's 2015 Horror Write-off:

" A Taste of Pale Flesh "

Submitted by Joseph Bashaw

A body? From the ocean you say? Not human or animal? Cast it away boy, cast it away! Get the other boys and paddle it out to sea and let it be swept far away from here! If it is not human or animal, then it is a god or an evil spirit, and its flesh must never come near our village! I don't care how hungry you all are. I don't even care if you are starving. Better to starve and fight to the end of your life than to devour the flesh of something which does not belong in this world!

I've seen this happen before, young ones. I've seen it many ages ago, when my skin wasn't wrinkled, when I was a young girl, hardly even a woman yet. It was in my old village, the one from across the sea where I once lived before settling here.

My old village was by the sea too, just like this one. My ancestors had cleared away most of our island's vegetation, creating the giant stone and wooden idols we once prayed to, the crouching gods of the hills and cliffs. Because of this we had to get all of our food from the sea, but that was fine. There was plenty of fish and plants in the water.

One day, after a fierce storm, a large object was washed up on the shore. Two men were the first to discover it. From a distance one of them thought it was a strange fish, while the other thought it was a large white-skinned man. When they drew closer to it, they saw that it was both.

The thing was a giant, taller than two men. It had smooth pale skin and four great limbs. It had two limbs which looked like the arms of a man and fins of a whale in one, and two limbs like the tentacles of an octopus, though positioned like human legs. On its face were two wide eyes, which were like those of a fish but with the impression of an intelligent being, and no mouth. Although it did not move and appeared to be dead, there was something about its piercing eyes which gave us the feeling that it was somehow alive and thinking, as if its mind was working while its body was not. Our shaman came and looked over the thing which was neither man or animal, dead or alive, and declared that it was a god of the ocean. No one doubted this.

Soon a small hut was built just for the god. Several men dragged it into the hut and leaned it against the wall across from the entrance, facing the sea. All men and women came from the village to pray to the god and show it their devotion. Over a short time the god was decorated with many shell necklaces and garments made from sea plants, and all kinds of foods were laid on the floor around it.

I myself was brought to the god, along with other girls, so that we could dance before it in our ritual costumes of extinct trees and land animals, things whose forms we could only guess from their remains and our elders' stories. We hoped that through this appeasement, the god would create a new age and a revitalized island.

A new age came, but it was not one of rebirth or prosperity. Shortly after we took in the god, food became harder to find. The fish were diminishing in number, and no edible sea plants could be found anywhere in the waters. Fishers had to keep paddling further and further out to sea to get food, until even at a vast distance no fish could be found. For the first time in our history, we faced starvation. No amount of gifts to the god, not even willing sacrifices, would bring the fish and plants back.

It was not unnoticed that this famine began after we found the strange creature. The people believed that whether it was a god or an evil spirit, it had cursed them.

Ah, why didn't we all get on our boats and move away to a new island? That's because we were so far out in the middle of the ocean that we thought our island was the only land in existence, and that the rest of the world was only water. If only we knew!

Out of desperation, most of the villagers went to the god to eat its flesh. They cut up chunks of its lower body and roasted the meat in its own hut. All that was left of the god was its upper body, still leaning against the wall because everyone was too afraid of to go near its head. I wished so much to eat the meat as well, but my grandmother, and a few of the elders and our shaman, withheld from eating. My grandmother gripped me by the arm and simply told me "The flesh of the gods do not belong in the bodies of man."

So even when the others insisted, the elders and I did not eat any of the meat. The effects of starvation took hold on our bodies, and most of the elders perished. The only one left was my grandmother, a strong old woman, but even she was not well and I could only tend to her as best as I could.

As for the other villagers, although their bellies were full and plenty of flesh was still left over, they did not feel well. Throughout the next day everyone would stop what they were doing and silently gaze at the ocean for long stretches of time. Distress was on their faces, as if they were fighting a deep thought or feeling. No one spoke much that day except briefly and dreamily.

Later that night, when everyone should have been asleep, I woke up and saw men, women, and children emerging from their huts. They went slowly, and one at a time. I wondered what these few people were doing so late, but when I saw everyone, the entire village, walking stiffly and silently out of their homes, I felt scared.

I did not wake up my grandmother, though I gripped her arm with fright. I watched from my hut as everyone I knew walked together without making any noise, and shambled out of the village.

