Writing Prompt: Three ships were sunk in Pearl Harbor. Two of which were left undersea. On each people survived and started a society there.
Horatio stood looking out over the harbour, toying with a pick between his teeth, spots of blood dripping down from the gums around the forefront of his mouth. “They say there’s treasure.” he smiled, the tail of his coat thrown back before the harsh sea breeze.
“That they do.” the man who stood with Horatio was dressed in a Naval Uniform, his face obscured by the flat cap he wore, barely the stubble of his broad chin visible beneath its shadow. “So, will you go?”
Horatio had been waiting his entire life for this very moment, a chance at a true adventure. He was Captain of the Mantis, a ship that earned its name because of the unnecessary number of oars it carried. When out at sea those paddling oars looked eerily alike the scuttling legs of some water-bound beast. Horatio tossed the bloodied tooth pick to the crashing waves, “I’ll go.” he nodded, “But what’s your price?”
“There is no price.” the Naval Officer handed Horatio a map of Pearl Harbour, and a scroll concealed within a glass bottle, “All that is asked of you is that you deliver a message.”
“To the sea?” Horatio’s thick brows furrowed in confusion.
“His name is Halloran,” the Officer went on, “you will know him when you come to see him.”
“If you say so.” Horatio snatched both the map and the bottle from the officer’s hands, “Come on then lads!” he hollered to his crew, who were at that time already aboard the Mantis awaiting departure, “We’re headed for Pearl Harbour.”
Horatio’s second in command was a man by the name of Vaughn. He had met Vaughn in Havana, and through him amassed a crew large enough to sail the Mantis twice over.
It was a strange mixing of cultures, Horatio’s own pure-breed fishermen at sea alongside Vaughn’s brigade of savage pirates. You see Vaughn was not in the least bit a nice man, and this was one of the few things that had attracted Horatio to him. A good ship needs a fearsome crew, one that’ll keep the Governors and the Thieves of the Sea far at bay. The Mantis had achieved notoriety in the short months thereafter that Vaughn had been aboard, and it was this alone that had led to the meeting with the Naval officer, and now to their searching of Pearl Harbour for sunken treasure.
Sea winds howled over head, summoning a storm from within blanketed clouds of the deepest black. Rain hailed the deck of the Mantis, the ship’s hull rising and crashing against the waters as the waves ripped it apart from bow to stern. Sea devils raged in great circles of foaming white, enticing anything and anyone that fell to the waters further down into the depths below.
“Hold steady men!” Horatio cried, “And prepare the diving bells!”
Jacks, Rogers and Harry were working with the rigging that held the diving bells, hoisting the heavy metal containers up toward deck so that they could be loaded.
Three diving bells with room enough for two in each.
Harry slipped, his feet catching on the sodden deck, the ropes tearing through his hands, “Watch me!” he cried, throwing himself onto the writhing length of rope, clutching to it for dear life.
“Harry, let the damned thing be!” Jacks cried, his hands firm on his own rope, eyes longing to help his fellow sailor.
“Don’t you dare let it go!” Horatio’s voice clamored above the rain, “That bell is worth your life, dear boy!”
Rogers’ eyes caught Jack’s own, and the pair watched as the rope threw Harry into the air, then tossed him to the seas, finally dragging him down with the bell.
“Man overboard!” a cry came from nowhere in particular.
Two diving bells, with room enough for four in all.
Vaughn had Packard put and end to Jacks – “He’s one for meddling where he shouldn’t, thinks his word is better than our captains, and we can’t be having that now, can we?”
Packard agreed wholeheartedly with Vaughn, of course the sack of silver offered as payment had absolutely nothing to do with it. Jacks was dealt with, discretely… Vaughn sent him below deck as soon as the bells were hoisted, to gather rations for the dive. Yet it was Packard that returned with crates of fish, fruit and rum.
“Packard ‘ll ride with me.” Vaughn said as he lowered his first foot into the copper bell, “Rogers can ride with you, captain.”
“What do you take me for man!” Horatio laughed, he had a way of laughing that was irritatingly sinister.
Vaughn froze as he was, one foot in the – grave – bell. “I can explain…” he was thinking of Jacks.
“No need.” Horatio strode past Vaughn and boarded the same bell as his second, “We’ll ride together, let Packard ride with Rogers.”
“Aye aye, Captain.”
It took four men a piece to lower the bells safely into the water, and once they hit the waves they began to drop, suddenly and with great speed. Even with the porthole window neither Horatio nor Vaughn could see a thing outside.
The depths were a deathly place to be, the waters thick and dark and dense, with strange shapes of green and blue weaving in and out of one another. Pale bodies passed them by, slender things with scales and half-lit eyes.
The bell itself shook violently as it travelled down, the seats with leather straps offering little comfort. The worst of it was the spinning. A true sailor never suffers from sea sickness, but when your vessel forces you over and over and upside down it’s hard to stop yourself from gagging at the very least.
Thud. The bell came to a stop, stuck on its head in a bedding of rock. Horatio unstrapped first, dropping from the floor that was now the ceiling, landing in an awkward heap.
“Everything alright, captain?” Vaughn asked with a bitter sarcasm.
Horatio stood himself up, flashed a bloody smile and in the flick of wrist drew his flintlock and fired. One shot. Headed for Vaughn.
Vaughn’s heart stopped, his eyes thrown wide, “What…” he fell from the floor – ceiling –clutching himself in search of a hole.
“I didn’t care for your tone.” Horatio holstered the gun, “Felt I needed to bring you down a peg or two, back down to Earth.” and that he had, crashing down.
“You damn idiot!” Vaughn cursed, throwing his hands up at the fresh hole in the bell’s floor – ceiling – water came pouring in at a rate of knots. “How do you expect we’ll get back to the surface now?”
“There’s another bell, isn’t there?” Horatio strapped a peculiar looking mask over his face, it covered his eyes and his nose with a guard for the mouth, there was a hissing noise from the pipes that fled outward from the back of the mask.
“Packard? And Rogers?”
“What of them.” Horatio shrugged, “I only ever expected two of us to return. We’re seeking treasure, Vaughn. What man likes to share? Fewer hands make for richer men.”
Vaughn spat at the floor, fingering his cutlass with half a mind to gut this yellow bellied pig. “To think us pirates are labelled the savages. You’re no better than we are.”
Horatio didn’t care, his mind was a glow with thoughts of gold. He flung open the bell’s door without a care for the air lock or the water now filling the chamber. Then he started to swim. With a bottle in one hand and a knife in the other. Bubbles drawing a path behind him as they rose from the pipes of his mask.
Vaughn quickly attached his own mask, following Horatio through the dark depths of the sea.
Rogers and Packard found the first of the two sunken ships. Theirs was a Naval Aircraft Carrier, its body a mass of tortured seaweed and blackened fungus. All across the ship’s face the metal was coloured with rust, flaking away before the faintest of touches. A soft bodied octopus had wrapped itself around the largest of the ships guns, tentacles roaming the water in search of food.
Packard gestured for a hatch that lay beneath the Octopus. Rogers nodded, and together they swam for the opening. Both narrowly avoided the grip of the tentacled beast, falling together through the ship’s hatch, castaway limbs thrashing after them through the continuing valleys of water.
Strangely the inside of the ship was a far cry from its outer-shell. There was light, for one. A network of luminescent rods that flooded the water logged corridors with a welcome shine. In many of the rooms that had once been meant as sleeping quarters there were signs of what seemed to be nests, and if you looked closely enough there were shells and bones from last nights dinner, too.
Packard swam close behind Rogers, toying with his knife. He had already taken Jacks down for insubordination. With Rogers there was no need for a cover story. He had to die if Vaughn was to take control of the Mantis.
Up ahead the streamline corridor of the ship opened out onto a large hall, beyond the double doors a hundred rotting tables lined with chairs floated aimlessly in limbo. The wood was dark, damp and weathered, fitting company for the half dressed bodies that sauntered daintily between them.
But not everyone had died.
Packard lunged for Rogers, only to feel himself being dragged backward by an incredible force. He struggled to look over his shoulders, his grip lost on the knife in favour of ripping the strangling hands from his neck. He tried to scream, his mask came free and a stream of bubbles rose out from within. There was no sound. Just the sensation of blood rushing to Packard’s head from a fiercely beating heart.
He managed a look back, only briefly and he’d soon regret it. He saw the creature’s face, almost human, but swollen, skin peeling in favour of scales, eyes solid white and forced back to the sides of the head. The nose had sunken into the skull, the neck opened up on gills around the Adams apple, but worst of all was the mouth, a wide open ‘O’ lined with row after row of tiny, pointed teeth. That was the last thing Packard would live to see, it was a small mercy that he blacked out before the creature began its feasting.
Horatio was searching the vacant control room of a submarine. He was able to walk and to breathe on account that the airlocks within had held, and the water outside had yet to breech this vessel. The screens about the room were dark, one and all. The panels of buttons, switches and levers long shrouded by dust. A deep, damp smell lingered on the nose, and all around there were markings carved within the iron of the walls. Depictions, of some sea-born-beast.
There are survivors. Horatio grimaced, weighing the glass bottle in his hand.
Vaughn was about to meet with just some such survivors. He had spotted a shadow running – yes running – through the submarine’s halls. It was headed for the break room, and disappeared into the kitchen.
“Come on out, I ain’t gonna hurt you.” Vaughn wrapped his fist around his cutlass, “I just wanna talk, that’s all.” in his mind Vaughn had latched onto the idea that such creatures as those on the walls could be real. With a deep intake of breath he drew his blade and kicked through the doors of the kitchen. Twang. He was hit hard between the eyes with a heavy pan, and fainted.
Horatio had managed to uncover a hideaway in the control room, a secret entrance to a room below deck. There was no light down there save for the bleak glimmer of flashing red from a power node that indicated low batteries. Steel steps descended in a spiral, ending at a flat and rather dull looking room.
There was a chair in one corner, and in that chair a shadow sat hunched over a radio that fuzzed without meaning. Maps were lain upon the walls and a cold cup of something foul rested on a desk full of papers. Horatio noticed that the very same creatures he’d seen painted in iron above had been drawn on those papers. Plans of attack, and defense. The notions of an underwater war that had raged for centuries gone by.
“Hello?” Horatio called, and the shadow startled, swinging quickly round in its chair.
“Who in all the Sea are you?” the shadow croaked, its voice wet and musty. It considered the stranger’s clothing, a captains clothing, and from under a cloak slipped out a sodden pistol. Horatio had no doubt that the gun would still fire.
“Did they send you? As an ambassador? As an assassin?” the shadow rose from its seat, wet lips drawn into a snarl, “We don’t want to talk, and I don’t want to die.” its tongue lolled about in its mouth, taking in great gulps of air, “We won’t consider a truce with those abominations. They mean death to us, and we mean death to them. To the last of them.”
Horatio couldn’t find his voice, he was dumbstruck, unable to move. The shadow came closer, into the soft glow of the red, warning light. Its face was a milky white, the husk of a mollusk clung to its back, and upon its breast was a badge with the letters HRN etched into the metal.
“I think it’s best you left now.” the shadow tittered, “Don’t worry though, I’ll be happy to send you on your way.” the man fired a single shot, through Horatio’s skull and out the back. A flurry of red paint splattered against the wall behind the fallen captain. “Or better yet, I’ll fish you back in pieces, keep the head for myself.”
As the creature leered over Horatio’s corpse it noticed the green bottle with a message inside, “How odd, the abominations don’t know how to write…”
When Vaughn came round he found himself seated in a chair before two young boys and a sodden-skinned woman. He was bound by the wrists and the ankles, helpless to move, unable to escape. Upon one of the submarine’s stoves their boiled a large pot, steam rising up and wafting through the white walled room.
“Are you going to eat me?” Vaughn croaked, “I’m not all that tasty, you see.”
The boys licked their lips in response.
Vaughn cursed, “Well, sh*t.”
Copyright © K R Perry 2019