Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Galleon's Ghost

The water was dark, and murky, a trackless land of shimmering shadow, with only the occasional flurry of movement from some boisterous fish to break the silent vigil the great expanse made.
            But then, a beam of light cut through the still, black water. A solid beam of light, to shear and bright to be of any natural cause; and, sure enough, as the spear of light grew steadily larger the culprit slowly pealed itself away from the inky darkness enveloping it and swam steadily closer.
            The figure was that of a diver, a scuba-diver; decked out in full underwater regalia. Scuba-mask, air tank, wet suit, flippers, a small satchel, and the powerful flashlight that he wore on the helmet clamped around his head. Completely prepared for his excursion into the murky depths of which he was so alien to.
            The diver slowly descended, propelling himself forward with his hands and rubbery flippers, his headlamp ever lighting the way.
            He continued on like this for quite a time, until at last, the sea bed came into focus. An expanse of warped sand dunes, heaving up and down, numerously dotted with swaying seaweed and corral and stone formations.
            Though the divers view was painfully limited, his lamp barely creating a corona more than ten feet around, and at that very week indeed, so much so that at the outer edges the black shadows seemed to nip and bight at the flickering edges of the light that so chafed it.
            Seemingly unsatisfied with the voluminous rock spire to his left and the school of inquisitive cod to his right, he kicked off from the sea floor, in doing so creating a minor mushroom cloud of grainy sand that swirled up and then slowly fluttered back down to its original resting place.
            Kicking strongly now, he sped through the inclosing darkness, his head bobbing from side to side, as if searching for something. This caused a strange light show as the wide beam of radiance bounced and bobbed from place to place, upsetting several denizens of the deep as its benign presence swooped over them.
            Steadily the landscape became more interesting, chunks of wood, unnaturally shaped pieces that seemed out of the ordinary from the normal drift wood. And here and there pieces of unmistakable humanity lay half buried in the sand.
            A deformed and corroded cannonball was momentarily lit up by the speeding headlamp, and then a rusted knife, and then, at last, looming like a huge skeletal bird out of the whirling currents, the ship.
            It was enormous, and, even in its watery grave, with rot and ruin eating at it, it was still a magnificent ship. Near to eighty feet wide and half as broad, the ship’s masts lunged into the watery heights above, as if hoping to grasp at the long forgotten sea breeze that had filled their sails.
            The sides of the ships were cracked with the sea pressure, the paint flakey from the many currents that had washed over it. But the name was still visible on the stern, from which way the diver was swimming from.
            The Argentum it proclaimed, still a proud ship, even in the bowels of the ocean it had sailed so many years ago. The sail would also have no doubt stated this, but the years under the sea had taken its toll, and mere rags flapped in the currents of the sea that had finally swallowed it.
            Shunting these thoughts to the back of his mind, the diver concentrated on the task ahead, the task of retrieving the fabled treasure from the Argentum, verified to have been taken from Spain, as reward from the current king for protecting several merchant galleys crossing the ocean, and had sunk with the ship to the bottom of the ocean where it rested now. Archeologists had been seeking the Argentum for over a century. He too, was an archeologist, and at last, ahead of so many others; he had found it, and he planned to exploit the treasure as soon as humanely possible.
            With these thoughts still hanging in his mind, he swam forward, propelled himself over the gunwales and then sank to the rotted planks of the great ship Argentum. Now that he stood there, he began spotting signs of the terrible fate the ship had come to. Fleshless skeletons, completely naked save for scraps of once lustrous uniforms hanging from their bones, were scattered around the deck, some halfway up the mast, apparently in desperate attempts at freeing themselves from the roiling depths swallowing the ship.
            Yet more signs were cluttering the deck; several chunks of mast had fallen to the deck, denting it severely, obvious signs of a storm, and the mast itself listed to port in a dangerous way, as if recalling the terrible wind that had torn it partially from its roots.