I followed them as soon as I felt the nerve to leave my grandmother's side. They were marching across the wet sand of the beach and into the ocean water. They moved straight through the cold waves which rolled over them and disappeared beneath. I watched them all, every one, until the last man was gone into the deep.

I stood there for some time, silenced and shaken by a kind of horror you can only feel when you see something unreal. All I wanted to do afterwards was return to my hut and sleep by my grandmother. As strange as that might sound, there was nothing else I could possibly do, and weeping isn't something I could have done at the sight of something so otherworldly. The next morning I didn't have a chance to tell any of this to my grandmother however. Starvation finally took her and she died in her sleep.

I felt empty and lost that next morning. Aside from the crashing waves of the ocean, silence ruled all of the world I knew. The whole island had swiftly and quietly become a land of death. Even the stone gods which watched over our village seemed like hollow cadavers whose souls had abandoned, for there was no one left to satisfy them with worship. I myself felt like I was only a fading dream about to pass into oblivion, though I admit part of that feeling was due to my dizzying hunger.

Still, despite all that happened, I did not wish to die. My head was spinning with all kinds of thoughts. One was a frantic desire to eat something, and another was to escape the island before night fell, when the terrors of silence, loneliness, and the curse would plague my mind. I did not care if there was no other island in the world, or if terrible monsters haunted the distant waters, or if there was perhaps a land of gods I could go to if I traveled far enough. I would not stay on that cursed husk of land.

I prepared a boat and was thinking to paddle off on it immediately, but hunger gripped my stomach harder than ever. If I were to last any longer than a day of paddling, I would need food. And the only food I could get was from the hut of the sea god.

When I entered the hut, I saw the upper half of the god still leaning against the wall, staring madly at the sea. I stayed as far away as I could from its line of sight, I couldn't even look directly at it. Whatever it was, whether a god, evil spirit, or some other creature from beyond, it had a powerful gaze.

Sitting in front of the god was a pile of the flesh of its legs, left over from the feast of the villagers. I crept near the flesh, frightened that at any moment the god would do something, and as soon as I grabbed a large hunk of it I rushed out of the hut and back to the boat on the beach.

I knew the flesh was forbidden. I knew it brought the destruction of my home. But I needed to eat, and in my crazed state of mind I had no control over myself. I took one bite, just one bite. It was a big one, one that was juicy and more meaty than any animal I'd ever eaten besides whale, but still only one bite. I hoped that since the villagers perished after filling their bellies with this meat, then I'd escape their fate by having only a little bit of it, as much as I'd need to last long enough to find normal fish at sea.

I sat there on the sand, not so much relishing the taste of the meat, which was bland, as much as I was simply relishing the fact I was eating. I didn't feel any ill effect from the meat, and after taking one more bite I felt enough satisfaction and control over myself to get on the boat. I took the hunk of meat, a basket, a container of fresh spring water, and fishing spears, and paddled off to sea. From a distance I took one last look at my desolate home and shuddered.

And so I paddled for the rest of the day, trying my best not to eat any more of the god's flesh until late at night or the next morning. That night however, before I could take another bite, I felt a sudden longing. Despite how cold and black the waters all around me were, I felt a nagging thought, pressed in the back of my mind, to dive into the sea and swim as deep as I could.

This desire persisted all night, even as I lied down and closed my eyes for a brief rest. Feeling the water lapping against my boat and gently rocking it only increased this sudden urge. I realized then that it was the effect of the god's flesh working on me. I decided to not eat any more of the god's flesh, at least until this strange feeling passed.

The feeling only intensified and followed me into the dawn of the next day. I did not paddle that whole morning, because I feared that if I stared at the sea too long, I would at last dive in and be lost forever.

I shut my eyes tight and tried concentrating on other thoughts, but I saw dim shapes moving in the blackness of my eyelids. This startled me, so I opened my eyes, but the image remained the same. Total darkness and strange shapes, which grew brighter and paler as they moved, encompassed my vision. I felt the boat rocking beneath me and the movement of the ocean, but as if I were dreaming while awake I couldn't see my surroundings.

I held my breath when the strange shapes manifested clearly. They were so vivid that I held up my arms to keep them away, but I saw no arms in front of me and felt nothing. What I saw was the white face of the sea god, swimming past me in a murky expanse. Though it might not have been the sea god I knew, for I saw another pale creature dart in front of me, and then another drifting behind the first, and many more floating throughout the dark abyss around me. Soon I felt like I was one of those creatures, swimming in the depths which were my home.

My vision became as clear and as real as if I were there. So much so that for a while I forgot I was on a boat. My other self, the self whose vision I was watching, swam amidst the other pale creatures and came upon a vast village on the ocean floor. It was made up of great stone buildings wider and taller than any hut or hall I've seen today.

Many creatures flowed in and out of these buildings. Most were pale fish-beings like the sea god, but other strange forms swam among them. At first they appeared to be normal sea life only far larger, but as I looked at them closely I realized that like the sea god, they were all sea animals with shapes almost like men.

I saw massive eels possessing thin arms and legs, and whose faces were like ghastly simians. I saw whole groups of tall phantom jellyfish, whose tops were like oval heads and shoulders and whose tentacles were like flowing dresses. I saw brutish blue sharks with the muscular arms of men and sharp talons of beasts, and whose faces were all mouth and teeth and almost nothing else. Here and there I saw colorful, monkey-shaped, plate-eyed crustaceans which flew on many pairs of wing-like fins and trailed behind them long tails tipped with claws. There were a few other creatures, though I cannot remember them. All swam together in organized traffic. None of them paid much attention to each other, but all minded their own business and existed in perfect harmony.

My vision faded away, only to be replaced by a new one. I was no longer in the great village of sea gods, but instead floating above a massive bottomless trench. A few other pale beings were with me, their tentacle legs each gripping a round dark object, and a troop of the brutish shark men armed with spears were below us, closer to the trench. Although I had no idea what was happening, I felt we were all united against something and deeply frightened of it.

A rumbling soon emanated out of the trench. The shark men readied their weapons while the pale creatures steadily reached out their tentacles, ready to drop the globes they held. The rumbling shook the edges of the trench so violently that colossal pieces of stone were broken off. The shaking intensified until the entire trench was alive with activity.

From out of the blackness a great eye burst forth. It was a sharp, bright green eye, which pierced through the blue gloom of the ocean and blackness of the trench. The eye did not open itself with lids, but suddenly grew out of nowhere to a size greater than that of a whole island. Its pupil, darker than even the trench, gazed up at us, and immediately the pale creatures all dropped their globes, which sunk down to the monstrous eye. The globes exploded into a thick ooze which left a small stain on the eye, slowly spreading all around it.

The eye shrunk and disappeared, but more gigantic eyes appeared in its place, dotting the expanse of the entire trench. More pale creatures carrying black globes arrived for a second attack. Various limbs emerged from the trench, all different in shape, but all combining the appearance of muck, tentacles, and crab limbs. Some of them ended in claws, and others in round gaping mouths. The shark men charged forth with their spears to fight off the black columns, which were reaching for the pale creatures.

I, or my other self, was fighting valiantly. I had forgotten who I was. I was not a young girl fleeing from a cursed village, but one of the sea gods fighting to defend their home with all their strength. The battle did not last long however, as the many-eyed mass of shadows was emerging from the trench like a growing mountain, and with one swipe of an unfathomably huge limb, we were all swept away like nothing.

After that I recall only brief flashes. At one moment I saw myself and many of the sea gods spiraling out of control in the water, at another I saw the black trench thing stepping across the ocean floor towards the tiny home of the sea gods, and then at last I saw all of the buildings being churned into bits. That was the last thing I saw, before I returned to my normal vision.

The sun was setting and the ocean was calm. My visions had left me witless for some time. When I finally got a hold of myself, the urge to dive into the water was slipping away from my mind, though I still felt homesick. Whether for my island or for the land of the deep-sea gods, I do not know.

I must have drifted far, because it was then I discovered an island ahead of me, this very island we live on. It was the first time I ever laid my eyes on trees, or another land for that matter, and it would be the first time I met other people. I grabbed the hunk of flesh I brought with me and hurled it hatefully into the ocean. Then I paddled to the island, fueled by fearful thoughts of a monstrous black limb or a pale face appearing beneath me in the water.

That is why I have never gone into the ocean since I came here, and why I urge you all to get rid of that cursed corpse and forget it ever existed.

Oh I still see these visions, young ones. On some nights in my sleep, and some days when I am wide awake, I see the waters of the deep, and the countless things which lie and lurk down there. Sometimes when I look at the sea, I still feel that solemn longing for my home. I still miss my grandmother, my village, the giant stone and wooden idols we prayed to, and the undersea land of gods.