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Thomas J. Waite

45

A Strange Rescue

S

am sensed a strange presence in the room. The feeling was similar to that which he’d felt years ago, when that abhorrent shadow had fallen over the captain’s cabin. He

turned to look out the stern window, into the watery void of the deep blue sea. He cursed himself in his mind for letting himself relive an event he thought he had washed out by having returned to this accursed place. He shrugged at the window. He remembered how hard it was to keep track of time underwater. What seemed like a minute here actually could turn out to be a dozen. He looked at his gauge — fifteen minutes. Single tanks just weren’t worth it. Always on his previous outings, he had used double tanks to allow more work time, even though his crew did not like staying down so long at a time.

282


SPIRIT DEEP Time to gather the troops and head up to the surface. He started across the mossy floor. Something caught his eye. He at first thought it to be the silver dagger in the skull. But this object, after observing with squinting eyes, had a different sort of luster. He realized now that if he looked at the moss-ridden floor from certain angles, he could see through some of the thick patches to the floor. So a spot on the floor seen from one location in the room might be completely hidden from view from another location. He swam over the grinning skull and approached the gleaming object. A bar of gold as big as his forearm lay in the moss. He picked it up, but did not bother to look further. He had decided before this venture that no treasure would be salvaged from the ship on this particular dive; given the ship’s dangerous position, the treasure kept it from falling off the great cliff. Only with a lot of planning and counter-balancing or cables could the ship be stabilized. He had told his crew that a professional team would be chosen at a later date to salvage her, and that he would make sure that everybody was awarded a percentage. What did he care about wealth anymore anyway? All he had wanted was to recover and document the signature panel. But one bar of gold wouldn’t matter; only one. Sam held the bar in one hand and his knife in the other as he propelled himself with just his legs through the cabin door. The water suspended Bret as he scanned the oar-hold floor. He didn’t know what he was searching for because he had no idea onto what he might stumble. When he came across something that contrasted the mossy green color of the floor, he 283


Thomas J. Waite approached it carefully. It was another tooth, a large one, as big as the one they’d found earlier in the ship’s wheel. This one was chipped, its point squared off. There

were

several

more

teeth

scattered

around

underneath the layers of grime. Bret glanced over at Greg, who was filching around the scattered benches. The young man then proceeded to pick up all the giant shark teeth. They were practically

weightless

in

the

pressurized,

gravity-defying

chamber of the sea, but Bret knew that they probably were pretty heavy for bones. They were very smooth to the touch, the root base being rough and jagged. When Sam entered, Bret was still looking for more teeth. He had recovered about thirty by the time Sam reached him. He held a few of them up to him, noticing him flinch slightly. He knew his father’s fear of sharks now, knew that he had hidden it well from him all these years. He held up his small bag, where the rest of the teeth resided. This seemed, to Bret, to calm Sam down a bit. The fact that all these teeth turned up surely must have meant the shark was long gone. But he also wondered what these teeth were doing in the oarsmen’s hold. Sam cleared any thoughts Bret might have next by holding up the shiny gold bar. He even gained the attention of Greg, now at their sides. Greg’s face expressed pure fascination, but his mouth did not open in awe, as it probably should have. Instead, he had a smile on his face; the top half was fascinated, the bottom half something else entirely. Bret stuffed the gold bar in his bag.

284


SPIRIT DEEP Greg seemed to become excited. He looked toward the double doors of the hold. But Sam pointed at his diver’s watch on his wrist, then quickly pointed toward the surface.

Sam remained behind a moment longer; he had seen something else odd. He directed the beam of his lamp to next to the hold’s opening on the side of the ship. Two strange lumps jutted up just above the green moss on the floor. He approached them, but before looking at them, he looked out the opening to see if Bret and Greg were making it up safely. They were making good progress, slowly, as Sam had instructed, their lights but specks in the distance, getting smaller. He looked down at the lumps he had discovered. Cannonballs, one smaller than the other, both of them in very good condition; in fact, they looked like they had been polished to a shine recently. Malevolent thaumaturgy, thought Sam, shaking off the feelings. He had seen enough already. But the mystery thickened with this new discovery. Cannonballs were not normally kept in the oarsmen’s hold. Prisoners were kept in this hold, not ammunition. And no chains were attached to these balls of iron for use to keep a prisoner at bay. They should have been encrusted with brown magma of iron oxide and chalky deposits. For them to be polished to a shine was preposterous to an educated archaeologist. Sam grabbed for one last shark tooth. This one was embedded in the torn wood of the open edge. After tapping it loose with his knife, he placed it in his bag.

285


Thomas J. Waite He stood at the hole, first peering out in all directions, left and right, up and down. He did this twice, feeling like a mouse poised at its hole before darting out to grab a piece of cheese. He laughed inside, grinning at his own unease. But the waters seemed peaceful enough. He flexed his muscles to ward off the tension he felt, and leaped off the edge of the opening, ascending with relaxed kicks to conserve oxygen. As his mind grew heavier with nervousness, his heart began to beat uncontrollably fast. The beats became strong; his chest felt like the pulsing skin of a big base drum. He was trying as hard as he could to relax, but fear strikes hard and fast when it does strike. He felt like he had swum a mile, but he hadn’t put more than twenty yards between himself and the ship. His peripheral vision was very keen. And he realized that the darkness was not all dark. Off in one direction was a noticeable difference. First a glow, then two dim circles of solid black formed amidst the glow. The vision wavered as it waxed toward him – hypnotizing. It was flowing in slow motion, just like it always did in his dream, a giant, living nightmare, waiting for his return. Terror took hold of him and his body went numb for a moment. He broke free from the blanket of fear and looked back toward the ship, then up toward the distant surface. There was no sign of Bret or Greg, thank goodness. But there was also no chance of his making it to the surface from where he was. His only chance was the protection of the wooden galleon. There were many single-shuttered windows on the side of the ship, the shutters opening upward. Most of the shutters were closed, however, probably stuck that way. But one window

286


SPIRIT DEEP nearby hung halfway open, its shutter hanging askew by one broken hinge. Sam kicked violently toward the window as Maribane closed the distance between them. In a panic he tried to tear the stubborn shutter off its remaining hinge. The shutter was jammed into the opening. Sam swiveled his head back to see how much time he had. Maribane was just ten yards away, when the shutter gave way. He pushed it back at the ghost as he clambered through the window, feeling his camera being tugged as it impacted the bottom of the window frame. The window did not open up into a giant hold. In fact, it hardly opened into anything at all. A large cannon blocked his way, its breech strangely facing the window. Two walls on the sides of the window prevented him from swimming around the cannon. And a giant beam of wood blocked his way over it. The cannon was too large and heavy to be moved. He was trapped. Sam reached down to his belt, feeling his camera, tracing the length of the strap that connected it to his belt. It was secured. Maribane jammed its nose into the window, causing Sam to turn suddenly. His involuntary nerves took over his whole body. He reached back with his hands, his right hand drawing his diver’s knife with just his thumb and index finger, and grabbed hold of the large wooden beam directly behind and above him, blanketing himself over the breech of the cannon. He was just out of the beast’s reach, but it seemed to be inching forward with Sam’s every precious breath. Sam’s eyes opened wide, taking in the horrific view of his nemesis. When he gained a better grip on the beam with his left

287


Thomas J. Waite hand, he brought his diver’s knife down hard on Maribane’s nose. The ghost’s ethereal flesh swallowed the blade whole. Sam thought he could see its faint outline plunging into the shark’s ghostly form. No blood seeped from the temporary gash Sam had made. The shark didn’t even seem to feel a bit of the pain a knife wound so deep should have invoked. Sam pulled the blade out and stabbed again. No effect. This time his hand pierced the skin of the ghost. It was a cold, dead feeling, made him pull the knife out faster than he’d put it in. He had no idea what to do. His thoughts were not thoughts at all, but brief moments of dizziness; miniature, nightmarish dreams. The beast’s body glowed brighter up this close. But that opening and closing mouth was dark inside, dark as a moonless night. The sea’s destruction was almost at Sam’s belly. Sam reached back again with his right arm and pulled himself backwards, trying to make himself thinner. But it only gained him maybe an inch. He suddenly felt something crawl over his left hand. It might have been a sea worm. It was a strange sensation, like a rush of water prying at his hand. It was getting rougher to keep his grip. It suddenly forced his hand away from the wooden beam. He tried to resist, for this new entity was inching him closer to doom, but whatever was touching him seemed to be numbing his hand. Something else touched him as the first — rude — feeler kept his hand from gaining the beam. But it wasn’t like the first feeler. It was something solid, real, forced into his hand. He could not look up. If he did, Maribane would take him. 288


SPIRIT DEEP The first feeler let go its grasp, and Sam’s hand, still resisting, catapulted back against the beam. The impact hurt, but at least he had gotten rid of the strange feeler behind him. The thing that had been forced into his hand was still gripped there, something round and solid, but cold. The skin of the shark’s glowing nose touched Sam’s chest. His heart seemed to leap back against his spinal cord, beating heavily with his fright. That ghostly flesh brought back that cold feeling he had felt when his hand had been through its unreal skin. A cold, dark feeling – a little slice of death. He had to see what it was that mysteriously had been forced into his hand. He shifted to his right, to the side of the breech, giving himself a little more room. Maribane’s nose lost contact with him, the cold feeling leaving his body. As he shifted, he brought his left hand down to in front of his face. He held a dagger in his hand. Somebody, something, had forced it into that hand. Do first, reason later, he thought. Sam stabbed the dagger into the beast’s flesh, stopping his arcing blow just before the hilt pierced through. But with this new blade, the shark’s skin felt solid, not impenetrable but soft and real. He stabbed harder the next time, letting the dagger fall as deep as it may. The blade sank into its flesh, and the skin resisted further penetration at the hilt. It worked, and Sam cheered in his mind. Maribane seemed to let out a roar. Sam’s ears popped, and remained plugged, even after he swallowed. The beast sank back from the window with a series of flinching, side-to-side jerks of its body. The glow faded away, and it was dark outside the opening again. 289


Thomas J. Waite Sam sat there for a moment, waiting for the ghost to return more violently than before and rip him to pieces. But nothing happened. All was calm and quiet. He sheathed his diver’s knife and brought the mysterious dagger to in front of him with his left hand, shining his wrist flashlight at it with his right. It was long and shiny, the silver bottom of the bejeweled hilt fashioned into the head of a gryphon. The exact same features of the dagger they had seen clenched between the grinning teeth of the skull in the captain’s cabin. Sam’s heart jumped. He flinched. Not even Greg had been able to pull that dagger from its hold, the vice-like grip of those teeth. Sam looked out the window again — still nothing. He turned around and looked at the wooden beam over the cannon — just an ordinary piece of lumber. He looked into the dark space between the beam and the cannon, shining his light through. But there was nobody, nothing, there. A look at his air gauge indicated that he had eight minutes left. Such a short time seemed like it had been much longer to him. He poked his head through the window and looked in all directions before darting out into the open. He had enough time left to check on things, to see if his assumptions were correct. His kicks were urgent and powerful, taking him through the oarsmen’s hold opening, through the double doors, down the corridor, and into the captain’s cabin. He stared out the stern window as he approached the skull, making sure that Maribane wasn’t lurking about outside. He had a feeling that, after he had

290


SPIRIT DEEP stabbed it, the ghost had been hurt and dumbfounded at the same time. Nothing crossed outside the stern window, so Sam continued over to the skull. He gripped the silver dagger in his hand tightly. The teeth of the skull lying at Sam’s feet bit down on nothing. And what confused him as much was that the skull and its teeth were completely undamaged. The dagger which had once been gripped between the skull’s teeth was gone. Immediately he thought about the touch of the feeler that had pried his hand away from the wooden beam. He remembered that it had felt like a strong rush of water crawling over his hand; like the feeling you get when you hold your hand close to the drain of a draining bathtub, the underwater whirlpool sucking at your skin. Sam looked around the room, not exactly sure for what he was looking. But there was nothing, only the beam of his flashlight. He experimentally turned off his flashlight and the Helios 13 on the floor, looking around again. After a moment, the absence of light made fear rise up in him, so he turned them back on. Realizing how low he was on air now, he swam for the door.

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Spirit Deep by Thomas J. Waite  

During a pleasure dive on a rare vacation off the coast of Florida, a renowned treasure hunter and his wife stumble upon the wreck of a sunk...

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