Mankind believe themselves to have escaped the horrors that preyed on them in bygone ages. Perhaps we are right. Mostly. The torch of scientific progress kindled by Newton and his contemporaries spread like wildfire in the centuries that followed, and drove the beasts that dwelt in our shadows scampering back to the darkened pits that spawned them; turning the hunter into the hunted. Physics, the idea that our world operates through universal and comprehensible laws, castrated the secret magics that had once left kings and peasant children alike shivering in the terror of all-concealing night. Darwin and his concept of evolution banished the ancient monsters with such speed and determination that Heracles himself would have been envious.
But there are still places in this world where the light of modernity hasn't reached. A number of San tribes (commonly known as Bushmen) in Namibia speak of the ¯koo-b¯u*, or Bone Eaters. A tall (7-8'), grey, lanky, bipedal creature with lean yet protruding muscles capable of tremendous speeds; large rock hard hands that taper into sharp nailless points with bulbous knuckles and joints; hollow, deep set sockets holding round white eyes that roll about in them like a billiard ball; and of course the mouth, stretching across the entirety of its face, holding spiked teeth as a hard and bright as marble that seem to glisten even at night, always cracked into a broad grin when it encounters a straggling child who has wandered too far from the rest of the tribe.
The Nukak people of the Amazon basin speak of the Kanábéyáa, or Black Jaguar People. Little is definitively known about them, save the resemblance between their black fur, retractable claws, round pinprick eyes, and those of their namesake; their ability to shift between a bipedal and quadrapedal stance; and their propensity for hunting nearly anything, including humans foolish enough not to guard their campsites at night. Again and again, anthropologists hear tales of night sentries looking on in terror as bright eyes; first two, then dozens, circle and dance about the periphory of their encampment. Hellish yowls and hisses cut through the air, followed by panicked shouts and the chaos of men brought into the waking world by their greatest fear. And then, in a brief moment that seems an eternity to those caught within it, silence. The inevitable return into the veil of night. Of course, war stories are always told by the survivors, so there is a lack of testimony from those unfortunate groups who were either caught off guard, or else, for one reason or another, were deemed to be worth the fight. There are also tales of hunting parties finding one of their neighboring tribes eviscerated, stripped of flesh and meat, and left to rot in the coming sun.
But these stories will have to wait for another time. I come to you not with a tale of some hidden crevasse deep in the heart of the wilderness, but of that endless sprawl that surrounds all of humanity's achievements. The last great uncharted territory. The ocean.
I had just graduated, and, like many that come from families of considerable means, viewed the gap between getting my diploma and getting a job as an oppurtunity for exploration. Unlike many of my peers, I was not content to use this period merely as an opportunity to get wasted and sleep around in a different corner of the globe. Not that I'm trying to come off as superior or condescending, I have no right for that. I started off in Europe just like everyone else, moving from Paris to Rome to Zurich to Vienna to Berlin and then Prague, indulging in the careless excesses that tend to characterize these trips. But at the same time, I wanted more than that. I wanted to ride the back of an oxe drawn cart down a withered trail to places my fellow Americans never laid eyes on. I wanted to slum it in the homes of destitute village inhabitants despite the fact that I could easily afford a four star hotel. I wanted something new, something unseen, some amazing forgotten secret.
The noteworthy part of my trip begins in Vanino, a fairly small seaport town on the Eastern coast of Russia. I had taken the Trans-Siberian Railroad as far as Khabarovsk, and from there I decided I would get to the coast by hitching rides with locals. It was the mid 90's, and the collapse of the Soviet Union was still reverberating through the economy, which meant that everyone from corrupt bureaucrats in imported cars to farmers with mule drawn carts were more than willing to lighten my pockets of those heavy Francs and Deutschmarks. From my atlases and road guides, Vanino seemed the perfect place to set off for the final waypoint in my journey, Japan. It was small, and far enough from the railway to be empty of other tourists. Despite this, it had a moderately large seaport, and its proximity to the impossibly large forests of Siberia meant that at least some of its outbound ships were likely en route to help satiate Japan's monstrous hunger for foreign timber.
