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Inside the Ganges

by Jennifer Hollie Bowles

 

Jones steadied himself as the schooner rocked. The Ganges River around them slowly turned from murky hazel to charcoal crimson. Jones was a practical scientist, but he occasionally went on intuition. He strode across the boat. “Hurry, help me set up the mics. It’s eighty feet deep here and I think there’s something big down there,” he told Blevins

A low wailing lifted from the water, mystical like a dolphin’s voice, only more sonorous. “It sounds like a bunch of monks moaning in pain,” said Blevins. “Ssshh,” replied Jones, knifing with his hand in a vertical motion.

The deep yowling streaked two octaves higher then fell, tumbling into a breathy Oooooommmmmm. The sound made jagged lines on the water’s surface, and the river rippled tiny waves that spun in the shape of a twenty-foot funnel.

“Holy shit,” said Jones. He stood trembling, shaking his head back and forth. “What’s wrong with me? I’m scared to death to go down there and take a look.” He lifted his eyebrows towards Blevins, wanting encouragement.

Blevins said, “I’m your assistant, but I’m not going to assist you to make a dangerous decision. You don’t know what that huge thing is, and it doesn’t seem wise to find out by swimming around down there, like bait.”

Jones’ scientific ego clamored to his defense. “There’s no reason to believe that the ‘huge thing’ is a carnivore,” his voice dripped with condescension, “and it’s my job as a scientist to discover and name the species ... if it hasn’t already been…” His voice trailed off at the end because something didn’t feel right. Scientists had been studying the Ganges for decades, so why no mention at all — of, of… Jones shook the thought process out of his head. “I have to go down there.”

The tremulous bawl resumed, tilting the boat to and fro, and the resonance deepened, as if falling from mountainous heights. Jones’ equilibrium felt like a roller coaster drop into blackness. The pulsation raised goose bumps on his flesh. The sound rose higher, curving up the invisible rails of air, rolling into a clear MmaaaaNnniiiiiii.

“Om Mani. It said, ‘Om Mani!’” Blevins shouted.

“It can’t — be — real,” stammered Jones.

“Go down there and take a look! This is incredible! It’s a spiritual fish or being of some sort. It won’t hurt you!” Blevins rambled.

Something hung on the outskirts of Jones’ mind, and he was afraid that if he reached toward it, he would fall out of sanity. “It’s sentient,” said Jones quietly.

Jones put on his scuba gear and jumped into the river. He swam down and down toward the being, which roiled in tenor. The vibration of the water pushed against Jones’ body like massage-fingers. At a depth of forty feet, he heard Ppaaaaaaaaaadd-Mmmeeeeee. The sound writhed through his body, jarring his bones. Fear gripped him, and it was all that he could do to maintain the descent toward the unnamable thing lurking below in a mass of gray. He swam further down, and the gray began to take on a bulbous shape.

A hum of deep bass like hundreds of cellos and tubas came forth, and the strength of the sound pushed at Jones. He fought downward as the sound rose, sure that the pulse would spew him out of the water when it reached crescendo. The gray heap suddenly became clear, and Jones saw a huge globular boil, ripe to burst. He felt disgust climb his throat, threatening vomit that would choke him. The bass continued to rise, and Jones sought something to anchor himself before he faced the final syllable. He swam closer and saw other globs of gray fish flesh and —

 — and a human leg sticking out of one of the boils. Jones screamed into his mask, gurgling bubbles. He saw other human legs protruding from the gray blisters. Hhhhhhhuuuuuuuuuu began the swell of the final sound, and the leg nearest to Jones bent toward him. He had but a few seconds to decide: to ride the sound waves back to the safety of the surface as a scared man, or to hold on to the leg as a brave scientist.

Jones gripped the leg and held on, MMMMMMmmmmm.
The vibration lasted for several minutes, and then all became the consuming silence of deep water. Jones looked around and realized that the being was the size of a big two-story house, at least. He let go of the leg, tentatively. I don’t care if I die. I have to see its face. See its face, he thought as he swam around the being, careful not to accidentally swim into a leg or brush an abscess. His head buzzed and his will distorted the closer he swam.

