Excerpts from my journals, which tell of my 100% true adventures and discoveries.
Part 1: The Nightmare Fish
Part 2: The Insane Reptiles
Part 3: It Came from Lake Inferior
Part 1: The Nightmare Fish
Time had run out for my private archeological expedition. Off the shores of Crete, my vanity trust-fund dream was at an end. The site had become known to murderous looters, namely the Amish gangster Menno Zwonk. Prowling the Mediterranean, Zwonk had stalked me to find the ruins, then bribed a local magistrate to strangle the permits in red tape.
The handful of dejected grad students stood around their poisoned scuba tanks on the deck of my yacht, the Roman. An approaching squall raised waves that chopped at the wind. Zwonk had won.
I spoke as if in mourning. “We can still publish what we have but this mutilates the science… **** it, it’s only 250 feet down. I’m going to freedive it.”
My colleagues gasped. “You’re crazy,” they said, “It’s suicide…”
“This rapist of the seas wants the Sword of Semiramis, and we are right above it. We all but loosed it from its sediments just yesterday… A few kicks and I’ll be down there, prying it from its last strictures. Trust me. I’ll surface within four minutes. You’ve timed me on breath holds past five.”
“That was sitting still, not diving 250 feet, Jesus Christ…”
“Zwonk is off our starboard bow. It’s now or never.”
I stood and, beginning a series of deep breaths, I slung two trident-tip spearguns across my back, an act of grim finality that set the crew to frenzied despair. Consciously keeping my heart rate steady, I straddled the side of the Roman and donned a weight belt, a divemask, and a monofin. I strapped a dive light to my wrist as shark fins cut the surface.
“Jim, Zwonk’s chumming…!”
I took one last breath, really packing in the oxygen, then I slipped beneath the surface without adieu. My astonished friends wept for stress and fear as the Amishman’s black boat drew near.
Sharp sounds of the air drained away as the fluid mediation of the sea asserted itself. The sharks — ten-foot hammerheads, each a nightmare — acted horny and curious, flicking their tails but not yet driven to heights of bloodthirst by Zwonk’s chum buckets. I felt oxygen-intoxicated like I could hold my breath forever… Diving through the strata of sharks, negative buoyancy took hold at sixty feet. I let gravity work, my organs compressing as the depths embraced me.
The necropolis rose like a fever dream of Lovecraft. As the ruined columns slid into view, their lines sharpened like a photograph developing in blue emulsion: the vacant tomb of Assyrian queen Semiramis, who abdicated her throne in 800 BC and disappeared. Why had she come to Crete? The mind reels.
“If a king desires riches he should look inside,” the archway announced in three dead alphabets. But the antechamber taunted, “If you hadn’t been so greedy you would not have disturbed the dead.”
Gliding through the space where the roof used to be, I flicked the monofin, a modern Triton. I engaged the dive light; candy-striped squirrel fish darted from the beam.
The sword lay in situ. An Egyptian khopesh with the sickle blade of the lost dynasties, was it a message across dreaming centuries, the blade itself a stylized question mark…? Had Semiramis taken it as booty? Had she been gifted it in a marriage to unite kingdoms? How many lives had the sword claimed in her hand?
Two minutes had elapsed. I pulled the sword hilt but layers of crust held it firm. With a speargun trident, I scraped the mineral where the sword had become one with the sarcophagus. After a full minute, water beclouded with silt and mud, I drew the sword from the stone. In one hand, I held the 21st-Century graphite speargun, and in the other, a conqueror’s weapon of the Bronze Age.
Sticking the sword in my belt, I abandoned my weights, dolphin-kicking for the sixty-foot mark where buoyancy could again lift me. The vault of the sky came into view. Lungs protesting, I saw the outline of the Roman above the agitated silhouettes of the hammerheads. Zwonk’s engine noise grew closer as the insane fish crowded me with aggressive passes.
