's 2013 Horror Write-off:

"The Divers"

Submitted by Wes Dennis

We came upon the diver -- we thought it was a diver -- kneeling at the base of the enormous coral pillar that had drawn us to the spot. The column pulsed with alternating bursts of green and red light visible miles away, and we could hardly have called ourselves explorers had we failed to investigate. Steven joked that we might discover the location of Atlantis; James added that we might even learn that the Atlanteans observed Christmas beneath the waves. We all laughed.

It spread its tendrils, giving us a clear picture of the puckered undersides of the outstretched fingers and the wide membrane that joined them.

I picture a naked hag: breasts crinkled and sagging like worn plastic bags, nipples like dried figs hanging down over a bloated paunch covered with stretch marks. I envision the overgrown grey tangle spreading from her crotch like a knot of smoke above quivering mounds of curdled custard, pale white but for the blue veins that color them in places like patches of moss on tree trunks gnarled by disease. I will the smells of stale perfume and mothballs and urine into my nostrils.

Even through the Lycra of my dive skin, the tiny mouths that coated the undersides of the creature's tendrils found my nipples and sucked them greedily. Even as I lay stiff on my back with my arms at my sides and my legs pressed tightly together, the thing forced its reach between my thighs and rubbed as if seeking a reaction. I bit my lip and inhaled deeply, my thoughts alternately wondering at the strangeness of the encounter and the creature's objective -- and I would have been the first to learn had an icy current not washed over me at that very moment. Its efforts abruptly undone, the thing released me and glided over to the others.

I picture Steven: his naked body bound and struggling; curved tusks raking his freckled skin and dragging splintered bone from ragged flesh; the cloud of bubbles and black that erupted from his throat as his head was yanked off and fed into the gnashing hungry shredding mouth. I see the tendril firmly wrapped around his still-erect member when nothing else remained.

The diver -- we thought it was a diver -- turned to us with a helmet with neither a viewing window nor a human face behind it. The cylinder on its back uncoiled; the bulbous head unraveled; the legs each split in two and doubled in length. The torso cracked open. The ribs elongated and spread out like a flower blooming, then twisted sharply. The mass of flailing tendrils and curving fangs rose from the seabed, darting right, then left, then right -- a noncommittal jellyfish moving in time with the pulsing light -- until it loomed above us.

I winced as the thing completely obscured my view of the pulsing lights overhead, leaving me in darkness and with the unsettling sensation of its fingers tickling along my chest, stroking my thighs, grazing my--

I picture the creature we thought was a diver hovering there as we all arrived at the same idea: to drop to the seabed, lie still, and hope that the thing would not find us. We stopped kicking in unison, allowing ourselves to sink, and we tucked ourselves into the algae as if turning in for the night. But we kept our eyes open and gazing upward, fixed on the writhing mass illuminated in red and green. For some minutes it seemed content to hang there, still but for the waving of its limbs that kept it aloft and a gentle shuddering of its teeth like the legs of a tarantula moving in slow motion.

Then it dove.