While this ended up being the case, it was a bit harder than I thought to secure transport. Looking back, I can't believe how stupid and brazen my approach was. Just walking onto the harbour of some backwater port town in a country whose language I could barely ask for the bathroom in, and somehow expecting that I would find a crew willing to drag my naive ass halfway down the Eastern coast of Asia. However, the Russian economy was in shambles, people really were desperate, and I was lucky enough to find someone who wasn't quite so desperate as to simply rob me for all of the promised money. Then again, the way things turned out, perhaps I would have been better off getting beaten within an inch of my life, separated from all of my assets, and left to die in a town unconcerned with the well being of some obnoxious foriegner.
I met Kee Sye in a bar not too far from the harbor. I had spent many hours in that tavern, a fairly typical Russian bar with wood paneling, high tables, and way too many pictures hanging in way too close proximity to each other. I had refined my intelligence gathering technique until it began to take on a ritualistic quality. I went through the motions of this ritual as I always had. Buy him a drink first to warm him up to the idea of chatting with an American, find out if he speaks any English, if he works on a boat, and where he is heading. He was short, even for a Southeast Asian, and judging from his attire, had done quite a bit of travelling. He wore a thick red-brown coat that was scuffed, stained, and disheveled, yet clearly hardwearing, with no visible rips or patches despite the obvious abuse it had suffered, and an equally battered pair of American jeans. I found out that he was from Singapore, spoke English, and was a deckhand aboard the Сумерки бегун. He didn't seem to particularly enjoy the company of Russians, which accounted for the relative ease in which we struck up a conversation. Seven beers and countless tales later, accounts of our respected travels, growing louder and more dramatic with each empty glass, and I finally had the nerve to bring up my predicament. As it turns out, he was heading to Nagoya on a small timber ship with a crew of eleven other men. I told him I was looking for transit to Japan, I had plenty of money, and that I would make it worth his and his captain's while if they could find some room for me. He warned me that the conditions onboard were less than ideal, and I assured him it wouldn't be a problem. He told me to meet with him tomorrow at the same place.
He didn't show up until almost 10:00 the next night. I was on the verge of giving up and going home when I finally saw a tiny figure in the doorway. We locked eyes and he walked over to my table. I ordered him a beer and listened to what he had to say. The captain accepted my offer. They were leaving in two days. One of the deckhands had some medical issues and wasn't capable of making the trip, so his bunk was going to be open anyways. I was to arrive at 6:00 a.m. on Monday ready to embark.
The Сумерки бегун was a fairly standard, if almost absurdly old (though this is also fairly standard among Russian ships), timber carrier. About 250' long and 40' wide, it had large cranes on both the bow and stern of the ship, as well as a second, smaller crane at the very tip of the stern. The majority of the interior was used for timber stowage. Two large compartments, one for each crane, were on either side of the ship. Between them there was a small section with the bridge above deck, and the crew quarters below.
Besides Kee Sye and myself, there were ten other crew members. There was Vladislav, the captain. A man with thinning hair whose hard stare and sharp voice put him somewhere between distinguished and despotic. Mikhail was the chief mate. An older man, in his mid 60's by the look of him, he seemed frail compared to the rest of the crew, though if you saw him surrounded by members of his own age group he would probably strike you as robust. Zakhar, the second mate, looked about 40 with a fairly average height and build. Depending on the time of day, there would either be a slight tremble in his hands or else a faint redness in his cheeks. Where I would often see Vladislav and Mikhail debating with each other, Zakhar took his captain's words with as infallible truths, and was often seen trailing behind him like a hungry dog.
