Matt stood on the deck of his boat, gazing out over the gentle waves. This was the spot, all right. He would never forget the place he’d scattered the remains of the woman he loved. Just like she’d asked for. The place seemed somehow holier because of it, a feeling which persisted even though a year had gone by.
Thoughtfully, he fingered the small vial that hung like a pendant on a chain around his neck. Of course, he couldn’t let all of her go. He had to keep some part of her with him, no matter how small. Every now and then, he imagined the spoonful of ashes had come from his beloved’s lips, and he would kiss the vial gently before turning in for the night.
That was the kind of kiss he gave the vial now. “I’ll always miss you, Dana,” he said out loud.
At last, it seemed his visit was coming to an end. He was about to make his way back to the steering wheel when a large thump to the side of the boat nearly knocked him off his feet.
What the hell? Matt thought. He simply stood there for a moment, waiting to see if it would happen again.
There came another thump, this time to the other side. It was louder and stronger than the first.
Matt’s mind immediately went to whales. He shuddered. The idea of such massive creatures trying to knock him out of the boat and into the water… it was almost more than his sanity could bare. He tried to steady his breathing as he peered over the side of the boat.
The water was clear. There were no signs of any animals in the water. And what was more, everything was quiet now. Still.
The threat seemed to have passed. Slowly, Matt straightened himself up.
No sooner was he on his feet than a third thump, the largest and loudest of all, sent the boat rocking. Matt was unprepared. He toppled off his feet, smashed his side into the gunwale as he fell and then there was only water.
Matt flailed frantically, eyes clamped shut, completely clueless as to which way was up. It was then that something gripped his ankle. Matt begged for it to be seaweed he could simply kick off, but it felt distinctly like a hand with four fingers and an opposable thumb. His heart sank further when whatever gripped him seemed to be pulling him downward.
Matt opened his eyes. His fears were confirmed. Above him, he saw light and the silhouette of his boat---the symbols of salvation. But whatever had his ankle would not let him go, no matter how hard he kicked.
Suddenly, another hand grabbed his other leg, just below the knee. Then the hand on his ankle released only come back down on his outer thigh. The two hands climbed higher and higher up Matt’s body. He knew that, soon, he would come face to face with whatever was going to kill him.
And it was going to kill him. He had no hope of escaping.
Once again, he shut his eyes right. One hand was now at his waist, and the other finally clamped down onto his shoulder. A few seconds passed which, to Matt, felt more like an eternity. With his eyes still close, he flinched as he felt something hard and bumpy brush across his mouth. Softly at first but then harder. This patch of hard lumps seemed surrounded by something softer and pulp-like. Bits of it came off on his face.
What the fuck? Matt’s panic began afresh. What the fuck is it doing to me?
As soon as his face was set free, his eyes shot open. He was not prepared for what he saw.
Before him was a face, if it could be called that. It seemed to be made entirely of gray dirt or ash. Its sunken eyes stared out at him right above two holes that served as a nose. Worst of all, however, was its mouth. Where the rest of it was covered in some kind of ashy skin, the teeth and bones of its mouth were completely bare, giving the creature a gruesome, permanent grin.
The creature moved suddenly. Matt felt it grasp the vial around his neck. The chain broke free with one swift motion. Then, the creature seemed to release him. It removed its hands from him and sank back down into the darkness of the water below.
Matt wasted no time. He kicked and flapped like his life depended on it. At last, he broke the surface of the water and gasped in air until he felt his lungs would burst. He used his adrenaline to launch himself over the boat’s gunwale. At last, he was safe.
For a while, he simply lay there, trying to process what happened. Who would believe him when he made it back to land. No one. And yet, how was he going to keep this to himself. It was simply too extraordinary.
Out of habit, he reached for the vial that had hung around his neck, only to remember too late that it was no longer there. A stinging tear began to form in the corner of his eye.
His moment of mourning was cut short when another loud thump landed on the underside of the boat.
No, Matt begged silently. No, God, please.
He crawled to the gunwale and looked over. The sight made him shudder.
Swimming alongside the boat was a humanoid figure: a head, two arms, two legs. It was the same creature that had grappled him. It had to be. The thought that there could be more than one was enough to send Matt straight over the edge.
The creature then turned its head to Matt. A mix of horror and relief swam within him. Much of it was the same as before. Sunken eyes, slits for nostrils. But something was different. Now, it’s face was complete. No more ghastly, grinning bone.
Instead, it had a pair of jagged, black lips.