By Colin S. Bradley
It is rumored that in the waning days of summer in 1993, famed Oceanic explorer Pierre Lamont visited the California side of the Sierra Mountains for the purpose of assisting the United States Geographical Administration in their quest to finally map the bottom of Lake Tahoe.
During Lamont’s first and only dive, attempting 1,000 feet beneath the surface in his famed submersible “Midas”, all communications were lost for approximately 30 minutes.
When a visibly shaken Lamont surfaced, he greeted his support staff with silence, immediately canceled all further dives and retreated to his hotel room alone.
When asked repeatedly about what happened to him below the freezing blue of Tahoe he finally stated simply; “The world isn’t ready for what’s at the bottom of that lake.”
No video or data from his lone dive was ever released.
June 12, 1993
“All clear for launch” The tinny radio voice blared giving Lamont the go-ahead to dive. “Good luck sir, we’ll be here when you’re all finished showing the world your sack.”
“Thank you control” He chuckled into his microphone, “I do believe that you have successfully re-named our mission.”
“Just make sure you keep an eye on the back-up batteries, I’m sure I caught the leak in time and they’re holding a charge” His assistant Joe Padilla commanded, “For now at least.”
He had wanted to scrap the whole dive but Pierre wouldn’t change his mind. He had committed to the job and his word was his bond.
“Relax control, just a walk in the park.” He said confidently, “Be back before you know it.”
“Copy direct,” Joe replied professionally, switching to his game face.
The interior of the mini-sub was small and a little cramped, but he never felt more at home anywhere on the Earth than in the cramped, single seat cockpit of his baby. The myriad of controls, gauges, pipes and display screens always comforted him and he felt, as always, an enormous amount of pride as her twin screws engaged and she began to pull away from the dock with just a minute push of its joystick.
Unlike most mini-sub’s that were equipped with tiny round portals in which the pilot could view the undersea world, Midas was retro-fitted with a large Plexiglas window for more shallow missions. It was deemed safe at 1400 feet but hadn’t been tested at further depths and what he saw now delighted him. A deep blue world opened up beneath the surface of the mountain lake. Sandy bottom littered with boulders both jagged and rounded by time. Tiny minnows were being chased by a large Rainbow trout and the diminutive fish were giving their bigger brother a run for his money, darting around rocks and in between the sparse green aquatic vegetation that swayed in time with the slight current. Visibility was at 100 percent and it felt to Lamont as if he were floating through air instead of a clear, icy lake.
His mission was two-fold. He was to dive to a depth of 900 feet into the area of the lake called the “Petrified Forest” and retrieve a lost data/seismic sensor owned by the government. The USGA had strategically placed twenty of these high tech sensors at various points in the lake in order to gauge the terrain, depth and any strange seismic anomalies that could provide further information on the fault line that ran directly through the deep mountain lake. All but one had been retrieved and it was his job to rescue the little lost lamb and bring her home. He was also tasked with photographing everything he and Midas saw during their time below. Including, he hoped, the wreck of the paddleboat “Sierra glory”, scuttled in 1892 after being damaged beyond repair in a storm. Tales of the petrified forest of trees also piqued his curiosity.
Then there were the bodies.
Supposedly, a fisherman snagged his line while angling for trout near a deep part of the lake just off of emerald bay; when the line suddenly sprung free he reeled in a portion of a human ear. When the story made the rounds at the local watering holes, all sorts of rumors took flight and stories of an underwater graveyard were born. Tales of the perfectly preserved bodies of people who for one reason or another, were thrown into the Tahoe’s icy waters, of course all in period dress. Flapper girls from the 20’s, mobsters and Native American warriors stood on the bottom in an endless state of near perfect preservation, swaying in time with the currents as the lack of flesh eating organisms and the freezing temperatures of the water didn’t allow the bodies to decompose and in fact caused them to stand as if at attention. Lamont had read this “fact” during his research and since no photographic evidence existed of the graveyard, he dismissed it as drivel brought about by the fantasies of whiskey fueled tavern-talk.
He also remembered the Washoe Indian legend of the Water Babies, or the Paakniwut. It was known that in ancient times, when a native child died, its body was entrusted to the lake in an elaborate ceremony and its spirit became a tribal protector from the unseen world, terrifying were the tales of these infant sized, vicious creatures dragging the unwary to the icy, black depths.
Out of his viewfinder, Lamont gazed in awe at the unspoiled beauty of the lake’s bottom. Different shades of blue surrounded him, the deeper he went, the darker the hue.
After a solid thirty minutes, his depth gauge read 920 feet and the marvelous scenery he’d begun to really enjoy had faded quite rapidly. The bright, cerulean blue deepened and darkened with every minute of descent until nothing could be seen from the viewfinder but inky blackness and a familiar spark of apprehension blossomed quietly in his chest. Lamont was used to this feeling and welcomed it heartily as he considered the adrenaline flow useful in keeping himself awake and alert. He flipped a series of switches and the exterior halogen lights blazed into life.
The normally clean feeling of nervous energy and excitement was slowly being replaced with a deep sense of apprehension and a spreading wave of darkness despite the glow of the lighting array. It was normal for a man in an alien environment to feel out of place, an intrusion into a world in which he didn’t belong and Lamont was no stranger to it. He felt it on every dive he’d ever made. He liked to think that any ghosts in the black abyss would look to his heart and see that his only desire was to learn, to not harm or interrupt. That, hopefully, if they saw the purity of his intent; maybe they’d leave him alone.
This was different.
He felt his apprehension transform into a slow and steady fear, a fear that wasn’t rational and a fear that caused a droplet of perspiration to sting his eye.
He performed an early radio check simply to hear another voice.
He drifted slowly, a single source of light in an empty, black void.
Seconds later, the first of the sunken trees slowly manifested through his window, ghostly and pale the figure solidifying in his viewfinder. Dead for eons, the lifeless branches, sharp as razors and solid as stone seemed to reach for him, like thin arms, stretching, beckoning for him. Then more appeared, an entire forest of dead petrified trees, just as the report he’d read described them.
It was, without a doubt, the spookiest thing he’d ever seen and it did nothing to quell the unusual dread that grew deeper by the moment. He’d been on hundreds of dives, deep into every ocean on the planet and had never felt the pulse quickening fear that was now causing a slow rivulet of sweat to drip off his chin.
Oceans were scary, deep lakes were just fucking creepy.
“Jesus, get ahold of yourself,” He whispered to himself as he briefly considered another radio check.
The radar unit beeped and brought him out of his thoughts. It was pre-programmed to alert him when he was approaching his target area and that the sensor he came to retrieve was just ahead. Lamont carefully guided the sub through the arm-like branches of the ancient trees that were illuminated brightly by Midas’s powerful exterior light array. The ghastly forest closed in around him and he cringed when he heard the stony branches scrape against the hull of Midas. He slowly maneuvered the sub through the dense and terrible forest. Twice he had to backtrack and approach the still unseen sensor from a different angle. Gentle manipulations of the joystick allowed the diminutive submarine to drift elegantly, until at last, he saw that he was almost on top of the target but still couldn’t see it through the window. As he drifted further and deeper into the dark forest, he felt as though something were out there in the darkness, watching his every move and his nervousness increased ten-fold.
Looking through the Plexiglas window, as far as his sight could reach stood dead tree after dead tree, thicker and thicker the further he drifted. The radar unit gave a loud, steady beep and he felt a heart-freeing relief when finally, the black boxed sensory unit drifted into sight. It lay atop the pale sand and a red blinking light on its side pulsed with a steady rhythm. It lent a small feeling of comfort to see a modern, man-made device down here in the dark and it somehow gave him a sense of company, that he wasn’t the last man on earth.
He set Midas down gently on the bottom and prepared to engage the robotic arms that he would manipulate with a second joystick. He would simply grasp the object, place it into a cage that he’d affixed on the outer frame of the mini-sub and then he’d get the hell out of this creepy place.
“Midas to surface, I have located sensor and have bottomed the boat. Preparing to recover,” He stated into the radio.
“Preparing to recover, copy,” was the reply. “Take it slow and easy, that’s some seriously expensive equipment you’re handling there.”
“Copy that surface,” Lamont replied steadily. “Should have it on board in a minute or two.”
