I think that’s the word for it.
I’m back in the capital, hiding in a cave just like my biblical namesake. It’s not one of the Atlantean combs, but an actual empty cave in an undeveloped part of the city. We’re at least a quarter-mile away from any people, safely tucked away in the underwater equivalent of the wilderness. I’m cradling my laptop and praying to God I haven’t lost everything. I’m recording this on my dictaphone, to try to give a brief account of what just happened.
Lithe, Iara, and myself had set our attentions back to the problem of transportation. We wanted to leave the zombie-infested city of Kothar Khasis, the outer colony, and rescue Liz and Jonah. There were three large gashes in the ceiling of the Sea Monk bridge. Two of these were about three feet long and only fifteen inches or so at their widest bit. Iara set to work immediately, smearing the jelly over these, while Lithe transferred some of the jelly to another sack. I heard him a few moments later covering the gashes on the roof.
It was slimy work, and not at all rewarding. From time to time gloops of the jelly would slide in between the ceiling gaps and land on me or Iara. It was woefully gross the first few times, but became comical after a while. Then it got gross again. I playfully splatted Iara’s back with a little bit of the goo, but she looked angry and muttered something under her breath. Lithe hopped down, completing his task faster than we had completed ours, and gave us a helping hand. Iara stood with Lithe between us; I suppose she was afraid of another assault.
So much for being playful.
By this point, both of the smaller gashes had been patched, but this left the much larger one. I measured it, and though roughly oval-shaped, it was still forty-two inches across at the narrowest spot. With most of the zombies gone, it was safe to go outside and find stuff to use for thatch. I gathered several discarded spears and irons from the hunter’s training pool. I had to make several trips, but slowly the thatch began to take shape. We crisscrossed the spears and placed the irons along the exterior rim, with one also in the middle acting as a hub, and then Lithe smeared on the jelly. Iara had rigged up a bed sheet on the bottom side, and she began to work it like paper maché.
When we were done, we set about cleaning out the Monk. It was filthy. We scoured the floor and swabbed out the hallways. Iara began to clean the pagan mishmash off the bridge walls. I went back to get Chris from the battlefield. He was still sitting in the exact same position. But when Lithe and I got close to him, I saw that he had been busy. Several of the dead were…decorated. I don’t know what else to call it. Their eyes had been filled with spinefish needles so that it looked like urchins were growing from beside their noses. Others had patterns etched into their skin. He had written blasphemies in a profane script; a bastard Cyrillic incorporating the demonological verbs of the original settlers from the Caucus Mountains. Chris had turned the flesh into word. He had reverse-engineered the incarnation of the divine logos.
Lithe and I brought him out of the heap. He came without a fight, but I never mistook his lack of resistance for a lack of intended violence. Twice he was pricked by the needles as we led him, hobbled still, from the Atlantean wreckage. Both times I thought he was counting his injuries, building his justification, and accruing interest toward future retribution.
I half-rolled, half-dragged Chris out of the bridge and stuffed him into the head. I jammed his chair into the shower – keeping his clothes on, since they stank worse than he did – and turned the water on. We scrubbed him down, but I felt like I was the one who needed a bath.
I held little hope his immersion could count as baptism.
With chores done and holes patched, we began our final preparations. Remembering something Chris had said earlier, I deflated one of the balloon ballasts and strapped it to my back in a rucksack, rehearsing that older, saner, conversation in my mind.
“The ballast is like an underwater hot-air balloon,” Chris had said, back when he wasn’t a murdering psychopath.
“But it doesn’t work like that now?” I’d asked.
“No. Right now it’s fixed inside the Sea Monk. In case of emergency the ballasts can be inflated to add immediate buoyancy. But they also double as crew-floatation devices.”
“Sure. There’s room for everyone but you.”
I miss those old conversations, during which I was pretty sure that all the mean things he said to me were just for his own amusement and not my certain future if left in his care.
Iara had given me the idea that we needed to prepare the Monk for towing. I thought I knew what was coming but hoped I was wrong. I wasn’t. After securing some of our high-tensile cabling to the eyelets on the sub, we sat on the edge of the pool and waited. It wasn’t long before Leviathan emerged from the central pool with Iara nicely seated upon one of his fiery brows.
It occurred to me then that Leviathan isn’t just an ordinary, albeit oversized, sea monster. He’s good. He’s mentioned in Genesis 1. He’s tannin, the great creature of the sea, and though he often shows up in the First Testament as an adversary to Yahweh, he has his own salvation history. It comforts me to think about theology. In the face of the zombie-horror, frustrated with Chris, grieving for Lin, and scared about the future of my family, I found solace in rehearsing the good bits of Scripture pertaining to my present circumstances. Leviathan was created good but rebelled against God much like humanity did. That’s sad to me. I always thought we were the only creatures stupid enough to defy our Creator. But Leviathan’s antagonism in Job and in the Psalms is reversed in Jonah. That’s right, many rabbinical scholars perceive the great fish in Jonah to be none other than the seven-headed monster I saw in the water before me. Far from remaining God’s enemy, Leviathan finds redemption within the biblical story. He acts as a living billboard for the raw generative power of God. The scripture says Yahweh delights in his creation, setting tannin to play. And here he is now, acting as our savior and rescuer – the only messiah Zebulon has ever seen. A portent. A sign. Balaam’s underwater ass.
