To Believe, or Not To Believe
Gone? What did that even mean, gone?
Darkness began to swirl into every nook and cranny of her mind, but Alice waved away the darkness and lengthened her stride to keep up with Merna with the rich, burgundy rug softening her pounding footsteps. She’d misunderstood. That had to be it. She hadn’t meant gone, gone.
Alice finally caught up as the wood paneled corridor widened and arched high above her, shadows encasing the ceiling. For being underwater, they sure wasted a lot of space down here.
Merna began talking as she slowed to a stop, “I’m sure you have questions. I have questions too. Come on in,” and she walked forward golden leafed doors swinging open.
Merna strode forward into an intricately decorated circular room covered in greenery. Alice hesitantly stepped in. Water gurgled, and she saw a glass wall shimmer with tumbling water. Beyond it the dark depths of the sea loomed through a concaved window enveloping most of the far side of the room and around the edges there was an ever so faint glimmer of the vessel’s blue outer casing.
Merna indicated for Alice to sit as she herself sat on the matching post modern blue sofa.
Alice settled uncomfortably into her seat, body tense.
Merna leaned forward on her elbows then steepled her fingers waiting.
Merna nodded and sat back relaxing, “I’ll start with mine then. First how did you find us, and what are you doing here?”
Alice relaxed. She could answer those questions, “I didn’t find you. You guys led me here.” Merna raised a brow at that.
“As for why I’m here, I’m on an internship, a maritime archaeological dig with Dr. Leland and a team of postgraduates. We are starting from the edge of the northern trench of the Coral Sea and will end up at the Great Barrier Reef.”
Merna let silence fill the room. Alice squirmed waiting. Merna leaned forward watching Alice’s face carefully as she replied, “We did not lead you here. Tell me why you think that.”
Now that Alice thought about it, the man who led her to them was garbed differently from Merna’s men. Also, he had disappeared once the mammoth vessel had appeared.
Alice hesitated, then said, “Well, I thought I saw someone and followed then down to your ship, but maybe I was affected by the attack from the Kraken. It really shook me.”
Merna gave a nod a thoughtful look in her eye. “I’ll accept that for now. But I’m not buying your reason for being here.”
After a pause, she began again, “I’m guessing you are hoping to find out what happened to your mum,” she slowed seeing the glimmer in Alice’s eyes, she continued, “I can tell you that she went down in her diving gear and never came up.”
She sighed and turned to look out the window as if the truth was too hard to say, too hard to face. “Then we finally found out what happened.” She turned back to Alice with a shimmer in her eye. The Captain did have emotions, Alice thought just before the captain shot out, “A kraken got her.”
Alice’s heart hardened, refusing the words. Merna might have known her mom, but Alice wouldn’t believe it, because she KNEW her mom. Mom was smart and resourceful and extremely cautious. And unless Alice saw proof, she would not be moved. There had to be a different explanation.
The Captain leaned forward. Her eye brows drawn into a growing worry line. “Alice I wished I had a different answer. I wish it wasn’t these beasts. I wish they would go back to where they are from. They shouldn’t even be here, the bloody beasties.” The sudden savageness in her eye brought a coldness to Alice.
Then a thought came to her and she had to know, “You’ve been hunting the beasts haven’t you? Because of what happened to mom?”
Merna sat back, her eye empty and cold. “Your mom had been on the team because of me. I would never have invited her if I had known about what we were going to encounter.”
Alice whispered, “They aren’t from here, are they?”
Merna’s eye sharpened, “The beastie talked to you, did it?” She leaned back across the desk and lowered her voice, “Those creatures certainly wants us to believe that. The Krakens use images and twist their experiences to scare us away. Those beasties want us to believe a whole other world is down there in those depths.”
She stood and walked up to the window peering into the water world beyond it, “What I know Alice is that we’ve woken the monsters and now we bear the consequences of dealing with them. The technology of these ancient people seem to give us a good idea of how to defend against and even hunt them.”
Merna turned around, “I will kill everything down here. We will get all the resources we need from them, and we will dominate as man always has. What matters is what our people need. Their city and world and way of being is dead if it ever existed.” Her eye showed her whole being was set on her cause.
How could animals have a city? She spoke like the animals were a people group. Alice gripped her hands together and buried her question.
Merna continued passion ebbing in her voice into a reassuring tone, “Alice, these creatures will die for what happened to your mom, even if I have to lose another eye to them.”
Alice’s heart-felt hopes began to waver. The captain truly believed mom had been killed. “Captain Merna, no body has been found, right? You know mom is resourceful. Maybe she-”
“No,” Merna interrupted, “We may have found no body, but with her scuba gear in the belly of that beast…The stomach acid gets rid of organic matter quickly. So all those items we found are the only things that could survive its stomach.” Merna’s hard eyes took her in, considering Alice. She came to a conclusion.
“Alice, I want to let you see your mom’s things. Wait here,” and she left Alice there while the girl’s heart was slowly being pulled over the edge into a dark world where one never plans to be. And it crept. The darkness. It came from the corners, swirled around her legs and up and up…darkening her vision and stealing her hope, and yet she whispered, “Unless I see proof, I will not be moved.”
It was in a box.
Merna had brought in what was left of mom’s diving gear in it, and sat it down on the sofa. “Alice, I’ll give you time. But I will also bring some of her things from our research.”
Yes, Merna was giving her time. Time to accept what Merna had been trying to tell her all along. That Mom was gone.
And the box sat on Merna’s sofa.
Alice stood and stared down at the white box. The room was ice cold. She couldn’t even feel her trembling fingers touch the box. She lifted the white lid.
Like her submarine, the equipment was scarred like it was burned and what little shreds of rubber were left were horribly disfigured. It left nothing to the imagination as to what happened to the human being wearing the equipment. Alice covered her mouth, stomach heaving and crushed the lid down in her other hand, and collapsed to the floor by the sofa eyes closed.
Breathe in – breathe out. Breathe in – breathe out.
Just breathe Just breathe Just breathe
The counselor said the panic attacks or this feeling of drowning in her grief were common, were normal. You just needed to breathe through them. Breathe in, breathe out.
“Breathe,” she whispered, eyes burning. A choked sob and whisper, “It can’t be true.” Yet the cold, hard evidence was literally in her hands. This had actually been what she’d been seeking. Closure. Opening her eyes, she focused on the wall of water telling herself not to cry, just face the truth, accept the truth.
But this wasn’t right. It was too real, too wrong.
It’s just a bad dream. Just a bad dream! She would wake up, and she’d be at her summer apartment. Mom would eventually call from her special satellite phone at sea. Dad would have her over for dinner and they would have their routine conversation and the world would be alright. She sunk to the floor and burying her head in her arms to hide from the world, to hide from herself, and to hide from reality.
After a time, Alice raised her aching, swollen head and saw more boxes at the door. She crawled over to them.
Her sticky, wet hair was pasted to her forehead. Using her fingers to brush it from her face, she preceded to wipe her nose and scoot closer to what her mom had left behind. At the open box, she gripped the edges as another sob attempted to waylay her. Alice whispered tightly, “Its fine. Its fine. Its fiiiine.” Breeeeaathe.
A heaving breath out and it began to pass, the tightness in her chest.
Then Alice began to look.
She made herself look.
The boxes were full. Full of mom’s notes, piles and piles of them and pictures of the underwater dig site. Deep inside of Alice something sparked at pictures of the ancient city that was being revealed. A something she thought was dead. Alice pulled out the next pile. It contained sketches of monsters and blurry pictures of a beast that made her heart skip. It was him, the kraken. Mom had been close enough for pictures? Why had she stayed if she knew?
Alice began to study the notes. Mom was a master maritime archaeologist but organizing notes required great effort from her. She tended to save doing it until the end. As she waded through all the information, she found notes from dad. His writing she could barely understand. His writing was even worse than mom’s. And Dad liked taking notes on his I-pad by hand. It appeared that Dad had been helping mom translate the language. Apparently it was a relative to Greek and Latin.
That must have been fun. Alice felt envy peek its head. Why hadn’t they asked her to help them? Knowing dad, he would never have thought to mention it to her. Shrugging it off, she moved on.
Something glinted in the corner of the box, separate from everything else, like it wasn’t meant to be there. Reaching towards it, Alice realized it was a slim video cam. Flipping the screen open, she turned it on and waited for it to power up.
Beep Beep Beep.
Immediately a video began to play.
Alice’s breath stopped short. She gave a small cry, “Mom?”
“Hello! Guys, don’t leave me hanging here.”
Smiling through her tears, Alice walked over to curl up on the blue cushioned seat, cradling the video cam in her hands close to her face.
Leaning into the camera, her blonde haired, blue-eyed mom adjusted the tilt and leaned back.
“Clara, we’re both here,” Julian’s voice cracked softly on the audio.
Clara smile softened, “Hi, honey. I’m so glad we were able to connect. The island’s WiFi isn’t as reliable as I’d like.” The view screen split all at once. Clara, Julian, and Ian were quartered to all be viewable.
“Where’s Dr. Drew?” Ian asked.
Just then the bottom right corner flickered and a nose and large mouth filled the small corner screen.
