Edited by: Anthony S. Buoni & Alisha Costanzo
Genre: Fantasy Anthology
Release Date: February 29, 2016
Hosted by: Book Enthusiast Promotions
When was the last time you came face-to-face with a mermaid?
Ever explore a hidden underwater cave or been haunted by an unearthly creature? Did that passionate childhood fantasy turn into a real, sexy encounter? When was the last time you discovered a bell concealing the entrance to a faerie mound? Have you wondered what would happen if New Orleans was entombed in radioactive water?
UNDERWATER features sixteen exploratory tales that delve into decrepit landscapes and strange magic, inhuman heroes and crushing experimentation. Two-thirds of the world is submerged—experience what happens within, from the fantastical and erotic to the horrifying and triumphant, UNDERWATER showcases stories that will inundate readers with uncharted territories.
From “Fossegrimmen” by Megan McFerren:
Brave ventures yield great rewards, Kjell reasons, so long as one survives them. Perhaps the same is true for sheep.
His foot digs deeper, and he steps back. The stories of places like this are known well, the haunts of wights and elves who will demand tribute for passing near their homes. Children’s stories, no doubt, to keep them from toppling down onto the rocks. Myths and fables from more superstitious times.
Surely, then, the strains of music are only his imagination.
Surely, the lilting of fiddle strings must be carrying on the wind across the fell.
Surely, Kjell must have just spent too much time afield alone, and his mind has wandered far as his stubborn sheep.
Curiosity pulls him towards the edge once more. With mistrust towards the stability of the soft soil and misgivings towards his own mind, Kjell slips closer to the falls. Dulcet tones rise in a familiar old song from Kjell’s childhood but whose words he can’t recall. The cascade of water is twice his height but no more than that, and when Kjell leans, only the edge of the shadowy pool beneath shows, foaming white beneath the spray. The bend of strings echoes louder from below, a sound so warm that Kjell forgets how wet his clothes have become in seeking the music’s source.
Kjell’s voice rings back at him after a pause, too long to be his own echo, and yet, it sounds much the same. His brow furrows at the strange delay. He draws a breath to call again and holds it when a voice responds:
From “Happiness Shoal” by Gregory L. Norris:
The man pressed forward through the rain. Happiness radiated in his eyes, a rich green the color of emerald gemstones on that moody gray morning, and his lips, the lower slightly plumper than its twin on top, a crooked smile beaming from the prickle of a new, unintentional beard.
The wind gusted, stirring the ocean’s brine. The man blinked, and a measure of the trance broke. He grew aware of the raindrops running through his thatch of dark cowlicks and spikes. His baseball cap was gone—his favorite, he absently recalled. The man dug in his soles and stopped. Turning, he realized that so, too, was one of his rubber boots. The Atlantic at low tide tickled the toes of his left foot through thick wool socks with icy caresses.
“No,” he said. His voice rippled at his ears with a hypnotic resonance, as though spoken underwater.
Joe Dunnegin turned again. Mist drifted in tattered curtains across the shore of Sugar Beach, masking the parameters of the familiar world. The gentle melody of the waves lapping at sand droned into the background while the rising cadence of his heartbeat jumped into the fore. Movement stirred in the mist, a face and body only half there, out of focus. A ghost.
Joe’s euphoria surged. “You,” he called, walking then running, retracing his steps, aware of his cock’s stiffness. Pinned at an awkward angle in his jeans, its pulses sent concentric waves rippling through the rest of his flesh. Deeper, into his marrow, his soul.
“Hello,” Joe called. “You, wait—please.” The figure in the mist dissolved between blinks. “No, stay, stay with me.”
Joe raced along the water line, his cock drawn like a divining rod toward the face growing less distinct by the second. The mist attempted to smother his voice. The ebb and flow of the ocean grew louder.
The figure blended fully back into the mist, there one instant, gone the next. One more step, and Joe forgot why he felt so happy.
“No,” Joe said. And then he sobbed the word again.
He spun in a circle in search of the mysterious presence. The world drifted out of focus, melting into a blur of gray. The rain robbed him of his smile. The chill ramped up its assault, going from tickles to jagged bites that worked up past his calves.
“Where are you?” he cried out. “Where—?”
A strange word danced to the tip of his tongue, too elegant for such a primitive muscle.
“V’liss Wei,” Joe said.
Then the strength departed his legs, and the ground came rushing up, cold and harsh and unforgiving. Joe’s face struck the beach. The tide rolled over his torso. Before darkness eclipsed his senses, the lights—vibrant neon blue, the color of the ghost’s eyes, and red, like blood, shone on the horizon.