The crew quarters were divided into three rooms with two bunk beds in each. The man whose spot I had taken was bunking with Alexsei, Wei, and Rodion. Alexi was the chief engineer. He had neatly cut brown hair and a nose you could tell had taken more than a handful of punches. When sober, he had a short, direct manner of speaking, but once he had a few drinks in him, he would oscillate between hostile machismo and awkward sentimentality. Wei, the second engineer, was from China. He was slightly taller than Kee Sye, standing at maybe five foot six, and possessed a relentless energy. He would spring, rather than stand up from a chair, and walked around the deck as if he were always on an important errand. He seemed legitimately interested in me and my homeland. I may well have been the first American he ever laid eyes on. However, his command of Russian was only a few rungs above mine, which made communication problematic. Rodion was the tallest crew member, maybe six foot three, and, despite his position as a wiper, he had the large muscular build of the deckhands. He had an aura of detachment about him, especially with regards to me. Despite sharing a bunk, we spoke to each other maybe three times in those first few days, with me trying to either break the ice or address some practical concern in broken Russian, and him giving a one or two word reply and moving on. Whether it was because I was a wealthy outsider or because that was just his approach to new people I can't say. Though I would occasionally observe him in animated conversation with Georgy late in the evening.
The rest of the crew comprised of Georgy, the boatswain, as well as Viktor, Ganzorig and Nergui, who were deckhands. I'll spare you the details of each, only noting that Georgy and Viktor were Russian, while Ganzorig and Nergui were Mongolian. Of the crew, only Kee Sye and Mikhail spoke English, so my communication with everyone else was pragmatic in nature.
I came aboard at the appointed time, careful not to disturb the loading process as I heaved my pack into my room and prepared for the voyage to come. I sat on my bed, debated going up and offer my assistance, but eventually decided that I would probably be more of a nuisance than a help. I ended up just kicking up my feet and waiting for the final preparations to be completed. Within an hour or so, the wood was loaded, the gangplank was up, and we were out on the open ocean.
The first few days were uneventful. I tried to stay out of the way as much as possible, reading in my quarters while the crew went about their business. In the evenings I would sit in the dining area and occasionally chat with Kee Sye and Mikhail.
Kee would typically entertain me with stories of his adventures while I sat there taking it all in like an eager eight year old. Mikhail had many stories as well, but unlike the bravado that dripped from the Singaporean's words, Mikhail's voice possessed a sort of desperation. He had seen it all, and the weight of his lifetime on the high seas had left him hunched and weary. Still, I enjoyed talking with him, finding a certain folksy charm in his stark stories and peasant superstitions.
On the morning of the fourth day, the fog hit. It was unbelievable. The kind of fog that Eliot wrote about in Prufrock, with a thick, overpowering presence that you could almost feel rubbing against your skin. There was some debate among the officers as to how to procede. Vladislav felt that, given how far out at sea we were, it was safe enough to rely soley on their instruments without having to fear running aground. Mikhail disagreed. He brought up of the unreliability of the equipment, the strain it would put on the crew, and the possibility of getting lost. But mostly he spoke of omens, of tales picked up in the decades he spent far from the sight of land. He spoke of ships pressing through such fogs and never returning, and of unspeakable horrors recounted by those few who did. Vladislav made a show of dismissing such claims, trying to keep a stoic expression as he quiped some offhand rejection in his native tongue. Even then, however, I could detect an ever-so-slight quiver in his voice, as if it were the protocols of masculinity and not his calculating judgement that urged him forward. He gave the order to sail on.
Three hours later, we began to hear the screams. I was reading in my bunk when the horrible wails of what sounded like a young girl cut through the air with such intensity that my body shuddered in response. I ran up to the deck to see what had happened, and the confused voices and faces staring into the distance confirmed what I had feared. The voice had not come from the ship, but from below.
