The Man Who Was Saved
By B. W. Sliney
‘Only I escaped.’ The man whom they had found adrift in the dory hung his head. ‘The others—’ the listeners bent nearer to catch his throatily whispered words—‘the others—it got them—that monstrous, curved thing!’ His eyes rolled back, showing bloodshot whites; his body tensed and then he shook, as with the ague. His attempt to say more resulted in stuttering failure.
‘He had better be put to bed,’ the ship’s doctor said. ‘His nerves are all gone. Heat and thirst and exposure, of course. Hallucinations. He’ll come out of it in time.’
So they put him in the hospital where he raved for three days. And the things he said caused intense interest on board the freighter Pacific Belle; and amongst the crew lurking fear whispered that some of the things he said were true.
It was a week before he came into his right mind again, and then the fevers and fears which had beset him passed. He was able to talk to the captain, and to tell a coherent story.
‘There were seven of us,’ he said with sad recollection, as he glanced at the ship’s officers who had gathered about him on the poop deck, ‘who set out in a top two-master—the Scudder. It belonged to Bob Henry who was our captain. Just a sort of lark, you know—an idle cruise for the joy of the sea and the freedom.
‘I was mate, for next to Bob I knew more about handling a ship than the others. And so we sailed along the coast, putting into whatever ports we fancied and living an idle, ideal life. All of us had long been friends.
‘Then we rashly decided to make it across the Pacific, depending on a season of few storms to aid us. We were successful. Honolulu was easy; and from there we headed southward, made the Marquesas, and then we sailed from island group to island group — you know them all — until we made the Philippines.
‘There we turned homeward, pointing our course for Guam. But midway to Apia our luck failed and we were becalmed for days. We had a small auxiliary motor, which we used for a time to make headway, but it got out of order and we were forced to remain in virtually the same spot for nearly a week. We did not especially mind, for we were in no great hurry, except that it was somewhat monotonous with so very little to do.
‘One evening, during our becalmed period, just toward sunset, Hal Rooney pointed out a great disturbance of the water, some little distance from us. It shot up in sprays and eddied out in a most inexplicable manner and then it suddenly ceased. We wondered about it for a long while, but no thinking or imagining or deducing on our part could explain the phenomenon.
‘ “Possibly,” Bob Henry said, “it will appear again.”
‘And sure enough it did. The next evening at the same hour we again noted that strange disturbance of the water. We knew that it could not possibly be a whale, nor any other large sea-creature of which we had heard, for the tumult was too vast; and the fact that none of us could offer an explanation of the mystery piqued our curiosity.
‘The calm continued. The sea floated away from us endlessly, equally on all sides, caught at the edges of the sky, and became one with it. Once in a while a blackfish went blowing by, or an occasional whale. The waters teemed with life. At night the phosphor glow was almost livid, uncannily brilliant. And each evening that same disturbance of the water occurred somewhere in our neighbourhood.
‘It was with the third appearance that the thing became too much for us. We determined to put out in a dory and investigate the next time it appeared. It did not disappoint us. Again,
at sunset, while the sky glowed extravagantly, flaunting an enormous batik at the parting day, the water almost dead ahead of our bows broke into a churning fury. We piled into the dory, which was already alongside, and made for it, pulling as hard as we could. But before we were able to reach the spot the maelstrom ceased and we gazed into the intense indigo of unruffled water that was nearly five miles deep.
‘Following that attempt, we were more determined than ever to find out the nature of the thing. It was an amazingly large patch of sea that it churned, and though the unbroken immensity of the space we were centre of gave us little for comparison, we judged the area to be approximately that of an acre—an unbelievably large expanse to show such agitation in the midst of so glassily calm a sea.
‘The next afternoon, just as the sun fell into the sea, splashing all our horizons with a myriad tints, a huge whale went lolling by, sounding and coming up with great jets of water cascading over it. I watched with the glasses, as it drove powerfully through the water, peacefully taking its time. Suddenly, however, it changed. It displayed signs of confusion, of alarm. First it turned one way, then another, cutting about sharply—and then I very distinctly heard it give a groan of anguish. It was a heart-breaking sound—the cry of a great helpless animal in mortal distress. Immediately afterward the water surrounding it broke into its daily wild disorder, and the leviathan seemed gripped by a force it could not escape. It struggled violently, throwing its huge bulk about with futile effort. Greater and greater the melee became, and then, suddenly, the whale was still.
‘We looked at one another, fright in our eyes. It was tremendously awful. And then, as we looked again out there, the whale lost all shape and the water became red with gore and blood as it was crushed to a pulp. In but a few minutes it was gone, utterly vanished from view—even the bloodiness of the water cleared—the whirling and splashing ceased, and the sun went down on a still sea. All of us were speechless. It was the most dreadful thing any of us had ever seen.’
The speaker paused in his narrative, shaken by the memory
of what he had related. The captain and his officers looked at one another with veiled scepticism. The doctor raised an eyebrow. There seemed no doubt of it; the man was insane.
Presently he went on with his wildly impossible yam. His listeners were attentive, but secretly unbelieving. In time, it was hoped he might regain his mental balance. In the meanwhile
‘To say that we were shaken would not be half expressing our state of mind. It was so inexplicable, so wildly preposterous! I was for getting away as soon as possible, and so were several of the others. But the rest were keen to learn what the thing was. And, to settle any argument, the calm held unbroken and the motor continued in disrepair, despite our efforts over it.
‘For three days, then, the thing did not come to the surface. We had decided that it was some sort of deep-sea creature, some gargantuan monster, that came out of the vast depths of the ocean to feed. But we had never heard of such a thing; save in stories of early navigators’ superstitions. We hesitated to believe the thing we had seen—we were afraid to believe it.
‘It was now that fear came to us. Hitherto we had been curious, idly speculative, and inclined to laugh. Now our thoughts were interrupted by premonitions of disaster. Flying fish, as they flashed from the surface and splashed into the water about us, startled; and porpoises blundering into our vicinity—brought us all on deck. At night, a lost puff of breeze, slatting the rigging against the sails, startled us into alarmed awakening. And though the same subject—possible danger from the unknown out of the deep—occupied the mind of each of us, it was never spoken of. But there was in the air a chilling presence of dread.
‘I believe we would have left that place had we been able. For the memory of the fate of the whale was ever vivid in our minds. Following the death of the whale, however, the monster did not rise for three days,, as I have said. This gave us some sense of relief, but it was on the third day that the great tragedy occurred.
‘I was occupied with fitting a new seat to the dory which was swung up on deck and the others were idling, making bets
as to the quarter in which the creature would next appear, or if we should see it again.
‘I was startled by a scream from one of the men, and immediately after followed the sound of churning water—a sound which sent the very essence of dread all through me and cowed my soul. Somehow I knew we were in the midst of the monster’s rise to the surface. I stood and looked over the side. There was a horrible mass of pulsating green matter—a revolting substance that had no definite form, and yet was solid—a writhing, heaving island of the stuff.
‘Even as I looked, it surged up from the water and rolled over the side of the schooner, turning over on itself, slithering and cascading on the deck. Every one of us was frantic. Some rushed for the after cabin, but they were cut off by a slimy arm that slid across their path. It spread and lifted with terrorising rapidity. Two of the men tried to climb a mast; Bob Henry raced towards the bow and fell. An instant later he was covered with the gruesome matter, even before he had a chance to cry out, and was hidden from sight. Hardly knowing what I did, I turned the dory over on myself, dragging Mark Whittmore, the nearest man to me, under with me. Fortunately I had removed all the seats and there was just room for the two of us as we lay prone.
‘Then came darkness, and an inconceivably foul odour of decay as the monster mass pushed itself over the dory—a suffocating, interminable darkness, while we were cramped under that flat-bottomed boat, scarcely daring to think, even, of the horror that crawled over us. When we thought our lungs would burst for want of fresh air, light came under the dory once more and gradually the slithering, swishing, churning of that thing which had boarded us ceased. For a long while, however, we were too frightened to move, but finally our concern for our companions’ fate compelled us to lift the dory.
‘The sky glowed with the last rays of the setting sun, and the sea slept beneath it, undisturbed. But the decks of the Scudder were wet with a yellow-green, malodorous slime and silence hung like a pall over the ship.
‘We called. There was no answer—not even the mockery of
an echo. With consternation seizing us we rushed into the afterhouse, but it was without a person in it. In a panic, we ran to the forecastle, and it too was suggestively deserted. And nowhere on that ship did we find a soul. Every man, except ourselves, had disappeared. That thing —’ his voice broke and again into his face came that haunting pain—‘that thing had got them all.’
For a while he paused, making strong effort to overcome his rising emotions, and the fear that memory brought him. The listeners looked away and were silent; and presently they heard his voice, firmly continuing the tale.
‘You cannot conceive of the terror which descended on us after that frightful discovery. Aimlessly, dazedly, we searched the vessel through and through, but we were the only men aboard the Scudder. It was a fact that we had to face, but could not bring ourselves to believe.
‘Night came quickly, and the moon and stars stared coldly down on us. We decided at length to remain on the ship would be suicidal, for the calm still hung over the water like a dead thing, and the thought of that unspeakable thing that lived somewhere beneath us was appalling. So we fitted the dory with water and food, and rowed away in the night from that ill-fated ship.
‘Then there came interminable days of torture under a malignant sun, and nights of terror of what might lurk in the waters around us. And one morning I woke to find myself alone in the dory. The day before Mark had talked of insanity; and I believe that he could not face the possibility.
‘Now I attained the utmost in despair. I was, I believe, too shocked to think clearly, or I, too, might have gone over the side. From the morning of that discovery until you picked me up, I was in a coma. Of the passage of time, I do not recall.
‘And such is my story, gentlemen. You may find it hard to believe. I find it difficult myself, and wonder sometimes if it is not an insane conception of diseased imagination. I wish it were. But I am tormented with the reality.’
