A Hungry God
River clicked on the light in the basement and walked over to the deep freeze, which stood next to an old read-to-assemble bookcase filled with books. The books on the bottom shelf had a water-stain across the bottom, crossing out the titles. Their insides were most likely pulp from the flood last year. She stopped, bent down and looked across the second shelf. She saw the worn-out spine that she knew well. The title had rubbed off, eroding on desks and carpets and bedspreads throughout her life as she peered into it.
Pulling the tome from the shelf she carefully laid it open across her forearms like an infant. The smell came to her and evoked a memory: lying on the carpet at her grandparents’ house, in a square of sun with the orange tabby cat River had named Tabatha, that very book opened to a huge imaginary landscape drawn with care, examples of deltas and fjords and oxbow lakes and dry riverbeds and oceans and lakes and ponds and seas and glaciers and islands and sea caves. She turned to the page; even after the decades the pages found themselves as they were on that day, opening right to the pages of landscape.
Sea caves. The pages showed them as caverns reaching until the artist’s pen faded it into the now yellowed color of the paper.
This book had been the start.
“Dear?” her wife, Diana, called from upstairs. “Did you find the chicken?”
River closed and pushed the book back into the shelf, moved to the freezer, opened it, and saw the frozsen chicken immediately. “Yeah,” she yelled up. “Kelly must have missed it.”
“More like didn’t bother to look.”
River nodded though nobody could see, then she headed upstairs to help her wife cook dinner.
“Are you worried?” Diana asked when they first started dating. “Cave diving? That’s dangerous.”
“It is,” River said. “But when I’m down there it’s like nothing else. The world is new and I get to see things and survey unexplored lands.”
“What’s something you found?”
River immediately knew what to say.
“I found this angler fish. It was maybe the size of my fist…it had this proboscis that looked like a smaller fish, ya know, and that glowed. So like of those open ocean ones…just scaled down. Super neat.”
Thousands of dives. Careful. Alive. The good divers always live, they say. River was very careful and very much alive.
River piloted her drone through the cave below. The cave had been mapped, but a recent seismic event (River guessed it was fracking nearby) opened up a new branch.
“What do you see, Doctor?” The grad student craned his neck to see the screen.
“Just the usual, just a new branch of the same limestone, Don.” She squinted. “Wait…”
The cave abruptly opened to a chamber big enough that the drone’s light did not find the other side of it. She pushed the drone down to the floor of the chamber.
“What’s that,” Don asked, pointing at the screen. A vaguely human shape was on the screen in the clear water. It faded out.
“That was weird.”
“Digital interference?” Don suggested, not really knowing what he was talking about.
“Yeah,” River said. She didn’t care about what he said. He was a rather annoying fellow. Smart. Still annoying though.
River reached for her wetsuit. “Well, I’m heading in. It’s a pretty straight shot. Standard guide wire, no extreme depth. I’ll leave the drone down there, for another eye on what’s going on. You got it?”
“That’s like 50k right there, Don. I get my ass chewed if I mishandle it. I’m not supposed to let anyone else pilot it and if you break it it’ll be both our asses.”
“I got it, I got it.”
“I’m serious, man.”
“I am too,” he said. She stared at Don for a long time. Long enough he started to get uncomfortable.
“Okay,” she said, and walked off to suit up.
In the dark, where the water is strangely warm and comforting, where sightless grubs and crabs and other animals scurry, River reached the chamber and saw the drone a ways out. She looked down and tapped a message to Don on the communicator.
“There. See the drone.”
She swam toward the drone. Her headlamp flicked over the ground and she saw the occasional bottom feeder or shrimp or whatever tickle the ground as they floated along, their colors less white or ivory than translucent. She approached the drone. A buzz on her arm.
“Is there something out there just out of the light?”
She looked up at the darkness and she saw something stony and protruding from the ground. She swam towards it and the drone followed her. She wondered why the water was warm. Was there a spring nearby? Kentucky had some, not as much as others and she had no interest in swimming through water a half-degree away from boiling her face off. She had read the stories. Kids jumping into hot springs…not knowing until the second their eyes melted out of their heads that something was wrong, too hot to even be felt.
The object came into view, a stalagmite looking thing reaching up from the ground. The smooth edges reminded her of some of the more famous specimens from Hérault, a famous cave in France. But it wasn’t like that. Not at all. She swam around it and she looked closer.
A face. Carved. Large. Beautiful. Motherly. Loving. A small smile upturned in the corners. Eyes huge and inset with what looked like jade, marbled just so to look so real.
Her arm buzzed again.
“Is that a statue?” Her eyes rolled at his message.
“y” she responded.
She looked down and where she expected to find feet were instead tentacles, she couldn’t help but to imagine Ursela from that Little Mermaid movie her little sister watched all the time. River remembered those tentacles as short, but these were long undulating pieces of rock carved to perfect smoothness. Were there even joints? Was this an entire single slab of rock?
And how did it get here?
Slowly she realized what she had found. What it meant. What had to be done. This whole area had to be surveyed. Who knew where and how this thing had gotten where it was?
A light off to her left.
She turned. The drone was behind her, watching. To both her and the drone, the light was faint and distant.
“Cut the drone light for a few,” she typed. A second later, it clicked off. She turned off her own light. The light sped away and left her in complete blackness. The only sensation then was the sound of her SCUBA and the warmth of the water. Her eyes adjusted and somewhere off a way again she saw a faint light against the background of eigengrau.
Swimming towards it, she saw the glow get bigger and fade. She chanced one of her other lights, a low power red one. As she came closer, she let herself settle to the ground, started to walk, her fins disturbing the ground.
She looked up and the glow faded.
What was it? She looked into the cone of red light on the ground. No animals here. Nothing sightless seen, no crabs nor worms nor fish nor even shrimp, as there was near the entrance, but the temperature here was warm. They should be everywhere.
The glow came back. First barely light enough to overcome the darkness of the place, but then ever more. How could there be light down here?
She looked up and saw the source of the light, it was her again. The same face as on the statue. That face looking down at her this time, arm extended, hand out and grasping. Her body stretching backwards, all aglow and looking like love.
She reached up for the hand.
Don watched her on the screen. He watched River reach up and grasp at the glowing woman, a flurry of action. Then the floating woman’s form dissolved and the glowing worked backwards toward the body of something huge and magnificent. Something dark and vicious.
He pushed the drone forward and reactivated the light. He caught a glimpse of the guide-line, now angled up sharply from it’s setting that River put in the ground. He guided it up to follow the line.
The last thing the drone saw was the light from River’s helmet tumble out towards it, followed by the teeth of a hungry god.