Ashwin Vaidya About
Short Story | Originally published on One Picture Notes|Last Updated: 03 December 2023

Into the Storm

Well, now that you ask, Mr Jasper, there was this incident with this one man which was so peculiar that his disappearance keeps me up some nights. Not one that the Bureau was assigned to but which was so bizarre in its details that it still remains mysterious. According to everyone concerned, he was dead. At least that’s what you would expect of a man who sailed into an incoming storm and never return. The storm did return his boat, along with everything in it. And the wreck would convince you that he went down under, but something makes me think he walked back from the storm.

I was assigned to the Wilcox division at that time. Our job was to ensure that the east lines were prepared in case a war broke out. Now, we didn’t track people but kept an eye for anyone who might be a spy. My first acquaintance with Mr Melville happened by chance. I was at the station waiting for a package from the Reed branch. The train carrying the package along with a few more agents got delayed and Mr Melville’s train pulled up before it. You could tell he wasn’t from these parts when he stepped down. He was tall with a heavy build and tan which was uncommon with the folks in region of the world. His beard gave him a rough sailor look which belied his soft nature. My brief act as a tourist asking for directions started our conversation. He wasn’t much to talk. From what I gathered he was a fisherman who had heard about plenty here. It was true though. Last year’s storm reduced fishing in this area. The sea was teeming this time but the storm was expected this year too. I advised him that he’d have better luck in the south. To which he kindly said he’d consider.

Next time I met him it was at the West Harbour. He waved at me cheerily. “I see you decided to ignore my advice”, I said. To which he laughed and introduced me to his boat and explained his success in fishing could afford his own boat now. I excused myself for my knowledge of fishing and my incorrect prediction. He waved it off and said, “You Know! Next season, I think I’ll go down south”. We wished each other luck and I proceeded towards my office.

While these were the few times we met in person I had heard a lot about him from various town folks. It is natural that the local folks were curious when they see someone from outside especially one like him. But it was his warmth that won him their appreciation. A lot of women in the town had a liking for him but he didn’t seem interested. Maybe he valued his work more or maybe he had a family he had left somewhere. During my time in the Bureau, I had seen similar men like him. Some were generational fishermen, some were ex-soldiers. Mr Melville’s effect on our small town was understandable.

It was this one evening that piqued my curiosity and the events that it unfolded that bothers me till this day. A couple of new recruits had joined the Wilcox division by the morning train. It was quite unlike the Bureau to send new recruits but they feared the war was close and decide to expand. It was one of those nights when the heavy rains and the winds ensured that everyone stayed at home. Even though I had half a mind to go outside I decided to follow these recruits. I like to understand my team so, I decided to tail them under disguise. As one would expect, these young chaps decided to walk into the only decent tavern in our town and get drunk before officially reporting the next day. These boys got drunker every hour to the point of getting unruly. I was quite annoyed at the Bureau for sending them in my custody. I was about to walk up to them and ask them to leave but then I saw Mr Melville dressed in a heavy raincoat and long waterproof boots and a heavy hood to protect his face from the rain and the strong winds outside. His appearance at this time was intriguing. The hour would have been itself quite peculiar even for a fisherman but with the storm outside, who would want to go out? Those boys could wait, and taverns were probably used to such crowd. The possibility of embarrassment to my department was outweighed by this unique situation. I decided to sit where I was to observe him.

This tavern happened to be his loggings these past months and he seemed quite popular with the entire staff judging by the smiles and nods flying across the floor. He walked up to the bartender who seemed to find what she was hearing quite amusing. I strained to hear what he was saying but the noise of the ruckus grew behind us. At this point probably the entire bar turned towards the young chaps who had now started harassing a waitress. Irked, I got up and decided to put them in their places but then decided to observe again when I saw Mr Melville approaching them. This time the boys got up and surround this burly man. Now, these chaps were quite strong as well and from their files, they had just completed the military training. Probably Mr Melville could have taken one or two of them down but with so many of them, I finally decided to step in and used my authority to make them leave. But before I could go near them, Mr Melville had knocked out all of them. I had never seen a fisherman do that. I slid back into my chair and watched as the rest of the customers went back to their drinks while the staff carried the unconscious chaps out the door. Mr Melville seemed completely unfazed by the entire event and decided to walk out into the heavy rain to continue whatever he had planned to do in this weather. I decided to tail him. Probably the tavern was used to this and maybe this was not the first time Mr Melville would have stepped in but the absurdity of going out in the weather was quite curious.

