"The Green Sea" by David Stoltenberg


Introductions:

I last received correspondence from my younger brother Arthur in the fall of last year, at the end of a bitter and cold October. He had abruptly set sail three months earlier, unannounced, aboard a small freighter headed east across the Atlantic, his business being personal, securing a bunk under the premise that he was to be engaged in some scientific study, a lie, as well as with the condition that his study should remain private and not interfere with the work of the crew. More importantly, at a young age Arthur had found himself independently wealthy. With his money and dumb-luck ingenuity, he in turn had offered to cover the greater part of the operating costs incurred by the expedition. I remember reading the telegram on my back porch, the autumn leaves collected thick, blanketing the ground in a nostalgic yellow and auburn. He had contacted me twice previously, the first time to inform me that he was alive and well, as fortunately it had occurred to him that not long after his disappearance there had in fact been talk that it was becoming increasingly possible that he was not alive. It had always been his way to live life more adventurously than most men, or more recklessly, depending on who you asked. The second letter in more detail described what has previously been conveyed. He was in fact on a large rusted old boat in the middle of the ocean. This had troubled me to an extensive degree, as our family was more of the land-loving kind, our sea-legs never properly developed. The tone of the letters was always outwardly positive, but the conditions under which he had embarked suggested otherwise, which unfortunately was confirmed in his most recent transmission.

His returning home had been much anticipated news, and although the details were hazy, I expected Arthur's homecoming at any time, it now being the second week of January. He arrived in the middle of the night. I awoke to a light tapping on my bedroom window, half-alarmed but quickly relieved when what was clearly Arthur's silhouette could be discerned smashed up against the other side of the glass, his hands cupped around his eyes looking in.

"James...Wake up" whispered his familiar muffled voice. "...come on, come 'round and let me in"

I bolted out of bed, quickly dressed and darted to open the front door. I had not realized until now that a storm had gathered and heavy rain could be heard rolling down the roof of the house. I swung the door open, and was startled by the booming thunder and a flash of lightning which revealed a stranger standing at my doorstep. It was Arthur, but not any Arthur I had ever seen before, surely not the same man he was when he set sail. A cold breeze blew in, sending shivers down my spine, but also snapping me out of the momentary state of fright brought on by the macabre circumstances of my brother's arrival.

"James!" said the man, "I'm home".

"Arthur! Come in, come inside, you're drenched. Let me take your coat, and I'll grab you some dry clothes. It's so good to see you."

Arthur came in pulling a large trunk and shut the front door behind him.

"Sorry to bring the storm inside" he said.

"Don't be ridiculous, have a seat and Ill be right back, I'm so glad your here."

I returned with a change of clothes and set them down on the table. Arthur was taking off his squeaking, wet boots. In the light the changes in his appearance were drastically more noticeable. He wore a full, thick beard and his curly brown hair had grown long and unkempt. He also was noticeably thinner, his face wrinkled and pallid with strong reliefs around his cheeks, accenting his frail bone structure. The whites of his eyes were pink and bloodshot and he reeked of the sea. It is difficult to describe the emotions I felt seeing my brother in such a state, but more importantly he was alive and safe. I had made up the bed in the guest room a week prior in expectation of his arrival. We agreed that a good night's sleep was in order and we would catch up in the morning. Arthur would undoubtedly have much to tell me about his time at sea, and I was very much eager to hear what he had meant in his last telegram, apparent reason for returning home. We both retreated to our rooms and slept soundly through the stormy night.

Recollections:

The following morning I awoke to the sound of birds twittering outside the bedroom window. All that remained of the storm was an all too familiar grey fog. It made the retelling of Arthur's debacle at sea much easier to grasp. We sat down to a cup of black coffee at the kitchen table and Arthur began:

"The fog was thick and soupy with a distressful quality not unlike smoke billowing from a burning building. It was early day, although time had lost its meaning after what seemed like an endless trek through the abominable icy waters on which we had sailed for months now, seemingly lost and helpless. Our ship was captained by a Phineas Glasshold, a weathered, stout little man with skin like the hide of a hippopotamus. He assured us everyday that he had corrected our course, but the crew had grown morose and downtrodden, and I feared over time their sullenness could result in violence. Everyday our world alternated between the grey nothingness of daylight and the completely lightless void of night. I had secured my position on the ship through a generous financial offering, a bribe really, which some on board were beginning to hold against me, given the current state of things, as my money could not get us back on course, and my city-boy back and soft hands were hardly of any use maintaining the ship. I spent most of my days in my cabin either reading or sleeping, checking my window for anything but grey.

