17 August 1819
terribly strange and unfortunate is happening aboard The Ardent Fortune.
My crew has begun to fall prey to a strange illness that starts with a sweating
fever, then descends into a delirious, whispering insanity —— and as I have
learned as of this morning, ends in sudden disappearance. Within a week’s time
three of my crew have been struck, two of which have vanished. We have scoured
the entirety of the ship’s hold, from the supply room to the cook’s quarters,
and have found not a trace of them. I cannot entirely rule out murder, for the type
of man to undertake the arduous journey that we do is a rough one, often with
little to lose, but there are more reasons to discount this than there is
quarters are tight with bunks, the only empty space existing as walkways
between them. It would be nigh impossible for one to snuff another without
another hearing or seeing, and word on a ship travels in an instant.
Furthermore, we are on the returning end of our journey. If ever there were a
time for a man to grow murderous it seems unlikely to me that it would be when home
is in sight. The strongest evidence I found lie in their eyes. Not even the
most seasoned veterans of my crew went unshaken by the events. There is a fear
in their eyes, and as they’ve gone back to work, a quiet restlessness in their
duties unlike the song and shanty I am accustomed to. Having stricken three and
taken two, their empty, stained cots and the gibbering whispers of the
remaining infected serve as grave reminders that any one of them could be
caught next, including myself. London could not come sooner.
I am forced to
make an addition to today’s log, for no sooner had the ink dried on the
parchment had I heard a sudden knocking on my chamber door. I was led down to
the crew’s chambers, where yet another has fallen ill. He sweats profusely and
finds the simplest movements laborious. The Whispers have not yet started, so
there is hope that his illness is a common one, but the babble of the other
still sick is foreboding, and there is an inexplicable terror in his eyes.
smiles upon us, however weakly. When I woke this morning, I was met by a
cloudless sky and favorable winds. My navigator assures me that we make good
pace and may even arrive at London sooner than expected. I had hoped that this
would prove as a morale booster for my men, who are in dire need of one, but
they remain solemn. Though the skies are clear, a storm brews in each and every
one of their weathered faces.
I also learned
that, without my permission and during the night, the crew had created something
of a sick bay. They cleared out a room hardly larger than a closet in the
supply hold, where they intended to store the sick. They cited the possibility
of whatever ailment they had being contagious as their reasoning, which I think
is reasonable, but I suspect it has more to do with the incessant whispering.
It’s that sort of sinister ambience, in combination with the sound of the waves
and the creaking rocking of the boat, that makes for sleepless nights and
fosters a madness independent of any mysterious illness.
allowed the men to dive into our cargo sparingly in hopes of offsetting their
unease. Fine tobacco from Charleston, a pipeful of which I am sampling as I
write this. I have made some available to the isolated few in the sick bay, but
I doubt they’ll partake. The more recently ill man is growing more and more
catatonic, and the earlier is now so consumed by his maddening whispers that he
seems oblivious to all external stimulation. I hope that he will still be
present in the morrow, but I won’t be holding my breath.
moon was still high in the sky whenever I was roused by a violent pounding on
the door, urgent shouting from beyond it. I could only have been asleep for a
few hours, but in that few hours, our circumstances leapt from the terribly unfortunate
to bloody cursed. As I was informed, our lookout in the crow’s nest, eyes ordinarily
peeled on the horizon for approaching rocks, pirate ship, or other, had by
chance looked towards the deck and noticed spots of red staining the wood and shimmering
with the moon’s reflection. On a ship, word travels in an instant. I was awoken
moments later. Bloody footsteps rose from the hull and to the deck, eventually
ending at the rail. I followed this trail down to the deepest reaches of our
ship, the storage hull, wherein my men had created the sick bay in the back. As
we grew nearer to the sick bay the amount of blood grew as rapidly as my dread.
Pouring from the makeshift room itself was a large, sticky puddle, leaking out
and into the rest of the storeroom and seeping into the old wood so that there
was no way to enter without feeling and hearing a sopping sponginess beneath
your boot. Inside, something that once resembled John Harrington, a long-time
crew member of mine that had recently fallen ill, lie on the bloodied cot,
mangled and dead. His skull was opened so unceremoniously that pink and red
alike spattered the wall behind. Chunks of flesh were missing as if torn in
several spots on his neck and shoulders, and his arms and abdomen were littered
with claw like lacerations.
I have been
sailing long enough to have witnessed murder on more than a few occasions. I
know what it looks like when one man decides through wrath, envy, or a game of
drunken cards gone wrong that another must die. The assault that John
Harrington received did not resemble anything that a bare-handed man was
capable of. This was inhuman and monstrous; unlike anything I have witnessed.
