Renault was out beyond the littoral when the fear bloomed.
Drifting with the currents, he bobbed above the reef. The sun warmed his back, cast a spangled net of iridescent white on the ocean floor. The only sound was the rasp of his breath in the snorkel, the faint pop pop of unseen creatures in the labyrinth of black coral below.
The black reef, with its oil-slick glimmer, stretched as far as he could see. Crooked spires. Towers that jutted and curled like obsidian fingers. Was it a trick of distance, or movements of the water that made the coral writhe and sway? It was profoundly hypnotic, drew him out over ever-deeper waters, farther from the shore.
Renault had noticed the pattern two days before. It was madness to think there should be order out here, among these chaotic accretions; yet there it was. The deep grooves of shadow that drew together, converging like vast, curved spokes around a distant axis. It had been too late to explore that first afternoon, and yesterday had been overcast, the light too diffuse to make out any detail in the reef. This morning he had woken early, determined to swim out to the point where those dark channels met.
His excitement mounted as each stroke brought him closer to the centre. The crevasse he was following narrowed, its arc tightening around smooth plates that resembled the petals of an obscene black flower. These segments overlapped uniformly, interlocking at the hub around something that glinted, that refracted light in soft, shimmering rainbows. It looked very much like a pearl. A pearl the size of a boulder.
Renault strained to make it out, unable to believe what he was seeing. But his mask had fogged and his sight was confined to a blurred rectangle. Just outside this frame of vision, he caught a movement.
He spun, scanning the water around, below.
There was nothing. He could see nothing. But his back tingled, his chest tightened.
Something was there. Something…
The Further Shore was shortlisted for Aurealis Awards in both the Best Horror and Best Fantasy Short Story categories in 2017 and won Best Fantasy.
Read the full story for free in Bourbon Penn 15 .
Or listen to the full story on the Tales To Terrify podcast, read by Pete Lutz: