KRAKENS, SQUIDS, AND MONSTERS, OH MY
Present Day: London, England
Julian began to scratch out notes on the board for his guest lecture at the Royal Institute when he felt a presence looming in the back. Finishing his note, he turned his head. Nothing. He turned back to the board.
At the end of class people streamed out up the stairs. Julian straightened up the room and packed up. He began to follow everyone out when a man stepped out of the shadows. More like he creaked out of the shadows, the man was ancient.
“Professor Julian Blackthorne? I’m Professor Alfred Butler,” he said.
Julian tried to edge through the door. He had a flight to catch. He gave a small, polite smile, “Hello.”
Professor Butler’s large eyes looked owlishly at him from behind large round glasses. His face had a comical absentminded-professor look. And he blinked at Professor Blackthorne before he continued on. “It is good to finally meet Clara’s husband. I was her professor, before the, well, the-”
Julian’s smile disappeared. “What do you want?”
The old man, surprised at the abruptness, said, “I wanted to inquire after Alice. I thought that after her internship off the coast of Australia at the Great Barrier Reef that she might like to apply to join my research team that will…”
Julian didn’t hear the rest as those words echoed in his ears. Alice was at sea. He interrupted, “Did you say Alice is at sea? The Great Barrier Reef?”
Again startled, Professor Butler said, “Why, didn’t you know?” He took off his glasses and pulled out his hanky. “I was so proud to hear that Clara’s daughter is following in her mother’s footsteps and has such a wonderful internship even though she has yet to graduate.” He looked down and began to polish his glasses. “Imagine! Exploring the Great Barrier Reef!” The old man’s eyes sparkled as he put his glasses back on.
But the old man had been speaking to no one. Julian had left him there.
Julian strode through the history filled rooms of The Royal Institution and out onto the busy streets of London. He quickly found out where Alice’s college offices were located. Fortune was with him. They were one street over. He cut across to Dover Street.
He shivered, cold from having been caught in the mist earlier. Julian used to pride himself on his readiness for life. Of late however, his mind’s focus had not been what it used to be with the worry stewing there. Now, Julian’s mind rarely registered minor details in life, except maybe to routinely check his app for the weather.
However, today was not a day of readiness. He found Professor Leland’s office building, and he stood outside in the cold. It was, of course, locked. A mist began leading into a trickle and what would become a torrential downpour. He rested his head against the door and let out a breath.
“Why Alice?” He breathed.
Julian froze. Heat spread across his cheeks, and he turned. There stood the ancient professor’s head tilted with a small sad smile and an umbrella. One wondered how an old man got around so fast.
Sensing his question, Butler replied, “All kinds of shortcuts in this rambling old town if you look.”
He paused then stepped closer and held the umbrella over them both. “I’m guessing Alice didn’t tell you about the trip.”
Actually she had told him about the internship, just not that it was at the Great Barrier Reef.
“And why would she?” Butler continued. The old man walked over to the office door and pulled out a key. “She probably thought you wouldn’t let her go, I’m assuming. If I know anything about students, they all want to get away from home for the most part. Sneaky buggers,” he chuckled.
Then the man continued,”Now, Professor Leland asked me to watch his office, but he never mentioned not going inside,” he wagged his bushy brows toward Julian and held out the key. Julian hesitated then reached for it.
Alfred pulled back. “A moment, what exactly are you going to do? Run after her? Doesn’t seem you two are very close if she hasn’t confided in you about the trip.”
Julian gave him a deadpan stare then turned and walked away.
Alfred Butler was bemused, some students never grew up. “Blackthorne!” he shouted as the man’s long stride had already carried him down most of the street. Julian glanced back, face impassive. Alfred smothered a chuckle.
“Have a care man, I cannot just open any professor’s door without understanding the reason.” He gave Julian a beseeching look.
Julian nodded with an arched brow and walked back to the old professor and then gave him an evaluating look. “About a month ago I received a package.” Not an impressive start to any story. “From my dead wife.” Now that was a turn.
At Alfred’s attentive gaze, Julian continued in his deadpan voice, “Receiving a package from the dead should be a gift, but for me… I thought my wife died at sea, and now, I’m not so sure.”
