By: C. S. Warner
Take Me There
Waves crashed against the hull of the crew boat like a rhythmic heartbeat. Salty air filled the lungs of the anxious six passengers as they cruised along in the early morning light. Orange and red clouds dotted the horizon before them while the cold ocean breeze nipped tirelessly at their noses and fingertips. Behind them the safety of the coast dwindled into a thin line.“Gorgeous morning, isn’t it, Vera?” Ray asked over his cup of coffee. He too was attempting to hide from the cold in the cabin, same as Vera -who sat across from Jeffrey in one of the two booths.
“Yes,” she smiled, “it’s so relaxing,” and yet foreboding… but she refrained from sharing that vexing notion.
There were several boats on the water that morning, mostly fisherman heading out for an early start, but a couple speed boats were showing off, racing around one another utterly unaware of the Viking Past as it trolled along.
Lou burst into the cabin, scowling, “Sting, come on. Don’t make me do this alone.”
“Sorry, Loose, just needed to top off my cup. I’m coming.” Lou, aggravated, slapped the door as he headed back out onto the deck.
“I’m gonna head up and check on John. Are you ok down here, or..?” Vera stood and put her coat on. Jeffrey shook his head and smiled, “No, I’m good down here.”
“You should go out and help Lou and Ray, you know, make friends.” She tilted her head toward the door for him to follow, “Or at least come with me upstairs.” With both hands on the table, Jeffrey lifted himself with all of his strength out of the booth and then waved his arm for her to lead the way.
The heavy metal bridge door squealed open and John and Oswald turned to look at the two entrants. “I was getting a bit antsy down there and was curious how much longer you thought it would be.”
“Not much longer,” John smiled, his feet resting atop the glowing console.
“I guess when I agreed to come I didn’t realize just how boring it would be,” she turned back and descended the steep metal stairs. Jeffrey gave an apologetic look to the other two and scampered down after her, gripping the rails on either side tightly. Despite his haste, his shoes struck each step with a clank, pause, clank, pause until he reached the slippery deck..
Lou and Ray were busy checking oxygen tanks, lights, hoses, and prepping the additional dive equipment. “You boys have fun down there,” Vera’s voice carried over the wind.
“Yes, ma’am, we will! You comin’ down with us?” Ray asked; Lou kept his head down, busy in his work.
“Not today. Jeffrey here,” she gestured to him as he approached, “and I are just gonna be spectators this time.”
“Whatcha think’s down there?”
“No idea,” she admitted.
“About time to suit up,” John said; Vera spun around startled, her hand clutching at her chest.
“Don’t do that!” She playfully slapped at his arm; he smiled, encouraged by that familiar longing. Despite her innocent intention, that touch had reignited fond memories in John from long ago; gone but never forgotten.
“We’re almost there, so figured we should get our wetsuits on now,” he said, trying (and failing) not to focus on the past. Snap out of it, he shook his head.
“You got it, Blue.” Ray raised up and headed toward the cabin, followed shortly by Lou.
John remained, standing nervously next to Vera. “You sure you don’t want to join us?” he tried to flirt.
She felt uneasy; he was staring a bit too long... “I’m good,” she answered briskly and waved for he and Jeffrey to walk back to the cabin ahead of her, but she made no attempt to follow. Instead, Vera remained alone on the deck, slick from the spray sprinkling down off the ocean. Her curls expanded around her head in the wind and mist; it, life, everything was more stressful than ever.
Taking deliberate, careful steps, she made her way to the metal rail and leaned over. The neverending blue vastness stretched in every direction; it was a welcomed distraction from the tension she was feeling from the men in her life.
Inside the cabin, Jeffrey watched and listened to the others while silently, jealously wondering about the past intimacy between John and Vera. How long ago did they happen? What should I do now? He wanted desperately to touch her, but in his feeble condition felt hopelessly downhearted, especially since he knew that she could easily break his hand in several places for even trying. Maybe this is a side effect of being frozen, he wondered, but as the only defrostee, he realized he would never really find out.
The boat slowed; the rumble of the motor died… They had arrived. All of Vera’s apprehension faded and was replaced by a sudden sense of excitement. She rushed back into the cabin, “Well, boys...I guess we’re here!”
Vera and Jeffrey stood watch over the three men as they donned their tanks -full face masks resting atop their heads. Subconsciously, Jeffrey touched at his left side remembering, if only fragments, his last time on the ocean… adrift.
After a few deep breaths John fell back slapping against the water with a loud smack, followed by the swishing of the waves over him. The other two followed suit; splash, swish; splash, swish. The three waded in the water for a moment, bobbing up and down with the swell. John shielded his eyes as he looked back up at Vera: a silhouette against the harsh light behind her. From that angle she appeared as a goddess, while the hull of the boat appeared in dire need of a good scrubbing; it didn’t do her justice as a pedestal, he thought.
The water was chilly, even through their wetsuits. Lou impatiently urged his comrades, “Let’s go!”
“Ok, don’t wander off, stay in sight of each other,” John said before pulling down and securing his mask. Their heads lowered, out of sight, leaving Vera and Jeffrey staring at the passing blue waves... unaware of what lied beneath.
The water muffled any sound, like a void -any except for the sound of John’s own breathing. In, out, in, out; despite the lack of noise he felt comforted by the gentle current caressing his muscles, but there was something irking at him, something unlike any other dive he had undertaken: they were in a dead zone. Where was all of the aquatic life? He was used to schools of fish whizzing past or the occasional large predator, but the vast empty gray, blue liquid just descended deeper, farther into the abyss of nothingness.
Slowly, in the ray emanating from the light attached to John’s forehead, he could make out the ocean floor. Dead white coral, a skeleton graveyard, remained in patches; not a single living specimen. Life down here sure has diminished, but why? he wondered.
Lou dragged his fingertips through the sand sending puffs swirling up around him and obscuring the other two men’s view. John’s voice sounded in his ear, “Take a wider berth, but stay where I can see you.” Lou held the button on the side of his mask to respond, “Yep, Blue.”
On his new path, Lou could barely make out John (Ray was completely out of sight), but he liked being isolated like that, away from his annoying boss and coworker. To his surprise, something down there actually made him smile: he started to see living coral, if only a few; pinks and greens stretched out of the sand and swayed with the tide.
“Guys,” Ray called through the intercom, “there’s something over here!” The two began swimming toward the dark figure of their shipmate. He was pointing excitedly at the remnants of a sunken wreckage. The vessel had broken apart at the center into two pieces, and had perhaps once served as someone’s houseboat in its heyday. How did this get out here? John swam cautiously, yet curiously, along behind Ray. He pressed his com, “Ok, Lou take the broken center, Ray swim around the bow, and I’ll take the stern.”
At its premiere, the rectangular shaped vessel had been about fifty feet long and came complete with a roof deck for sunbathing (a deteriorated green shade flowed in shreds along with the current), a hot tub, and slide, while each end of the dwelling had a small outdoor platform meant for chairs and/or fishing. Someone had a great vacation, John thought, even if it was their last...
The meandering approach of another boat in the distance caught Vera’s attention. She watched apprehensively as the vessel stalled and dropped anchor, but the odd angle and the fact that it was so far away left its actual size as a mystery. I wonder why they’re all the way out here…
Back under water John pulled his way along the barnacle encrusted, slimy outer wall. Most of the windows had been busted out, including the patio doors on the end where he could see into a stateroom. He swam in and began looking through the built in drawers and cabinets. The wood was soft like cardboard making it difficult to open and explore. Damn cheap craftsmanship, he thought.
Ray’s end was similar; he was staring into a small living area, but there was something unusual, iridescent, in the center of the room. A thick, three foot wide, white tube-like thing stood upright at about five feet high and jiggled slightly. Ray cautiously paddled his flippers closer, but as soon as he began to cross the threshold into the boat he stopped, one hand still grasped on the outside wall. It was as if the ribbed, rubbery tube sensed his presence; it twitched frantically and little hairs began to raise… it was alive.
The top of the strange sea creature had two large, foot long spikes protruding in opposite directions. Ray just stared, mesmerized. From behind it he could see movement; he shined his light down the corridor and saw Lou swimming toward the enormous worm. Ray held up his hand, trying to signal for him to approach with caution, but the creature jolted, coiled back and struck as quick as a gunshot latching its pincers around Lou’s torso and pulling him back. The gray, blue water filled with clouds of red and bubbles foamed around the thrashing worm. Lou’s screams were so loud in spite of the intercom, so terrifyingly desperate that Ray couldn’t think of what to do, he couldn’t remember where the button was on his mask, and just watched in horror.
From the other side John could hear the commotion; his radio clicked on, “HELLLL… AHH…” The groans were garbled and unintelligible; he immediately made his way through the boat, past the broken center and into the other half, but what he saw left him just as without reason as Ray. Through the red water, objects began to float toward him; an oxygen tank, a flipper, and… a human arm.
“Hello?” he asked, holding the button on the side of his mask.
“Don’t go in there! It was Lou,” a shaky voice replied.
“There’s a.. a thing… that attacked him! It all happened so fast!”
“Are we in danger?”
“No, I don’t think so, just don’t go near it! Meet me outside the bow...”
⬅️ Part 11 Until We Meet Again
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