fine.” The well-armed man said.

Ed is a highly-recommended professional, like yourself,” the professor added.

We shook hands then moved into position on either side of the boat. Ed had an M4 strapped to his chest. I remember his shoulders were wide.

Through the fog the trees looked like they were moving, like they were alive. None of us spoke until we neared the mouth that spilled into the ocean. The professor muttered something and headed below deck.

“Calibrate the…”

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Nothing,” the professor said, “Just keep watch. I need to make sure there’s no last minute issues.”

“With what?”

“The Psychic Resonator. It’s the key.”

“Right.” I tried to catch Ed’s attention, but he ignored us.

It was dark at twenty one hundred and I couldn’t see Ed through the fog, but I heard him  somewhere out there, I heard him tapping his foot. It made the booze hit me in a way that was nauseating. It pissed me off and wrung out my guts. I shut my eyes, strained to listen for anything approaching us.

Not long after, my eyes opened. Something was drifting close.

A small fishing boat passed by with three men on board and under their lures, bolt action rifles. I lowered my gun at them, mouthing bang-bang to each of their heads. They just stared.

The bulky KOMODO was tossed like sea foam on the endless tide. I slid down to the deck to let my nausea pass. The ship seemed so small. It gave me goosebumps. I held my gun close. The stars were the only thing that marked the night sky from the sea.

“I hate them,” Ed said, beside me suddenly, looking upward, “in Los Llanos, they blink at you.”

“When were you in Los Llanos?”

“‘98.” He pushed up his hat.

“Damn,” I said.

“Veinte minutos, gringos,” the coxswain shouted.

I stood up and stopped Ed as he went to get the professor below deck.

“I’ll let the professor know. I gotta piss anyway.” I said.

He rolled his tongue up the inside of his cheek then went back to his post.

The stairwell was short and cramped. I heard the professor talking, so I stepped softer. There was someone else. I looked out the end of the stairwell. The professor was talking to someone strapped to a gurney. It had scrawny malnourished limbs, spotted with yellow stains, and a dirty hospital gown. It had a hood over its face. Suddenly the nausea came back.

The professor smiled when he saw me. I waited. I let him talk first.

“Is it time?”

“Twenty minutes.”

“She’s something, isn’t she? I found her at a hospital in Arica. Fourteen years old. Car accident killed her parents, put her into a coma. Even like this she’s still special. Still able to do so much good for us. This girl is a genuine case of ESP. At age six she took the Zener Test, scored 120 out of 120. Highest on record. We’re lucky the coma didn’t completely destroy her brain. She can still feel pain and hear sound, and that’s enough for the experiment.”

“She’s your Resonator-thing.”

“Her name’s Camila.” He said.

“I don’t give a fuck. The sooner this is over with, the better.” I went to head back topside, only to pause. There were heavy footsteps moving away from the other side of the door. I already knew it was Ed. He looked at me when I headed to my post and then lit a cigarette, maybe to put me at ease. I had fucked up.

We were close to the end. The stars began to fade from the sky. You could feel the temperature drop as we came to the Cleft. Glancing over, I could almost see it below those dwindling star-streaked waves. Nearly three miles long on both sides; a shadow under the ocean.

They brought the gurney with Camila topside.

Ed didn’t flinch which made it clear he was in on it as much as the others. I had a feeling he was involved in her acquisition. The wheels were locked and the professor licked white suction cups, placing them on Camila’s neck and chest. The coxswain watched a small device with a screen and a row of dials. They placed a legal pad on Camila’s lap and forced a pencil into her hand. They were speaking to each other. They were happy with themselves.

“You alright?” Ed said. He was testing me.

“This is fucked.” I snapped. And I failed again.

I went below deck.  I went to the bathroom and I washed my hands and splashed water on my face. I held my hair back and tried to hack up the taste of bile in my throat.

It was a force of habit not to get myself cornered. But voices started coming from the walls. They were far away but near to something familiar. I went to get closer and didn’t hear the door open until it was too late.