Somehow, the fog had gotten even worse than before, I could barely see the silhouettes of people standing ten feet in front of me. The confused voices began to get angry, and after a few minutes they were on the verge of yelling. I waited for a lull in the conversation to ask Kee Sye what was happening. He informed me that the crew had become divided over what to do, with one faction, led by Mikhail, urging that we abandon everything and turn around. Another, led by Alexi, proposed stopping the ship and trying to mount a rescue operation. A third group, led by Vladislav, argued that we should press our way through the fog as quickly as possible, that we would be free of it sooner if we kept going than if we turned around, and that we were so far away from the girl that by that point that, even if the fog lifted immediately, we would still have no hope of finding her. While Kee Sye was explaining this to me, Zakhar came rushing down from the bridge. According to Kee, he had attempted to send a distress signal alerting the authorities to the stranded girl, but wasn't sure if he succeeded. The radio appeared to be functioning properly, but there was no response to his distress signal. Furthermore, most of the navigational equipment was malfunctioning, giving readings that were absolutley impossible. Immediately, the raised voices tranformed into a full blown screaming match, with each side taking the new revelation as proof of the righteousness of their plan. Eventually, Vladislav used his position to overrule the dissenters, and again gave the orders to push on. This time, however, there was open dissention in the air, and I didn't need to speak the language to hear it.
Onward we drifted into the infernal shroud. Silence fell over the ship as the crew paced about nervously; gazing off into the murky gloom, seeking out some cause for the sense of doom that hung over us as palpably as the fog itself. It did not take long for the ocean to give its answer.
Those screams. Those horrible screams. At once roaring with untold power and yet quivering with all too human pain. It was as if every minute permutation of human suffering joined together in a demonic cacophony. Men well versed in the pains of violence and hunger fell to their knees like innocent children; tears bursting from their eyes and fear erupting from their mouths. Up and down both port and starboard we ran. The cries seemed to have no definite origin, yet we somehow knew their source lay right below us. Suddenly there was a commotion at the other end of the ship. I ran over and saw Viktor and Mikhail in a ferocious argument. Inscrutable words drenched in fear and rage flew back and forth as the fight began to shift from one of words to one of blows. Viktor suddenly dashed towards the railing. Georgy and Nergui tried to restrain him but swift elbows sent them reeling backwards and in an instant he was gone. Mikhail shouted orders as I ran to where he had jumped. The waters below were empty save the ever present swell of waves.
Lengths of rope were knotted into what my seaworthless eyes would call a modified a noose, or else tied to one of the two life preservers. Looking over the port railing, I saw a figure bob up to the surface, motionless excluding the ocean's sway. I shouted out, and Kee Sye echoed my words in Russian as the whole crew charged across the deck. Ropes were hurled into the water. First came the life preservers, but when there was no attempt to grab on, everyone began to toss what they had into the water. Whether it was luck, skill, or something sinister that caused Ganzorig to effortlessly catch his knot around the figure I cannot say, but he did, so we grasped the rope and began to pull.
Looking back, there is one thing that strikes me about this rescue operation. Perhaps we were all too caught up in the madness of the moment to think about it, perhaps the fog was too thick for us to notice, but I find it shocking that nobody realized as we rushed about, trying to save our fallen comrade, that Vladislav and Zakhar were sitting in the bridge, ignorant of what was transpiring. It did not occur to anyone that as we scrambled to save that lone figure floating alongside us, our ship was speeding through the fog.
It was not Viktor who we hauled onto the deck, but the body of a woman. We dragged her up, and as she crested the railing, a sense of trepidation grew within us. At first, we were not sure precisely what was wrong with her, though there was no doubt that something was amiss. Georgy pushed through the crowd, dropping to his knees to attempt first aid, but the moment he saw her up close he fell backwards and began to tremble. A wave of shock rolled through us as one by one we got close enough to see her. Her face, my god, her face. That nightmarish visage was burnt into my mind the moment I laid eyes on it. Barely a night goes by that does not see me shooting up from sleep, drenched in sweat, every awful detail recreated in my dreams exactly as it appeared before me on that light-veiled day.
The facial expression of horror exists at the most extreme limits of human body language. Every muscle of the face is stretched to an extreme degree. The eyes are open, but unlike the expressions of interest or surprise, in which the surrounding musculature stretches out vertically, when we experience horror, our muscles stretch back from the eyes in every direction, as if the very face itself is trying to escape from what its eyes are seeing. The mouth too is stretched to the limits of its expressive capability, and unlike a smile, which stretches horizontally, or a "jaw drop", which stretches vertically, the muscles pull back in all directions, causing that instantly recognizable expression. The muscles in that woman's face acted as I describe above, but somehow, they had stretched beyond anything I would have thought possible. Well beyond the typical limits of the human facial expression. It was like she had experienced something so horrifying that her face was forced to contort in ways no face had ever done before, or perhaps like it was stretched in terror for so long that the muscles involved had developed a strength unknown to the rest of humanity.
Once we had gotten over the shock of her face, we began to notice other strange things about her. When we brought her up, we had thought her to be elderly due to the wrinkles that covered her body. But then we began to notice some strange inconsistancies like the way the wrinkles of her face curved to avoid patches of acne. There were a shocking number of cuts, scrapes, and bruises along her body. While a certain amount of injury is to be expected in the survivor of a maritime accident, what struck me about these injuries was how evenly they were inflicted across her body. There was not a one inch patch of skin unmarred by some kind of laceration. Fresh cuts sat atop an intricate web of scar tissue and her skin formed into miniature X's wherever a fresh gash happened upon one that had'nt fully healed. Small holes offered windows to the world of organs and muscle within. Scrapes ran about her body in perfect curves like the intricate line patterns found in many Mosques. Fingernails and toenails ran the spectrum from nearly full to entirely absent, with blistered skin suggesting many had been recently ripped from the socket. Looking at her, it was impossible to escape the notion that these injuries were done by a calculating, sentient mind with the aim of inflicting as much suffering as possible.
Actually, there was one place on her body that was slightly different than the rest. On the small of her back, there was a large, circular hole much larger than the others, about two inches in diameter. There was nothing separating hee spinal cord from the outside world, and there was an odd spiral pattern that seemed to have been carved into the bone itself.
While we were deeply shaken by what we had seen, Mikhail in particular was profoundly disturbed. He had fallen to the ground, rolled onto his side, and his voice seemed completely devoid of expression. I knelt down next to him and put my hand on his shoulder. Despite something deep inside me knowing it was a lie, in as calm a voice as I could muster, I said:
"Relax. We're safe as long as we're on the boat, and it can't be too much longer until this fog clears."
There was a long pause as he stared at me the way a worn down first grade teacher might stare at a student who confidantly proclaimed that he had figured out a way to get rid of war and violence: all we have to do is take all the guns and knives away from all the bad people.
"No." He finally said. "We are not safe. We will not flee her."
"What do you mean?" I said incredulously. "Who the hell are you talking about?"
"She is the hunter. The cruel one. She has picked us as her prey. We will not escape."
"You mean whatever did this to that poor girl is after us? If she's as powerful as you seem to think she is, why hasn't she attacked us directly? Why bother with the fog and the mind games?"
"It's her way. She has many powers, but she can't leave the water. She does not need to. We will come to her. In time all of us will come to her."
"There has to be something we can do. If she can't leave the water than we should be safe as long as we stay on the ship. We can turn around. This fog can't be everywhere. It can't go on forever. If this fog really does stretch farther than we can sail, then the whole world would know about it by now. There would be rescue missions. Every news station on the planet would be reporting on the death fog and the hunt for all of the ships trapped within it."
Mikhail laughed a hateful laugh that shook me almost as much as seeing the girl.
"She has been around for ages." He said. "As long as man has sailed the sea. You think some pathetic beaurocrat or a TV news man will save us. We are trapped."
"There has to be something we can do." I pleaded.
"Yes. There is." He said. Lifting his hand he pointed a trembling finger behind me.
I had been so engrossed in Mikhail's words that I had not noticed the commotion going on around me. I turned and saw people crowding together. I realized that all eyes were on Georgy. There was panic in his voice as he screamed out in his native tongue. The rest of the crew had assumed docile, placating tones and began slowly mving towards him. I made my way through the crowd just in time to see him drag the knife across his throat. All the fear and trembling fled his body as he crumpled to the floor.
The shock coursed through us, and we all began to truly grasp the true hopelessness of our position, each of us coming terms with it in our own way. Alexi and Nergui by walking away for a moment of solitude. Rodion by weeping atop Georgy's lifeless body. Ganzorig by screaming into the uncaring and all consuming fog. The rest us stood motionless like a rat in the talons of an eagle, utterly aware of the futility of struggle. Time moved on. Alexi and Nergui returned. Ganzorig went quiet. Rodion's sobs became muffled whimpers. Once again, silence fell upon us. Once again, it was broken by the screaming.
"She comes." Mikhail said.
The screaming was much like it was earlier, a chorus of suffering pressed into a single voice. This time, however, it was not a girl's voice. It was Viktor. As he reached the side of the ship the bestial ululations slowly took on the shape of human language. The climbs and dives in pitch made translating everything he said impossible, but certain words: "death", "kill", "please", "end", and "mercy" made his message painfully clear. The crew fanned out to gather what they could to aid him, some people grabbing the rope that was still tied from earlier, others, like myself, sprinting to our quarters to collect some device or another. I grabbed my backpack and ran back onto the deck, fumbling through my collection of trinkets and essentials until I found the set of throwing knives I purchased in St. Petersburg. I ran to the railing and did my best to aim at my target, a body at once familiar yet at the same time so contorted in agony that it seemed entirely unknown. Most of my shots were wide off the mark, but even the few that weren't proved just as useless. Every time something came close enough to potentially end his misery, he would be dragged under the water, only to emerge moments later.
My ammunition exhausted I watched as the rest of the crew fared similarly. Even Alexi, who had the foresight to tie his machete to one of the lengths of rope so he could retrieve it, eventually came to realize the futility of this game. When he realized his best chance was to try and sever the long tenticle hooked into Viktor's back, the creature moved him fifteen feet or so further from the ship, enough to ensure a fatal loss of accuracy but not enough to deaden the screams. With all hope of releasing our friend from his suffering evaporated, our crosshairs turned towards easier targets. Rodion began raving, and within moments Kee Sye told me we were going to storm the bridge and turn the ship around by force.
As we crowded around the top of the stairs, we realized Vladislav and Zakhar had barricaded the door. Rodion, Ganzorig, and Nergui took turns ramming it with their shoulders, Wei ran off looking for an improvised battering ram, while Kee Sye and myself went to the deck to see if we climb up and talk to them through the forward window. Perched precariously on the small ledge running along the second floor window, we saw too wide eyed men who seemed on the brink of delirium. They were intently gazing at something out on the horizon, and when I had carefully twisted myself around I realized we were sailing directly towards a single point of light cutting through the fog in the distance.
"Don't you see!" I yelled, with Kee Sye dutifully translating. "That is obviously a trap."
A furious burst of Russian, followed by Kee Sye's English rendition.
"We will be free. This nightmare will be over. There is lighthouse aheas, or a rescue ship no doubt."
"She's toying with us. This is all part of her mind game. For the love of God, don't sail towards the light."
"They will rescue us. They must have been sent when they heard our distress call."
"For all we know our distress call never even went out. None of our equipment has worked since we've been stuck in this fucking fog."
"They are coming to rescue us. You will see. You will thank me when this is over."
This continued for some time. Eventually, we realized that there was nothing we could say to get through to them. We climbed down and walked over to where Mikhail had stayed, and layed down next to him, resigned to our fate.
