RGR_23How do you like that art work? A real beauty isn’t it? That Raygun Revival cover was painted by a talented artist from Croatia, named Tomislav Tikulin, who I first learned about on the SF.Reader Forum. He posted a link to his gallery of pictures and this particular one caught my eye. It reminded me so much of comic books I’d read as a kid. The color, the lone figure of a man in either a space suit or a diver’s outfit, facing a prehistoric-sized Octopus.

The picture so inspired me I wrote to Tomislav and told him someday I’d write a story based on the ideas that came to me from his illustration, which incidentally, he calls, “The Deep.” Well a few years later I was writing regularly for Raygun Revival, telling the sage of Jack Brand’s search for his sister. I’d had him searching for her in the desert, in the jungle, in ghost towns, and even domed cities run by alien gangsters. The only thing I hadn’t tried was putting Brand in an underwater city, and then I remembers Tom’s picture. I got to work on the story.

I asked Johne Cook, Raygun Reviva’ls Overlord and chief cook and bottle washer, to contact Tomislav and ask him if we could use the illustration for the cover of an upcoming issue. He graciously agreed and what you see here is the result. I basically had the cover story for this issue.

The story I wrote was called, “The Eight Arms of Death,” and it ran in two parts. The story later became Chapter Six of the Jack Brand novel.

Just to whet your appetite here’s a little teaser from the story:

Brand checked his depth gauge and saw that he was now at a depth of 900 feet. The ocean light was dimmer at this depth. He knew that down in the gorge there would be no light at all. He pressed a button on the left sleeve of the suit and two air jets on the back exploded to life, lifting him up. He floated out over the edge of the gorge and dropped down slowly. Keeping an eye on the depth gauge, he floated downward—1000 feet, 1200 feet, 1300 feet. He touched down on the ledge and stood there a moment trying to regain his balance. It was dark here. He flashed the radium torch down and saw another landing spot further below, but still no bottom. The air jets lifted him again and he dropped lower…1400 feet, 1500 feet. He landed on another outcropping of rock at a depth of 1700 feet.

He was getting near the depth limit his suit was designed for, and he could feel it. The water resisted his every move. It was as though hundred pound weights were attached to his arms and legs. His heart pounded, and his body was drenched in sweat. He could hear the oxygenator working overtime to keep him supplied with air. He hoped he was close to the bottom. Brand flashed the radium torch down again and this time the beam struck bottom. He estimated it was another three or four hundred feet.

He couldn’t risk another controlled fall using the air jets. It was too much of a risk at that depth. An accidental bump against the rocky wall of the gorge could tear the suit apart. He uncoiled the rope he’d brought along and tied a loop in one end. He dropped the loop around a jagged outcropping of rock at the edge of the shelf and pulled it tight. When it was secure, he lowered himself over the side and began a slow descent down the rope.

The black void of the water at this depth was darker even than the darkness of outer space. He went down slowly, allowing the suit to adjust gradually to the increasing pressure. After long, strenuous minutes he came to the bottom. He flashed the radium torch on the depth gauge: 2150 feet. He stood for a moment, feeling light-headed. His heart pounded loudly in his ears. He took several deep breaths to try and clear his head. He’d gotten this far, but he wondered if he’d be able to make it back up to the surface.

He aimed the torch through the dark water ahead. It was a strange, weird place. A place where no sunlight ever shined, or ever had shown. A place of darkness and aching loneliness, emptiness. Creatures with long, spindly legs and hard shells scuttled away from him as he walked. Amorphous creatures made of jelly, with long ululating tendrils floated ahead of him, frightened by the green light of his torch. In all his life, Brand had never experienced anything like the utter desolation of the Black Gorge.

Finally, the torch beam picked out the black skeleton of a small, submersible ship a short distance away. Its algae- and barnacle-covered steel ribs jutted out of the sea bottom like the decayed remains of some giant fish. A large chest lay on the sand several feet from the wreckage. Brand trudged over to it. As he got closer, he noticed that there was another, even deeper fissure directly behind it. He peered down into the crevice and saw a red molten glow far, far below, perhaps at the planet’s very core.

