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q & a

Sea Change

The thing you have to understand about Daffy is that he had a polite, but complete, lack of regard for Rules. Daffy was one of the most laid-back people I have ever met. He got up when he felt like it, he shaved if he felt like it, and he ambled along to appointments when he was ready. He parked on double yellow lines, he turned up to his own brother's wedding in jeans. And sometimes he liked to dive alone.

Maybe that last one doesn't strike you as being such a big deal. Maybe you've never learnt to dive, not even to five metres amongst the multi-coloured fish whilst on holiday in the Canaries. So maybe you're not aware that the absolute bedrock of any sports diving system, whether it's the British Sub-Aqua Club (traditionally hot on safety) or the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (not keen on losing anyone either), is buddy diving. Like newlyweds, you do everything in pairs. You kit up together, you check each other's gear, you hit the water together, you fin around on the bottom keeping each other in sight (using a buddy line if the conditions are really filthy, as they often are in British waters) and you both surface at the same time too. Then you sign each other's log books as a way of plighting your troth. Well, that's what most of us do. Not Daffy, though.

Daffy isn't his proper name, of course. He was christened Jonathan Edwin Duckett. But his name didn't really suit him—Jonathan sounds much too formal—and once some wit in the local pub had christened him Daffy Duckett, it just stuck. After all those years I doubt he'd have turned round if anyone had yelled "Jonathan!" in a crowded bar. Daffy it was. He was not a particularly tall man, but he was sturdy. He was carrying a bit of a belly too. You won't see that on marathon runners or squash players, but plenty of divers carry a bit of ballast at the front. Daffy used to say it helped keep him warm. He had blue eyes, cornflower blue, but faded, as though the salt water had taken all the colour out of them, and a mop of greying hair which was always sticking up every which way; I think it was permanently encrusted with salt. His skin was salt-roughened too, and when he smiled, which he did a lot, his face broke up into a thousand wrinkles, like tidal flats.

I met Daffy through a mutual love of diving. He had a dive boat, a battered looking thing moored in a little marina on the Dorset coast, and a dive shop, which he sometimes manned himself—the rest of the time it was run by an unending succession of put-upon temporary staff. He ran the shop and offered diving trips in order to fund his own passion for sub-aqua, which was limitless. Most of his custom was strictly seasonal—people who wanted to dive in summer sunshine on a calm sea and go and have a beer in a pub garden afterwards. Daffy himself went diving in all sorts of unpromising weather, starting earlier and ending later in the season than anyone else. I reckon if the sea had frozen over, he'd have sawn a hole in the ice and gone diving anyway. When he wasn't taking clients out, he had a group of cronies he used to dive with, all of them as salty-looking as himself. And sometimes he used to dive on his own.

"But Daffy," I said to him once, not long after we'd met: "Don't you worry about what might happen if you got into trouble?"

"No," he said, shaking his head and giving me that lazy grin of his.

"What if you get caught in some net?" I persisted.

"Got a net knife, haven't I?" he said. We were in that shop of his at the time, and he picked a knife up off the counter as if to illustrate the point. "You can have one too, if you like. A tenner, 'cause I know you."

"I've got two already." Daffy had sold me both of them—one for carrying on dives and a spare in case I lost the first one—as he well knew. I couldn't help laughing at his cheek though, and the subject of his solo diving was dropped for the time being. I'm mainly telling you about it because it was his established habit of diving alone that prevented me from being suspicious later on—but I'm getting ahead of myself now.

Daffy and I did quite a few dives together over a period of several years. His scrawl of a signature adorns a fair number of pages in my log book. I couldn't return the compliment because Daffy had stopped keeping a log of his dives after he'd done about six hundred of them. He said it was because he did all his dives in British water and he got fed up with writing, "Low viz; saw some kelp."

I might have given the impression from what I have told you about Daffy, that he was a dubious choice of diving buddy, unreliable and cavalier about safety. Nothing could be further from the truth. Apart from his habit of diving alone (which was his responsibility, after all), he was a very careful diver. I never saw him go into the water with less than a full tank, or come up without a respectable safety margin of air left in it. He always carried the ubiquitous net knife in case of entanglement, and he was always generous in the time he gave to decompression stops. He also had a very calm body language under water. You might not think there is such a thing, but there is. Everything he did was relaxed and unhurried, but definite. It had quite a calming effect, even on the most nervous buddy. You could have put the greenest of novices in the water with Daffy and they'd have been as safe as houses in those weather-beaten hands.

That was really why I agreed to go out on the boat with him that May morning. Normally once you get into the beginning of May you're right into the diving season, but that year the weather had been filthy right through the spring. It's one thing to dive when the water's a bit chilly or there's a spring shower coming down, but if the sea is really rough—"lumpy," Daffy used to call it—you can forget it. Even if you managed to get into the water safely, whoever was manning the boat would never find you when you came up again, and even if they did, you certainly couldn't climb back up the ladder. So even Daffy had had a lean time of it so far that year, forced to content himself with a couple of inland dives in quarries and suchlike. Anyway, about two days before this particular trip, there had been the mother of all storms. It was one of those which makes it onto the national news, with cars being swept off the quayside and into the sea, and trees crashing through people's roofs. It was as if Mother Nature was having a major tantrum, and once she'd got it all out of her system she calmed down straight away.

The day after the storm dawned clear and fair, and at slack water the sea was like glass. I'd dropped into Daffy's shop to buy some spare o-rings and look at gloves (my old ones were getting past it); Daffy was behind the counter, the latest of his downtrodden assistants having handed in his notice, and he suggested a dive the following day if the weather held. The next day the weather was just as fabulously calm, and even becoming hot, so off we went. There were just the two of us diving, and Daffy had dug up a gormless looking youth in saggy jeans and a baseball cap to handle the boat whilst we were in the water. The gormless youth wasn't going to dive: you could see that at once from the red eyes and the streaming nose. I kept my distance; a head cold can keep you off diving for weeks.

The plan was to make the first dive onto a wreck at about twenty-three metres, one we had done several times in the past. Daffy had gone a lot deeper in the past, of course—listen to any group of divers in the pub and someone's sure to be bragging about "fifty metre bounce dives" and so forth—but as this was practically the first dive of the season we decided to be conservative. We thought we'd have some lunch on the boat afterwards and then do a drift dive later in shallower water. We chugged out of the marina, and once the buildings on the shorefront had started to look like a row of dolls' houses, Daffy switched on the sonar. We were nowhere near the wreck yet, but when conversation failed or we got fed up looking at the horizon, we could amuse ourselves watching the contours of the sea-bed unravelling across the little screen. Sometimes an indefinite mass would move across the middle of the screen and that would be a shoal of fish. But mostly you would just see sea-bed unrolling as we went over it.

Eventually I got bored with the sonar and went out of the cabin to look over my diving kit. I was kneeling on the deck adjusting the one of the straps on my dive knife when I heard Daffy say, "Hello," in a puzzled voice. Then I felt the boat judder as he cut the engine.

"Okay?" I called, straightening up. I went back into the cabin. "What's up? Did we overshoot?"

"Overshoot? No," said Daffy, still sounding nonplussed. "We're nowhere near the dive site yet. It's just... look." He was pointing to the sonar screen. I looked, but couldn't see anything out of the ordinary. I shrugged. "Can't see anything."

"Damn it, we've passed over it," said Daffy. "Hold on, I'm going to turn round and go back over it." He started up again, and we did as tight a turn as that old tub of his could manage, getting a lungful of foul-tasting fumes from the engine in the process. Then we chugged along slowly, back in the direction we had come from. Both of us watched the screen. Then suddenly Daffy said, "There". I looked at the screen, and sure enough there was something underneath us. It was a definite hump or mound on the sea bottom, just over twenty metres down, and it was fairly big. It was difficult to tell just how big from the sonar but it wasn't a cluster of old lobster pots, I'm telling you that. Still, I couldn't see why Daffy was getting so excited about it.

"Is it a wreck, do you think?" I hazarded.

He shook his head. "I've never been over one around here before."

I didn't say anything to this; Daffy's knowledge of those waters and their more interesting features was encyclopaedic, but I didn't see how even he could claim to know every single wreck in that stretch of sea-bed.

Eventually I said, "A reef?"

"Not unless it's sprung up overnight," he said drily. "Gavin?" He called the gormless youth over and told him to take over whilst we kitted up.

"We're going in? Here?" I asked, following Daffy out of the cabin.

"Yep," he said, hefting his weight belt in one hand.

"What about the Callisto?" I said, referring to the wreck we had planned to dive.

"She'll keep," said Daffy. Now he'd got the belt done up and was making a last check of his air, turning it on and off and watching the pressure gauge. He shot me a glance with those faded blue eyes. "Come on, woman—where's your sense of adventure?"

I held up my hands. "Alright—I just hope whatever it is is worth seeing."

Five minutes later we hit the water. Gormless Gavin hoisted the A-flag to indicate that there were divers down. Daffy gave the thumbs-down signal and we started to let the air out of our jackets. The water closed over our heads and the sounds of sea-birds and the boat's engine were replaced by the bubbling of air escaping as we exhaled.

It's a funny thing, but although I've done over a hundred dives and about half of them have been on wrecks, there's still something about descending onto one that gives me the heeby-jeebies. Diving in British waters is not like diving in Egypt, or in the Canary Islands, where it's like being in a tropical fish-tank, everything a lovely shade of blue and crystal clear. No; in British waters you can expect a sort of endless greeny-grey murk that sometimes degenerates into the aquatic version of a pea-souper. You can't study a wrecked ship from a great height as you slowly and gracefully descend towards it; more likely you will keep sinking further and further into the murk and then suddenly you will find you are sitting on it. It always gives me the willies, that moment when you see some spar or piece of rusting metalwork looming up at you out of the gloom.

Anyway, down we went, and reading my depth gauge I saw we had passed eighteen metres and should be at the bottom any minute now. Then it materialised underneath me, as though a blurred photograph had suddenly come into focus, and I found myself coming down onto the sea-bed, a grey surface of sand and stones. Daffy was next to me, vigorously clearing his ears. We gave each other the okay sign, and then we looked about us. The visibility wasn't great—a lot of muck had evidently been stirred up by the recent storm—but almost at once I saw what looked like a couple of spars or posts sticking up from the sea-bed. Daffy had evidently seen them too, as he indicated ahead with one hand and we finned forward to take a closer look. It was difficult to tell quite what we were looking at; whatever it was, it had either been down there a very long time indeed or it had been pretty badly smashed up. The posts—or whatever they were—were of wood, blackened and softened by long exposure to the salt water. By the lack of weed or other adhesions such as barnacles I should say that they had lain under a covering of sand and stones until the turbulence of the recent storm had uncovered them. But that's only a guess, of course. I touched one tentatively, my hands blue-grey and ghostly in the light filtered down through the water above us. There was very little movement in it; evidently it was still firmly attached to some other beam or timber below the level of the sea-bed.

Whilst I was examining it, Daffy touched my arm, and when I turned my head he pointed. Dimly visible in the green-grey murk was another of the posts, and yet another one beyond it, if I strained my eyes. We finned towards them, and we drew closer, we could make out more of them, gradually looming into focus. I had the impression that the line was slightly curved, although it was difficult to tell; perspective does funny things under water.

Well, we finned along the line, looking out for anything a little more distinctive to tell us what we were looking at; so far the wreck or whatever it was seemed too badly broken up to be recognisable. Frankly I was surprised that it had appeared to be so extensive and so large on the sonar, as there was not much to see other than the posts or spars, and they only protruded I should say about four feet from the sea-bed at most. Abruptly we came to the end of the line and discovered that it turned back on itself, creating a kind of acute angle which might have represented the bows of a craft, though there was nothing to distinguish it, no bowsprit or anything like that. The line of posts receded away into the gloom, mirroring the line we had just followed. For the first time I began to map the site in my mind's eye. Clearly it formed something like an ellipse, the posts or spars sticking up like the teeth of an open trap... and we had landed right dead centre in the middle of it.

Somehow I didn't like that idea. Nor did I much fancy staying there. Call me superstitious if you like; but I reckon most divers have times and places when they know it isn't right—you're not meant to be in the water that day. And on top of that—well, I had a peculiar sensation of being watched. I know how barmy that sounds. There's nothing down at twenty metres to watch you unless you count the fish, right? All the same, I had this feeling... so I tapped Daffy on the arm, and indicated that we should swim directly across the nearest line of posts, and out. He looked at me, his eyes unreadable behind his mask, then held up one hand. Hold on a minute, he was saying. Then he indicated that we should continue to swim along the line, and without waiting for me to confirm, he finned off. Now I was not so much uneasy as rather irritated. I finned along behind him as he skimmed past the line of posts, the fluorescent yellow tips of his fins seeming to flash in the murky water.

As I swam, I reached for my contents gauge, pulled it towards me, and checked my air. I was surprised to see that two-thirds of it had been consumed already. It was my first dive of the season, yes, but I didn't think I was as unfit as all that. Nor was I aware that I had been breathing particularly quickly. When Daffy stopped to examine another of the posts, I tapped his arm, and pointed to the gauge. I held up one hand, the fingers splayed, then jerked a thump upwards. Five minutes. Then up. I wondered for a moment whether he had understood; then he signed back, pointing at me and then jabbing his own thumb upwards. You go up. He paused, then pointed at his own chest and then at the sea bed. I'm staying here. I found myself shaking my head, which was useless of course. Then I reached out and took his wrist very firmly in my hand. I pointed at him, then at myself, then made the thumb movement again. We are both going up. He could dive on his own without me if he liked, but I wasn't leaving a buddy halfway through a dive. Daffy pulled his arm away with a gesture of irritation, but the message had got through. He made the up sign and immediately started to let air into his stab jacket. I fumbled with my own air feed, then followed him upwards, watching the staccato movements of his fins; I could tell he was mad.

He didn't speak to me whilst we were waiting for the gormless Gavin to pick us up. Once we were back on the boat he began methodically to take his diving kit off, engrossing himself in the routine. He turned off the air and laid the bottle on its side. He unclipped his weightbelt and put it neatly out of the way where no-one would stub a toe on it. All the time he failed to catch my eye. For myself—well, I was a little irritated too. What else was I supposed to have done? I wasn't going to stay down there until I ran out of air, nor was I going to abandon a buddy on a dive. I decided to leave him until he snapped out of it—which he eventually did. Gavin broke out the sandwiches (which I took rather gingerly, praying he had not sneezed all over them) and passed round hot black coffee from a flask. Daffy took an enormous swig of coffee, smacked his lips, then gave me a broad grin.

"You need a bigger bottle," he informed me.

I shook my head, smiling. "Got too many in stock?" I asked.

"I'll do you a deal."

"I should have left you down there," I replied, laughing.


We parted late in the afternoon and I didn't see Daffy for a few days after that. I dropped by the dive shop one lunchtime but Gavin was behind the till, flicking aimlessly through a diving magazine. He did not look as though he had the energy or drive to attempt any of the spectacular dives featured, nor did he look ready to be engaged in one of those long conversations about equipment which divers love to have. In the end I left without buying anything.

A week later I went down to the marina late in the afternoon and found Daffy and Gavin unloading gear from the boat. I stood on the jetty with my hand over my eyes to keep out the glare of the sun, and watched them lifting equipment out. I noticed there was only one bottle, only one stab jacket, dripping water onto the salt-bleached boards.

"Been diving?" I said, stating the obvious.

"Yep," said Daffy succinctly, retrieving a fin from the bottom of the boat.

"Customers?" I said.

"No, just us," said Daffy.

"Who did the boat handling, then?" I asked.

"Gavin." Daffy cocked his head to one side and looked up at me with one eye screwed up, as though trying to ascertain my point.

"Who did you dive with, then?" I persisted.

"Me, myself and I," said Daffy with cheerful unconcern.

"Daffy... " I couldn't keep the reproach out of my tone.

"Catch," he said by way of reply, lobbing a mask and snorkel at me. Then he climbed out of the boat and stood in front of me on the jetty. I shook my head at him.

"One of these days..." I said warningly.

"...I'll die of thirst," he finished. "Come on, are we going to the pub or what?"


That was in May. I didn't dive much for some weeks after that; I had caught Gavin's horrible cold, and even after the worst of it had gone, my ears felt as though they were gummed up with superglue. I did a shallow shore dive with my club—or tried to—but my ears resolutely refused to clear. There was no question of attempting anything deeper without the risk of real damage. I used every nasal spray and decongestant I could lay hands on, and I sulked. Once or twice I went down to the marina to see if Daffy were about. The first time his boat had gone. The second time it was there, but Daffy was nowhere to be seen. Gavin was securing the boat on his own. I greeted him, and he eventually returned the greeting, though reluctantly; I'm not sure if he was in an unfriendly mood or was simply too dim to recognise me.

"Been out diving?" I asked.

He nodded.

I peered into the boat, and could see no gear lying around. Clearly Daffy had been able to carry all of it with him. He must have been diving alone again, I surmised.

"Daffy been in on his own again?" I asked, sticking my neck out.

He looked at me for a moment, then made a slight flicking gesture with his head. It might have been a yes or a no. I nodded at him, unwilling to waste any more words on this taciturn lump, and left him to it.

I ran Daffy to earth in his favourite corner of the pub across the road from the marina. He was sitting hunched over a pint of bitter, his hands jammed into his armpits and his shoulders almost at his ears, as though he were freezing cold. He looked ill. His face had a greyish tinge to it, as though he had been chilled to the point of hypothermia. The pint seemed to be untasted. I slid into the seat opposite him and he looked up and gave me a smile. It was a real Daffy grin, and seemed to transform him at once; in fact a little colour came back into his cheeks.

"Still full of cold, you jessie?" was his friendly greeting.

I snorted. "I bet I don't look as bad as you do. Where have you been diving today—Antarctica?"

He shrugged, as if to show that it was of little importance. "That wreck at twenty metres," he said.

"The one we did together?" I was incredulous. "What for? There was nothing to see."

"Ah," said Daffy mysteriously. "Maybe not to the untrained eye."

"Well," I said contentiously, "What's so interesting about it?"

He didn't reply to this directly. Instead he said, "You know, some of these wrecks date back one hell of a long time." He gazed down at the untasted beer. "In fact," he continued, looking up so that his faded blue eyes met mine, "There is one wreck off the coast in Kent that dates back to the Bronze Age, so they reckon."

"Really?" I said.

He nodded seriously. "Some of these wrecks..." His voice trailed off and his gaze drifted away from mine, as though seeking something. Then with an effort he continued, "Some of them date right back to the time when people used to worship the sea..."

"And you reckon this is one of them, do you?" I asked.

"Who can say?" he said in a very un-Daffy-like voice. He sounded dreamy, unfocussed. "Who can say...?" he repeated. He hugged himself, seemingly cold again, and I saw a tear well up at the corner of his left eye. It spilled over and ran down his cheek. I could have sworn that it had a tinge of grey-green in it, that it was not clear, as tears should be. Then I looked away, embarrassed at this apparent display of emotion, and sat studying my fingernails for a minute or two.

"I'll go and get a drink," I said in the end. I didn't offer Daffy one; it was going to take him all night to drink that pint at this rate. I took my time up at the bar, wanting to give him time to pull himself together, and when I got back to the corner, he had gone. The pint of bitter was still standing reproachfully untasted on a pristine barmat.


I didn't see Daffy again for a couple of weeks after that, but I did run into gormless Gavin. I'd been to the dive shop, hoping to pick up an American magazine they'd got on order for me. Rather to my surprise (it was the middle of Saturday morning) the shop was closed; very closed, I should say—there was not even a notice to say when it would be open again. I guessed anyone who had tried to come in for an air fill would be cursing Daffy.

After a bit of aimless strolling I stuck my head into Daffy's local, thinking I might catch him in there. No Daffy; but Gavin was propping the bar up, looking as dimwitted as usual, his baseball cap on back-to-front in a way that was probably meant to look raffish but fell sadly short of the mark. I went up to him and said, "Hello, Gavin—remember me?" Then seeing the look with which this remark was greeted I wondered whether he was stupid enough to think I was giving him the come-on, so I followed up swiftly with, "I'm looking for Daffy. Any idea where he is?"

Gavin shook his head and said what sounded like, "Fuh"—as though he wanted to swear but couldn't be bothered to get the whole word out. "I don't work for him no more," he added balefully.

"Oh," I said, disconcerted. Whilst I was wondering how to follow up this remark the barman wafted over, and on impulse I offered Gavin a pint. He gave me that look again, but he wasn't going to refuse a free drink—especially not now that he was newly unemployed.

"Cheers," he said, consuming a fair proportion of it in the first gulp.

I waited until he had put the glass back on the bar, and then I said, "The fact is, er, Gavin—well, I'm concerned about Daffy. Is he still diving on his own?"

I had hoped for some information, perhaps even some reassurance that Daffy had been busy with some more conventional diving trips. Instead I got a splutter which would have covered me in regurgitated beer if I were a little less quick on my feet, and then a torrent of Gavin-speak, from which I eventually discerned that not only was Daffy still diving on his own, but he was diving exclusively on his own—all other trips having been abandoned—and always at the same dive site. Do you need me to tell you which one it was? It was that blasted wreck at twenty metres. Well, that was bad enough—Daffy had evidently succumbed to some sort of obsession—but what followed was worse.

Gavin claimed Daffy had been staying down for stretches of more than two and a half hours at a time. And he said the time was getting longer with each dive. The first time Daffy had been down for longer than an hour Gavin had fidgeted about on the boat, wondering whether to call the coastguard, and alternately dithering and panicking. He suspected it was some sort of a trick to wind him up; Daffy had a second bottle hidden somewhere, or had surfaced out of sight somewhere when he was supposedly on the bottom. But one way or another, Gavin didn't like it; it had him spooked. "Fuh," he said several times, shaking his head at the remembrance. In the end he had argued with Daffy, and the end of it was, they parted company. I didn't know what to make of any of this, but at least with his boat handler gone I reckoned that would stop Daffy doing any more of these insane solo dives for a bit. Just goes to show how wrong you can be....


It must have been about the middle of July when I passed the actual wreck site where Daffy had allegedly been carrying out his impossibly-long dives. I'd visited it in my mind quite a few times, of course, wondering why Daffy felt drawn to it, and thinking about those posts sticking up out of the sand, totally bare of all sea life, not even a barnacle. But this was the first time I'd actually passed over it again. I was with the club this time, and as it happened we were going to dive the Callisto, the wreck Daffy and I had been going to do, the day we first dived that thing at twenty metres. I was standing in the cabin of the boat, looking ahead, so I was the first one to see it. The rib, I mean. A little blob of bright orange bobbing up and down on its own amongst the waves. When I say on its own I speak advisedly. As far as I could tell, there was no-one in it. I spoke to the boat handler and we slowed down for a closer look.

Sure enough, there was the boat without a soul in it. I won't make the obvious Mary Celeste comparison because apart from anything else, this thing was not much bigger than a dinghy. But it gave me a cold feeling all the same, seeing it riding the waves there, with no-one on board. There was a stout line attached to the front of it, leading down into the water. It was taut, so I guess the rib had been anchored. At any rate it was not going anywhere, just drifting in a lazy arc with the current. I can't absolutely swear to it, of course, since I didn't have any sort of bearing, but I was certain it was anchored over that twenty metre dive site.

Well, we debated what to do, because this wasn't the normal sort of thing to come across. Some of the others came up with theories: there were divers down, and the boat handler had fallen overboard and drowned. There were divers down, and the damn-fools hadn't left anyone on the rib in the first place. Nobody suggested what I suspected, which was that there was one diver down, and there had never been anybody else involved at all. In the end we radioed the coastguard who said they'd check it out, though what they proposed to do I can't imagine. Then we went on our way. When we passed back over the site later on the rib had gone, so there was general relief and a lot of superior comments about poor diving practice.


It was another ten days before I saw that rib again. This time it was at a temporary mooring on the quayside leading into the marina, and in the bottom was an untidy jumble of diving gear. Standing on the quay, bending over a bottle which he was unstrapping from his stab jacket, was Daffy. He was still in his semi-dry suit. I stared at the rib, and then at Daffy, and my heart sank. Maybe he heard me exhale or something, but he looked up and for a moment he just gazed at me, as though he didn't recognise me at all. He looked grey again; I noticed his lips looked almost blue. But then suddenly his face broke into that familiar grin and he said, "About time too," as though he had been expecting me, and then: "You can give me a hand with this lot." He hopped back into the rib and started passing things out to me: a weight belt with great hunks of metal threaded onto a kevlar strap, so that it looked like some sort of gigantic charm bracelet; a mask with a snorkel fitted into the strap; his octopus rig, looking like its namesake, shiny black tubing legs sprouting everywhere. His dive computer, carefully wrapped in a netting goody bag.

Whilst Daffy was fiddling around with the dry box under the rib's one seat, looking no doubt for his keyring, I slid the computer out of the net bag. I was curious, I admit it; I didn't think for one moment that Daffy had really been underwater for two-and-a-half hours—we used to joke that Daffy had gills, but even he couldn't do the impossible—but I did wonder just how long he had been down, and whether he had been taking risks with his decompression times. Daffy had a similar model of computer to my own. At the moment it was just displaying a surface time, but a couple of button-presses later I had his last dive time, and the times of the three dives before that. To say I was astounded would be the biggest understatement since Noah looked up and said it looked like rain. According to the computer, Daffy's last dive had lasted not two-and-a-half but six hours. The one before that had apparently lasted five hours and forty minutes, and the other two were between four and five hours. All totally impossible. The depth was the same for all of them: twenty metres. Well, no-one stays twenty metres underwater for that long. Even if you had an unending supply of air, the dive would be right outside any known sport-diving decompression tables, and the decompression stops would be ludicrous. The dive computer didn't like it any more than I did: several very ominous-looking symbols were flashing away on the little screen. I looked down at the readout and then at Daffy. I couldn't believe he was standing there in front of me.

At that moment he looked up, and his face instantly darkened.

"What are you fooling around with that for?" He was on the quayside in an instant and had ripped the computer out of my hands. I simply gaped at him.

"It's on the blink," he snapped. "Don't make it any bloody worse by fiddling around with it."

"But Daffy... " I stuttered.

"No buts," he began, and then he stopped. A sort of tremor seemed to pass through him, and a strangely unfocussed look came into his eyes. Then suddenly water, greyish-green water, was gushing from his nose, pouring out of each nostril. He made a choking, gargling sound, and put a hand up to his face. Water ran between his fingers and down the back of his hand. It looked tainted, viscous.

"Shit, Daffy... " I dithered, not knowing what to do to help him. But before I could do anything at all, the attack—or whatever it was—had passed. Daffy was wiping his nose with one neoprene-clad forearm. He shook his head, as though trying to get water out of his ears. Then, incredibly, he gave me a broad grin.

"Better out than in," he said, and actually laughed.


Well, I didn't stick around after that. The whole thing had freaked me out far too much. Somewhat later in the evening it occurred to me that there might be some logical explanation for what I had seen on the dive computer; supposing, for example, Daffy had lost the computer on a first dive, and then by some incredible piece of luck had picked it up again at the same dive site hours later? Still, I had to concede, it was stretching the imagination somewhat to think that he might have done that four times. Perhaps the computer was on the blink. No-one stays at twenty metres for six hours.


I did see Daffy again, but not until August; late in August, starting to approach the end of the diving season. I'd been to the shop on numerous occasions but it was always closed. Inevitably custom went elsewhere, to the fancy new place two miles up the coast. The shop started to develop a dilapidated look; someone had cracked a pane of glass in the door, and it stayed cracked. A sheaf of free newspapers which had been crammed into the letterbox became soaked with rain and turned into a drooping pulp. Dead insects appeared amongst the items displayed in the windows.

Daffy's boat seemed to be permanently at its mooring in the marina. There was a shabby blue tarpaulin cover over it, with a puddle of rainwater on top. It, too, looked as though it had not been visited by its owner for months. Still, Daffy was taking the rib out—other members of the club I belonged to mentioned seeing him in it, either speeding out towards that twenty metre dive site, or loading and unloading equipment at the quayside. No-one seemed to have spoken to him—or perhaps they did not care to repeat the conversations, knowing that I was a friend of his. Once it had got around that the rib we had seen apparently abandoned at sea was Daffy's, there was inevitably comment about it, but it swiftly dried up whenever I appeared. So for a while all I heard about Daffy was second-hand, and when that source of information dried up, he might just as well have disappeared into the sea, and the green water have closed over his head leaving no trace.

At last one evening I was walking back to my flat, taking a route which allowed a pleasant view of the quayside, the water sparkling with the last dying rays of the sun, and I saw someone close to the water; the figure seemed in fact to be in the water, until I realised that he or she was standing in some small craft below the level of the quayside, and was unloading something onto the stones. Daffy, I thought, and on impulse I cut across the intervening ground and onto the quayside.

"Daffy! Daffy!" I called in a cheerful voice as I drew nearer. He looked up, and the words died in my throat. As God is my witness, I have never seen another human being look as bad as Daffy did at that moment. Everything about him seemed grey: his skin, his hair, even the faded semi-dry suit he was wearing, which had an odd mildewed look about it, as though some strange lichenous growth had taken root in it. His flesh, which had the same lifeless colour about it, looked soft and puffy in an oddly repulsive way, like some sort of pallid fungus which has grown in a dark damp place. Out of eye sockets which were deeply ringed in purple the colour of bruises Daffy's eyes gazed through me unseeingly. Even the cornflower colour of the irises seemed to have succumbed to the same greying effect; no longer blue, they appeared grey-green, dull like pieces of glass which have been tumbled by the ocean until they are perfectly smooth and opaque. He stretched out a hand towards me, groping blindly; it was like a sea sponge, the white fingers waterlogged and flabby. Involuntarily I took a step backwards.

"Daffy—my God, what happened to you?" I choked out.

No expression passed over that grey and flabby face; the lips did not move, the mouth did not open. But I swear to you that I heard his voice all the same, heard it in my mind as clearly as if he had spoken. He said: She still sails the seas.

Then with appalling slackness his jaw dropped open, and water poured out, it gushed out in a grey-green torrent mixed with a thickish yellow scum, and stinking of brine. The lichenous semi-dry suit shone with wet; the dead-white fingers groping uselessly in the air were slick with it; water streamed off Daffy's body and pooled on the worn stones of the quay. When at last the vomitus ceased I looked at him, aghast, and saw that in his salt-encrusted hair tiny creatures were crawling. One fell, sliding unheeded down the planes of his face and dropping onto the stones, where I saw with revulsion that it was a tiny albino crab. With an exclamation of disgust I crushed it with my shoe. I looked back at Daffy, at those dull inhuman eyes which seemed to see, not me, but something far, far away.

"I—I'll get help," I said, and then I fled. I turned once and he was still standing there on the quay, a dark shape in the fading light, faintly shining with the wet. Then I half-ran back to my flat without looking back again.


I never saw Daffy again. It was Gavin who found him—gormless Gavin, who to all appearances was utterly lacking in energy and initiative, but who nevertheless broke into Daffy's shop late one afternoon in September, allegedly looking for a last pay packet Daffy had never given him. Stepping over the piles of junk mail, red bills and free newspapers, not to mention a few mouse droppings, Gavin had paused in his mercenary mission, scenting something odd on the air, something a lot fouler than mouse excreta. It had smelt odd enough for him to go up the back stairs to Daffy's flat above the shop, where the front door stood wide open and the smell grew thick and poisonously sweet. He had called Daffy's name, and receiving no reply, he had gone inside...

Daffy lay on the floor, still dressed in his semi-dry suit; in fact the tight layer of neoprene had done much to preserve the body. The post-mortem determined that he had been dead for some three to four months. The body was not a pretty sight, of course, after so much time, but what was worst was that much of the exposed flesh seemed to have been eaten away, much as you might have expected to see if the body had been abandoned to the mercy of fish and other sea creatures; ragged holes in the pulpy flesh were all that remained of Daffy's cornflower blue eyes. In so far as it was possible to ascertain the cause of death with the body in a state of decomposition, it was thought that Daffy had died of drowning; the condition of the body was consistent with its having been in the water for a long period. But as to how it came to be inside Daffy's flat, and what motivation any third party could have for removing a dead body to such a place, there was a blank. There was no detectable evidence of foul play.


I sometimes go down to the beach on my own these days, and sit on the shingle looking out to sea, out towards the unmarked and uncharted spot where Daffy and I first discovered that wreck, or whatever it might be, at twenty metres depth. I don't suppose I shall ever know now what manner of thing it was, or how old it was, and I'm glad of that. It's quite true, you know: there are a few wrecks found which date back to mediaeval times, or Roman times, or even earlier. To the Bronze Age, when maybe people did worship the sea.

I think about my friend, Daffy. I think about his smile, and his blue eyes, faded by the sea and the sun, and about the mad ideas he used to have. But mostly I think about his last words to me. She still sails the seas. What did he mean? For she did he mean the wreck itself? Or did he mean some other thing, some personality real or imagined—some siren of the deep?

And each windy day I look to the heavens, and watch for the black clouds scudding across the sky, for the clouds that herald the storm which will lash the land and make the sea boil again; the storm whose power will reach down even to the bed of the sea, and bury that thing again.

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