The first attack occurrs in the underwater caverns of the Bahamas. Two professional divers exploring the unknown. A monstrous flesh-ripping predator they never see coming.
Now the attacks are coming closer and closer to shore. A sun-soaked playground for sea-loving tourists. A human feasting ground for whatever lurks beneath.
Now, in a desperate race against time, Eric Watson, an expert on remote control underwater vehicles, and marine biologist Valerie Martell, must identify a savage new species of killer—and piece together one of nature’s most horrific mysteries. But the most terrifying discovery of all waits for Val and her team at the bottom of the sea. A discovery too shocking, to comprehend.
Because up till now, this creature existed only in mankind’s darkest nightmares. Not anymore.
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|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 7.50(h) x 1.40(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
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What Lurks Beneath
By RYAN LOCKWOOD
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Ryan Lockwood
All rights reserved.
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.
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.
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 the entry hole. But he had quickly dismissed the cut as Pelletier stood by in full dive gear at the edge of the flooded cavern, ready to enter the water.
But now his hand was bothering him.
Breck unclenched his fist and refocused his attention on the void below him. He adjusted the strap on the expensive camera housing trailing behind his narrow frame as he loudly exhaled another lungful of bubbles, continuing a measured descent into the cylindrical shaft of warm water.
The midday brightness beaming down from above had gradually receded as he and the other diver sank down the middle of the great, water-filled maw. The dim water offered none of the familiar sounds common to the depths of the open ocean: no hum of distant motors, none of the clicks and crackles created by the activities of countless marine organisms. Only the intermittent clouds of bubbles he exhaled, the hiss of compressed air released through the regulator as he inhaled, made any noise. Otherwise, here in the essentially landlocked inland pool there was only an exhilarating silence.
When observed from above, many of these flooded holes appeared simply as deep freshwater ponds. But Breck, a professional cave diver and amateur marine geologist, knew from experience that there was much more to the big island's blue holes than the murkier layers at the top, where the waters were steeped in a tea of organic matter.
That layer of water was merely a disguise.
Deeper down, in passageways that sometimes ran for miles, a cavern like this often revealed spectacular geology and forms of life much stranger than those few concealed in the rock walls cradling the upper pool. The odd creatures dwelling much deeper, in more saline caverns, were remarkable—life-forms so alien that they existed nowhere else on earth.
Each time Breck entered one of these cavernous underwater holes, he felt as though he were entering the murky portal to another universe. Which wasn't really that far off the mark. In the few years that the water-filled blue holes on this island had been more thoroughly explored, already researchers had discovered that they contained a number of unusual new species, and geological formations normally found only in terrestrial cave systems.
He looked over at Arlo Pelletier, whose longish black hair waved in the water around his dive mask as they descended. Breck would have preferred to have Mack with him for this job, but Mack didn't have the biological background Pelletier did. And Mack wasn't diving anymore.
At least the portly Pelletier knew his stuff. While Breck's role was to map and gather images of the geology of the underwater caverns, the French biologist had been assigned to document the undiscovered life-forms residing within them—life-forms that tended to be small, eyeless, and alien-looking. Because of the great depths to which many of the technical caverns extended, and the extended bottom time required to venture into them, few in the world were qualified to be here. Both men had been hired for their expertise at cave diving, using mixed gases that prevented unsafe levels of nitrogen in the blood. Even with all the proper equipment, their brief excursions offered merely a glimpse of the underwater caverns and the life within them, to give humanity a better idea of what existed beneath the holes dotting the island's surface. It would take decades and better technology to fully explore the geological wonders.
Almost a hundred feet down now, the men had already passed the toxic layer of water Pelletier referred to as l'omelette—because it had the discernible taste and smell of rotten eggs. Below that layer, they had then passed through a broader stratum of semi-saline water that mixed with freshwater above, and were now entering the dense, pure seawater that reached through dark tunnels out to the deep ocean.
Here, the visibility was much better than above—the clarity of bottled vodka. Breck could make out a large cone of rocky debris piled along the near vertical north wall of the hole. The rubble had accumulated below the mouth of the hole over thousands of years, the result of the cave roof collapsing gradually over time to form the hole. Nearing a ledge near the top of the rubble mound, Breck noticed several distinct objects littering the feature.
He finned over to the wall of the hole and there, staring back at him from where it was perched on the rubble, was a human skull, half buried in silt. It was misshapen in such a way that the forehead clearly sloped backwards from the face. Breck reached for his camera, raised it to his mask and snapped several images. Each was accompanied by a bright flash.
He nodded at Pelletier, waiting beside him, and they continued their descent.
A hundred and twenty feet down, near the base of the hole, they finally located the dark opening to the third and final passage. It was the last of the three main tunnels, all branching off the central shaft of the hole, all previously undocumented. This one led off to the east. They probably wouldn't reach the end today, but would map it as far back as they could.
They swam toward the narrow opening and came to rest on a ledge of rock beside it. Breck finally clicked on one of his dive lights—they each carried three as one of many redundancy measures—and directed it into the darkness. He knew from experience that the tunnel's unassuming entry likely belied an extensive network of caverns linking to large chambers beyond. He carefully tied off a nylon line from his largest safety reel to a large rock on the cavern wall outside the passage. The line would likely be their only means of finding their way back to safety on their return. Pelletier nodded at him, and the men followed their dive lights into the jagged opening. Inside, Breck could make out about twenty feet of the passage before it turned abruptly downward.
As an unashamed Trekkie, not for the first time he thought of the Star Trek tagline. Here, in this cave, no man had gone before. He smiled. All the jock assholes who had picked on him as a skinny, awkward black kid in high school thirty years ago would never experience anything like this. They didn't have the balls.