Every creature which is in heaven,
and on the earth,
and under the earth
and such as live in the sea,
was heard saying
“Blessing and Glory and Honor and Power
to Him Who Sits on the Throne
and unto the Lamb
forever and ever.”
We pulled the tethers connected to the Sea Monk all the way over to the pool as Leviathan placidly leaned down two of his heads. There was intelligence there, and kindness. It was like looking into the eyes of the dolphins at Sea World. Dolphins always look like they’re smiling, though, whereas Leviathan looked lost. He was looking for someone to bring him home. I can’t say why I thought it was a he, or even why I assumed it had gender at all, but I got the impression of some old grandfather, a long widower, in a place far from his children.
Grandfather took the tethers into his mouths and began to pull. Iara, Lithe, and I stood on the shore and watched. The entire cavern was shot through with this horrid sound: nails on a chalkboard, factor of ten. The Monk lurched and jerked for the first couple of attempts, with Leviathan seeming to test the weight and resistance of the tether, but then the big monster just dove straight down into the pool’s depths and the Sea Monk screeched and clattered its way into the water, clipping the edge of the pool and taking off a good chunk of rock at the lip.
Iara and I dove into the pool where the sub was now settling, Lithe close behind us. I had a moment of remorse when I thought about Chris still tied up in the restroom. That would have been a bumpy ride. The remorse passed when I reminded myself I’d simply forgotten about him. Then I was permitted to enjoy the mental image of Chris being tossed around like a rag doll in a puppy factory.
The thing is, as much as all that love your enemies jive is scrolling through my head, I really don’t want that guy to be around. I didn’t kill him, but I wouldn’t mind if he slipped on a banana peel…in a minefield. I have to come to grips with the fact that I want Chris dead, but am either too courageous or too cowardly to do it myself. In either case, it is my convictions that prohibit me.
I wonder whether I’m acting more out of faith or fear?
Clambering aboard the Monk and opening the topside hatch that led into the dive room, we three descended. I was the last one through, and this was the last time I would see the outer colony. It looked like a scene from Dante’s Inferno. There were more bodies than pools, more death than love, and I gather that it was the screeching noise that had brought out the last of the zombies who were now sparring and strutting out on the rocks.
The Monk was floating at the top of the surface, which solved our initial problem. We knew now it could create an air tight seal, but we still didn’t know if the ventilating procedure would work, thereby equalizing the pressure inside the sub with the pressure outside in the sea. This was a two-stage process. We had to vent inside the tunnel on the way to the jelly wall, and then vent after we passed through it in the deep water. To complicate matters, our instruments weren’t giving us accurate readings. They read, for example, that our current depth was zero feet below sea level, despite being inside a cavern approximately 7,000-11,000 feet deeper.
I didn’t know how to pilot the sub, other than just the absolute basics. Navigation, for example, is much like playing a video game. The controls invert the y-axis, so up is down and down is up; but that is the only tricky bit. There is a throttle controlling forward and reverse motion, and two pedals controlling pitch and yaw.
And as for the venting procedure…again, simple. Probably the one thing simpler than the navigation controls. There is a big red button with the word VENT written on it. When you pushed it, it vents.
We vented for the first time and began to sink, our ballasts automatically filling with the water from the tunnel. Leviathan had released our tethers, but I didn’t cut them away from the sub. There was a chance we could get tangled up in something because of them dangling behind us in the water, but we were willing to take that chance. Our torch and cutter could cut loose just about anything inhibiting our progress, and I thought we should have a contingency plan just in case something went wrong with our propulsion system or we sprang a leak early and needed to get back into the tunnel with a little help from our big pal.
Things seemed to be working normally, though we all felt scared. Anything, any one of a million things, could go wrong; but so far, so good. The jelly was holding, and it had the added bonus of giving us an additional window out into the water. Both Lithe and Iara were funny about this. They had never traveled through the water in an enclosed vehicle before, and they became playful. They pantomimed eating and drinking and looked out the windows, teasing the fish. We all laughed. I guess we needed a break from the tension.
In almost no time we reached the jelly wall and I motioned everyone to buckle their seat belts. None of us did, knowing it wouldn’t matter, and the nose of the Sea Monk poked through the jelly into the deep ocean.
We immediately felt the change in pressure as the Sea Monk was slowed forcibly. It felt like we’d been struck on the nose with Thor’s hammer, but I was prepared and had already begun the second venting process. The Monk didn’t right immediately, but neither did we continue to be gummed up by the pressure. We urged out into the water, venting constantly, and at first it looked like everything was going to hold.
Leviathan took a sudden interest in the sub, hovering around those bits of jelly and getting dangerously close to scuttling us several times. He finally pulled in above us and settled down, his enormous heads looming above and looking into the bridge. And then he licked us, big, slow, strokes like seven ewes cleaning a shared lamb. He sang, too. It was different than whale-song. There was more texture, more sonority. If whales sounded like euphoniums, Leviathan was an orchestra of reeds and bones. He paused here and there to clean the jelly, and escorted us back to rails that lead to the capital.
I thought of Lin and her desire to know more about the jelly and the super-caviar. I realized no one would understand what I was saying, but for her sake I had to say it out loud. “He’s protecting it, Lin. The jelly. It’s his. The eggs, the ones you researched back in school, they’re his. He cares.” And with that, we followed the rails from the outer colony back to the capital, still assuming everything was fine.