I dream I’m drowning some nights. Sinking, trying to stay afloat, dropping below the surface. I’m gasping for air, unable to stop myself gulping in water as I struggle…
Then I wake up.
It’s been this way since Mum left. She couldn’t cope, Dad said on the day she went. Not after my brother drowned. Coastline round here’s dangerous. “We told him often enough,” Dad used to say when she was still here. Not now though. Now he didn’t speak about either of them.
Molly was barking. I was used to it but Dad got really annoyed with the noise and shouted at me to go and see what’s the matter with that bloody dog so I went out into the yard. I knew it must be something in the barn that was bothering her because she was barking at the doors. I told her to calm down, otherwise Dad would come out. It was dark inside the barn and it smelled of chickens and straw. I didn’t like going in there.
I stepped inside and stopped to listen and wait for my night vision, like soldiers do. I still couldn’t see much. Just hay bales piled up and bits of rusty old machinery. Then I heard a noise. It was like someone making a footstep, trying really hard not to make a sound. I felt scared and spun around, still trying to focus in the dark. The barn door suddenly slammed shut and before I could move I felt a hand grip my neck. I cried out…
“GOT YER!” There was a shriek of laughter. I recognised my friend Bryan’s voice straight away. “That was so funny! It’s not even Halloween yet and I still scared you!” He could barely get the words out, he was laughing so much.
“Wasn’t scared!” was all I could manage to say. It just made him laugh even harder.
“What the hell’s going on in there?” Dad’s voice boomed out as the barn door swung open. Bryan stopped laughing instantly. “Run on home, you,” he said to Bryan, who wasn’t about to argue. “Think you’ve got time for mucking around, do you?” I knew he didn’t expect an answer. He came up close to me and stared. “Get on down to Harrison’s farm and pick up that chicken feed.”
I set off quickly along the path, not wanting to anger him any more. He shouted after me. “Tell him I’ll pay next week!”
Usually, I could be alone with my thoughts as I made the walk to Harrison’s – Dad always said I was a day dreamer – but not lately. The journey took me right past the new fracking site and there were loads of protesters camped outside with banners. They wanted to stop the fracking happening but my Dad said they were stupid layabouts who knew nothing and the site was the best chance he had of getting a job in this shitty place, what with the farm dying on its arse.
The protesters were even more fired up than normal this past week because one of them had turned up dead, found in a field nearby with injuries police said were ‘unexplained’. Dad said it was their own stupid fault for sticking their nose in where it didn’t concern them.
To tell the truth, I didn’t pay the protesters much attention. I was too excited about Halloween and planning for trick or treat. I went to bed that night thinking about what costume to make and how to get my own back on Bryan. It was ghosts and demons in my dreams that night. Made a change from drowning.
I woke up to the sound of Molly barking. It was still getting light and it would a while yet before Dad was up with all that beer inside him from the night before. I didn’t want him being woken up this early so I went out to quieten her down. I couldn’t believe it when I saw she was barking outside the barn again. Surely even that idiot Bryan would know better than to try the same trick again.
“Bryan! Is it you?” I called out as loud as I dared. There was no reply. I sighed and shivered in the cold of the early morning. I clicked my torch on as I opened the door. Inside, the barn was still – Molly’s barking muffled by the huge wooden doors. “Come on Bryan! My Dad’ll kill us if he finds you mucking about in here again!”
I realised it wasn’t Bryan when I heard the breathing. It was the sound of… something. An animal of some kind, taking deep, gasping breaths, like no matter how hard it tried it couldn’t get enough air. I swung the torch around wildly, the beam flitting over the hay bales. What was that noise? I was used to seeing injured beasts but this didn’t sound like any farm animal I’d ever seen.
I narrowed the breathing sound down to a corner of the barn and started to edge towards it. My footsteps were as quiet as I could possibly make them but as I got closer the animal seemed to sense me and its breathing became faster.
“It’s okay,” I whispered, “I won’t hurt you…”. And then I saw it. My jaw dropped but no sound came out. A creature roughly the same shape as a man but green and scaly, more like a lizard than a person, with a snout nose. I stepped back and it jerked backwards like it wanted to get away but couldn’t. My body momentarily froze. I realised it must be injured and saw it was holding its side.
I turned and ran, pausing only to slam the barn door shut behind me. I grabbed Molly, ran back into the house, and locked the door behind me. I thought about what I should do. Tell Dad? No, he’d be annoyed at being woken up. And he’d kill it if he saw it. I stopped in the kitchen for a few moments thinking. Then I took a loaf of bread from the cupboard and headed outside again.
The sea monster had moved further towards the back of the barn when I went inside again. Its eyes followed me as I stepped forward and held out the bread.
“I thought you might be hungry,” I said, placing it on the floor. I turned to go but then the sea monster spoke.
“The machines… boring into the earth… injured me as I slept.” Its voice was quiet, not much more than a whisper.
“The fracking?” I asked.
“I came to the surface… an ape startled me… would have told the others… I had to kill it.”
I was confused. “Ape?”
“One of your elders.” I realised apes must mean people.
“Are you going to kill me?” I asked.
“This world was ours,” it said. “Long before your people. One day it will be ours again, but not yet. I must return to the sea.”
“I can help you get back, bring you food,” I said. I took a step forward, surprised by my own boldness. “But I need you to do something first.”
“Whatever yours is, it won’t beat my Freddy!” said Bryan a couple of days later as he kicked a can around our yard. As always with Bryan, whatever I did could never be as good as what he did.
“I think it might, y’know.”
“Your Halloween costumes are always crap though! My Mum says it’s cos your Dad hasn’t got any money.” It was then that I decided to go ahead with it. Before then, I wasn’t sure – it was a fun idea but it felt mean as well. But now he was asking for it.
“So are you gonna show me then?” he asked.
I nodded towards the barn. “It’s in there.”
He looked puzzled. “Why are you keeping a costume in there?”
“It’s not really a costume,” I replied as I opened the door. Bryan frowned. “Come on,” I urged him. He stepped inside and let out the loudest scream I’ve ever heard as the sea monster came out of the shadows into the light. Which would have been okay, only he didn’t stop; he just kept on screaming. Dad was going to hear. The creature turned to me: “Is this the reaction you were looking for?” I moved over to Bryan and put a hand on his shoulder.
“It’s okay, it won’t hurt you! Stop screaming Bryan!” But he didn’t stop, and everything started to go wrong.
“What’s all this bloody racket outside?!” Dad’s voice boomed from the kitchen.
The back door opened and Molly darted out, startled by the noise. Dad stood in the kitchen doorway looking angry. Then he saw the sea monster.
“Jesus Christ!” He stepped back inside for a moment to reach for something. I knew what it was.
“No, Dad, no!” But it was too late. Everything happened in a blur. Molly leapt at the sea monster but it waved its arm and knocked her away, sending her flying across the yard with unbelievable force.
Dad strode towards it, shotgun in hand. He raised it to take aim. The sea monster, now recovered, stepped forward and grabbed the barrel, pushing it into the air. For a second, they struggled, but Dad wasn’t strong enough. The sea monster wrestled the gun from him and knocked him to the ground. It stood over him and raised its arm to strike.
“No!” I shouted. And it stopped. There was a moment – probably no more than a couple of seconds but it felt like longer – when we looked at each other. Bryan went quiet. Then the sea monster stepped away. And it turned and headed off. Over the hills, towards the sea.
Dad was OK. He never talked about the creature and Bryan told people at school I’d dressed up some homeless guy as a prank. I never saw it again. It must have gone back home. Maybe gone back to sleep. I liked that – the idea that there were homes and people in them under the sea.
I still dream I’m drowning sometimes; maybe I always will. But not as often. I know what’s down there now. So now I dream of monsters too.