Brand knelt down next to the chest. Was it sheer chance that it had fallen clear of the ship and hadn’t fallen into the crevice? Or had some previous plunderer hauled the chest out of the ship, only to be stopped by something before he could proceed to collect the treasure? An eerie sensation came over him as he stood there in the Stygian darkness.

The ancient locker was covered with centuries of rust and calcium deposits. He would need the long knife to open it. He set the radium torch down on the sand and got to work. The spear gun would only be a hindrance, so he slid the lanyard attached to it from his wrist, set the weapon down by the torch. He pulled the knife from its sheath and began chopping away at the encrusted chest. After several minutes of effort, when the chest was half cleared, he shoved the blade under the lid. The rusty iron creaked and groaned as he pried it open.

A pulsating rose-colored light rose up from the chest’s interior as he raised the lid. Brand saw an incalculable fortune in gold and jewels lying there in the chest. Diamonds the size of walnuts, rubies, emeralds, pearls. Gold coins, golden goblets and necklaces. But it was what lay on top of that rich horde that held his eye. The crystal lens. It was from the lens that the glowing light emanated. He sheathed the knife and picked the lens up. It was far different from the one Anemone had shown him. It seemed almost like a living thing, as it gleamed and quivered with bright pink light that came from within its center.

There was something hypnotic, beautiful, about the lens. He marveled that ancient people on this planet were able to make such a thing. He could have stood there for eternity gazing upon it. But there was no time. Shaking himself, he opened the flap on the pouch and dropped the lens into it. Then something—a movement above him, perhaps—alerted him to danger. He picked up the radium torch and flashed it up into the water over his head. The beam struck something big and dark, darker than the water all around him. Suddenly a nightmare descended. A bulbous sack, big, soft-looking, and almost shapeless, fell toward him. The torch lit a hideous red eye that glared at him in rage. Eight huge tentacles flared out and Brand’s hair stood on end as he realized that he was looking at the largest Octo-Pod he had ever seen.

There was no time to reach for the spear gun lying at his feet. Tentacles wrapped around his waist and sought to ensnare his arms and legs. He dropped the bag holding the crystal and tore the knife out of its sheath. A tentacle encircled his diving helmet, and Brand saw poisonous suckers leeching onto the plastic in front of his eyes. The monster’s weight forced him down on his back and pain shot along his spine, as he crashed against the edge of the treasure chest. The radium torch slipped from his fingers.

A tentacle wrapped around Brand’s wrist. The sea-beast’s shapeless body engulfed him—smothering him, paralyzing him. It seemed immense. He saw the black, gaping hole of its oral cavity opening wide as the beast pulled him closer. Brand threw his weight back, tore his arm free, and pressed the button on the sleeve that activated the air jets. The blast of air pushed him back from the Octo-Pod, and he was propelled rearward, forcing his back harder against the side of the treasure chest. With diabolic tenacity, the monster threw its full weight down on him. Brand was pushed further back, and the chest slid backward under his weight, closer to the edge of the fissure. Brand slashed with the blade wildly at the tentacles that held him. But one, the thickness of a transatlantic cable, wrapped itself around his chest, and he felt his ribs cracking. He couldn’t breathe. The air inside his helmet had gotten dangerously thin. His head swam.

The Octo-Pod crushed him to the sea floor with its weight, pushing him even harder against the treasure chest. Brand felt the chest slip back further, heard the lid slam shut, and then suddenly it was gone. He went down flat on his back, his head hanging over the black maw of the fissure. He had no breath left. Locked in the eight arms of death, he began to black out and the knife slipped from his fingers.

Okay, gang, if you want to find out what happens next, click on this link to Amazon.com and get yourself a copy of the book. It’s available in paperback or ebook.  It’s Christmas, you owe it to yourself to live a little. Or maybe you know somebody who’d like to read it. You can order it from Amazon.com.

And here’s a link to Tomislav’s web gallery for a look at some of his other work: