Erik skipped through the meadow of flowers, amazed by the brilliant colors surrounding him, some he didn’t even know existed. The sun cascaded off of the petals like diamonds, filling him with an indescribable feeling of wonder. All of a sudden, the sky began to darken. He looked around, confused, when he noticed a cliff just a few feet in front of him. He hesitantly walked to just before the cliff’s end and peered over it and into the obscurity below. He squinted desperately, but he couldn’t see a bottom. As he stared he heard a voice. No, a scream. At first it seemed like a normal human, which in itself startled Erik, but as it continued it lost all humanity, ringing in his ears, scattering his thoughts. He covered his ears in an attempt to block it out, but there was no escaping it. He looked over the cliff to find it’s source and spotted a long, thin figure slithering, growing, in the darkness. Getting prepared to strike.
Erik jolted awake, eyes darting around the room frantically, breathing in shaky gasps as his body demanded air. The familiar room gradually came into focus and his heart began to slow. He fell back onto his bed and stared at the ceiling in relief. It was only a nightmare.
The same nightmare he’d had every night of these 21 days of agony.
He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to push the image, the scream from his mind. Erik repeated to himself where he actually was. He was on the Norwegian ship the Uheldig. He’d just gotten a job there, the first one out of college. It was everything he’d imagined and more! He had the honor to meet and work with Dr. Minerva Alvis. THE Dr. Alvis! Her work was revolutionary. Everyone who was anyone in the biological field wanted to meet her. While they were stuck only wishing, he, Erik, got to be her apprentice!
Well, more like a gopher, but everyone had to start somewhere.
He was going to Antarctica to study the life underneath the Anton Ice Shelf. Erik had spent years researching, writing papers and examining others’ work on all of the wildlife under the Antarctic Ocean, but now he was finally going to see it for himself. His body relaxed as he imagined discovering and recording the new species, watching their development, categorizing them, maybe even finding a new one and naming it after himself. Regalecus Erikai had a good ring to it. He could finally become a famous scientist like he’d always dreamed.
Erik opened his eyes. He knew from experience over the last 21 days that he wasn’t going back to sleep. He glanced at the clock, its silver light highlighting the walls in an eerie glow. 6:23 displayed across its face in blocky numbers. Erik immediately leapt out of bed with a goofy smile on his face. He was just in time for breakfast!
Breakfast was technically set aside as a meeting for the scientists, but nobody ever really followed that rule. Dr. Avis preferred to eat her food in the solidarity of her room. The only one that ever came to breakfast was Louis Portendorfer. He had light golden brown hair that curled at the ends, which some might’ve considered mildy attractive if it weren’t for his giant rectangular glasses. He was the other apprentice/research assistant working with Dr. Avis. While he wasn’t much older than Erik, he sure wasn’t as confident. He held his eyes low, not making eye contact and adjusting his glasses nervously. If not for his excellent test scores and grades in school, he probably would’ve never gotten this job. When Erik sat down at the lone table in the scientist’s meeting room, he was expecting it to be like any normal day. To his surprise, Dr. Avis burst through the door, sitting with a loud thunk in the seat opposite of Erik. Louis followed suite, like a lovesick puppy in need of attention. Avis looked up at Erik with a scowl.
“Have you acquired any knowledge on the date in which we shall finally be authorized to set up our research base near the Anton Ice shelf? My calculations suggest we should’ve been out working three days ago.” She said, dusting off her suit.
Erik swallowed his cold, bland waffle bite and turned to face her, “We’ve run into some complications with authorization with the government. I can check up on the process if you’d like.” It’s not like he’d already checked that a hundred times. He hated being confined to the ship and nearby town/base called McMiller station. Sure, being able to go to the diner for the first time was fun, but seeing the same four people there each time got a bit boring after awhile.
“Indeed.” she said curtly. He waited a minute just to see what she’d do. You know, she was a brilliant researcher and he was still happy to be her apprentice, but she was much harder to work with than he’d previously imagined.
“I’ll make sure to do that then.” he replied, matching her tone of voice.
Dr. Avis immediately stood up from the table and walked away. She wasn’t one for much conversation was she?