The Pacific Belle held her westward course for Manila. The story of the man who had been saved spread among the crew,
where it was hotly debated and quite generally accepted. The officers of the ship, however, avoided the subject and particularly before the stranger it was never mentioned.
But one morning, just at dawn, a derelict schooner was sighted. The captain, awakened, ordered the Pacific Belle hove to while investigation was made. With closer inspection and increasing light, it was made out to be the Scudder of San Francisco. The man who had been saved was called.
‘Yes!’ he cried. ‘Yes! That’s the boat—our schooner . . . But—’
He dropped, swayed. The mate caught him and called one of the crew.
‘Take him to his cabin,’ he said, ‘and keep him there.’
Investigation corroborated the statements the stranger had made. Furthermore, the Scudder’s papers proved beyond doubt that the man they had aboard came from her. And since there was nothing to indicate that anything else could have possibly driven the men from the ship, their passenger’s strange story assumed a verity that even the officers reluctantly admitted.
A short consultation decided the fate of the Scudder. Left as she was, derelict, she would have become a serious menace to shipping and possible salvage value did not warrant the long tow into port. Dynamite was placed amidships and set off.
With a splintering crash the Scudder heaved upward and outward, and plunged into the deeps of the ocean. The Pacific Belle continued on her way.
Later in the day, the captain studied his charts. ‘Do you think,’ he asked the mate at length, ‘that there is really anything in the fellow’s story?’
The mate shrugged. ‘Such things,’ he answered readily, ‘don’t happen. He’s off, that’s all. All the men were gone from the Scudder, yes, but I’d hate to accept such an explanation for it.’
‘The water in this part of the ocean, mister,’ the captain slowly said, ‘is five miles deep—as deep as the tallest mountain is high. It’s barely possible that there’s a lot of things out here that we don’t know of—or even remotely suspect.’ However— that night, the swollen moon down and all asleep save the watches and the man who had come aboard from out of the ocean, the Pacific Belle plunged into stark, brief terror.
The stranger, affected by again seeing the Scudder, had been unable to sleep. After hours of restlessness, he had gone to the bows, where he stared dully across the water. As he stood there, slowly, almost imperceptibly, he felt himself to be afraid.
An odour had come to him, an odour which brought to his mind the horror of his last day aboard the Scudder—the sickening decay-laden odour of the monster from the deep. Then he listened with super-intent ears, and above the vessel’s vibration he caught the sound of churning, whirling water. He screamed with a loudness that awoke everyone on the Pacific Belle as he recognised these things— a scream that brought everyone to his feet, anticipating calamity.
He turned from the prow and ran in stumbling haste across the deck and up the ladder to the bridge. The mate was there, alarmed at the cry of horror.
‘Mister!’ he gasped his mouth dry with panic, ‘Mister! The thing—the monster! Stop the ship. Reverse her, for God’s sake!’
The mate laughed with relief as he recognised the man. He had been in dread of something terrible, and it was only another fit.
‘Come now, old boy,’ he said in effort to comfort. ‘Better quiet down a bit, don’t ’
With another terrible scream the fellow was gone from the bridge, Jerking a preserver from the rail, he leaped free of the Pacific Belle.
‘Man overboard!’ the mate had seen him disappear and gave the alarm as he ran to the bridge controls. But before he reached them the speed of the Pacific Belle slackened abruptly, as though it had fouled the meshes of a gigantic net; and then it lost headway altogether. A bright eerie glow of phosphorescent green lighted the water in a vast area, suddenly bursting into a lurid brilliance which caught the vessel out of the night and revealed its helplessness to the stars.
The glowing green mass surged sweepingly toward the vessel, piled against it, rolled over it, clinging to its sides, flooding, its decks. Men who had come out to investigate the shouting and
confusion frantically rushed below deck, barricading ports and doors behind them. On his bridge the captain sent useless messages to the engine-room. The ship could not move.
Then, slowly, inexorably, as the brilliance of the phosphorescent light lessened, the great mass which was its source began to sink. Gradually it settled, carrying the Pacific Belle, fair sized steamer though she was, down with it. The waves closed over the ship’s main deck, touched and submerged the bridge, poured down the funnels, sending clouds of steam hissing into the air, and finally even the tops of the masts disappeared. There had been no time for a wireless message, but a message would have been futile.
Again the waters calmed, but after half an hour they were torn for a few minutes by a great rush of bubbles to the top. Following the caving in from depth pressure of the Pacific Belle’s bulkheads. But after that the surface was never more disturbed by the Pacific Belle.
Microcosmic in a terrifying vastness of water, a man floated on a preserver in the path of a liner that later picked him up. And as he slowly realised the irony of his second escape, he sobbed with futile pity for himself.
About the Author
Sadly, while he (or she?) published 3 stories in Weird Tales, there is almost no information available about the author B.W. Sliney, and thus very little to say about them.
About the Narrator
Voiced by John Bell, a former radio guy who has extensive experience in writing/voicing/producing commercials, audiobooks, video game characters, and so on. Currently, he writes/voices/produces the comedy podcast, “Bell’s in the Batfry“, available at iTunes, various other sources, and at http://thebatfry.com.