"I remember the moment quite clearly when our fortunes changed, not necessarily for the better, but a change of any kind was well received. I was half-falling asleep with my nose in a book when through the corner of my eye I noticed a tinge of green permeating the endless grey of the fog. It was faint at first, but soon all the ship's inhabitants had gathered on deck to investigate. I had assumed at first this meant the fog was letting up, and what we were seeing was the world returning to view. This was only partly true, as the green grew in luminosity revealing itself more as an iridescent glow, revealing some of the sea around us, which also now shown a foreboding green and neon.

"Being a complete novice to the sights and sounds one encounters on this type of expedition, I looked hopefully around at the crew, thinking this was some sort of natural phenomena typically encountered at sea, something like an aquatic form of the northern lights. Captain Glasshold stood stony-faced with his good eye burrowing through the haze, searching for an explanation. The crew muttered to each other worriedly and I admit although I had welcomed the change at first, there was something sinister afoot now, and I longed to return to a casual afternoon nap under the grey sky I had grown so familiar with.

"We continued along our heading into the green, sailing swift and hard for the remainder of the day. Not knowing what providence held for me, I requested a telegram be sent informing my brother I would be returning home with whatever haste I could make. I retreated to my bunk and attempted to rest, but my eyes could not stay closed. The glow seemed to be increasing now, and my entire quarters now reflected the ominous light coming through my window. At some point it occurred to me that the day did not seem to be coming to a close. The sun must have fallen, but it had been replaced and become unnecessary. I climbed up above deck to inquire, finding a crowd staring and pointing towards some point north, north-east of us. There was a light shining through the fog, a beacon of some sort leading us in. I did not believe us to be anywhere near any friendly seaport and looked on feeling both apprehensive and intensely nervous.

"At this point my recollection becomes quite hazy and fragmented. I cannot explain it, but events occurred not unlike a dream. I remember visions, sounds, flashes of light, but I cannot retell it to you in any way comprehensible. I know not how much time passed during this period, but my next tangible memories began with me opening my eyes, staring up at the ceiling, lying in my bunk. The sun shone brightly through my window and I awoke to a beautiful, cloudless day. I heard the welcoming sounds of seagulls and was soon informed that we were on course for the eastern seaboard. I felt vexed and disoriented, my head was throbbing and my body ached, but the news of returning home vanquished my worries and I could think only of the moment at which my feet would return to the earth."

The Transformation:

It had been two weeks since Arthur returned home in that sickly state. I confess his condition had only worsened with the passing of time. He had deep dark circles under his eyes and he appeared to have lost more weight. Never before had I seen my brother in such a pathetic state. His skin was pale and lifeless with a sort of underlying shade of olive filling out his complexion. I did not ask, but I knew he was not sleeping well at night, if at all.

It was later that week, Sunday possibly, when I realized I could no longer ignore my brother's condition. He had spent most of that week in his room, lying in bed, staring out the window, although not in a leisurely daydream fashion, but more like he was watching or looking out for something. I returned home that Sunday afternoon from a short trip in to town feeling famished and downtrodden. Upon entering the front door, I immediately detected a disturbance of some sort. I felt the house to be in a disheveled state, although it appeared in perfect order. I sensed trouble, and called out to my brother.

"Arthur..." I called, "are you in your room? I could use some help bringing a few things inside."

There was no response, although I could hear a faint sound like running water coming from the bathroom. I walked apprehensively down the hallway, soon realizing what I heard to be the sound of water overflowing in the bathtub. The bathroom door was cracked and I could see water collecting on the floor.

"Arthur...the tubs overflowing, is everything al...." I stopped and shuddered as I slowly nudged the door open, finding my brother lying motionless in the tub, completely submerged and not breathing, the faucet still running and bathwater flooding the tile floor. I quickly twisted the faucet shut, grabbed Arthur under his arms and pulled his head above the water level. He felt lifeless and his skin was wrinkled and prunish. With all my might I slid him out of the tub and on to the bathroom floor, almost slipping on the now dangerous slickness of the tile floor. He lay there motionless for a moment. I thought for sure he was dead. I was petrified with fear, frozen by despair. Then, he coughed and spat water, and what looked something like blood trickled from his nose. He gasped for air and I quickly put my hand under his head and helped him to sit up. He opened his eyes and looked into mine, directly into my soul. I no longer recognized the suffering animal lying prostrate on my bathroom floor. His eyes glowed a brilliant, iridescent green, undulating with the beat of his heart. It was like nothing I had ever seen.

After the terrible occurrences in the bathroom Arthur became increasingly more subdued and cut-off. He left his room rarely, and his physique was completely withered and disturbing to behold. I would try to catch him on his rare outings and made attempts to converse, but he was standoffish, and I apprehensive to address the situation, foolishly. I lived wholly in fear of the stranger residing in my guest room.