From “The Rainbow Sprite” by Alisha Costanzo:
My vision filled too often with bloody fucking rainbows, and my tongue craved the taste of hot, spring rains. I found myself wired and explosive in my daily duties, biting a claimed renegade but imagining the sprite instead. My queen punished me fittingly for it, caning the bottoms of my feet. I left with a hard-on.
She went easy on me, giving me a lesson in my more preferred manner, because I offered information that pleased her. Now, my orders sent me where I wanted to go: for a way to infiltrate the underwater faerie mound. Mine was through the rainbow sprite.
The woods changed with charms, glittering under the moon like beckons. Nevertheless, I found Nani’s watering hole, armed with a bell and her ring—both held the most curious magick.
Spring rain didn’t greet me as my toes slipped into the brisk water. Instead, a peaches and cream scent emitted from the waters before a pale, golden fluff bobbed to the surface above the slender face of a boy. His features matched Nani’s except that his eyes were a soft orange and freckles kissed the center of his face like a frangipani.
I leaned in as the boy hovered there and coaxed him closer. “Are you the little bugger that dropped a bell in there?”
His minute nod propelled him further forward, close enough for me to snatch him up. My grip found his throat, and I swung him onto land with a thunk of his shoulder blades against the grass. Teeth bared at him.
Sweat beaded along the kid’s forehead and wisps of fear wafted from him. Burning seeped into my chest at his touch, slow and eating at my skin like acid. “Will your blood poison me?”
The scent of his fear matured as he nodded again.
I pulled the bell from my pocket and jingled it by his face. “What does this do to you on land?”
“And if it touches you?”
The boy’s gaze hopped to the bell and back to me. “Make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I get angry.”
Was this pipsqueak quoting the Hulk at me?
I dropped my fangs, flaunted them in his face to the joy of his hyperventilating and pissing himself.
“Pika?” Long, blonde hair slicked back from Nani’s wide, rainbow eyes before they slanted and her mouth puckered. “Vampire.”
“Is this yours?” I pushed his head back to elongate the boy’s throat.
“Nan.” The boy’s voice so brittle it threatened to break.
“You let him free.”
“And why would I do such a thing?”
She tread closer, the water parting to her bare shoulder and dripping down her collarbones. It made me hungrier. “I will make a trade. Me for him.”
I wanted her blood more than the boy’s. “Out of the water.”
Nani climbed into the grass, circling around us and into the tree line.
“It’s okay. He won’t hurt me.”
I will, but I won’t kill her. Not yet. “Aw. Isn’t this sweet.”
Terrified eyes blinked up at me.
“You have five seconds to disappear before this bell hits the pond.” I jingled the bell at him for emphasis.
“Go,” the sprite told her brother.
He shot out from under me, splashing as I counted, tossing the bell in after him. Rolled onto my back, I smiled up at Nani. “I do believe I scared the piss out of the little bugger.”
From “Going Deep” by Diana Hauer:
Propelled by diving fins, they made good time to Echidna’s Cave. Each of them had waterproof flashlights on their wrists and chemical glow-stick backups, though they had been assured that deeper in, phosphorescent minerals in the walls and plants would light the way.
Seaweed parted like long, thick hair to reveal a dark opening. Morgan met Bo’s gaze and pointed to the rocky entrance before them. She sucked another breath of oxygen from her tank, fighting the urge to grin as she admired the blonde man’s muscular trunk. Surfing was damn good for him, especially his legs and waist.
Morgan made a mental note to give their guide a generous tip for the discount to Echidna’s Cave; just off a beach cove that the locals called Typhon’s Couch. She’d be fucking Bo with the image of his strong ass and legs flexing for the rest of their time in the Mediterranean. He might even look better now than he did the first day she’d watched from her lifeguard stand as he slid over the waves on his board.
Bo paused in the entrance to the cave, tilting his head and eying it warily. He reached out and experimentally pushed at the edges. He braced his feet on the opposite edge, just inside the rocky lip, and flexed hard as though trying to stretch it wider. His version of a stability test, she guessed.
Shaking her head, Morgan impatiently goosed his muscular bottom to move him aside and squeezed past him, into the hole.
A gentle caress at my outer rim coaxed me back into consciousness. Still in a dream, I growled impatiently. My lover was teasing, and I yearned to pull him to me and take him within.
I awoke fully when something much bigger than most ocean creatures entered me. Memories of Typhon surging within me vanished abruptly.
Years had passed since I last felt anything so large moving within me. My fur has grown long, hiding me from all but the most ardent and curious. I’d been sure that Typhon’s rough embrace had woken me until the second one entered me. Ripples sparked long-forgotten sensations through my entire length. Arousal shimmered on my skin, teasing them, urging them to go deeper.
From “The Rock Cave” by Angela R. Sargenti:
I dive deeper than normal because the reef is so pretty. Fish of all colors swim around me—blue, green, and yellow. Beneath the coral, I spy an opening in the rock. My curiosity gets the better of me. As I get closer, I see that it’s big enough to swim through, so I do.
When I come up for air inside the cave, I see two men there, both gorgeous. One of them has long brown hair, and he’s bigger than the other, who’s a blond. They both have fantastic abs, and they glance at each other, smiling.
“Oh,” I say. “I’m sorry. I hope I’m not intruding.”
“Not at all,” says the bigger of the two. “Please come in. We’re just up for air.”
I look at them closely. They don’t seem like threats. In fact, they don’t seem interested in me at all.
“I’ve never been down this far before,” I say, and the slighter man glances at his companion again.
I don’t know why that word pops into my head because it’s not a word I’ve ever used before.
All I know is: it fits.
“Maybe I should go,” I tell them, but their attention immediately focuses on me.
“Don’t go,” says the bigger man.
“Don’t go,” says his companion.
They lean back on the rock ledge and relax, but the water beneath them churns like they’re in some big private hot tub.
“Come closer,” says the man with the brown hair.
If they wanted to hurt me, they’d have done so by now, but I’m compelled to obey their summons. I swim up to them, and they lean forward eagerly.
“We’ve been waiting for you,” says the smaller man, suddenly taking the initiative and taking me into his arms.
His chest is warm.
“We’ve been waiting for you,” says the big man. “We knew you were coming.”
From “Eden” by Zander Vyne:
Many would be tested. Most wouldn’t make it. The unchosen were Doomed unless they ran.
My friend, Trek, decided to run and join the group living on the fringe; he’d received a rejection letter and had nothing to lose. “Some Chosen run too, Eve. It’s that good over there, and it’s our only chance to be together.”
I let Trek hold me and kiss me. He was bold, this last time we were together, daring to touch my breasts. He wanted more, and for the first time, he asked for it.
The sin of it—his voice whispering illicit expressions in my ear—excited me. I imagined him naked over me. Passionate. Thrilling. Fucking. Forbidden.
“No.” I pushed him away. I wanted him, but I wanted the privileged life on Eden more. Utopia was for the Chosen only. I would do nothing to ruin my chance at a future there.
I’d been raised on the history of Eden like all children—long, long ago, the Great War had driven Earth’s people underground. With only artificial light, and the barest of resources, they tried everything to reduce their numbers, hoping to last long enough to repopulate the surface. They failed. Only stranded astronauts on space-station Biospheres survived.
My Chosen dad often pointed out Earth in the night sky. “It looks like any other star, but it’s a reminder. Don’t forget that, baby girl.”
Our ancestors found themselves with no home.
The new Biosphere world faced many problems. People wanted solutions ensuring survival. Out of the chaos came The Foundation.
Those pioneers led the expedition that discovered the habitable, but tiny, Eden. To make sure this new home didn’t become like the old one, the Foundation mandated a genetically-engineered society. No trouble-making genes allowed. The people on Eden were all products of the Pleasure Sphere. No one could remember another way of life, another way of reproducing.
For the Chosen, Eden was perfect.
From “Crushed” by Cape C. Capehart:
Murina feared venturing outside of her room. Piaractus distracted her everywhere from everything, and she something would eventually give away her thoughts. Her sisters and classmates would see the inky shadows lurking within her twisted mind, and her foster father would find that his conditioning failed. She visualized the looks of disgust from her sisters, the disappointment of Acei, and the accusations of Arowen and Rachovii. They would call her a traitor and lock her away or maybe put her down like the beast she was.
Murina could not help herself. She wanted to be found by him, somewhere no one could intervene. She wanted to be held down in the sticky muck of the riverbed and gripped with fingers of iron; not like the thin, squirming digits that Fasciatus tried to worm across her breast.
She wanted to be squeezed; to have the life choked from her chest. Nothing else in her foreign world would do.
Murina’s desire eventually found a way. Her sisters could only be away from the parties for so long, curfew-be-damned, and she wormed her way into their group. Lying came easier to her than she would have imagined, and when she started to tear up at their initial rejection, Acei quickly put forth the invitation. The anxiety threatened to leak from her pores and poison the waters as she allowed her sisters to paint her into an acceptable image. She could wear the mermaid costume for another night if it meant getting out of that house and the guilt that Tetra’s large, accepting eyes inflicted upon her.
Murina planned to break away from her group unnoticed during the party to search the river for him, but they never made it there.
The river flowed vacant and lifeless. No minnows darting around the surface, no curious perch, not even scuttle bugs along the floor. Murina’s blood chilled and slowed in her veins. Regret pierced her, sending lightning from her chest through her tail as the shadow spilled across them. She had made a terrible mistake letting any of her sisters leave the security of their home.
Piaractus was a vicious-looking merman, with abnormally large, amber eyes, scarred arms corded with muscle, and a wicked grin full of sharp teeth.
And he had Arowen.
From “Ferryman” by Val Prozorova:
I was nineteen the first time I died.
It happened entirely by accident; I had never kayaked in the sea before, too used to the smooth and still waters of the New Zealand lakes, and the waves overbalanced me. Upside down in the two thoughts circled first, the rope meant to hold me certainly did its job, as I could not get the knot undone, and second, I hoped I had on clean underwear. The paramedics have worse to deal with, but it would certainly be embarrassing.
If anyone found me, anyway. The rope still caught in what I quickly understood not to be a wet knot had my lungs burning from my held breath. I made several proclamations in my youth that I wanted to become one with nature. Perhaps, I should have made it clear that I did not mean it quite so literally.
A water baby, swimming from a young age, playing with water, and attempting—pitifully—to draw it, people often joked that I was half fish. They couldn’t be more wrong. No gills on me, just flared nostrils and pursed lips and fumbling fingers against a knot that wouldn’t give.
Crazy thoughts flew through my mind by this point:
How far does the water beneath me go?
Should I look?
Can I turn the boat over by sheer tenacity and hope for the best?
Shouldn’t my life be flashing before my eyes?
Did I miss that matinee performance?
Like graduation, did I forget to sign up to be part of my own ceremony?
A movement pulled my gaze, desperate enough that I would reach out to a shark for help; perhaps, mercifully, one’s life didn’t flash before their eyes, but their desires did. Because the man swimming towards me, now, certainly personified many of my desires. Dark skin, dark eyes, and hair that swelled with the waves themselves, so long that it swept almost like a tail behind him. His effortless motion through the water, entirely graceful, opened my mouth to gasp. Oh the flaw in that plan.
From “Diluvium” by Anthony S. Buoni:
Peter and Louis looked over the edge of their respective sides of the airboat. Through murky water, the rooftop of a sunken house was visible.
“This house was much taller but collapsed when the water rotted the foundation,” Ray said. “Let this be another lesson. If you feel or hear the building we’re raiding start to creak and groan under your feet, get out. You don’t want that toilet water on your skin.”
“How deep is it?”
“Here it’s about…seventeen—maybe twenty feet. As we get closer to Canal Street, that number decreases. New Orleans is…was shaped like a cereal bowel. The Vieux Carré was built on the high ground before the levee system, better protecting the French Quarter from floodwaters. Problem is the city is constantly sinking, even still. Every year more and more of it gets swallowed up. Nothing can save it from the hungry swamp. Then storms kept coming, the lake and Mississippi River kept spilling over, and the ground kept sinking. They say in less than twenty years, even the Quarter will be totally submerged.”
Louis could not take his eyes off the submerged building, imagining bodies floating silent and graceful underneath the boat, like the betta fish Jenny kept on their kitchen counter. “Why did they ever build here?”
“Greed,” Ray said. “It was an inevitable city in an improbable location built on unstable ground as a port linking the center of America to the Gulf of Mexico. This waterlogged wasteland was once considered the jewel of the South.”
“How could something so important just fall?”
Alisha Costanzo is from a Syracuse suburb. She earned her MFA in creative writing from the University of Central Oklahoma, where she currently teaches English. She’s the author of BLOOD PHOENIX: REBIRTH, BLOOD PHOENIX: CLAIMED, and LOVING RED, and is co-editor of DISTORTED and UNDERWATER. IMPRINTED, her new novel, is undergoing serious edits for its 2016 release. In the meantime, she will continue to corrupt young minds, rant about the government, and daydream about her all around nasty creatures.
Anthony S. Buoni prowls the gas lamp lit streets of New Orleans, playing moonlight hide and seek with Ouija boards in the Crescent City’s foggy, above ground cemeteries. Anthony is the author of Conversation Party and Synchrony, co-editor to Distorted volume 1, and editor to both Between There anthologies. His stories and articles have been featured in Meow, Small Happy, North Florida Noir, and Waterfront Living. When not haunting swamps and boneyards, Anthony keeps it scary, writing dark fiction, editing, and watching horror movies, using his afterlife to DJ, write music, and conjure other worldly creatures with tarot cards, elixirs, and dreams.