Alfred’s brows drew together and created more wrinkles than any one person should have, “What exactly are you saying, Blackthorne?”
Julian’s haunted eyes spoke of sleepless nights, “I received pictures. Pictures of creatures and pictures of the things they found near the Great Barrier Reef in the northern part of the Coral Sea. And a note. From my wife. She asked me to look into a few people and a business. So far it looks like they never existed. ”
Julian started rubbing a thumb over his other hand massaging it. “I also haven’t heard anything about her research being posted so I started looking into that too.” At this he stared into the professor’s eyes seeking understanding. “Professor Alfred, I am finding that the government has classified everything. And now I learn that Alice may be near the area my wife was last alive and possibly where she died. I just want to make sure they aren’t anywhere near that area and nowhere near the creatures I’ve seen in those pictures.”
Without a word, Alfred opened the door.
Julian stepped across the threshold. The room had a preserved classic 19th century look. Along most of the wall were built in bookshelves. That part of the room broke the mood. Crammed books and papers were in every nook and cranny. Books covering topics on the ocean, seas, and other paraphernalia. But besides the current spines popping out here and there, the room was well preserved.
An Oriental rug was orderly placed to cover most of the wood flooring. A massive wood desk was the center of the room with a large towering window behind it. To set it off nicely was a mother-in-law tongue plant next to it.
Butler saw what he was eying and said,”I told him it was all I could do to take care of it and that the rest needed babysitters or I’d kill them.”
Julian continued into the office. Walking around the desk, he stood there looking at the neat stacks of paperwork, not much else was there.
Butler watched him,”What exactly do you think you were going to find here?”
Julian’s hard blue eyes glanced up at him as he began to open drawers. “I am going to find their routes they’re planning, why they are going and what they are researching.”
Alfred Butler’s wrinkles became deeper wrinkles as he frowned. “I’m afraid, my boy, that it won’t be there.” He came up to the desk. “What do you really think is out there, Blackthorne?” He waited until Julian looked up at him.
Julian hadn’t planned on telling anyone, but he vaguely recalled Clara talking about working the field with Butler in the past, and he needed to talk to someone about his suspicions about Clara’s research at the Coral Sea. Suspicions about the government trying to clean up after some mistake.
He had been quiet long enough that Alfred spoke up again, “Listen, Clara was like family to me.” He paused. “That means I’m willing to help you. I trust Clara would choose a good man.” He then walked over to an alcove with built-in bookshelves. He pulled on a book and the shelf opened. Behind was a simpler study room with one towering window, but that is not what grabbed their attention.
Across the entire wall were pictures of sea creatures that were ancient and extinct, newspaper clippings, and pictures with strings connecting to different parts and areas. But what caught Julian’s eye was the newspaper clipping about Clara’s accident. “Wha-why would he…?” Julian trailed off. He started following the lines.
Clara’s clipping was connected to…
A spot in the middle of a sea map. “I thought you said they were exploring the Great Barrier Reef?”
“What?” The old man seemed as baffled by the grand unfolding of connections on the wall as him. Julian had started to think he was in the know about everything, but Butler looked quite surprised. He replied, “Oh yes, that is what he told the school…?” His eyes followed to where Julian was staring. “Well. Almost right.”
As their eyes started following all the strings and their connections, their analytical minds dissecting what was being implied, Julian pushed down his growing alarm. “Butler, Clara’s research has recently been classified, but all this here adds new dimensions to what I’ve learned from her notes-”
“Blackthorne, look here’” Alfred pointed at something near the end. Julian walked over. The wall was covered in documents, most of them with government seals on them. Further down, however, was a picture of Alice. A string tied back to her mother’s accident. It didn’t make sense. Besides their relation, what did Alice have to do with anything?
Julian looked at Professor Alfred.
“Professor Alfred, do you know any way to get us to the Coral Sea’s northern trench?”
The old professor turned a grim face to Julian, “We can leave within the hour.”
Disclaimer: I will be modifying this as I write. So nothing is cannon. Thank you for reading!
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