Ed grabbed the muzzle of my gun as I swung, hoping to catch him. He slugged me square in the face, breaking my nose and filling my mouth with blood. He took up most of the bathroom and kept me pinned to the toilet. He went for his sidearm. We struggled. I went for mine and fired off two shots into his groin through the holster. My leg burned. He flinched enough that I reached for the knife in his vest. I stabbed him in the wrist and twisted it until the gun clattered into the sink. I planted a boot on his chest and ripped the knife out, grabbed his sidearm, and blew his head to pieces with every hollow-point in the clip.

I nearly slipped in the gore on the way out. The whispers were gone. I heard ringing for a while until the KOMODO rumbled. Then I heard an inhuman shriek. Flashes of electric light filled the porthole on the door.

Voices started swimming in my blood. Voices like what I heard through the walls. Look away. It said. Once it knows you, you’ll want to go home.

I felt a new sensation come over me, like something was coiling around my brain, pulling it beneath the surface of my thoughts. I leaned on the stairwell wall to make it topside

So long ignorant of its many-writing-nightmares. We are only visions. Fleeting thoughts. We are froth. We are tumbled stones. We are without definition.

I planned to step onto the deck and kill the professor and his man. Then I heard the waters churning. Something massive circled us; splitting the ocean apart. My head filled with echoes of shrill, alien screams. Maybe my screams, too.

It must not wake. All memories begin and end in the Dream-City.

What was is not what is. Never has been.

My mind turned over itself. It hurt to think. It hurt to know how little I knew, to know that knowledge was littler than nothing. The voice echoed that hopelessness, It wakes. It rises. It writhes. Over and over.

When I came out onto the deck I had to shield my face from a crashing wave. I wiped my eyes and stared up at something. Something I couldn’t understand that made me draw all the air from my lungs into a scream. Nothing came out. Nothing was coming out of everything. Whatever wrapped itself around my brain made it take on water and every thought was an onrush of bilge. I screamed and kept screaming just to know that my head wasn’t too full to hear.

The thing towering over the boat waved back and forth, bigger than I could see all at once, while memories began to drift apart, broken by suffocating tendrils. Scattered among the sea. Come home. For it wakes. It rises. It writhes…

Camila’s body twitched. Her hand moved furiously over the legal pad. I had to reach her. I passed the coxswain.  His flesh hovered in a knot of gore over his scattered bones. The professor waited at the bow. I stumbled, struggling against what pulled my mind down deeper.

“I am the new Witness. We see a hundred cities piled on bodies of a mile long lamprey, pulsing with digested life, souls trembling on coral shelves, I didn’t know. How could we know?” He went on and on reciting words and numbers which only made my head worse, “Waking me from this idiot-dream. Idiot.”

“Professor.” I tried. I wanted him to notice me but he shook his hands, shouting over and over. Saying, “Idiot!” again and again.

Then he stopped and buckled, turned to me. His eyes. “Not yet,” he said.

He shimmered then stepped toward me free of his skin. Another step and all the veins and muscles puddled around him. His bones chattered a final plea then collapsed onto the deck.

He woke up.

We all were waking up.

We were all going home.

Dream no more. The voice said. I saw blood in Camila’s ears. All things are from the Deep. The City stirs us. It awakens and the dream ends.

The Writhing-City awakens.

Awakens!

All the pieces of me became sand in the water. Screaming waves thrashed the boat. Names scattered to the deep and my skin began to drip away. So I did what I could, I did the last thing I knew how to do, and turned my weapon on Camila and held it down until there were only clicks. Until water and smoke poured from her. Clear and red and black.

Now it’s quiet.

The boat burns. I watch it from this raft. I watch the stars above in smoke. They tell me what is sea and what is sky. I float on this raft, in the sea, half-awake. I watch myself from the surface of the sky. Things sleep below. I feel the water move over me, maybe. Red and clear. From the waves I watch, maybe. Bodiless, maybe.

Maybe the raft is empty.

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