Author: Jeremy Marks

One morning an unfamiliar odor filled the air. Sweet at first, the scent soon reeked of rot. It was not a domestic smell but something wild: a floating carpet of flowers a few kilometers offshore.

Townsfolk used spyglasses to study a mysterious group of floaters, a floating carpet of uncountable horned plants. Giant things, they sprouted yellow cones or “horns” at least a meter high. Surrounding the horns was a corona of leaves fanning out several meters in every direction. The leaves were white with magenta striping and magenta with white streaks. While the plants undulated with the ocean tide, they made no move toward shore.

Most of those who saw the plants, which they called “the beasts,” were frightened. The arrival of strange organisms was, to them, an ominous sign.

But there were some others, less incurious and more daring, who desired to put to sea to make an inspection. For several days, they watched and waited, hoping one would wash up on the beach, wishing the general hysteria would cease. When neither thing happened, they plotted to sneak out after dark and attempt contact.

The night sky offered its usual brilliant bouquet of stars, lighting the sea like a moon. In the starlight, the precise position of the beasts proved deceiving; they appeared either closer or farther off than in fact they were. Several times the boaters believed themselves to be within arms’ reach of a leaf. Later, more than one boat actually bumped into the flowers by surprise.

Each beast was magnificent. They measured, on average, five meters across. But more startling than their size, or the height of their cones (which were actually over two meters tall) was the odor. Even though the boaters had smelled it onshore, the stink was blinding at close distance. On the long row out, the smell of sweat and salt water had insulated the boaters.

Now, upon contact, they vomited before succumbing to stupor. It was well past dawn before anyone revived.

The beasts were mystifying. Their horns, yellow from the shore, up close resembled ivory tusks, but with a translucent quality allowing each to absorb and project sunlight. They emitted a friable, pollen like powder despite presenting a burnished surface. Equally surprising was how, when a person touched a horn, the beast’s odor evaporated.

But it was when a young woman grasped a horn and pulled it toward her that something frightening happened. The horn collapsed and as it did, a hole appeared, about a meter and a half wide. It offered a sheer drop into utter blackness. She gasped. Others inspected what she’d found. Oddly, the hole had no effect on the water around it; it did not draw in the sea like a whirlpool. This was no Charybdis.

For awhile, the boaters remained practically motionless. The sun beat warm and silent on them, the beasts, and the sea. Then, after some unmeasured interval, human curiosity took over. The boaters needed to know just how deep the hole went. With no instruments other than their eyes and ears to bear witness, they grasped whatever solid things they found in their pockets and dropped them in the holes, waiting to hear something land. It did not.

If that were not frightening enough, the boaters began to feel something stirring beneath them. Whatever it was, it was moving; the water seemed to thicken against their oars. Several people looked into the holes but found no clues. Then the boats, and the beasts beside them, began to rise.

All around, the world dropped away. Rising from the sea, with people and beasts on top, was a vast white wall, extending to the north and south and far out to sea with no apparent end. And the holes rose with the wall.
On shore, it looked like the ocean was baring a giant tooth.

Watchers panicked, running inland, seeking any rise in the ground that would protect them from the sea. Surely the tooth had to be part of a larger mouth that would swallow the shore. It was a remarkable spectacle, the ocean flashing its teeth. But if that were not startling enough, the sea began to bellow.

It was a roar, a sound not quite liquid and not quite solid, but certainly of the depths. It shook the shore, the water, and the sky. I It bellowed like a creature rattling the bars of its cage in the hope that a voice could shatter a prison. It was a shout unheeding of reason or reassurance.

The boaters were practically deafened by the sound. Their eardrums thrummed and their heads throbbed with pain. In their heads they only heard the sea -or was it the wall- taking control. And as it spoke, every beast dropped its horn to amplify the sound.

Then, the world fell silent, at least for the boaters. They heard nothing, only felt what the wall wanted them to feel. The shore had become an unreachable world, a home they would not see again. Even if the wall expelled them, they knew they could not return to it. For several minutes, the silence throbbed around them; even the air felt as sonically solid as the mass beneath. Then the solidity broke up.

Each boater was floating; they remained in the boat but felt that it had fallen away. They could no longer touch one another. Those who had clutched another’s hands seeking comfort, no longer experienced that touch. The world, still visible and moving, was, to each of them, void of anything but sight.

On land, each person, whether in town or fleeing, soon had the same experience. All they possessed was what their eyes showed them. No one felt this was the work of the wall; the suspicion was that an alien, or perhaps divine, intelligence was at work. It was the curse of an angry God or, perhaps, God’s rival.

But it was neither: it was the wall. And they could not see that.