For the next few minutes he tried to talk to Louis and finally have a conversation with someone who could understand why he was so excited about this trip, but he hardly got a peep out of him. Eventually, he decided talking to someone was better than not talking at all. He said goodbye to Louis, who gave him a tiny wave. Erik then headed off of the boat and to the quaint little restaurant in McMiller station, where they were docked. As soon as he walked in from the bitter cold, he was greeted with air laced with freshly baked bread and cookies. The atmosphere was humid with the constant use of the oven, and that’s just the way he liked it. Sitting down at the bar, he immediately picked up a menu and began looking at all of the options.
Ooh, the smoked Mackerel was pretty good last time.
“I swear Elise, I seen it with me own eyes! I never seen nothing like it before!”
Of course, he’d heard the krill soup was pretty popular too.
“Darlin, you’re being ridiculous! There ain’t no monster down there. Probably just one of them eels or maybe an oarfish.”
“Elise, I seen it.. It’s the Slende!”
“Eddie, you know that don’t exist.”
“I THOUGHT Elise, I’m not so sure anymore!”
“You really think there’s a giant ice snake, Eddie? Truly? It’s just a legend.”
“I know what I saw, Elise. It’s real.”
The woman stood up suddenly and stormed out of the restaurant, muttering to herself.
“I swear! It’s real!” He said, running after her.
Erik stared after them, along with the only other patron there. Erik turned back to his menu, but he could no longer focus on his food. What monster could they be talking about?
The next day, the letter finally came in from Norway giving them permission to start the project. He’d never seen Dr. Avis more happy. They loaded everyone into giant supply trucks and hauled them straight to the Anton Ice shelf without hesitation. The second they got there, Dr. Avis quickly assigned them their task for the day. Erik waited eagerly for his assignment, hoping desperately that he would be the scuba diver to discover the wildlife under the ice. He’d studied for it and he even took a course in college and now he could see what he’d learned about in real life, not through a book. Eventually, it came down to just him and Louis.
“You two boys will be diving for us today.”
Erik internally imploded with happiness. Today would be the day he finally saw what he’d painstakingly written essays upon essays for!
“Now,” She began, pulling out a bottle of Soda, “I trust you know not to stay down there for more than 40 minutes at a time, that you shouldn’t touch species you don’t know are harmless, and to not ascend too fast.”
“Umm… why is that ma’am” Louis asked timidly. His forehead creased with worry.
“Simple, the Nitrogen fizzes out of your blood stream. It collects in your joints, causing intensely painful buildup of nitrogen gas, headaches, paralysis, and potentially death.” She said bluntly, opening the bottle with a loud hiss. The color drained from Louis’ face as she took a drink.
“Now, off you go”
Erik was slowly lowered into the pool, the icy cold water creeping up on him slowly from below. Suddenly, the platform underneath him jerked to a halt and he instinctively jumped in. He heard a loud splash as he was submerged in the arctic water, and then… nothing. His body slowly sank into the depths of the ocean. The dark, cold, ocean. It chilled the blood in his veins despite the heat protective gear under his suit. He could feel the ice creeping through his blood. Crawling within his veins. Erik studied the space around him. The sun’s rays stretched its long spindly fingers down a ways, but he still couldn’t see the bottom. He shook his head, trying to clear that thought from his mind. In that instant, he saw something drop in from the small hole above. Louis floated through the water, a trail of bubbles forming around him and following him through his descent. Louis looked down at him and waved awkwardly. Erik weakly waved back. Then, without a moment of hesitation, Erik motioned for Louis to follow him down into the depths of the ocean.
The pair swam slowly, trying to preserve heat and to let their bodies acclimate to the water. What felt like hours of swimming through black nothingness passed before they saw what they’d been looking for in the distance. An Ice garden!
Along the ground in the dull blue light were thousands of little sprouts of plants. They were dark and stumpy, covering the ground in sparse groups. Coating them in its gentle touch was tons of ice. It’s long crystals stretching in all directions around the plants, the elegance and fragility of the ice making this small garden an untouched haven for the small silver fish scattering in Erik and Louis’ wake. Above them, the blanket of ice that they’d gone through before was barely visible, casting a dark blue color onto the entire garden. Starfish with long curly arms clung to the edges of the ice spikes, reaching out at the fish that passed. Eels peeked out from under the rocks at the new intruders. Erik felt as if he’d entered an entirely new world, a land far from the one he was in before. He quickly took out his camera and began documenting as much of the life as he could. The beauty and foreignity of this small garden entranced him, encapsulated him, made him never want to leave.
He was immediately pulled out of his trance when he saw Louis standing a few yards away, staring the other way down into a drop off. As Erik approached, his entire body screamed at him to get away as fast as he could, the warmth from earlier fading away. His curiosity though, was much stronger. He glided next to Louis and stared into the pit as well. It’s black, empty eye glared back, pulling him into its intoxicating darkness. Louis grabbed a pebble off of the ground and threw it into the abyss in an attempt to see if they could tell how far it went, to see it would reach the bottom.
Suddenly, a scream rang through the water. It vibrated the garden behind him, shattering some of the glassy ice. Erik watched the ice slowly float to the top, fish fleeing in opposite directions, scattering in a desperate attempt to get as far away from there as possible. Louis grabbed his arm and began pulling him up, the scream becoming louder and louder, suffocating them, drowning them with the inhuman metallic scream. Erik didn’t look back for fear that whatever was making that awful, suffocating sound. He, without turning, took a picture of the area behind him. And with that, the scream stopped. Louis and Erik continued silently, the constant fear of the thing following them the entire way.
As soon as they reached the air hole they were dragged out and onto the icy cold ground, Erik shook uncontrollably. Louis stared at the sky quietly as he tried to process it all. They had no idea what they’d just seen, but whatever it was, Erik had a feeling that was only the beginning.
The next day Erik made sure to take a long time to pick which coat he would wear. He finally decided to brush his teeth for a bit longer, even decided to do it twice! It took a bit longer than normal to tie his snow boots. Anything he could do slower, he did. The last thing he wanted to do was tell the professor he’d seen a giant water monster and make him look like a fool, but he dreaded going back. He dreaded confronting whatever that thing was. The events of yesterday still playing in his head.
“A-a-are you ok?”
Erik whirled around to see Louis standing there, looking down.
“Yeah, I’m ok. I’m. I’m just not ready to face whatever’s down there again.”
“You of all people would.”
When they hopped out of the truck, Dr. Avis was beaming with joy. It was kind of odd, Erik had never seen her smile before.
“Hello my expert divers!” She said cheerfully
“Uh, hi.” Erik replied. Louis nodded nervously. She giggled happily.
“You don’t even know what you did, do you? Well, let me just say you found something that many scientists would kill to see! A deep sea drop off!”
Erik felt the color drain from his face as she continued.
“... and guess what? I’ll be going with you!!”
They paused for a second before Erik mustered the courage to say something.
“Doctor, I don’t know that you want to do that.”
Erik and Louis exchanged glances before he continued.
“We. Umm. Saw, something. Down in the drop off.”
There was a pause for a second before Dr. Avis broke down laughing.
“You’ve let the locals poison your mind with stories of the water beast. The Slende was it called? I expected more of you two.”
Louis looked down, ashamed of his own common sense. Erik looked down, trying to contain his frustration. He knew that no matter what he said, he would still face the beast again. He tried desperately to hide the fear of what would happen when they did.
“Now come on you two, we have work to do.”
All he could feel was fear and dread. The closer he got to the drop off where Louis and he had heard the Slende, the more his stomach twisted and turned. It writhed with the knowledge that it was near, that he was heading to it.
And that there was nothing he could do about it.
When they reached the drop off, he suddenly felt a creeping sense of being watched. No… hunted. He shivered, trying to shake off the feeling, but it wouldn’t go away. Dr. Avis motioned to them to follow and began her descent into the cavern. Erik looked at Louis and gave him a thumbs up in an attempt to tell him it was going to be ok. Louis gave a weak smile despite the scuba gear and headed down after Dr. Avis. Down into the black abyss.
Once they’d travelled through the darkness for a minute or so, there was a sudden flash of light. Erik closed his eyes and froze, waiting for the Slende’s scream. When it didn’t happen, he hesitantly opened them again to see Dr. Avis holding a flashlight. He took a sigh of relief and headed after them. He took out his camera and held it, ready to take a picture of any fish or monsters that came their way.
All of the sudden, Dr. Avis stopped and turned back to Louis and Erik, shining the flashlight around and looking in all directions, searching for something. They looked at each other in confusion when, in complete silence, Dr. Avis was abruptly dragged down into the oblivion. Her flashlight left rotating in the water. The two stood there silently, watching as the flashlight twirled around. At first it was only darkness that the flashlight hit, but as the seconds ticked by, it began catching hints of a frosty blue serpentine creature zipping around it. It circled the flashlight, only letting bits of itself get caught in its rays. Finally, the flashlight slowed to a halt, illuminating for a second an enormous eel-like monster with razor teeth the size of Erik’s forearm, it’s eyes white and blank. Then, the Slende opened it’s disgusting jaws and the flashlight was gone.
Erik began slowly swimming towards the top of the drop off, eyes glassy as he tried to comprehend what had just happened. What he’d just seen. Louis followed suite, tailing behind him closely and constantly checking behind them for the monster. After a minute or so of suffocating, terror-inducing silence, they heard an ear-deafening scream behind them. Louis jumped and began swimming desperately towards the top, abandoning all logic and just trying to make it out alive. Erik reached out his arm to try and stop him, but there was nothing he could do at this point. As he went further up, his movements became more slowed, he was letting off more oxygen. The hiss of Dr. Avis’ soda played in mind as Louis fought against the pain in an attempt to survive. He extended his arm, his forehead scrunched in agony, when his body became limp, curling in on itself. The scream immediately cut off and Erik instinctually knew it was headed for Louis. He swam up towards him, his entire being sensing the monster swimming silently, it’s enormous body slithering through the darkness unseen. It’s silvery fins ever so slightly catching the light. There was no way he could save his friend, no way he could outswim this awful creature. It should’ve seemed hopeless, and yet, Erik kept swimming, keeping his eyes on Louis’ body floating peacefully through the water above. The Slende was just beginning to get ahead of Erik when suddenly he saw the silvery reflections get further away. Without hesitation, Erik sped up, stretching out his arms and grabbing Louis as the monster bit into a seal just a few yards away. It’s prey’s dying cries rang through the water as Erik dragged Louis to the surface.
With the help of one of the stationed patrolmen, Erik was able to get Louis up onto the ice, to safety. He floated there watching him, glad that he could save him from the creature. All of the sudden he felt a thousand needles pierce his leg and he was consumed by the ocean once more. His vision fading in and out with the blinding pain in his leg. He reached down to punch the beast, or to hurt the beast, or do something. Anything! This isn’t how he wanted it to end. Streams of his blood flew by as he was dragged down to the bottomless abyss. He had all but given up when he heard a low guttural roar. The Slende below him abruptly stopped, throwing Erik a couple yards away. Suddenly, out of the endless ocean around him, came a giant creature the size of a warship, headed straight for him and the enormous serpent below him. He weakly swam up towards the air hole, vision fading, his ears ready to burst from his head as the sound of the roar and the scream combined in an awful way, drowning him in a gross sound. He could barely stay awake when he was pulled from the water and onto the ice by a medical team that had come for Louis.
It took them weeks to recover in the little McMiller station hospital. Not even the most brilliant doctors and nurses there could figure out what had happened. So, when Erik finally came to, he was bombarded with a multitude of questions as to what happened down there. When Erik looked around at all of the brilliant minds, he knew he would never be able to convince them of what he had seen. Mind still fogged by exhaustion and pain, he hopped on his good leg over to the chair with all of his things. The doctors tried to stop him, but he held up his hand to still them. They walked over and helped him to his bag where he promptly took out one of the objects, hiding it under his gown as they dragged him back. Once he’d gotten comfortable on the bed, he pulled it out, messing with it until he finally brought it out to show the doctors. He held up his camera, and on it was the Slende, looming in the darkness. The last thing he saw before he faded back into the bliss of sleep was the doctors exchanging nervous glances with each other. With his final breath before he dipped back into its peaceful arms he was able to utter a few words.
“They call it, the Slende.”
And then he was gone.