I followed him through the slippery streets barely managing to keep my footing. I kept my distance but the wind was so loud that had I walked right behind him, he would not have realized. Soon, we reached the docks. I knew fishermen go into the sea at absurd hours just to catch a good score but, watching the boats rocking around straining the tethers they were tied to, clearly didn’t seem the right conditions for fishing. In my mind, I started suspecting him of being an enemy agent. I mean, he did look quite different and now I had also seen him fight. Probably and enemy soldier. I had to make sure. It would have been quite embarrassing if I had a spy right under my nose.

He stepped onto his boat and went below deck. I kept an eye from the distance. I saw him re-emerge in what was barely a pair of shorts. He was holding something like a stick in both his hands and he had one in this mouth which he clenched with his teeth. The two ends of the stick stuck out from the end of his lips. He walked onto the rear edge of the boat and jumped into the splashing water. Only an insane person would jump in the cold water with such a strong current right during a storm. I waited for him to reappear.

About twenty minutes would have passed since I saw him disappear below. I wondered whether he emerged from some other place and I missed it or did I just witness him kill himself. But then again, what was the thing he had in his mouth? Did it help him breathe? What kind of apparatus was that?

I wished I had bought my gun that night but I decided to board his boat anyway. I had a lot of questions that needed answers. The rocking boat made it hard to get a strong footing but I managed to keep myself up. The deck was littered with nets, ropes and empty cages which scraped across it as the boat swayed. I managed to go below. In the darkness, I stepped on something soft and heard the distinct sound of stepping onto a pool of water. I assume these were his wet clothes. In the darkness of the rocking boat, I managed to reach what seemed like a table. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for and especially what I hoped to find in this darkness but probably in search for balance or maybe just my clumsiness, I hit something which seemed like glass bottles. I heard the glass shatter as I was cursing myself. Whatever was inside caught on fire immediately and lit up half the cabin. The fire itself was quite strange. It had a bluish-green colour. I saw maps with markings on markings on them. I recognized some lands but most were quite new to me. The table had papers scattered over it. I must admit, my math is not strong so I didn’t understand the formulas scribbled on them. But clearly, this was not a fisherman’s boat. But now, it didn’t seem like a spy’s boat either. I couldn’t have a good look around as I was busy climbing the stairs fearing the strange fire taking me down with the ship. But the glow from below the deck quickly died down returning me to darkness once again. I strained through the darkness around the boat trying to spot anyone looking at me. The dock seemed empty. I feared that Mr. Melville might be watching. He might not have taken me trespassing his boat kindly. I took a circuitous route back home in case I was being watched and cursed myself for not following the number one agency rule, “always carry your weapon”.

The following morning, I assigned Miss Anne to investigate him. She found out that he was actually a scientist who studies fishes. They call themselves Marine Biologists or something. He usually told people that he was a fisherman as that would lead to fewer questions and that a lot of fishermen didn’t like an academic fellow on their ship. Mr Melville also took Miss Anne to his ship to show a few of the specimens he collected. The maps he had upon his walls were all the places he had visited. He told her the stories and the adventures of his travel outside our continent. His last visit was to this very hot tropical land where he saw giant snakes and huge four-legged creatures with an appendage in the middle of their faces which could uproot a tree. He said, that’s also where he got his distinct tan.

Miss Anne took up quite a liking for him. He had an enthusiasm when he explained and seemed very passionate about what he did. But I was disappointed. Now, she remained professional and you probably know a lot more about her exploits more than mine but at that time I was concerned that he might be misleading her. She found out that he had narrowed down the location of a large vessel near our coasts but the storm had been making it difficult for him to search for it. He told her about the difficulties of searching in the dark underwater and dealing with the ice-cold water. He showed her his carefully designed glass tubes containing a special concoction which when mixed together produced light even underwater. When she told me this, I remembered the strange flame I saw that night. I regretted my clumsiness. It would have taken him quite some efforts to make such a thing. Mr Melville told her that he would carry a couple of these glass vials which would break at a certain depth thus helping him see better underwater. He also showed her this special chemical which he had brought from his travels. It was lighter than air and when applied to his naked body kept him insulated from the cold water. The scientists he got it from called it the aerogel. I imagined what the navy would do with it. But she could only get so much before his disappearance. There was the question of him diving to depths without anything that could save him from the pressure. Now, I’ve had some experience swimming in the pool during training and it quickly got painful for my ears during those long dives in the deep end of the pool. And, there was this question of surviving the strong currents.

It was one of this stormy nights that he disappeared. The barkeep saw him leaving and he looked very excited. No one knows what happened next, but there was this strange report by the crew of our prototype destroyer, “Cruise Ship Orchard”. And it is by fortune that I got access to those archives.

The new crew on the vessel were assembled only a few days before the test run. They were all experienced sailors with a couple of years in service. For such an experienced crew to give a strange account should have been taken with more consideration but the seniors at the top attributed this to the neuro-weapons onboard and filed it away with everything else.

03:24 Pacific

Loud alarms rang inside the destroyer as it strained itself against turbulent water outside. Captain James’ only priority was to ensure that all the weapons onboard were secure. They were too close to the coast to let anything go wrong. The storm had appeared suddenly and was the strongest observed till date.

Everything was going good until an hour ago. The winds had been calmer in the past few days and the department of meteorology had predicted no storms for the next few days. The military’s Advanced Research decided to take this opportunity to take the destroyer for a test run as the date of its commission was getting closer. Captain James was put in charge of the vessel. His illustrious record in service and his mental fortitude put him above other candidates. But what finally got him the command was his past experience on other prototype vessels.

The Cruise Ship Orchard left the coast at 20:00 the previous evening. It was safe to leave this early as the sunset around 16:00 during that season. Their mission was to evade friendly radar while completing a predefined course. The ship was loaded with all the ammunition to make the test as accurate as possible. But as the early warning signs of the storm grew, the captain decided to head into the ocean to avoid any catastrophe.

03:43 Pacific

While half of the crew was busy trying to keep the ship steady against the strong currents and the giant waves, the other crewmembers fought to disarm the weapons onboard. But at this point, the intensity of the storm had grown by a lot and now Captain James was worried about the possibility of not making it alive. At whatever cost, he could not let the enemy get a hold of this ship. Even if the storm handed it to them in pieces. The crew were already mentally prepared in case the things went south. That was someting which was briefed to them before joining. So, with the same indifference to any other order, they started placing charges all around the destroyer when the captain commanded them to.

4:01 Pacific

The crew were done placing the charges and now just waited for the storm to settle or for when the orders came in to blow up everything. They were still on their course into the ocean and the engines took greater effort to propel the destroyer. They assumed that the currents were too strong for the motors to push against. A feedback, if they ever got back.

6:26 Pacific

They didn’t know but they were climbing the rising ocean. The destroyer stopped slowly while the waves settled. Now, the gradient of their climb was clearly visible from it’s stern.

“Captain!, you should come and see this.”, a man came running into the cabin and ran out immediately. Standing at the bow, the ocean showed a different scene. A deep well lay in front of them as if an invisible wall kept everything outside it. In the water below, broken mast and pieces of wood floated in a greenish-blue fire.

In the confusion and the horror, no one really knew what happened next but a few claimed that something giant rose to the skies while other say that it went deeper below.

6:37 Pacific

The sea slowly settled closing the large cavity.


The propellers had now gained their speed the Cruise Ship Orchard set for the shores while the distrait crew slowly removed the explosives.

That was the last of the storms I have ever seen in Wilcox. The skies have been clear ever since. Captain James was awarded a medal in private for his quick thinking and saving a possible tragedy. From what I’ve heard, after leaving the Bureau, Mrs. Anne Walker left with her new husband to visit all the strange lands Mr. Melville had told her about.