Discoveries:

It was unavoidable that I took action, but I knew not what to do, who I could talk to or how I could approach Arthur about his condition. My thoughts raced day and night. I was tense and losing sleep. In many ways I felt my mannerisms were becoming increasingly more like my brother's. I devised a plan to enter his room, figuring I might catch some glimpse into what was developing. I'd noticed during the previous week of nearly sleepless nights that Arthur left his room at the same time, 3:00 AM, and stepped outside onto the front porch. Each time he returned to his room after fifteen minutes, without fail. I knew this was my window and decided that the following night I would enter his room, searching for an answer without having a clear question.

The next day, I went about my business in the usual fashion, feeling nervous about what I might find that night. Arthur did not make an appearance during the daytime, and in fact it had been a few days since we had crossed paths, which in general had become nothing more than a casual nodding of heads, an acknowledgment of each others' existence.

Night fell, and I fixed a pot of coffee, which I brought back to my room, not that I would need it as the previous night I had slept not more than two hours total, intermittently throughout. It was calm and peaceful outside, the night was still, only minimally labored by the crickets' sonata. I attempted to read, but found difficulty focusing and quickly admitted defeat. I sat, staring out the window, wondering inquisitively toward the stars with a mystery on my mind. Time passed.

The clock on my nightstand ticked 2:58 AM. I nervously climbed out of bed, yawned, and put on my slippers. I sat and listened, Arthur was on time. I heard his door creak open, then footsteps down the hallway and finally the front door creaking open and closing behind him. I eased open my door with the agility of a thief. Arthur had left his bedroom door cracked open, and I seized the moment, sneaking stealthily into the room with a small, unobtrusive flash light in hand.

The room, to my surprise, was in immaculate form. In no way did it resemble Arthur's outward state, and I admit it caught me off guard. I had predicted complete squalor, but apparently he had spent much of his time obsessively cleaning his dormitory. I continued around the room with my flashlight, and found nothing really to be out of order. The bed was made and the desk chair was pushed in under the desk. I noticed a small leather bound book on top of the dresser, which I knew had not belonged to me and imagined to be some sort of journal, given its blank façade. I quickly brushed through the pages and found my conjecture to be accurate. This was exactly what I needed, but time was short and haste was imperative. I took the journal under my arm and retreated quietly from the room. On my short walk back down the hallway, I looked over my shoulder, finding Arthur to be standing on the front porch as was expected. He stared up at the stars, unflinching and unwavering. Although I could only make out his silhouette in the moonlight, I could judge from his body language that his gaze was not vacant, but focused. He was looking for something...a sign, a response? I do not know.

The Journal:

The entries in Arthur's journal were both bizarre and unnerving; a window into a soul that I confess was something most foreign to me.

Thursday, January 17th

Another sleepless night with my head in a vice. My waking thoughts are a maelstrom and my dreams are worse. I had hoped my return home would be a mental cleansing but I feel my condition is only worsening. I noticed today a small scab on the side of my head, but I don't remember how or when I cut myself. Such dreams, where could they have come from if not the faculties of my own mind? Cruel phantoms remain unrevealed.

Tuesday, January 22nd

I drink water all day but my thirst goes unquenched. I don't feel much like myself. James suspects my health is slipping. How could he not? Last night I dreamt something horrible. Between flashes of green, I found myself on some crude operating table, gripped with paralysis. For one moment, I saw the villain's face, and he was not alone. Then, a stinging in my temple which woke me up. That Captain Glasshold had carried us straight into hell. I fear not the depletion of my physical health, but the threat of the intruder, the virus, the passenger whose residence I can no longer deny.

Friday, February 1st

How can I save me from myself? I suffer from intermittent cognizance. I awake on my feet, disoriented, not knowing what I was doing just a moment before. I've resigned to my room exclusively now for fear that I carry a contagion. I cannot ignore it; the wound on my head is expanding, and not wholly scabbed over. It brings the pain of eternal damnation. I am usurped of my own soul.

Saturday, February 9th

HELP JAMES HELP LEAVE GO GONE OVER GREEN GONE OVER FIND HELP HELP ME HELP HELP...

I was interrupted mid-sentence by a large hand on my shoulder. Had I left my door open? I knew what stood behind me was not my brother. I looked over...it had a long slender hand, green and smooth, six fingers, a slime like film dripping on to my shirt collar. I quickly shook its grip and jumped back. At my feet I saw the discarded skin of a man, boneless and formless, piled on the ground like a stack of dirty laundry, not unlike the abandoned skin of a molting snake. I knew from the clothes intertwined that it was all that remained of my brother Arthur. What stood before me was an abomination, something wholly unnatural. It emitted its own light, painting all four walls of my room a vibrant green in the lightless night. The creature stood over seven feet tall, liken to a humanoid in some regards. Its skin was scaled, with web-like flesh spread between most of its joints. Its eyes were black and vacant, like a soul-less beast operating wholly off instinct. It spread its teeth and bellowed a sickly cry which tore that fateful night in two. A child was born.

...