“Uhh…? Dr. Drew?” Clara leaned forward with a smile. “Dr. Drew try leaning back.” The large face shrunk to normal size and they saw an older gentleman in button up shirt and bow tie beaming at them.
“Oh my, I’ve figured it out. Alfred Butler take that! I told him it would be easy.” The older gentleman chuckled. His face however was upside down. No one seemed inclined to let him know.
Clara laughed, “Tell Alfred that Clara says hello.”
The conversation continued like so. They had apparently gathered to help Clara as she was stumped on what she was uncovering at the dig site, and there was a strange lack of pottery that tended to pepper these ancient sites.
As Alice listened in to the recorded conversation, the group dug further and further in to each item with her mom jotting down notes. They were concluding that the strange artifacts that were definitely man-made but they weren’t able to make heads or tails of them. It was all too alien.
“Clara, maybe their activated by water? This civilization was by the sea most likely. I know, I know, I’m crazy, but just humor me.” Julian’s intent gaze peered at Clara with a small grin. Dad? Being the imaginative one? Alice touched the screen. She missed dad’s smile.
Clara walked away from the screen and came back with a black formed object with something sticking out that looked like a ballerina, like a little mechanical toy. Clara had been unable to puzzle out how it was supposed to work. But now, she grabbed a cup of water and going against all procedural processes and trusting my dad, she drizzled water over it.
Clara gave a faint smile, “I’m sure you already thought of this, but it came out of the water.”
Julian nodded, “Okay, now, press the buttons or whatever you did before.” Clara tilted the delicate dancing girl and glinting along the side were faint script of some sort. “Wait, Clara, what’s that script say?”
“Hmm…Dear, I think we will have to decipher this language, because I have no idea.”
The call continued that they’d meet up again after some headway had been made on translation. No doubt that was the key to figuring out how their technology worked, for this particular piece anyway.
Ian and Dr. Drew left, giving mom and dad their time.
“I’m so excited for you, Clara. This is the find of the century for sure.” His tender gaze embraced her mom. Alice’s heart ached. Where had this dad gone?
“Julian, I wish both you and Alice could be here. But it is good for Alice to make friends and break out on her own.” Her dad nodded, but after a moment, Clara narrowed her eyes. “What is it Julian?” Mom had an uncanny ability to read emotions, and it felt like she could read your thoughts. She was so an empath if such a thing existed.
Julian dropped his gaze. “Alice came over last night.”
Clara waited, “And?”
“I miss her. Having her home.” He wouldn’t look up.
A smile inched across mom’s face.
“Julian, are you pouting?” She started laughing. His face went red. Alice was dumbfounded. “Okay, Julian, I’m sending you a letter with all the activities that I can think up for you to do with Alice. And Julian?”
She waited until he looked up. “Tell her. She won’t know what you are feeling or thinking if you don’t tell her.” He looked like she’d asked him to pull out all his teeth.
“Clara,” was all he said.
Her tender gaze embraced him through the screen. Alice suddenly felt like she had invaded on their privacy. She began to move to turn it off when her dad finally broke, “I just think, she’d rather be anywhere else but with me. I think me not being there is the best thing for her.”
Alice stomach clenched. Is that what he really thought? Why had he never talked to her?
“I’m going to stop you right there. Your daughter loves you. She needs you, even if you don’t see it. Now, mister, you are being assigned to make a movie date with her at home. Make popcorn. You know the fun popcorn with Nacho Cheese that you like, okay?”
He nodded. Then after a few ‘I love yous’ they signed off.
Alice let the memories come. She faintly remembered dad trying to make a movie night together, but something at school had come up. Her heart began to ache. She’d never realized dad was so insecure about how much she needed him.
All of a sudden, the video started up again, all by itself. The video was dark, but a man’s voice came across the feed. “Alice, please look into what’s going on here. I put some confidential emails in the stack in this box. Don’t show these things to anyone. Don’t trust anyone. Be safe. Your mom would-” the video cut off.
What? Was someone messing with her?
Alice replayed the video.
Silence filled the room after it ended. No doubt someone would soon be coming for her. It had been awhile since Merna left her. She went back to the box by the door then brought it back to the chair. The video cam must have just been put in the box for it to be addressed to her. She slid it into her zippered pocket on her side before turning back to the box.
Flipping through the papers, Alice quickly found the emails.
The first email seemed okay. It was just an update on her findings. The second however her mom was requesting the Navy to be present if they were to continue. The third requested that they end the project until all sonic blasts had ceased within a 1000 mile radius. The fourth demanded action and that she would be closing up the site that week. That was the end of the emails. It was dated the week mom had disappeared.
Alice knew the government had been the funding behind the project, right? Why hadn’t they taken her seriously? Who would really ignore the head researcher and why?
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