This is the first part of a story about the undersea city of Atlantis. This part describes the reunion of two estranged brothers, Garrett and Ryan Clark, and a mysterious occurrence in the night.
Garrett Clark thought that there was something fishy about his brother’s living room. It was hard for Garrett, however, to put his finger on exactly what was so strange about it. The entire house, to be sure, was extraordinary, but the living room was a most peculiar place.
Ryan Clark’s house was built on the edge of a precipitous cliff. The cliff was one of solid stone, and the sea that lay beyond it was a roaring one, with powerful waves that belted the rocks. Though it was an oceanside house, no one ever went swimming. There were two reasons. First, there were no tracks down to the water. Second, the sea was too big and dangerous.
Instead, it was one of those grand homes of the Martha’s Vineyard vein with a wrap-around balcony, outrageously uncomfortable wicker benches with all-weather cushions, and floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Standing on the balcony, a person could look out over the rough, cold sea and hear its booming.
On either side of the house, where the land was, there were sea oats, granite, and sand.
To Garrett, the house seemed to be a wet, cold, forbidding place, made spectacular by both its vistas and isolation, for it was the only house for miles.
Inside the house, the air was constantly permeated with the strong scent of salt water. Garrett Clark’s brother, Ryan, was a marine biologist by education, and he was a man who constantly loved to be surrounded by the sea. The windows of the house, accordingly, were often thrown open, with the result that salty air pervaded the environment. Bicycle chains needed constantly to be greased, or they would rust. Batteries corroded. The salt water delignified the wooden balcony, left salt crystals on window sills, and permeated the concrete.
Garrett could not help but feel that his brother’s house was not a happy one. It was a house built for the sea, and the sea in this part of the country was lonely.
But if the house was lonely, and the rooms in it were lonely, there was a single room that was lonely and something else. The living room was lonely and strange. It was odd. Garrett had a sinister feeling that the living room concealed something.
The living room was a broad, open area. Its floors were a light colored wood. It had a white leather couch. Its walls were painted white. There was a chest-high vase with shoots of sea oats. On either side of the couch were glass end tables with ceramic coasters that were shaped like sea shells. Against one wall was the grandfather clock that Ryan had inherited from his and Garrett’s grandfather. It was the only thing in the entire house that Garrett recognized. The ceilings were fourteen feet, and there were two entrances to the room, both arched openings.
The living room should have, by all accounts, been a perfectly normal, airy space. Garrett could not help but feel, however, that it was not.
Garrett felt like he hardly knew his brother. They had been close, up through college, then Ryan had submerged himself in marine biology. He’d immersed himself in it for twenty years, and during those two decades—which seemed but a blink looking back on them—Garrett and Ryan had barely talked. Ryan was always busy with work. He won a number of different government contracts, and the marine biology company that he was working for sent him to exotic places around the world. So not only was Ryan busy, but he was also in places that made him hard to reach.
One day, near the end of those two decades of hard work, Ryan and Garrett spoke again. Ryan told Garrett that he’d bought his own marine biology company. He was going to be his own boss now. Ryan said that his company would work exclusively with government contracts, and that he would have more time for himself. He had invited Garrett to his new house, which was perched on the top of a cliff. Garrett, of course, had accepted the invitation willingly.
When Garrett arrived, Ryan had a party already planned. Ryan had treated Garrett like he was a well-loved dinner guest, but not like a brother. Garrett hadn’t minded much. Times had changed. Garrett knew that. It was a fact of life.
Ryan’s friends were mostly government types, a little too square and sometimes boorishly grim. Garrett found himself preoccupied the entire night with trying to say the polite and politically correct thing. He thought he succeeded. The trick was to stay sober and be at once diplomatic, insightful, and warm. They’d had drinks at dusk, barbequed, and watched the cobalt water swallow the scarlet sun. The surf roared and broke. Garrett looked out over the water at the austerely elegant scenery.
Then Ryan’s friends, one by one, left.
Now it was just the two of them, Garrett and Ryan, up in that big house.
Ryan brought out a couple of cold bottles of beer, and Garrett asked how Ryan’s new company was going.
“Very well,” Ryan had said.
Garrett thought Ryan looked and sounded tired. He said Ryan didn’t need to stay up, that if he wanted to go to bed, he should go ahead and go.
Ryan murmured something noncommittal. He seemed distracted, as if his thoughts were elsewhere. Garrett asked his brother if anything was wrong. Ryan sighed, and he looked as if he might speak. Then it appeared that he changed his mind, and he became silent again.
“Well,” said Garrett cheerfully. “I’m open to talk whenever. Happy to listen.”
Ryan had given him a look of undisguised gratitude. But he had not spoken.
They stayed in silence for a while, nursing their beers.
Then Garrett, becoming unnerved by the silence, ventured to say, “I like what you’ve done with the place.”
Ryan brightened a little. Then he sank down into a stony silence once more. He pointed around the room with the neck of the beer bottle. “It’s all new,” he said. “I bought it all over the course of a week. Just a bunch of stuff.”
“Well,” said Garrett, “The grandfather clock is not. That belonged to Granddaddy.”
Ryan laughed then. It was at first a strange sound, like a rusty laugh that was out of practice, then it became a good, old-fashioned laugh.
“So it did!” Ryan said. He looked up at his brother with a smile, and, for the first time that night, Garrett felt that he was Ryan’s brother again, instead of just his guest. “And I think it’s the only thing in this house that means anything at all!”
“Well enough,” said Garrett, “So long as there’s something. So tell me about some of the places you’ve been. I guess you’ve been all over the world. I don’t even know where you’ve gotten to.”
“All over the world—and all under it!” smiled Ryan reflectively. “These people had me diving everywhere.”
“Looking for treasure?” Garrett asked, trying to keep the tone light. “The Loch Ness monster? Sunken ships? Strange fish? What all were you doing?”
“Oh,” said Ryan, “Mostly underwater experiments.”
“Underwater experiments? What kinds?”
“Mainly my bosses were just checking to see if they could wear me out, it sometimes seemed to me.”
Ryan laughed a little grimly, a little self-deprecatingly.
“Sounds dangerous,” Garrett said.
Ryan’s eyebrows raised. “That’s an understatement.”
“What kind of experiments were they?”
“What is this?” Ryan grinned sourly. “The third degree?”
“No, no, no…” Garrett quickly backtracked. “I didn’t mean it like that. I’m just making conversation. How do you think that the Red Sox will do this year?”
Ryan waved a dismissive hand, “No, I know you didn’t mean it. I’m sorry. I’m just tired. I’m going to hit the sack, and I’ll see you in the morning. We can do a little hiking, eh old brother!” Ryan gave a grin, and he punched Garrett’s shoulder.
Garrett grinned politely.
Ryan turned his bottle upside down over his mouth, and he polished off the last of his beer.
“Good night,” Ryan said. “Stay up as long as you want. There’s loads more beer in the fridge, and the TV’s in the next room. A bunch of movies in the drawer, and I get all the networks: HBO, Showtime, Netflix, et cetera. It’s all there. Should be some sports still on too.”
“Thanks,” Garrett said. “I think I’ll have just one more beer. Good night.”
Ryan left the room. Garrett polished off his beer, then he went to the fridge for another bottle. He popped the top, and he sat back down to nurse it.
Garrett was sitting in the kitchen. To his right was a floor-to-ceiling window that faced the sea. To his left was the arched opening that led into the living room. The only room that was lit by light was the kitchen. The living room stood mostly dark, but Garrett could see a ways into it by the kitchen light.
The house, clean though it was, and modern, nevertheless felt slightly unsettling. He wondered why his brother would choose to live out here, out in the middle of nowhere. Ryan had been a sociable guy in high school. Maybe being the owner and CEO of a marine biology company gave him enough society at work, Garrett thought, that Ryan didn’t want to live in the city limits. Maybe he just wanted to live near the sea.
Garrett was finding his brother to be more and more of a mysterious figure. Ryan had changed. Well, Garrett shrugged, he himself had changed too. Twenty years was a long time. They hadn’t talked enough over those last few years.
Garrett stood up, and he went out on the balcony again. The stars were bright and shining. He looked out over the sea. He laid his hands on the balcony rail, and he nursed his beer for fifteen minutes, until the bitter wind and the cold air forced him back inside. There he finished his drink, and he went to bed.
Garrett was sleeping soundly in a soft, warm bed in Ryan’s guest bedroom when a sound suddenly woke him. It was an extremely loud grinding sound, as if a heavy stone were being pushed over rough stone. The sound continued. The grinding was as loud as if it were being done by industrial equipment, and Garrett could not imagine what could be causing it. He sat up in bed. He blinked and frowned. He listened. The sound stopped. He heard nothing else.
Garrett stood, and he went out into the hallway. He walked to the kitchen, passing through the living room, looking around at everything. He turned on the lights. Everything seemed to be in order. He passed into the kitchen, and he took a look at the clock. It was three thirty in the morning.
But Garrett was a man with confidence in himself, and he knew that he had not imagined the strange sound. Normally, Garrett would just go back to bed. But the sound was so out of place, so incongruent with the sounds of a modern house, that Garrett wondered if the grinding sound did not indicate that something was wrong with the house’s foundation. He’d heard that salt water could damage concrete, and the grinding sound sounded like it might have been caused by shifting concrete.
Garrett wondered what to do. He didn’t want to wake his brother. The sound might be nothing. But, then again, Garrett felt that it had been a horribly loud and a prolonged one at that.
Garrett, still feeling indecisive, walked down the hall to his bedroom. He paused at his bedroom door, then, shaking his head, he decided to wake his brother. Garrett passed by his bedroom door, and he went to Ryan’s bedroom.
The door was ajar. Garrett tapped lightly at the door.
“Ryan?” he called. “Hey, hey Ryan buddy, wake up.”
Garrett walked over to Ryan’s bed, intending to shake his brother’s shoulder. But, as Garrett approached his brother’s bed, he realized that his brother was gone.
Garrett’s breath caught in his throat. He felt a sudden fear.
Then, a moment later, he thought that Ryan must be causing the noise. His brother must be outside, or in the garage.