Viktor's screams began to die down, or else we were just too numb to notice them, as the light grew larger and larger. The continuous banging let us know that the efforts to break down the door had been just as pointless. I turned towards the sky, trying to see if I could get one last look at the late afternoon sun, but even this was foiled by the merciless fog. Somehow, I began to feel tired. My eyelide drifted closer and closed. I wondered how long it had been since I slept.
I was awakened by a roaring symphony of destruction; metal being cut apart, various componants of the ship clanging into each other, the death wail of engines. I didn't realize I was in the air until I came crashing into the foreward railing. I looked up and saw hundreds of rocks towering over me. They were shaped like spikes, four feet in diameter at their widest, shooting out of the water at various angles, some of them stretching forty feet above me. I quickly realized that the ship was pinned in its mangled position by the vertical spikes, while the angular ones had gutted her insides. Blended into the clamor of the sinking ship were even more screams. It was not just Viktor this time. With panic radiating through my body I realized that not everyone was lucky enough to have been saved by the railing. I sat up, scanned my surroundings, and noticed that both Kee Sye and Mikhail were nearby, apparantly having hit the rail five to ten feet down from where my body had battered it.
As I sat up, I heard a commotion further down the ship. I watched as Vladislav and Zakhar sprinted out from the stairwell, and realized they were taking off towards the free fall life boat. I jumped up, called out for Kee Sye and Mikhail to follow, then took off towards the stern with the two of them close behind. I watched as another two figures emerged from the stairwell in pursuit of the captain; it was Wei and one of the Mongolians. They were about 50 feet ahead of us, and by the time we rounded the corner they were allready struggling with the Vladislav and Zakhar, who were now inside the craft. Nergui was at the doorway, attempting to both hold the door for the rest of us and stop Zakhar from engaging the drop switch. Wei was right behind him, jittering and trying to figure out if there was anything he could do. Rodion's expression indicated he had just come to as he sprinted around the opposite side of the aft while struggling to draw comprehension out of the confusion. Wei yelled something and he came charging towards them just as Vladislav pulled Nergui into the life boat, slammed the door behind him, and pulled the release. It went flying, slamming into Rodion on its way into the water and dragging him into the ocean. By the time we got to the waters edge there was no sign they had ever been there.
We didn't have any time to mourn their loss. Within moments of their departure, the ship let out a deep, creaking wail. We fanned out along the railings, trying to better assess the situation, but there wasn't enough time. The Сумерки бегу had cracked about 30 feet aft of the center, and the deck was rapidly tilting backwards. As I cursed myself for not saving one of my knives, the remaining crew began shouting in Russian. Suddenly, Kee Sye yelled that some of the timber bundles were drifting out of the exposed stowage, and that if we hurried we might be able to make the jump. I took of towards the split, and realizing I wouldn't have enough time to scope things out, used my remaining momentum to make a leap of faith into the abyss.
My knees were the first to connect with the hard wood, acting as a pivot for momentum to transfer towards my face, which cracked the timber when the two inevitably met. I spent the next few moments in a daze, oblivious to the chaos that surrounded me as I assessed the damage. My nose was badly broken, and one of my front teeth was hanging on by a thread. I mourned the loss of my first aid kit until I went to lay down and felt my backpack propping me up. I dug out the kit, stuffed some gauze into my nose, and then laid back and rested my eyes for a moment.
The remaining daylight was almost gone when I reopened them. With a slightly clearer mind, I began to seriously assess my situation. There was no sign of the ship, the rocks, or anything but endless water, though this was hardly surprising given the ever faithful fog. What did surprise me was that I thought I could hear voices in the distance, ones that were not wailing in agony but seemed to be talking. I yelled out, and heard both Kee Sye and Mikhail answer back. They were sharing a bundle raft, and seemed maybe fifty to a hundred yards away. Mikhail had broken his leg in the fall, and was seriously worried about it getting infected. Niether had any supplies, so they couldn't even amputate if it came down to that. I told them that I had a first aid kit, but I wasn't sure how I could get to them. Apparantly we were caught in a current and were heading in the same direction, but as far as they knew we were not getting any closer. All of a sudden I heard a voice yelling in Russian from the other direction. It seemed much closer than the others, and I quickly realized that it belonged to Alexi. After a few minutes talking to Kee Sye he began to slow down and enunciate clearly for my benefit.