He flexed his hand and grabbed the joystick manipulator and watched the long robotic arm extend towards the black box. His focus wasn’t as intense as it normally was and right before the arm settled above the target, he glanced up and saw a shape in the darkness just passed the object. It was a gray blot against a velvet black background.
He adjusted his eyes to try and see what it was but it floated just out of the glare from the lights that where pointing at the equipment and the task at hand. Lamont grabbed the toggle and twisted the aiming device on his upper lights and when the glare hit the object the fear exploded in his belly and his muscles clenched in primal and unexpected terror.
The beam of his light exposed the still body of a woman. She floated a foot above the sandy bottom and Lamont saw that a thick rusted chain was affixed to a leg and the other end was wrapped securely around a large concrete brick. Her long blond hair and the hem of her thin white dress moved languidly with the gentle current. One arm hung lifelessly to her side and Lamont placed his shaking hand on the sub’s window as he realized that her other arm clutched a small bundle to her lifeless chest.
He wiped the slight condensation that fogged his window and squinted to get a better look.
“Ok, you knew you might see this old man,” he whispered to himself, “Just a body, a dead floating fucking body, nothing to be afraid of.”
As he peered through the darkness, his heart sank as he saw a tiny head of dark hair atop the white mass the woman held.
His heart dropped as he realized with sickening clarity that the lady in white held an infant. Someone, at some unknown point in history had consigned a woman and a baby to a cold and terrifying death. His incredulity at the scene before him was being replaced with a hot, pulsing anger and heartbreaking sadness.
The sensor he’d been hired to retrieve had been forgotten as Lamont pushed the joystick forward. The sub moved slowly and he pulled back as he approached the tragic scene. The sub bottomed again a few feet away from the bodies and he looked closer. The small current caused by the sub hit the two and caused them to wave slightly, back and forth as if in slow motion. The silent waves caused her dress to billow and it exposed one of the woman’s breasts and Lamont cringed as he saw that it bore four long, jagged gashes. The high beamed lights now fully engulfed the pair and exposed the woman’s face. It was beautiful; the flesh was smooth and her pale pink lips were slightly open. Her crystalline, colorless eyes stared directly at him, unblinking and still. The only exception of her perfect visage was, like her breast, four long, bloodless gashes that adorned both of her pale cheeks. The infant, he saw, was naked and he couldn’t see its face as it was held tightly in her left arm, facing her. A lump swelled in his throat as he surmised that this mother’s final act of love was simply to hold her child to her heart as they were consigned to an icy death. She couldn’t offer life but she could, at least, offer the comfort of togetherness as the water closed over their heads.
Lamont offered a silent prayer to pray for the souls of the woman and the child, in the slim hope that they didn’t suffer, that the spark of life and awareness fled quickly and they didn’t feel the crushing pressure of the deep as they died. He thanked God that at least they were together and finally prayed for heavenly justice that the person who killed them would pay.
Prayer finished, he opened his eyes and prepared to get back to the job he was hired to complete, but first he grabbed the camera controls to document what he’d seen. Maybe someone somewhere could identify the mother and child with a photo and could at least give them a name.
As the camera’s light flashed, he noticed that one of the child’s chubby hands, a hand previously tucked between it and its mother now clutched the thin lapel of the dress.
“What the…,” He began, when all of the sudden he saw, to his dismay, the tiny hand open.
He also saw, with terrifying clarity that each diminutive finger was adorned with a long thick claw.
Slowly, the infant’s head turned from the woman in white and to his horror, the subs piercing light reflected the bright glow of two infinitesimal eyes.
He watched in frozen fear as the baby disengage from the woman and give a kick of its legs and tiny webbed feet pushing it towards the Midas.
Lamont never felt real terror before, he felt an incredible thick pulsing in his veins and as though his belly was about to burst open. All he could do was gasp in disbelief and the hand that still clutched the propulsion stick responded and the sub lurched violently to the right. He jerked the toggle back and forth to get Midas under control but it was too late and it came to a crashing halt when it struck the side of a large boulder and the world went black as it settled to the bottom.
He felt around the controls and found the control and despite rapid hand movements, it wouldn’t budge. He felt for the knob that would engage emergency power and flipped it on.
