The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
Spotlights from helicopters danced across the blue Caribbean ocean, and crews on other ships shouted at each other. Ignoring the panic around her, Vera sat on the side of her boat and double-checked her scuba gear. The last few sunset cruises were loading up and hightailing it to shore, leaving her boat gently bobbing beside Ned’s. A helicopter circled. Its spotlights searched across Ned’s empty boat. They couldn’t know he’d gone below more than an hour ago. It might be a relief to find him in distress, just to save his pride.
Loudspeakers demanded all ships return to shore for their own safety. Ha! Vera finished shoving her hair under her wetsuit and flipped them the finger. She’d always hated to be told what to do. She slapped the tattoo on her forearm, hidden beneath the black wetsuit, and toppled overboard. Her inked anchor had brought her luck when she was working the oil fields. That had been a dog-eat-dog world, and she’d held her own. Same thing when she’d gotten back and started salvaging wrecks. You couldn’t much argue underwater while wearing gear, but you had to demand respect. She’d never backed down. Ned got that. He said the anchor wasn’t about water, it was about being her being so immovable. That was enough to win her over. Sometimes they’d even gone out diving together, but he’d been alone today.
The water was definitely turning darker. The radio called it an oil leak, except this wasn’t the kind of response an oil leak got. She had a hunch it all went back to the carving they’d found last night. Ned had invited only her and a couple veteran divers to see it. When they returned, they went straight to McGinty’s Bar. She’d tried to describe its nauseating yet appealing power. Ned had taken pictures, but on paper it wasn’t even much to look at, just a circle within circle, carved into rock. He’d claimed it sealed the underworld.
The only underworld she believed in was the bottom of the ocean.
Looking back at Ned’s determination, she should have taken the old cuss more seriously when he said, “That carving makes me shivery. Think I’ll break it loose and hang it on my wall.”
Fortunately, when the call came to evacuate this stretch of ocean, she’d already been on her boat with her tanks and wet suit. Finding his boat bobbing right there, she knew he’d gone after the carving. Even if Ned was an idiot who dove alone, she wasn’t going to leave him down there.
She descended, sinking from the strobe of spotlight, swallowed by darker waters.
Her dive light returned color to the seafloor. The oozing seal lay just ahead. Was it connected to the underworld, like Ned said? Vera wanted to scoff, but her scuba mask muffled it into a burp of bubbles. She swam closer, drawn by the pool of blackness barely visible in her light. Here, tendrils like wisps of a dust devil avoided her light. She spotted Ned’s figure and swam closer. Strange that he didn’t respond to her light. Was it just a rock outcropping? She touched his shoulder, and it crumbled beneath her glove. She flinched. His brittle husk spun slowly. His hood fell back from a blackened skull. Behind his body, her light touched the carving.
The stone glinted, circles within circles. Life. Power. Midnight-black tendrils seeped into the water, flirting around her light, like the lattice of a Faberge egg, surrounded her. She spun in a slow circle, heart pounding. Tentacles of sinewy corruption darkened the world to a chamber, a bubble, bordered only by the blackness. Power sizzled, somehow tickling her skin through the thick barrier of her suit. A tendril slithered close. She flinched, but the cage was collapsing. She flashed her light across it, the last gaps closing before she could snake through. Animal panic sent her pulse racing and she released the flashlight to scrabble against the thing that surrounded her. It made contact, wrapped her, crushed her, and held her suspended in a husk of blackness apart from the world. She sensed its foreign nature, the evil inherent in its otherness. It could not survive in this world, not as it was, so it consumed and corrupted all it touched.
A feather-touch of pain sizzled along her cheek. Tears collected inside her mask and she contorted, fighting the power that held her. She opened her mouth to scream and the darkness washed across her, corrupting and transforming her.
She snarled, recognizing that it changed her into something like itself, full of power and rage. Somehow, that was better. She’d always hated to be helpless. She opened her mouth and sucked in more. The buzz traveled down her throat and nestle in her chest. She stopped struggling and swept her arms out to gather more, to invite it in, to take and chew and swallow. She consumed, drawing it in with an embrace of delight that only grew stronger. Too late, it realized that she wasn’t the one consumed; she used her strength to consume it.
She twisted, drawing the swirling darkness into a whirlpool around her, like cotton candy on a stick. Yes, there it was. Its power surged inside her. She snapped at a tendril. Let her be a monster, then!
Her teeth sank into the tentacles, tough as octopus. They were the same flesh, and what had been flimsy was easy to grab and shove. Black blood spurted into her mouth, filling her with power.
She grabbed another.
It had tried to gain power over her, but two could play that game.
She filled her mouth. Flesh tore. Who had more power now?
It consumed worlds, but she consumed it.
Fiction © Copyright H.E.Roulo
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
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