            The man, curious as always, swam from skeleton to skeleton, sometimes grabbing their arms or legs and wiggling them experimentally, nine times out of ten the bones in question snapped off, soft from the constant battering of water pressure and currents. Once even, the diver thought he heard a moan of annoyance from one, but then shook it off as a figment of his imagination.
            But soon he grew tired of this, and was then drawn to the irresistible pull of the treasure hoard supposedly sitting expectantly in the bowels of the ship. He soon discovered the hatch, pinned under an enormous mass of tangles ropes and rotting chunks of mast.
            At first he attempted cutting through it with a knife from his satchel, but from the first feeble slice he knew it would take him days to cut through the pile of debris, and his air supply was limited. And so, going on a lightning inspiration, he stowed the knife in his satchel and drew from it instead a foot long iron bar with a bent end.
            Propelling himself more quickly than before toward a extensively collapsing and rotting stretch of planks, his hands now jittery with excitement, he brought the crowbar down and began tearing back the planks. They came away easily, some going so far as to disintegrate upon contact, but most just floated away, until they were pulled away on several powerful currents. And, within seconds, a ragged hole presented itself to the now almost giddy archeologist.
            Shoving the crowbar back into his satchel with unnecessary force, the diver/archeologist grabbed the sides of the hole and shoved himself down, his momentum carrying him into the depths of the ship, exactly where he wanted to be. If he could have, the diver would have giggled with joy.
            The inside of the ship was dark, or it would have been had not the diver’s headlight beam been painting a swath of brightness into the shadows. The place he had landed in was extremely drab, not even any skeletons in sight, but he knew that a ship like this would only have one back cabin and the large hold for the merchandise and the big cabin where the crew slept. He was now probably in the crew’s cabin, which had been no doubt emptied rather quickly as the ship sunk.
His thoughts were confirmed when he saw several ragged hammocks floating in the still water. Gripping the crowbar in his hands, just in case of any more blockages, the diver swam swiftly into the darkness, which soon became light, and after several seconds, he found the door to the hold, or door frame to be exact, it seemed that the mad stampede to get away from the rising water had managed to break down the door.
            Still wondering at this, he swam into the hold that surely held the treasure he’d searched for, for half his life, but, when the room was lit up, he became the recipient of a very great shock. It. Was. Not. There.
The shock of the moment would have made the diver/archeologist fall over, had it not been for the millions of tons of pressure on him. As it was, he did a sort of drunk half-back flip, and then came back to his rubber clad feet, trying to control himself. How could it not be there? Where else could it be? He had failed.
            And then, his mind kicked in and he contemplated that the captain mightn’t have been too bright to dump millions upon millions of dollars worth of treasure into an easily accessible place. A ray of hope slowly coalesced in his mind as he thought it over.
            Where would he put something of that value if he were the captain? And then it came to him, a solution so obvious that he actually smacked his forehead, movie style, nearly dislodging his headlight, not so much movie style.
            The captain’s cabin! It was so clear to him now that he was shocked his brain hadn’t converted the notion into conscious thought sooner. And, no doubt, it would probably be in some hidden chamber, his specialty, especially being an archeologist.
            Then suddenly, there was a strange and sudden glow from off to his left, nerves already on end from solving the mystery, he swiveled in the water, nearly descending to the floor in a slow motion fall due to his haste.
            But as soon as he had righted himself, the unnatural glow had disappeared. Some temporary bioluminescent fungi? But who had ever heard of temporary naturally glowing plants? Sweeping this to the bowels of his brain, he continued into the hold, convinced that he was now on the right track, soon forgetting about the strange glow, something that was very ill advised.
            As he swam on into the hold, and towards the supposed treasure chamber, the diver was the recipient of several more ghastly spectacles, skeletons frozen in the eternal act of attempting escape from their watery grave, some hanging on protuberances from the ceiling, and some clawing at the walls in an immortal plea for salvation.
            Also, he saw many weapons, all bent and rusted from their many years in the depths. And; for some reason; a rather lost looking cannon was propped against the wall, half aimed at the ceiling. From the three skeletons clinging to it seemed it was a last ditch attempt at breaking through the ceiling and escaping the ship turned tomb.
            Passing below him were several indents in the ship, no doubt once meant for transferring spices and other such goods across the oceans, but now were empty, save for a few broken skeletons which had been swept in. Most likely the foods had been stripped away by inquisitive fish, and the other propaganda had no doubt mildewed and disappeared over time, disintegrated over the many centuries they’d lain there.
            And then, at last, the archeologist’s lamp lit up the far wall, now not so far. Cracked and rotten timbers bent in his direction like devilish claws, seeking to grasp the throats of unwelcome visitors to the ancient ship. The door to the stern cabin was in the middle of the wall, quite apparent apart from the walls, especially so as a sickly green glow emanated from the door crack, warped by the slightly upset water.
            Fear prickling the back of his neck now, the diver scrabbled as quietly in his pack for his knife, and then, with it clasped in his shaking hand, he swam forward toward the glowing light. Tentatively, he opened the door. With a muffled crash, it unhinged and smashed to the deck.
            All elements of surprise or otherwise gone on the water currents, the diver hovered before the door, paralyzed by terror at what underwater specter he might see. But then, as the rampant ripples caused by the falling door cleared, he saw what the glow had in fact been.
            Florescent fungi, a forest of it, the inside of the room, long and narrow, was almost completely covered by a bulbous growth of strange, glowing moss, that gave off the same glow that had terrified him so on the other side of the door.
            Almost collapsing with relief, though that would be tantamount to impossible with about a mile of sea water above him, the archeologist floated into the room, gaping around at the wonder of nature.
            What he especially was curious over was why the luminescent moss had forgone all other parts of the ship and had chosen this place alone. Perhaps it was the certain species of wood that contained the precise elements that set of the enigma of nature.
If this was so then it was certainly logical, for, from what the diver could make out of the walls, rooting as they were; were of an exotic and likely very expensive wood, perhaps dark cherry wood, or maybe birch of some kind.
            But the real reason for the unnatural glowing fungi would have turned the man’s hair several shades whiter than what was appropriate to his age. Though soon enough; he himself would realize the supernatural origin.
An archeologist to the heart, the diver soon passed over the beautiful formations of bioluminescent fungi, and began to wonder where the hidden treasure trove was, for now he was convinced for no apparent reason, that it was here in fact, without the shadow of a doubt.
            From his search of the cabin he found several pieces of furniture, some of them looking to be of the finest stock, chairs, couches, wardrobes, etc. Whoever this captain had been, he had been very well off indeed.
            But however many times he tugged on any likely looking protuberances on all of the furniture, whether nailed down or not, none of them gave light to the hidden chamber. He even swam up and turned the chandelier clockwise then counterclockwise, in search of some larger combination, causing it to unwind and nearly crush him in its sluggish descent.
            Now thoroughly disheartened, the diver began to push cushions of the couch and chairs, several of which disintegrated under his forceful pushing. And then, his shock and utter delight, he pushed the cushion of the last, strangely well preserved chair, and a horrible, grinding sound filled the cabin, then a sharp clunk from behind the chair.
            Hastily, the diver swam around the chair and saw an indent in the floor that hadn’t been there before, a rectangular patch of wood (or at least he thought it was wood later he realized it must have been some metal alloy) had sunken several inches into the fungi covered wood, though this patch had not a speck of luminescent plant on it.
            Now thoroughly excited, the archeologist swam up closer to the indentation, and shoved it, as hard as he could in his aquatic conditions. With a shrieking clang, the metal trap door swung open completely and crashed against something metal.
            Obviously, the trapdoor would have usually, after being activated, have swung open completely, but over time, it had been rusted by the water, and subsequently been stuck, only able to open partially when activated by the switch.
            But at the moment corrosion theories were not going through his mind, the two words that were bouncing around his cranium, repeating themselves over and over again in his thoughts; were the words he had been waiting to hear for a very long time. I’m rich, I’m rich, I’m rich! For, from his vantage point he could see through the gaping hole, directly into the softly glowing treasure room.
            His headlamp mixed with the glow of the moss around him reflected appropriately off of the mass of gold in the narrow room bellow. Piles, literally piles of coins, mounds and piles of it, all of it intricately made pesos. Crates and boxes packed the room also, no doubt stuffed with it as well. Several fortunes, all in one single room.
            Drunk with his victory, the archeologist dove into the treasure chamber and landed with a satisfying ring in a particularly large mound of gold. He ran his hands through it, letting the cold metal sift through his fingers, savoring the feel of a life of luxury to come. He went on like this for a while, almost crying with joy as his greedy eyes lapped up all the historical finds, and especially, especially the amount of money it would all amount to.
            But then something happened that stopped him cold in his current action, which was kissing a large coin. A cold voice, an unmistakable human voice came drifting out of the trap door above, a gravelly, deep and horrible voice that seemed to come from all sides to the petrified archeologist. It seemed as old as time, but all conscious thoughts were obliterated as the diver heard what it said.
            Ye are not welcome here, stranger. Fly, fly from this cursed ship, for you shall rest here eternal in those carnal riches that thou dance in now, lest that ye flee now and return never again!”
            At that moment you could have looked at the diver/archeologist and think you saw a statue, such was his fear, he was completely rooted to the spot, his only moment the slight side to side rock of the ship making the current shove him slightly from side to side.
            Then the voice came again.
            “Death, death, DEATH! It shall grasp you soon lest you flee now, with haste! GO!”
Galvanized into action by the second suggestion of the voice, the diver swam as fast as he could in a mad swim to get out of the ship, out of the sea, away from the ship, the skeletons, and especially the ghostly voice.
            He exploded from the treasure chamber with a speed born of terror, heading straight for the door, hoping against hope that he would make it. But he didn’t. Or he would have, had he not seen the apparition floating, wraithlike, in the far corner of the room.
            It was a terrible sight, the ghost, a good foot off the ground, cast of a sickly greenish yellow glow, which for a moment seemed to come from the fungus around him, but it was so intense around him that it was obviously of no natural cause.
            The ghost was that of a man, tall and bulky, once maybe hansom, but now, frozen in the moment of death, he was a ghastly sight. A great gash ran across his face, obliterating almost a quarter of his head in a horrifying hole in his skull. Brain tissue poked tentatively from the bowels of the hole, the eternal sign of his demise.
            But, his clothes and uniform showed unmistakable signs of rank, and, if the diver had not been so full of terror, so much so that barely any conscious thoughts beat their way through, he would have realized that this man was the captain of the underwater galleon.
            The ghost came forward, sluggishly pushing himself through the inclosing water, and as he did, much to the archeologists increased despair, more spectral beings peeled themselves from the walls, all showing their signs of death. Some merely bloated from asphyxiation, but many others showed signs of quicker, yet just as terrible deaths.
            Some had staved-in chests, others speared upon shafts of wood, no doubt falling from the torn masts. And even a cabin boy had a knife through his stomach, likely to have been a fear crazed sailor who had done it. And they all floated, however slowly, on toward the petrified diver.
            And then, with them feet away, once again he tore himself from his trance and swam faster then he’d ever swam, out of the cabin, out of the hold, up and out of the hole in the deck, up, up, never tiring, adrenalin and pure terror driving him ever onward, up out of the sea. All the time with the haunting cries of the phantoms following him.
            Until the end of his days, the man nether spoke of, or acknowledged the existence of the galleon that he had sought after so greedily, and never again, would he travel to places not meant to be disturbed; by living hands at least.

Written and edited by Z, third personality of Baner

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