One day Lady Whitmer realized, with some distress, that she was at the bottom of the ocean. The last she could remember, she’d been on land in the spot where she eternally dwelled—the manor’s second-floor bedroom where she had been violently stabbed in her sleep by her vile husband, Beaumont, and his conniving mistress, Lucinda—and now she was floating in salty water. Not that she could taste the salt. Or anything at all.
The lady—whose given name was Elanor—was overwhelmed with panic. She had no idea how to swim. Had never learned, not even as a little child, and had always feared and despised the ocean. That drenched and dreadful place. She always felt that Beaumont moved her to a house by the sea as part of his torture. The brute! He’d only married her only for her family’s money, then tormented her endlessly before murdering her in the middle of the night. She desperately flailed her arms and tried not to breathe, before realizing that water and air were the same to her now.
How long had her spectral form been sloshing in these tides? Time was so unpredictable when you were a ghost. Years passed in an instant, yet you relived your traumas on an endless loop. Elanor’s spirit had been affixed to this Black Grove Manor for years. Decades. Possibly centuries. Throughout all the different owners and all the changes, it had most certainly always been on land. The lady wondered if new owners of the house had simply burst a pipe and flooded it. But when she looked down she saw a blue crab scuttle along the slimy floorboards under her floating feet and a maroon octopus slid its strange body into her barnacle-crusted vanity. She was most certainly in the sea.
Elanor decided to investigate.
As she swam (if that was the right word) toward the door, a school of silver minnows passed through the bloody stab wounds on her torso and emerged out the other side unscatched. She floated down the stairs and through a wall, then gasped. She was face to face with a massive gray shark, eyes dead as doornails and teeth as sharp as daggers. The shark seemed to sniff her but perhaps realizing the plumes of glowing red blood were mere phantoms, lumbered out through the window in search of living prey.
Well. It was unmistakably Elanor’s old parlor. There was the grand piano and here the marble statues of the Whitmer ancestors. And yet all of them were covered in silt and decorated with corals and seaweeds. A fat starfish crawled across a bust of Silas Whitmer. The room itself was ruined. On the floor, a large clawfoot tub sat overturned with bronze talons pointing toward a collapsed ceiling. Elanor drifted toward the tub, smiling. She had grand memories of that tub. It was, afterall, where she had gotten her revenge on the harlot Lucinda, using all her spectral energy to push an electric radio into the water. She could still remember the sound of Lucinda’s song turning to screams.
Behind the tub, Elanor could see out the broken window into the dark blue of the sea. It was endless. Dark waters in each direction. Was this hell? This infinite, undifferentiated blueness? She decided to go back to the bedroom, her soul’s prison, and sleep until the oceans had dried up for frozen over or something else had happened.
Something moaned. Elanor stopped and turned. It came again. A deep, pained sound that seemed to echo everywhere at once. The crabs moving along the floor scuttled into crevices and yellow fish swam out of sight. The sound was coming from the overturned tub.
Something black moved in the gap between the curve of the enameled iron and the floorboards. It began to swell. A black, expanding bubble, ballooning and groaning into the room. It floated above the tub now like a black amorphous shark. Then it began to condense and harden. A row of teeth appeared. A second row. Eyes. The dark shape paled, turning into a faintly glowing—and slightly bluish—naked woman who smelled slightly of singed flesh.
“Oh,” the woman said. “It’s you.”
Even all these endless years later, Elanor looked at Lucinda with equal parts envy and hate. Her lush breasts. The tangled black hairs of her sex. Her vile eyes. Not even a passing eel could distract from the body that had stolen her husband and caused Elanor’s doom. Confronting this body over and over again—first when it was moving through the house, her house, alive, and then when it was another damned soul trapped in the walls where she died—was yet another layer of Elanor’s eternal torment.
“So not even the ocean tides will finally wash you away?” Lucinda said, frowning. She alighted upon the waterlogged remains of a chaise lounge.
Around them and through them, the cold ocean currents throbbed. Elanor wanted to leave, to fly back to her unresting place and be alone in her damnation, but demurred. Maybe Lucinda knew something.
“Well? What do you want?” Lucinda said.
“How long have we been here?” Elanor asked. “If you happen to know.”
Lucinda raised an eyebrow. Her long black hair flowed around her like a dark fire. “I’ve been in this house ever since you murdered me in the bathtub, you witch!” Lucinda spat into the ocean waters, the blue glob disappearing a few inches from her face. “You thought if you couldn’t have Beau, then no one could. Even thought you despised him and caused him endless torment. You couldn’t stand to see him happy!”
That wasn’t how Elanor remembered things at all. But she didn’t want to relieve these arguments. She’d already relived them an infinite number of times and was doomed to do so endlessly in her haunted future.
“I mean here.” She gestured around the sunken room, her hand passing through first a disintegrating lamp and then a large parrotfish. “In this… strange sea.”
“Time is so hard to keep track of isn’t it?” Lucinda pulled out a cigarette from the ether and exhaled the non-existent smoke into the sea. “Feels like only yesterday I was young, in love, and free of the harpy who was poisoning my love’s life and blackening my future.”
Elanor could remember that feeling herself, when Beaumont had come calling at her parents’ house, a grin on his face and a bundle of yellow flowers in his hands. She’d been dreading her life’s prospects. Her father, dead in the war. Her brothers, off squandering their inheritances gambling while she was left tending to her drunkard mother. Elanor wanted desperately to leave, and Beaumont extended his genteel hand to help her escape. But as soon as the wedding bells rang, it seemed to Elanor, his eyes, heart, and soul darkened to her.
“All I know is that it took many years,” Lucinda said. “The sea level rose and flooded the yard. Then the first floor. Then up and up. Of course, all the people had left long before that. The living ones. It was just the three of us, stuck in this hell.”
It all came back to Elanor in a flash. She had been haunting new residents for decades, sending them shrieking out of their newly purchased dream house, hair white with shock. Then suddenly they stopped coming. The neighbors who had warned potential buyers of “the vengeful spirits who will not rest in that cursed manor!” also packed up and drove away.
Elanor remembered flashes. The last residents, who shrugged as the reports of a warming planet and rising waters came over the television waves. The increasingly violent storms. A hurricane that ripped off several of the manor’s gables. No one was left to fix them. The waters seeping up the stairs, one by one. They were rising everywhere, flooding the costal cities, drowning the works of men. It was as if the entire planet was haunting the human race, or else perhaps the humans were the haunting ones and the planet was trying to exorcise itself of the plight.
Black Grove Manor hadn’t fallen into the ocean. The ocean, like the cold mouth of hell, had swallowed it up.
“Oh,” was all Elanor could say. “Right.”
Lucinda finished her cigarette and flicked it at a school of minnows. “Speaking of Beaumont. Where is he?”
“I don’t know,” Elanor said. “He flees from me. Even now. Even after all these years.”
“Probably fucking a mermaid. The bastard.”
Elanor looked at Lucinda. Her glowing body was so bright in these depths. Small transparent shrimp swam around her naked form, somehow perceiving her otherworldly light with their ancient eyes.
“You two… aren’t on good terms?”
Lucinda snorted. “The pig was ravishing the cook when I wasn’t looking. I found out after you killed me and fled through the house trying to escape this immortal coil. He had his member inside him while I was frying upstairs!”
Elanor smiled inside. At least she wasn’t the only victim in Black Grove Manor. Where was Beaumont now? Elanor reached into the recesses of her spectral mind. She remembered he was in the manor, trapped forever in this demonic house he had purchased to torment her. He’d hung himself in the attic, weeping, haunted by his crimes.
“I’m going to find him,” Elanor said.
“Not alone you aren’t,” Lucinda said.
And so the two rivals in love and afterlife floated to the stairs, which were thick with a forest of seaweeds. The whole way up Lucinda hummed a tune that made Elanor want to tear her apart limb from limb. But then they emerged from the ceiling into the floor of the attic she saw a family of sea turtles gliding through the water like alien ships, their dark red backs adding color to the blue gloom. Elanor was overcome with awe.
“Well. That’s not right,” Lucinda said.
“What?” But then Elanor took her eyes away from the turtles and saw. They were surrounded by an empty blue sky of water. The ceiling of the attic was gone. What was left of the boards that made the walls ended in jagged stumps, like sharp teeth. And that wasn’t the strange part. In the middle of the room, right between Elanor and Lucinda, was a floating pair of legs. Just legs. The hip, right above the navel, was severed in the same jagged way as the walls. Beaumont’s legs. Elanor would recognize those monk-strap leather shoes anywhere.
“The roof must have been ripped off in the currents,” Elanor said. And Beaumont’s top half, noose tied to the center ceiling beam, was taken with it. That was the rule for apparitions. You appeared as you died, tied to the place of your demise. You could move around the grounds of the house you were haunting, but you always reappeared back where you had last breathed air.
“That or a superyacht knocked the top off,” Lucinda said.
Elanor didn’t know what a superyacht was, but either way she wasn’t staying in a ruined, water-logged house alone with the harlot who destroyed her life. She had probably destroyed Beaumont’s too.
Or had it been Elanor who had driven him mad with hauntings until he trudged upstairs, cackling and weeping at the same time, with a rope in his hands? It was so hard to remember.
Lucinda suddenly shrieked, curdling Elanor’s missing blood. “I knew it!”
Lucinda’s form stretched and grew, her teeth lengthening into fangs, and hair flailing out in black tendrils. She raced off, out of the severed attic and down into the blue abyss.
Elanor followed, cautiously.
Around her was a drowned world. The remains of trees, houses, paved streets, and powerlines. All covered in muck, sand, and seaweeds. They looked tiny to Elanor. Fake. Like plastic figures in an aquarium desperately in need of cleaning.
She saw what Lucinda was heading for, a triangle of roof a few hundred yards away, where the glowing upper half of Beaumont was fraternizing with a pair of Rubenesque mermaids. Elanor began to grow indigent now, her stab wounds flaring open into fanged mouths. The rotten letch! She would tear his restless spirit into a thousand pieces. Except when she got closer she realized they weren’t mermaids at all, but two algae covered manatees.
Still, when she arrived Lucinda and Beaumont were already shouting at each other. The sea cows, sensing a disturbance in the muck, floated off.
“Lucinda, you always knew I couldn’t control my primal urges!”
“To think I threw away my life for you!”
“Some life! You were broke and married to an alcoholic salesman before I rescued you.”
Elanor watched them jaw at each other, the upper half of Beaumont tied by his noose to the beam like a barking dog, his waistcoat ending right at his severed waist. Lucinda, for her part, nude and shrieking. Would she never be rid of these bickering, murdering, dreadful people? Was she doomed to suffer them endlessly? Would she never be free? Even once in all eternity?
Elanor twisted her restless spirit to gaze out into the vast and empty blue gloom that was slowly yet inevitably swallowing the entire planet bit by bit.
Ellie sat on the edge of the ship and gazed out at the undulating waves. The surface of the water shimmered in the sun’s rays like a veil between this world and the next. Ellie was nervous.
It was a hot day, but she couldn’t barely feel the sun with suit’s advanced temperature regulation system. The suit had a chemical repellant to ward off sharks and a backup air tank, and in any case no one had ever been injured on these tours. At least that’s what the company claimed. But she was nervous. There was something about the entire enterprise that seemed somehow sacrilegious. Perhaps they should let the sunken old world stay undisturbed.
Still, she was young and in love and Beau had insisted. They were on vacation, shouldn’t they do a little tourism?
“Come on, babe,” Beau said, bobbing in the ocean. “The water’s great.” The speaker bud in her ear relayed his words. He swam around on the surface, the ruins of the old world somewhere hidden below him.
Lucy strolled across the deck, affixing her helmet. Even in the reinforced wetsuit, Ellie could see the outlines of her curves and she blushed with envy and desire.
“Climate change tourism,” Lucy said. “What a strange time we live in.”
“Maybe we should go back? Have a few margaritas by the indoor pool? We can forget the Lost Coast.”
“Ladies,” Beau said from the water. “If you two aren’t coming I’ll go in alone.” She could see him smile through the transparent helmet. The lights on either side of his head shone at her like apparitions in the night.
Ellie sighed and climbed down into the waters while the automated guide reminded them of the safety protocols.
Dipping under the surface, Ellie gasped. Below her was a lush, alien world. Whole suburbs covered in seaweeds, sand, and silt. She couldn’t believe how much was preserved down here. Like the Lost City of Atlantis, except there were a million Atlantises now. All the tiny towns and neighborhoods and cities along the costs that had been gobbled up as the sea levels rose.
Beau and Lucy were moving ahead of her, bumping into each other, and laughing. They were each equipped with a handheld motors, and she powered hers on to try and catch up. They were heading toward a large, sunken mansion. Ellie felt drawn to it too. Like the house was calling to her, welcoming her home.
It was so big! You couldn’t buy a house like this anymore, not with the price of real estate these days and the need for climate proofing. Ellie could imagine living in this house, if only it were still on land. She and Beau could be so happy in a place like this, running through the vast wooden halls and dancing under the chandeliers. She supposed Lucy could come over, sometimes. Certainly there was plenty of room in a house that large. Oh, that was the life she needed! The life she was meant to live!
Beau and Lucy were down on the surface now, speeding along the sand-sunken roads. She lost track of them before the massive manor.
Everything around her was a spectrum of blues, greens, and browns. Then, suddenly, she saw something from the corner of her eye.
A bright, glowing face. Her face. Or at least a face that looked uncannily like her own. Then it was gone.
“Hello?” she said, barely a whisper.
She moved slowly toward the house. Its doors were massive and open. She stopped again.
There was an entire person before her now, gorgeous and glowing. She seemed to be shimmering out of existence. Ellie would see her one second, then nothing the next.
Was this madness? Was the sea depth driving her insane? But she wasn’t very far down at all, and it had only been a few minutes, hadn’t it?
Then a wet, cold feeling, like an ice cube sliding across every part of her skin at once. Yes. This body would do nicely. It fit like a calfskin glove. She would have another chance. A chance to do things right this time. A chance to finally be happy.
Ellie was unsure how long she, they, were suspended there. Time had seemed to pause. Suddenly, Beau and Lucy were beside her.
“I can’t believe it,” Beau said. “What are the odds? It’s as if these bodies were sent to us.”
“Let’s go! Quickly! Before they can shake us off,” Lucy said.
Ellie felt the desperation too. They started to rise to the surface, Beau and Lucy moving ahead of her again. Were they going to leave her? Escape on the boat and let her drown and die again?
But as they neared the surface, Ellie saw something was wrong with Beau. His legs were jerking and kicking beyond his control.
“My legs. Blast it. We have to go back for my legs! They’re still in the attic.”
What happened next seemed to happen impossibly quickly, and beyond all of Ellie’s control. Her hand slid toward the knife on the belt of the suit. She flicked it open. Beau and Lucy were moving down toward her and she slashed right through their air tubes. As their screams sounded in the ear buds, her arm, possessed, plunged the knife into first one chest and then the other.
Plumes of red blood billowed out as pink smoke into the sea.
She stabbed again and again and again.
Then, somehow, she was on the surface. She looked around the dry, bright world. She climbed up the ladder unsure of how she got here, unsure of what happened. It was as if a chunk of time had slipped from her grasp and sunk away along with the pair of corpses into the soft sands below. But, as she flopped to the dry deck, she was sure of one thing. She was free.