But the atrocity was
committed by a human.
immediately after committing it, walked directly above deck and to the edge of
the ship where he presumably leapt to his grave, lost to whatever unfathomable
depths lie beneath these unforgiving black waves. Of John Harrington, we
decided to throw him overboard. Whether he had a family who may give him a
funeral or not I cannot be certain, but if he had, it would cause them less
pain to think him lost at sea than to have to gaze upon that mangled heap of
blood and bone.
ship’s morale has suffered even further for this, as is to be expected. Even as
we cleaned the gore there was a distrusting tension. A murderous paranoia. There
was no way of telling who might be consumed by madness next, and of the mad,
who might turn on his brother next to him and violently rend him from life.
This paranoia came to a head sometime in the evening, when everyone had been
silently at work and one’s muttering curses under his breath had drawn
suspicion. Too akin to the whispers of the mad, another had leapt on him, presumably
to restrain him and move him to the sick bay where the stench of death still thickened
the air in an unbreathable way. When he resisted and his muttered curses grew
to aggressive shouts aimed at the other, an all-out brawl ensued.
Brawls are not
uncommon at sea, but they are made more dangerous yet when there are fewer and
fewer hands on deck, of which there is a minimum requirement to run a ship, one
that we were rapidly nearing. Before I could reach the deck to attempt to break
up the fight, the accused had taken an anchor to the accuser’s skull, opening
it and spilling its viscous half-solid contents on the deck as John
Harrington’s had the wall.
so, we were down yet another body, with yet another entirely separate mess of
gore to clean up before the day had even ended. I had briefly considered locking
the relatively sane murderer up, but we are undermanned as it is. Even more so
since, as the night began to fall, three more retired from their work early, returning
to the crew’s quarters with fevers. By the time the rest joined them their illness
had progressed far more rapidly than any before them had. They were already catatonic,
their lips fumbling rapid-fire whispers, their eyes peeled wide and bloodshot.
We once again stuffed them in the sick bay, but this time, we barricaded the
door and posted a single man to guard them in two-hour shifts. If we can keep
the whispering from their suicidal whims until London, perhaps there is a
doctor that can treat them.
Now I hope for
rest myself, but I can’t be sure it will be a fruitful one. The stress of
running a damned ship is weighing on me. My hands shake as I pen this log, and
a searing headache drills its way into my skull. Seldom do I drink while at sea,
as a captain’s mind is his greatest tool – one that must be kept sharp.
Tonight, however, I allow a bottle of whisky that has been collecting dust for
years to ease me to sleep. If I survive, this will be my last journey at sea.
Captain Wardlow, The Ardent Fortune
20 August 1819
I had feared, my rest was anything but fruitful. The moment sleep had taken me,
so too did terrifying nightmare. I found myself floating in an infinite
blue-green darkness, it’s weight too extraordinary to move through, yet just
crushing enough to barely keep from killing me. I felt this pain as if I was
awake. An enormous, wholesale pressure across my entire body, threatening to
cave in my chest and jettison my eyeballs from their sockets. I could not
breathe. The pressure would not allow my lungs to expand, yet when I opened my
mouth to attempt it water rushed in and filled them. I could taste its
brine and feel it’s dark chill in my chest as it filled my lungs. I felt the burning
ache that one does when they hold their breath for too long in perpetuity,
never truly suffocating, yet never truly breathing either.
Panic ridden I
struggled for far too long, until a deep, distorted rumbling consumed the space
and shook my body. I stopped and looked for the source. I existed in a place of
nothingness, but just barely visible straight ahead, a flat line spread from
left to right as far as I could see in the same way that a horizon does. Yet where
a horizon is typically where the sky meets the sea, here there was no sky. It
and myself existed in a cold, watery void, alone together. And then it opened.
The horizon parted and all that I could see became consumed by bright, burning,
yellow with an iridescent blackened oval shape at the center. An eye, as large
as existence itself, to say nothing of the thing attached to it, boring the
immense weight of its focus directly on me.
I felt its focus in my mind.
A high pitched, searing, maddening ringing transposed
directly into my psyche. And then it began to speak. Tantalizing,
unintelligible things beyond my ability to fathom, and if I tried to recreate
them with mouth or pen, beyond human capability. They were secrets, and I
cannot explain how I knew this. It was as if it had placed that understanding
in my mind, and I felt a burning desire to learn more. To know everything it
could tell me, no matter the effect on my mind, and I began to try and swim
That’s when a
relentless pounding on the door of my chambers woke me. I shot up, peeling my
face from the cold surface of my desk. I was drenched in feverous sweat, the
bottle from the night prior empty in front of me. My chest heaved in a
hyperventilatory way, relishing in the air, and I felt the chill of that void
still. The pounding on the door continued, and I was forced to my feet to dress
in a trembling half-drunk way and resume my duties as captain. I did my best to
hide my state, which I then believed to be caused only by hangover and alcohol
induced nightmare, lest the crew become mutinous and lock me in the sick bay
with the whispering.
Of the whispering, I was quickly informed of trouble.
The man guarding the sick bay near the morning gave me his report. The whispering
had become restless at some point. He could hear, at first, clawing at the
barricaded door and then eventually a rhythmic thud, thud, thud, and
then silence. An investigation could not be avoided, and so I grabbed my pistol
and had two men follow me down.
discovered the silence to be a short lived one. Once more there was an
animalistic clawing at the door. I readied my pistol and had the two men push
the barrels we had used for barricading the door out of the way, and
immediately the door swung open. Staring at me was a pale, sunken visage. Eyes
yellow and unblinking, mouth moving and whispering at an incomprehensible speed.
I could see his fingers were bloody, nails ripped from clawing at the door, and
beneath him lie one dead, head caved in. Fear made my immediate instinct to
pull the trigger, but I hesitated. He stared right through me as if I wasn’t
there, and then began to move, shambling past us and towards the stairs. I grabbed
his wrist to stop him and his nature changed in an instant. He was upon me with
a monstrous strength unbecoming of his ill frailty, knocking me to the ground
and ripping at my flesh.
He might have bit
a chunk from my neck and killed me there had my men not held him back long
enough for me to put the barrel of my pistol to his jaw and blow his brains
against the ceiling. There was no time for the weight of that moment to set in
before we heard yet more shambling, the third and final of the whispering moving
past us, oblivious to the chaos and the violence. This one we did not try to
stop, as it was apparent that that was what made them violent. Instead we
followed him, towards the stairs, and then up. As we approached the deck, the
remaining crew watched in shocked silence as well. It moved towards the rail
and then slumped over it and fell with a splash, a bag of wet meat united with
its desires. When we returned to the sick bay to further investigate and clean
the dead, we discovered a bloody spattering in a central spot on the door. This
in combination with the head injuries to the one that had died before we came
down told us that the thudding the guard had heard was the man’s head
relentlessly beating against the barrier until he had killed himself, wanting
nothing more than to be united with the sea.
I can’t help but
wonder what a better captain might do should he ever find himself in these
terrifying circumstances, but I don’t believe that there is anything to be done
apart from prayer. There are barely hands left to operate the boat, and my
navigator, who has always been a keen reader of the skies, informs of a
terrible storm brewing behind us. He thinks that we will avoid it yet if we maintain
pace, but that is hard to do with half a crew —— half of which had all but
given up on the idea of ever seeing land again.
Even more terrible
yet is my worsening fever. I find myself growing frail and weak, seen less and
less often above deck. I shan’t tell the crew of this lest they murder me on
the spot, but when there is silence, I can hear something in the back of my
mind. Fragments of barely audible whispers not my own. An uninvited guest lurking
just beneath the surface. I am out of whisky. We are but days from London. I must
stave madness. I must…
Captain Wardlow, The Ardent
I understand now
that there are things far greater than human imagination could ever encompass,
and of those things, terrifying secrets not just of the world, but of existence
itself. One of those awesome things speaks to me now. It first touched me in
dream and now I hear it always, an ever present companion to my own conscious,
impossibly louder than it could ever be. It whispers to me those secrets and
they move through my mind unstoppably to my mouth, where I reiterate
uncontrollably in hopes of understanding.
I don’t understand.
But if we joined
it… This… Voice lurking beneath the depths.
With that distance
removed it could make us understand. I feel a compulsion to join it in a
way that I’ve never been compelled to do anything before, where I can accept
the maddening gifts it promises. The rest of the crew will come with me. They
will thank me, if they’re able.
Now I will take my
To the deck…
I will fill the helmsman’s head with lead…
will take the
turn us into
will join IT
BENEATH THE WAVES
Harbold is a writer and a student out of rural Ohio. An English major at Kent
State Tuscarawas, when he isn't writing or studying for class, he's writing
fiction in whatever genre interests him at the time. With favorite writers such
as John Langan, Dan Chaon, and of course H.P Lovecraft, he writes most
frequently in horror.