He said that he was below deck when the ship crashed, and he climbed onto his bundle before the Сумерки бегу ripped apart. Apparantly, due to a pressing need to get as far from the collapsing ship as possible, he discovered that if you grabbed hold of planks of wood, kept your chest on the raft, and kicked with your legs at the edge of the water, you could propel yourself forward without falling into her clutches. I was naturally hesitant, and made no secret of this fact, but I began to hear a rhythmic splashing sound in the distance. I dug through my pack, found my flashlight, and shined it at the source of the noise. I saw another makeshift lifeboat emerge from the darkness with a man spread halfway between it and the water.
Mikhail had understood enough of what was happening that he began to plead for me to come as quickly as possible. Concern for my friend suppressed the last remnants of my fear, so I took off my pants and found a good spot on the raft with beams of timber that stuck out enough for me to grab hold. I gripped the wood, and as I went to stick my legs in an odd feeling I couldn't quite identify struck me. I grabbed my flashlight and turned it to the ocean. The light glided across the inky water before finally stopping at a massive pair of bulging white eyes almost directly under me. They were each two feet long and about a foot below the water. Entirely white save two pill sized black dots, they slanted inwards, and rose trembling out of their sockets with wild excitement. I moved the light towards the raft, and at the exact place my feet were about to enter was a perfectly round, gaping mouth; its lips, stretched to the waters edge, were peeled back, revealing layers of jagged, hooked teeth that wound their way down the gaping chasm.
I reached into my pack, grabbed a nesting doll of Soviet leaders, and hurled it directly at the bulging eye. She let loose a high pitched, clicking cry and darted off, propelled by webs made out of hundreds of fan shaped fins connected to her upper body. As she passed I saw malformed breasts, swollen to the point that they were leaking out the blood that apparantly filled them, and hundreds of tenticles emanating from the base of her torso. Some ended with jagged hooks reminiscent of her teeth, others long straight spikes, some tapered into writhing, wormlike extensions. A few of them were buried into the backs of my former crewmates. I saw Zakhar flailing about with panic in his eyes as though he were perpetually drowning, his facial muscles allready beginning to stretch back beyond their normal limits. I lifted my head just in time to see Alexi's pure white eyes meet my own. Without breaking his gaze or reacting in the slightest, he reached his hand into his mouth and ripped out his tongue whole, before being dragged back into the water.
The next few days were spent drifting in and out of delirium. The three bottles of water in my pack saved me from immediately succombing to dehydration, but did not save me from having to endure the endless screaming. Some came from her toys, and some came from Mikhail and Kee Sye. On the first day they pleaded with me to find some way of joining them, on the second they rained down curses on me for abandoning them, on the third they went silent. Early on I tried to reason with them, tell them there was nothing I could do, but when men stand at the brink of death reason begins to lose its power. After the third day I too was out of water. I laid there for what felt like ages, waiting for the merciful hand of death.
When I first heard the helicopter I chalked it up as another auditory hallucination. I didn't fully accept its existence until I felt the warm hands of the rescue crew lifting me onto the stretcher. After I recovered some of my strength, I worked up the courage to ask them about Mikhail and Kee Sye. I didn't hold out much hope for their survival, but I figured the least I could do was ensure they had a proper burial. When I asked, the copilot gave me an odd look, and when I inquired further he told me: "You were the only one. We checked all of the other wood piles and they were totally empty. No clothing. No waste. No sign that anyone had ever been there at all."