He grabbed the radio and brought it to his mouth while frantically looking out the Plexiglas window, searching for what he couldn’t quite believe he saw.
“Midas to surface come in,” He almost screamed.
Silence was the response.
“Come on,” He stammered. “Please help me, this can’t be happening. COME IN SURFACE!”
A scratchy static was the only reply.
He was silent as he awaited radio response and in the quiet he heard a soft mewling permeate the stillness of the sub.
“Oh, Jesus” he whispered.
Jesus didn’t respond but the sub’s control board beeped. He grasped the emergency toggle again and flipped it up and down rapidly. The interior lights faded in and bathed the cockpit in a low green light. He glanced up at the window and gasped in terror when he saw the infant’s face pressed against the Plexiglas, looking at him. Tiny webbed fingers splayed out and a horrible grin on its little face. Its black hair waved silently across its face. He heard a scratching sound and saw the black claws scratch small furrows in the inch thick plastic as the fingers clenched and unclenched.
It was trying to get in.
It grinned horribly, pure white eyes excited as the scratching and scraping intensified. The baby’s grin faltered as it floated and scratched, its eyes shifted. They became angry.
“Come in surface Goddam it!” He shouted into the hand held unit, his other hand twisting and pulling the main power control of the still motionless sub, never breaking eye contact with the creature.
He heard a quiet but high pitched wail and ceased his frantic hand movements. Lamont looked again at the infant who had stopped scratching on the window. It stared at him and opened its mouth in a cry exposing small, needle sharp teeth that lined its black gums. He gazed into its tiny eyes that now took on a look of sadness, not otherworldly rage. He tried to look away, to wish himself away from this terror but couldn’t. Their eyes were locked onto each other and Lamont felt his mind begin to slip. He felt the absence of time and the blackness of the deep enveloped his mind completely.
He began to travel.
He was transported to another time. His consciousness was abruptly returned and he saw that he stood on the lakeshore. He saw the small Indian village. He saw the excitement of the villagers at the impending birth. He smelled pine smoke in the air and saw the doeskin lodge. He saw the bloody delivery and felt its mother’s pain and joy. He felt the young Squaw’s unconditional love as she held her newborn to her breast for the first time.
Then he beheld the baby’s father, a warrior held in great honor amongst the people, but he also held a countenance of darkness. Lamont felt his anger and jealous rage. He saw that the father had come from his brother’s lodge and his hands were covered in dark blood. He saw the father force his way into the lodge past the birthing aides and tear the nursing baby from its mother’s arms and walk rapidly towards the shore. He saw the great warrior scream as he threw the squirming, squalling bundle into the icy water.
He looked across the small cove and saw the tribe’s elderly medicine man, hiding behind a great boulder and speaking the sacred words.
Then Lamont cried as he felt the fierce numbing cold.
He saw and felt the child’s confusion, its anguish and pain, he saw it cry for its mother, alone and afraid unable to return to the village of its birth. He saw it drift and swim for time eternal.
The years passed.
Lamont felt what the small creature felt, an immense and never ending aloneness that transcended mere tears.
Through the little swimmers eyes he saw the eventual discovery of the lady in white, frozen in time and chained to stone, drifting in silent darkness. He saw her beauty and felt the nervousness as he swam around and around, waiting for the courage to approach.
Then he saw his tiny arm reach up and caress her white cheek and dart away as his claw tore open her fragile skin. He saw that it didn’t anger her and he swam close again. Then he saw, at last, a cold embrace and it was no longer alone.
Lamont’s mind violently sparked and he returned to the present with an inarticulate shout.
He raised his head as he wiped away the wetness on his cheek.
The infant was gone.
The interior lights turned on and power was restored.
The sensor forgotten, he pulled back on the joystick and felt immense relief as the sub lifted slowly out of the sand. With agonizing slowness, Lamont manipulated the toggle and within a few minutes rose clear from the stony dead trees.
His radio crackled and Padilla’s concerned voice broke through, “ surface to Midas, come in.”
“I’m here Joe, had to abort.” He replied.
“Copy that Midas, see you soon.”
“10-4” was the reply as Pierre gazed out the portal where the inky blackness was slowly being replaced with deep hues of icy blue.
By Colin S. Bradley