Garrett walked back through the house. He turned on the lights as he passed through rooms, and he left them on. Garrett passed through the laundry room and into the garage. The garage’s light was off. Garrett turned it on. There was no one inside it.
Garrett suddenly felt all alone in the house. He had the sensation that his brother had disappeared. But Garrett was not a man prone to melodrama or histrionics. He elected to make a thorough search of the house. He looked through every room. He did not find his brother.
Then Garrett dressed himself warmly. He looked out on the balcony, and he walked around it. He went down the balcony stairs to the rocky surface of the cliff. The sea boomed, and the wind wailed. He had taken a flashlight with him, and he turned it on. The light played over the short grasses, the wet stone, and the fissures in the rock. He walked up and down the windswept cliff top. His brother’s car was in the drive, but his brother was nowhere to be found. Garrett had walked to the end of the long driveway, and he was debating whether to phone the police, when he heard the sound again. It sounded like two stones were rubbing one another, as if milling. The sound was coming from the house, and Garrett could hear it from an eighth of a mile away.
Garrett turned, and he shone the flashlight back at the house. All its lights were on, as Garrett had left them. He rushed back to the house, in the direction of the grinding. It took him nearly a minute to cover the distance, running hard but carefully over the uneven, slick ground. When he reached the doorway of the house, the sound stopped. Garrett paused. Then he tried the front door, but he found it locked. He had come out the back of the house, through doors that communicated with the kitchen. So Garrett ran around the house, up the wooden stairs, and along the balcony. The sliding door which let into the kitchen was closed but unlocked, as he’d left it. He slid the door open, and he stepped into the house.
There was nothing different than when he’d left it. Garrett turned off his flashlight, and he looked in the house. He saw his brother coming down the hall. Ryan was wearing his pajamas, and he had a look of sleepiness on his face.
“What are you turning all the lights on for, brother man?” Ryan asked, coming into the kitchen.
“Me!” Garrett exclaimed. He set the flashlight down on the kitchen table. “Where have you been? I’ve been looking all over for you!”
“Looking for me?” Ryan’s eyes flashed up sharply. “What do you mean? Why?”
“Why? I mean… I mean—I heard a noise! A loud, grinding noise! Surely you must have heard it! I heard it and I went to wake you, but I couldn’t find you. You weren’t in your bed.”
“Oh,” said Ryan. “I’d gone out for a midnight stroll.”
“But I was outside looking for you! I didn’t see you.”
“We must have just passed each other by. Ships in the night. Did you go out the back?”
“Well, I went out the front,” said Ryan.
“It was locked,” protested Garrett, a little desperately.
“I’ve got a key of course. I thought you were sleeping. I just stepped out for a moonlight stroll.”
“But didn’t you hear the sound?”
“It was a monstrous noise! It was the reason why I tried to wake you. Then when I couldn’t find you, I went out looking. I was at the end of the driveway when I heard the sound again. It just stopped thirty seconds ago. Surely you must have heard it!”
“What did it sound like?”
When he asked that question, Garrett felt sure that his brother was concealing something. The sound was too loud not to have been heard, and, if what his brother said were true, then he would have been in the house during the time that the sound came the second time.
“It was like a grinding noise. A monstrous milling sound.”
“Oh,” said Ryan. “Sometimes rocks creep down on the cliff face. They don’t fall, you understand, just slowly slide down. That’s probably what made the noise.”
“Preposterous!” Garrett exclaimed, his face looking at his brother with wonder. Garrett wondered why his brother was lying to him.
But Ryan just yawned. “Look, Garrett, I’ve lived here a while, and you’ve been here for a night. I know the sound of rocks sliding down the cliff face. It’s a grinding noise. You must have heard that. Now, it’s nearly four in the morning. I’ll help you turn out all the lights, then let’s get some sleep all right?”
Garrett nearly exclaimed, “You’re lying!” but he bit his tongue. What evidence did he have, he considered, which could make his side of the story believable? None, he knew.
“Fine,” he said, his voice clipped and his tone hot. “Let’s get the lights out and go to bed.”
“Good,” said Ryan. He rose and went into the garage and laundry room, turning off the lights. As he passed through the kitchen, he said in a conciliatory voice, “I’m sorry if you were nervous that I’d disappeared. I often step out at nights, and I didn’t think you’d be up. I should’ve mentioned it before I went to bed.”
But Garrett, who still felt that something was amiss, simply nodded, and he made no verbal reply.
They turned out all the lights, and when Ryan said Good night, Garrett simply closed the door of his bedroom, and he did not respond.
His own behavior, Garrett felt, as he lay in bed, with his eyes open, staring up into the darkness, was nothing to be proud of. It was neither noble nor far-sighted. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something that his brother was hiding, and he knew that his brother was lying to him about the grinding sound.
Garrett slept not another wink that night, and when he rose at six, he was the first of the two brothers out of bed. Garrett made a pot of coffee, and he put on a wool sweater and some flannel-lined jeans, then he sat out on the balcony watching the steam rise from the coffee and the sun rise through the sky. He looked out on the water, and he reflected on the events from the night, but he could make no further sense of the mystery.