I speared one, then struggled to pull the remaining speargun off my back, wasting oxygen in the effort. Four minutes had elapsed now. At twenty feet deep, a male barreled into me from behind, clamping my torso in a vise of serrated teeth. The speargun got the worst of it, crimping against my cracking ribs, freeing my remaining breath…
A bolt of flame streaked from Zwonk’s boat, striking the Roman which exploded. The shock wave dispersed the sharks. I added burst eardrums to my list of excruciating wounds. Somehow I broke the surface of flaming oil and debris, sputtering, abdomen raked and crushed… What did the Amishman use, a nuke?… The hammerheads will return to the corpses of my friends… Zwonk motoring over… I clung unseen to the severed nose of the Roman, air trapped inside it, my shattered sanctuary. Unbidden, I recalled the lines from the Odyssey: “Zeus had struck my swift ship with a blazing thunderbolt: my boat was shattered on the winedark sea. Then all my worthy shipmates died, but I, gripping the keel of my curved ship, survived.”
Zwonk dropped a guide line from his boat to the sarcophagus. “You’ll be disappointed,” I thought, “You ****ing monster…”
Part 2: The Insane Reptiles
I lay on my waterbed, lit with the peach-colored dusk of a late Duluth summer. I fell into a reverie about my final dive, five years ago, among the shark-infested submerged temple ruins of Crete. I had mapped their collapsing walls by satellite the night before. It was the archeological find of the century, uncovered by an earthquake, but I never returned to it. The shark attack induced a phobia, and I retreated from the oceans to the inland seas. Now I was publicly going by the handle Lake Superior Aquaman, a way to hide my identity in case the Amishman ever came looking.
The open windows let in a warm lake breeze to my well-apportioned, Grecian-style condo. Filled with antiques, its intricate tile work was cool to the touch. The wall tapestries’ classical motifs seemed animate in the fading light. A box on the stone floor contained a toy set with plastic sub, pilot, temple ruin with scattered blocks on an ocean floorscape, urns, and a little octopus. Inset shelves of artifacts lined the walls of the apartment, including the bronze sickle-sword of Semiramis I’d rescued from the necropolis. Now meticulously cleaned and gleaming, it was an archeological anomaly I’d never solved. Coveted by customs officials, art dealers, and gangsters alike, I’d smuggled it home by cargo plane, wrapped in a wetsuit and hidden in a duffel bag beneath trident speargun spears.
Before I let the waterbed’s undulations rock me to sleep, I paged through an aquatic photo spread in a National Geographic. Then I popped on VR goggles and immersed myself in 360-degree underwater videos hued in blues and greens, with rippling light bands.
Dozing off, I dreamed of a flooded acropolis, its rooftop showing above the waves. Perfect water clarity revealed the columns and open layout. Shafts of sunlight pierced the water and settled on colored corals. Freediving side-by-side with mini-submarines, I explored the liminal Atlantis of my mind.
Dead of night. Zwonk had found me. While I slept he sabotaged the apartment’s plumbing, causing it to quietly flood ankle-deep.
My eye peeped open and saw the plastic toy submarine bobbing around in a moonbeam glittering off the standing water. From the fire escape window, Zwonk introduced a trio of muscular, angry, juiced-up water moccasins. The six-foot long, jet-black, venomous water snakes tore around room to room in a fury.
The sound of their unnatural tail-thrashing swim triggered in me a panic response mixed with moral revulsion. I bolted up in alarm and turned on the oil lamp by the side of the bed. The dim light illuminated my speargun in the corner and I ran for it through the water. From the adjoining rooms, the snakes heard the commotion and turned for me through the open archway spaces.
I loaded the speargun with jittery hands and drew a bead on the first crazed reptile to enter. It launched out of the water like a missile. The spear struck true and the serpent was yanked from the air and pinned to the wall by the neck, its over-ripe venom glands ejaculating and oozing. I quickly loaded the speargun again as the second snake plowed through the water. My spear stapled its head to the floor KTHUNK, and its body lashed spasmodically as blood pooled. The third animal was too close for me to load another spear. My focus was drawn to the sickle-sword within reach on its display shelf.
The snake barreled towards me, pushing itself along the surface with its head up at a 45-degree angle. It sprang for my neck as I grasped the sword handle and swung the elegant curved blade like it was a baseball bat. The body of the snake caught on the sword’s fanged hook tip. I followed through with my swing, wrenching my back as I bashed the creature across the width of an Ionic column. Wildly I flung the snake and the sword across the room to impact against the far wall. The snake dropped limply as I abandoned the place, scrambling down the fire escape in a hurry. Zwonk was nowhere to be seen – probably deep inside the apartment. And I did not know what other aquatic horrors had been introduced… electric eels? Rays? Piranhas?
When I returned, the sword was gone. I didn’t even care. I thought Zwonk would leave me alone now.
Part 3: It Came from Lake Inferior
Months passed. 70 feet underwater in murky conditions, I explored the wreck of the 300-foot freighter, the Thomas Wilson, which sank in 1902 a mile from the lift bridge. A dive line led to my kayak stationed above. Eschewing scuba gear in favor of my own monumental breath control, I cheated a little by huffing pure oxygen beforehand to keep my blood levels maxed.
The wreck was blistered with rust and slime. The dicey visibility was only 15 feet, although the faraway sun permeated the suspended silt with dim yellow and green light. Three minutes of air were left in my lungs, just enough to poke around inside before starting the long climb to the surface. Four-foot-long flippers effortlessly displaced water, powering me forward from mere flicks of my feet. I glided up to the wheelhouse and slipped in, taking care not to touch the edges of the door jamb like a game of “Operation,” avoiding any possibility of getting cut on the distressed metal, or worse, snagging my wetsuit…
Zwonk’s trained orca, pissed off about being in fresh water, zeroed in on a tracer Zwonk had planted in my weight belt. The creature’s stark black-and-white delineations became clear just outside the broken wheelhouse windows.
I reeled in stunned terror and shock at the surreal surprise attack. The ungodly face of the deranged killer mammal plowed thru the window housings before becoming wedged, thrashing its tail to dislodge itself while its monster jaws and tongue snapped and slavered a foot away from my facemask. I screamed out my lungfulls of remaining air. The orca backed up, ripping off and eating one of my long flippers as it went, coiling to make another charge into the enclosed space now kicked up in drifting chunks of algae, splinted wood, and broken glass settling to the floor. A wisp of whale blood off the glass separated in the whorls as the orca readied a second ramming lunge.
In my mania, two impossible ideas collided in my mind. The first was of the fabled underground lake beneath Lake Superior: Lake Inferior.
Through cracks and fissures in the basaltic floor, Lake Superior had penetrated, filtering, into capillary spaces, hollowing them out over geological epochs, leading to the existence of the underground hell lake – or “Lac d’enfer” as Sir Duluth had called it, when its existence was revealed to him. This was later anglicized and bastardized as “Lake Inferior,” although there is nothing inferior about a subterranean breach where untold monsters breed.
I had also heard the legend of the ghost ship Janus, disappeared in a 70s gale. As reported over the years, the 700-foot cargo ship wreck miraculously retains enough air in its hidden spaces that it drifts around just beneath the surface of the water. The silvery mirroring effect of the subsurface reflects an upside-down image of the ship, the second face of its namesake.
As I watched the orca charge, the great shadow of the Janus crossed the scene. Even more impossibly, a harpoon shot from somewhere on the weird vessel, spearing the enraged cetacean. It spasmed and jerked as it was winched towards the retreating ship in a great cloud of blood like squid ink.
Whoever had saved my life had done so incidentally; the Janus was obviously powered and manned by someone, a crew of fish-frog men from Lake Inferior, that needed a lot of meat…?
The mystery would have to wait.
I often feel shocked at how far down I really am. With the simple breath holding of the freedive, as opposed to breathing a mix of gasses from a scuba tank, I can ascend as rapidly as I wish without fear of the bends. But that assumes I have enough oxygen in my blood to get me there before I pass out.
I frequently imagine I am 30 feet deep, but upon glancing up at the surface, I blanch to remember I am hundreds of feet down, fearing the smothering embrace of this cold mother that dosn’t care if I live.
Now I had one flipper, my breath was gone, and I was 70 feet underwater in the portentious shade of a passing ghost ship. I reached for my weight belt, withdrawing a CO2 cartridge affixed to an inflatable rubber balloon which I tethered to my wrist. Depressing a button, the balloon rapidly inflated and I rocketed towards the surface, velocity increasing as I ditched the weight belt, watching it plummet into the shadows of the Wilson.
Just before I reached the air, I started dreaming, my oxygen-starved brain retreating into itself. I blacked out into a dream of a benevolent orca god who taught me control of the sea. I didn’t know what I was going to do about Menno Zwonk, but the orca god told me to never stop fighting.
I awoke, luckily, floating on my back in the buoyant wetsuit. My mind swam with the inscrutable faces of the Janus, the inversions of Superior and Inferior.
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