EVIL IN TECHNICOLOR EXCERPT: Blue Hole, Red Sea by E. Catherine Tobler

It was never not hot in Alexandria, but beneath the sea, every- thing was cool and quiet, and Helen Dane thought she would like to stay forever. Submerged in the Mediterranean, Helen made an adjustment to the alidade before her, focusing in on the angle of the fallen, algae-coated obelisk in the distance . The black granite looked like a long finger, pointing her down the length of the ruin they were documenting. Through the sea, the obelisk was ephemeral, there and gone when a school of golden fish wavered past. Helen focused again and the sea moved without aid of the fish, expanding into a strange dark- ness beyond the obelisk. She imagined a tunnel, an arch, extending forever into black. The space held mysteries—bones and fragments of other lives lived—until it opened into a new sea. 

The new sea was warmer, saltier. The water was like silk across her skin—bare skin, her wetsuit stripped away as if it had never existed. The salt water buoyed her up and up, as if she were in a balloon, and when she surfaced, it was an unfamiliar landscape that greeted her. She knew she was beneath the Mediterranean, safely wrapped in diving gear, and yet her eyes told her otherwise, for the land rose and fell in sandy, caramel hues everywhere. The sea around her was perfectly still, not shot through with fish. Before her in the sea spread a great darkness, a hole that bored into the water itself and vanished. And beneath the water, a whisper. A word she could not quite make out. 

As Helen blinked to clear her vision, her diving watch beeped three times, telling her it was past time to resurface. Three times? Helen looked at the watch face with concern. Her oxygen gauge confirmed that she was late—that her air was growing in short supply. She glanced once more to the obelisk, to see the black hole it was pointing to had gone, then adjusted her life jacket, dropping weight to help her kick back toward the surface. 

The Lotus awaited her, a cacophony of worried Arabic greeting her when she surfaced. Grasping hands pulled her from the sea and into the bed of the boat, water streaming every which way. Habit had Helen reaching to check that she’d clipped her underwater camera to her waistband, and she only relaxed at the feel of its plastic curves beneath her pruned fingers. It was cumbersome outside of the water, the size of a melon, but she couldn’t lose it. 

“What were you thinking?” The boat crew took a step back at the harsh question. Helen spat the breather from her mouth, and reached for her mask, but it was removed before she could touch it. Her guardian, professor and Egyptologist Frank Dane, pulled it up her face and off, his glare replacing the sea that still hung in her mind’s eye. She tried to turn from him, but his hand wrapped her upper arm and held her firm. Through her rubber dive suit, she could feel his fingers pressing hard and harder. 

“You weren’t thinking,” he said before she could reply. When he released her, he gave her a little shove, as if to set her at a distance. He strode away, to the other divers who’d come up on time, to see what they had learned. Snatches of their conversations came back to her— did the men know of the rumored lighthouse? The mighty Pharos who overlooked the sea and her sailors? Many knew the rumors, but rumors of monsters, too—of gods protecting what the sea had taken.  

Helen raked her hair from her eyes. She was shaking and did not dare stand. She sat for a moment, thinking of the obelisk, of thinking the space it had seemingly pointed toward. A tunnel, she had thought, but maybe a colonnade? Had they found the queen’s palace after all? But it was something more than that, because there had been a landscape, a landscape they didn’t presently inhabit, and she could not explain it. She had felt the wind against her wet hair, had seen the spreading black in the sea around her. And beneath the water, a whisper. 

Her heart hammered to think of it—the strangeness she could not explain, but also the idea of a submerged palace. She had been diving for four years now, Roman shipwrecks mostly, but this—this was Alexandria, Egypt. This was a civilization swallowed by the sea, reaching a hand from the past to clasp their own now. 

She stood and moved to the edge of the boat, looking into the water. From the surface, nothing of the ruin could be seen. But she had seen the columns, the obelisks, and the sea-sunk sphinx, and could not forget them. People had lived here. She wanted to touch every stone they had left behind before Frank could sully them. 

“Here .” A sun-warm towel was pressed into her hands and she looked at the familiar figure standing beside her. Frank called the boy Alex, but only because they had hired him in this city and not another. In another city, Frank would have called him by another name. Helen took the towel and pressed her face into it. The warmth eased the chill of the water on her, and Alex set to helping her remove the rest of her gear. 

Helen scrubbed the towel across her hair and looked at her guardian. Frank was gathered with the others—three divers, and an assembly of young Egyptian men who would do anything for payment. The divers were telling Frank what they had seen and measured— they thought it was the queen’s palace, too—and the Egyptian men chattered excitedly. A palace meant riches. 

She had not cared about riches—at least not at first. Shipwrecks were thrilling all on their own. Cautionary tales, to be sure, but thrill- ing too . Imagining the people who had crewed them, where they had dreamed of going, and how they had ended up at the bottom of the sea. Helen knew she would risk the danger. The bottom of the sea was worth it. 

“They are fools,” Alex said softly, but before Helen could ask what he meant, Frank called him and Alex scampered to his side, tending whatever needed tending.


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EVIL IN TECHNICOLOR


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