What Lurks Beneath - Ryan Lockwood

PART I

THE SLEEPING GIANT

CHAPTER 1

It waited for them.

Concealed within the submarine cavern, its motionless body was loosely compressed against the wall of a large chamber. Here in the darkness, far from where it had entered in the open sea, it could sense but not see that the surface beneath it was smooth. Porous rock, worn down over thousands of years by others of its kind.

Every few minutes, it drew vast volumes of seawater into its massive body, causing the flesh to expand like an oversized bellows, before contracting to expel the spent fluid into the cavern.

It had spent the day resting, away from the sunlight and safe from any threat. Having attained its great size, it was no longer at risk of being attacked by virtually any marine predator, but its instincts had always ensured it remained safely tucked away from marauding hunters during the daytime. It was drawn to confined spaces. To shadows and darkness. Since its birth, it had spent most of its life on or near the ocean floor, concealed from predators and prey, and each dawn had pulled its soft body into a crack or crevice to protect itself and its exposed parts. In its lair now, deep under the landmass above and far from the open ocean, the water remained clean and saline, though low in oxygen. Here it would remain until dark. When it would emerge to hunt.

Half-asleep, the organism had first been roused when it felt something disturb the dark water near its eyes. With no light at all, it merely sensed the small, blind fish swimming past, oblivious to the presence of a being so large it was almost part of the cavern itself. Uninterested, it again began drifting into sleep.

It had not fed well on previous nights. An opportunistic feeder, it would consume virtually anything it could capture if, unlike the blind fish, the prey was large enough to be worth expending energy on. Yet it had been unsuccessful at ingesting the calories needed to fuel its tons of flesh. By resting in this environment, its metabolism reduced to a state of near hibernation, it could reserve its energy until it preyed again.

But then the still water in the chamber had moved.

The tide. The gentle flow of water had at first pushed lightly against the organism’s skin, almost imperceptibly, slowly building into a light current as it passed through the cavern. Currents from above crept along its body and deeper down the passage, toward the distant opening from which it had entered hours ago. As the tidal fluctuation increased, more water began to push against it. And through the receptors in its flesh, it had tasted something. Something vaguely familiar.

Something edible.

Its eyes slowly opened in the blackness.

From the passage above drifted a dilute soup of organic matter, and within it trace amounts of something else. In its complex brain it quickly determined that mixed into the volume of water were molecules of some bodily fluid, recently emitted by a living thing. No, things. Things it had consumed before.

Something was coming toward it. Yet it did not react. It was a nocturnal being, and did not generally feed in the daytime. Nor did it ever seek prey while resting in a lair. It would retain its energy.

From far away, a weak pulse of sound bounced along the limestone walls of the underwater cavern and into its body. It drew in another massive quantity of seawater and spewed it back out into the broad cavern in a powerful rush, causing a cloud of sediment to swirl in the darkness around it. Its mind processed the conflicting instincts that suddenly flashed through its multi-hubbed brain:

Retreat. Attack. Hide. Feed. Wait.

Wait.

It settled its bulk back against the cavern wall. There was no need to reveal itself. They were coming toward it. It would wait.

CHAPTER 2

He was still bleeding.

John Breck examined the small cut on the lighter skin of his palm. Although it was difficult to see the wound underwater, it didn’t hurt badly, and wasn’t very deep. But the nagging pain continued to distract him, and a small amount of bright red blood continued to seep out of the gash.

He clenched his fist. Perhaps he should have tried to address the wound before going under.

Breck had cut himself with his own knife just before the dive. It had slipped in his grasp as he had tried to pry open the stubborn latch on one of his equipment boxes, which they had stacked near the scrubby vegetation surrounding