YOU MAY SEE. YOU MAY LOOK UPON US. LOOK UPON US. The being said to Jones’ mind: YOU MAY SEE. YOU MAY LOOK UPON US. LOOK UPON US. The mantra pounded in his head, until the distortion reached its crux and Jones cracked. He laughed the madman’s cackle, the bubbles gurgled out of control. I’m here in the Ganges about to look at the face of a telepathic-boil-covered-mantra-chanting-human-limbed Fish.

He was sure the fish was laughing too. He rounded the head of the thing, and he felt ready for any sight he might find. Long metallic tentacles slithered into his view, coiling rhythmically, shining in an ethereal amethyst glow. As he swam down the head, the purple eyes gleamed at him with horrific satire. Jones felt his brain shatter into shredded pieces of tenuous sanity. He was unprepared for the human arms sticking out of the face, like the whiskers of a catfish. He was not prepared for the dolphin-like snout, sticking out of the bulbous thing like a giant clamp with razor-sharp teeth.

WE DON’T LIKE YOU. WE DON’T CARE THAT WE DON’T LIKE YOU. LIKE US. Jones was too frightened to move. His heart gyrated like the onset of a sudden heart attack. He wanted desperately to cognate, to understand at least something about the being, but he couldn’t grasp any of the thoughts and connect or process them. A telepathic-boil-covered-mantra-chanting-human-limbed-purple-eyed Catfish Dolphin. WE DON’T LIKE YOU. WE DON’T CARE THAT WE DON’T LIKE YOU. LIKE US. A telepathic-boil-covered

 The being opened its scissor jaws wide — mantra-chanting — and screeched a sound unimaginable to mortal ears, [time canceled] shoving Jones — human-limbed — back and up, and up, to the surface of the Ganges like a matchstick man — purple-eyed Catfish Dolphin.

• • •

Jones scrambled out of the water back into the schooner and ripped off his air mask, breathing in heavy, uneven gasps. Blevins stood agape, “Whh — ?”

“Don’t ask me yet. I need some time to process this.”

Jones felt surprised by the rational sound of his voice, but it didn’t comfort his reeling brain. He walked in a daze down the steps to his private quarters. He sat on the bed and clutched the sides of his head. A telepathic-boil cov — no wait, Jones, be a scientist. He grabbed pen and paper to record what he had seen and thought, and a hot excitement radiated from his diaphragm. What did it say to me? He wrote the elusive words that the being had telepathically spoken to him. Setting the page in its own pile, he said to himself, I’ll deal with that later. He then wrote the word “telepathic,” and next to it, “telepathic fish.” Only in stories, fairytales, he thought. Telepathy even in humans is only speculation. But there are bulbous looking fish, and dolphins have sophisticated language. But not human language. And this is no dolphin, Jones. And the human limbs. Some fish are carnivorous, but they digest, not — not appendage themselves…

Jones lifted from the bed. He knew what he had to do. He raced back up the steps, taking two at a time. Blevins hadn’t seemed to have moved at all. Jones looked out at the river, which had returned to its normal shade of shadowy blue-green.

“It was huge, the size of a large house. It had a light gray color with boi — a bulbous texture, and glowing purple eyes. Its nose looked like a dolphin and it had whiskers like a catfish, and—” Jones gulped hard, “it had human legs protruding from its body, human arms protruding from its nose, next to the whiskers,” he finished, deadpan, leaving out the part where the fish had communicated with him telepathically. Jones wasn’t positive that part was real. His mind still felt… a little… damaged.

“Oh my God,” said Blevins, blinking slowly, surely conjuring the image of the being in his head, and likely failing to connect it with anything he had ever seen before. “They throw dead bodies in this river, and there are all sorts of myths surrounding this river, and they —

“I know. That’s why we have to go to the shore and ask the locals. If this thing is sentient, which we have to assume it is, perhaps it communicates with the locals and steers clear of foreigners.”

“That makes logical sense,” quipped Blevins, but Jones couldn’t tell if he was agreeing with him or mocking him.

• • •

Jones remembered landing the schooner at a small town along the Ganges near the sacred city of Varanasi. He vaguely remembered talking to locals with their strange spiritual mannerisms, evading his questions subtly, smilingly. But he couldn’t remember at all how he found his way to Vishnu Sivananda. The name rolled in his mind, and though he couldn’t remember anyone saying the name out loud, but he knew the Yogi’s name was Vishnu Sivananda. Jones settled himself on the floor in front of the Yogi, whose skin looked ageless. Bright yellow lanterns hung in the corners of the room like totems. The rest of the room seemed shrouded in purple. Jones thought the purple grew somehow brighter and murkier at the same time.

“Hahaha, yes, brilliant purple miasma, young one,” said Vishnu Sivananda, his face covered in satirical bliss. Jones blinked hard at him. Vishnu Sivananda hardly seemed real, but then again, Jones wasn’t sure of his own realness either.

“You’ve come to ask of the spirit of the Ganges; the being that sucks up all our bad death,” said Vishnu Sivananda.

“I’ve, no, I’ve come to ask you about a strange — fish,” Jones said the word “fish” too carefully for his own comfort.

“Hahaha, do not speak to me of strange fish. But the spirit of the Ganges, that you may speak of.” Jones acquiesced as though he were diving headlong into purple. His eyes burned. “The spirit of the Ganges sucks up all our bad death. No one dares to look upon this spirit — and lives,” said Vishnu Sivananda. Jones’ head throbbed back and forth, teetering between the two sentences, afraid to rest on one. “Deaths caused from enmity,” said the Yogi.

“What happens if one looks and lives?” Vishnu Sivananda did not answer with words, but he showed Jones.

Globbed in all its bulbous glory, the spirit expanded. The gray skin rumpled in textured waves, its boils gathering fluid, pushing parts of gray into slick pink shrouds of stretched flesh. Bobbing with the movements, the human legs suddenly retracted into the spiritual monster. Round nubs formed at its base, then extended, and Jones watched in terror as new appendages grew out the thing, pieced together with half-rotted human flesh, lifted it. It walked toward Varanasi, on the cool mud of the river Ganges’ floor. It was coming for him.

• • •

So much better to end it now, thought Jones. He could still smell the Nag Champa of Vishnu Sivananda’s space, but he knew that he was underwater, still in the river, right next to the telepathic-boil-covered-mantra-chanting-human-limbed-purple-eyed Ganges Spirit. [Time was still canceled, but] Jones was not shoved upward to the surface of the river.

The dolphin-like jaws opened wide. Jones had always thought that a shark attack would induce immediate shock and unconsciousness, but as the razor teeth clamped down on him just below his knee, he realized how wrong he had been. He was going to feel everything, the cracking of his shinbone, the flood of blood, the ripping of muscle, the pain greater than his imagination could hold yet made real by the stark fact that he was being eaten alive. He had thought being paper-cut to death would be the worst way to go because it would be so slow, but slow was so, so relative. His calf muscles flexed with utter futility in their helpless shreds to hold his body upright. Ah, but the Ganges Spirit helped, moving its massive mouth forward a few inches, just enough to crunch on his rounded knee bones.

So much better to end it now, thought Jones again. He snatched off his air mask and screamed with all of his being, the sound muffled to all save the Ganges Spirit. The catfish-like whiskers tickled his cheeks, and the limp human arms hanging beside them sprang into life, grabbing Jones’ shoulders to steady him for the final consumption. As the teeth sliced through the thin bars of his chest bones, Jones’ lungs filled with the acid heat of salt water, burning. YOU ARE LIKE US.

 

 

Jennifer Hollie Bowles is the editor-in-chief of The Medulla Review, a literary venue that caters to the surrealistic balls of moony words. Jennifer’s writing has been accepted for publication in over sixty literary journals, including The New York Quarterly, Echo Ink Review, Word Riot, Moon Milk Review, and Chiron Review. Her first poetry chapbook, Fire and Honey, was published in July, 2010 with Flutter Press. Jennifer writes to prolong breathing, and on occasion, she burns through the hologram of Carl Jung’s eyes.


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ISSUE #20

October 2010

FICTION

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