Breck looked at his hand, which was throbbing some now. At least it looked like the bleeding had stopped. He lifted off the rock wall, Pelletier behind him. The safety line began to spool out as he kicked into the darkness.CHAPTER 3
The disturbance was close now.
Alert, the enormous organism's brain processed the unfamiliar sounds of activity—muffled thumps and scrapes produced by the approach of something solid moving through the dark caverns, sending vibrations into a saclike organ in its body.
It had never before encountered any animals of significant size in this refuge; only the smaller creatures that perpetually dwelled within it. Nothing large enough to be of concern, as either predator or prey, ever entered these submarine caverns. Only the great beast itself was able to manipulate its nebulous bulk into almost any shape to allow passage through narrow tunnels.
But something was coming now.
It tested the water again. The taste was vaguely familiar. This was not its typical prey. But it was ravenous.
Its eyes began to detect movement. A dim light was moving erratically in an opening at the far end of the cavern. It again considered a retreat back toward the ocean, but its instincts stopped it. No potential threat existed in its refuge. In the daytime, it was safer here than in the open ocean. And now its innate curiosity overwhelmed it.
It would remain. But it would not be seen.
It slowly pressed its immense body against the wall of the cavern, drawing its branching limbs under it, flattening its bulk to shape itself into the cavern wall itself. Fully immersed into the contours of rock, it ceased moving.
Narrow rays of light appeared through the opening in the cavern and struck its flesh. Its skin quickly began to change color, to exactly match the drab hues of the cavern. Its eyes narrowed to slits.
It became the wall.
Sure of its invisibility, it calmly watched as the disturbance entered its lair.
In the beam of his dive light, Breck could see that several feet ahead the narrow shaft opened into some sort of larger room. A good thing, because the passage had narrowed enough in a few places that he'd been worried the heavier Pelletier might not pass. But the Frenchman had proven amazingly capable of squeezing his thick belly through tighter tunnels.
Breck released a breath of air to reduce his buoyancy, then pressed his body against the hard limestone beneath him and guided himself forward, kicking lightly to prevent stirring up ancient sediments. His scuba tank bumped against the convoluted rock above as he squeezed through the last few feet of the final restriction.
He felt a familiar sense of wonder as he entered the upper corner of a vast chamber. The artificial light revealed a considerable space spreading outward and downward, filled entirely with clear seawater, long enough that even in the powerful light the distance to the far wall was difficult to assess and distorted by lack of perspective. There was simply nothing to use for scale. He would need to be sure to get Pelletier into some of the shots.
He tied off their primary safety line, and then with his dive knife cut the line to free the spool. From a smaller spool clasped to his vest, he then affixed a new, secondary line to the primary line. He entered the chamber.
Breck raised his camera toward the ceiling and heard the faint click as its flash lit the silent cavern. Creeping along the rock above was an inverted reddish shrimp the size of his finger, with oversized antennae swaying in the current as it crept along the rough surface. As Breck gripped the camera, he noticed that his hand had stopped hurting. The mostly sterile seawater in here was probably cleansing the wound.
He snapped another image, this time directed into the open chamber. In the bright light he noticed that this cavern, which appeared to be at least seventy feet long and half as wide, was much broader than the others he and Pelletier had encountered in this network. This was by no means the largest chamber he had ever seen, but it was impressively large nonetheless. And there was something very unique about it. Nearly all the others this size had exhibited a beautiful natural architecture of stalactites, stalagmites, and other cave formations, but this one was different. Barren. Almost as though something had worn the sides smooth over the centuries—or cleared the space out. The lack of calcite formations made the chamber seem all the larger, giving it a lonely, empty feel.
Like a tomb.
He thought again of his friend Mack. He would love this place. But the last time he'd seen him, he'd thrown in the towel, finally fed up with the handicap he'd brought home from Iraq.
Breck glanced at his depth gauge as he attained neutral buoyancy near mid-water in the space. Two-hundred twenty-five feet down. Deep, indeed. And they were two or three times farther back than that laterally. He looked back to make sure his safety line—like Hansel's fabled trail of bread crumbs—was still affixed near the opening from which he had come, and saw Pelletier's (Gretel s, he thought, smiling) light appear in the dark cavity as he too arrived at the chamber. After Pelletier tied off and entered, Breck pointed out the shrimp suspended from the ceiling above, and the Frenchman nodded and moved toward it.
They had passed through a long, claustrophobic corridor in the cave system to get here. It hadn't been overly tight by cave standards—maybe five or six feet across for most of its distance—until the slightly narrower restriction here at the end. On the way, they'd encountered two other large grottos. The first one, three hundred feet in from the main entry shaft, had an enchanting ballroom feel, with a high ceiling and hundreds of conical stalagmites rising from the floor—graceful dancers frozen a thousand years ago as they twirled past one another. The other chamber was long and low and lined with hundreds of straws—calcite formations that spanned from floor to ceiling like prison bars, which had made passage difficult.
As Breck raised his camera again and continued to document this third chamber, he thought about his sister back in Philly. Deanna was going to love these pictures, and his nephew, Lucas, would like them even more. They already displayed several of his amateur shots, blown up and framed in her home office—all of images taken inside caverns from around the world. But none like this.
Deanna hated tight spaces. She would've freaked out back in those tunnels, in knowing how far he was from the surface now. She'd always been a phenomenal athlete, especially before she'd had kids, but had never had the guts to do what he did. Not only because of the diving part, but also the squeezing-through-impossibly-tight-passages part. Few people did. But he had never been scared. And he didn't have kids. Never would. His independence was too important, and his profession too dangerous.
Excerpted from What Lurks Beneath by RYAN LOCKWOOD. Copyright © 2015 Ryan Lockwood. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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