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Mystery Adventure

There was always a hum. Always had been, and always should be.

So when Tobias woke up, and the world was quiet about him, he knew at once that something was wrong.

It took him a few moments to work out what the problem was however. The background hum was so much a part of his world now, as it had been for the past two months, that normally he didn’t notice it. It was like actually noticing the sun was up, rather than just seeing that it was light.

He wrestled out of the blankets, which were all tucked up under his legs to keep the chill of the metal hull at bay. No one else in the bunk room was stirring, and much as he wanted to wake someone and ask for advice, he knew he’d get a ribbing for it. It wasn’t easy being the newest member of the crew, and after the time he’d had so far he wasn’t about to hand them any more opportunities to make fun of him.

The door to the room creaked as Tobias opened it, but one of the first things the submariners learnt was how to sleep through that noise. With all the different shift patterns it was the only way they could get any decent rest. Outside in the corridor, without the sleeping snuffles of a dozen burly men, the silence was even more oppressive. All the horror stories and teasing from Tobias’ older brother came flooding back to him. With the hum and the noises of the other crew members, it was easy to forget they were in a metal can, with nothing but science and hope keeping them sailing and breathing.

Breathing…

The engines ran the oxygen systems, so if the engines were off, did that mean they were running out of oxygen? The thought made Tobias dizzy, and he started taking deep gulping breaths.

“No, stop it,” he muttered to himself, desperate for any sound in the suffocating silence. “Someone has to be awake. Someone knows what’s going on.”

And whatever was going on would be that person's problem, but that didn’t stop Tobias from scurrying off. Whoever was in charge would outrank him, and there probably wouldn’t be anything he could do to help, but he went nonetheless. There was no way he’d be able to sleep anyway.

The sound of footsteps echoed in the narrow corridor, and though Tobias felt wrong for being so noisy, the sound calmed him. Halfway down the hallway he heard another sound, tapping a heartbeat out of pace with his steps. With a sigh and a smile he turned round, expecting someone else to have woken up and come to investigate as well.

The corridor was empty.

“Huh,” Tobias said. There was a slight tremor in his hands as he turned back and kept walking, but in his head he kept repeating that he must’ve imagined the sound.

The fact he heard it again, a split second after the ring of his own step, was also just his imagination. The corridor was empty, and there were no adjacent walkways. The nearest thing to him was the void of water above him, on the other side of the hull. There wouldn’t be anything out there-

Another tap sounded, while Tobias’ foot was in mid-air. This time there was no denying it.

“H-hello? Is someone playing tricks on me again? Ha-ha, guys, very funny. Look, just… cut it out okay? The engines are off, this isn’t the time for stupid pranks.” Tobias knew he was babbling, and he knew the guys would remember that, but it was all he could do to not piss his pants. It wasn’t the first time one of the others had hid and made spooky noises in empty rooms, but without the hum of the engines Tobias felt even more exposed then he had then.

As he watched there was another tap, a knocking sound, slow and careful. As if someone was trying to get his attention. And it came from just above his head. From outside the submarine.

“Wildlife,” Tobias said, ignoring the squeak in his voice. “Just sea life, hitting the side of the vessel. Probably don’t hear it normally, what with the engine noise. Definitely need to focus on that instead. Go to the engines.”

He was still mumbling his own encouragement as he turned the wheel on the next door lock. When he heard – or at least, would swear on his mother’s life he heard – a voice right behind him laugh, he gave a strangled cry and dived through the door, slamming it behind him.

By the time Tobias reached the main control room his breathing was mostly under control, but his pulse was still pounding in his head.

“Tobias? What are you doing here?”

“Oh, hey, James.” Just as Tobias had expected the room was full, and there was a hushed buzz about the place. He slipped into an empty chair at the control panel next to James, but kept his eyes on the room as a whole. At least here there was plenty of other noise, although it was still possible to pick out the gap in the ensemble where the engines belonged. “What’s going on? The engines are down aren’t they?”

“You’re not supposed to be on duty. You shouldn’t be here.”

“Oh come on. It’s only me, and I’ll stay out the way.”

James hadn’t joined all that long before Tobias, and he was aware how much of the hazing he’d missed out on because of that. At first there’d been a level of guilt to their friendship, but after the months at sea together they now shared an actual bond. “Okay, fine,” James said with a sigh. “But if you get caught it’s not my problem, all right?”

“Of course.”

James checked over his shoulder, but all the officers were busy crowding round one of the central screens, their urgent whispers carrying across the room no matter how much they tried to keep quiet. “Yes,” James said, “the engines are down. But no one has any idea why. They just went dead, all of a sudden. There’s no fault, no warning lights, nothing. The power just went, and nothing they’ve tried will start it up again.”

“How long have we got before it gets dangerous?”

“You don’t want to know.”

“James-”

“Seriously. Look, there’s nothing we can do, so we might as well try not to panic about it.”

“And how’s that going?” Tobias asked. James had gone pale and his hands were shaking. “Come on, there has to be something we can do.”

“They’ve tried everything. The emergency back-ups, electronic reboots, manual reboots. Nothing’s working. It’s like someone’s just pulled the plug-”

“Hey! You!” One of the officers had spotted Tobias and was now jabbing his finger towards him.

“Damn it,” Tobias muttered under his breath, as he tried to blend into the control panel.

“You! You’re not on duty now. What are you doing here?”

Realising the gig was up Tobias stood up and fired off his smartest salute. “Sorry, sir. I just wondered if there was anything I could do to help, sir.”

“Unless you’ve got a spare genny hidden about you, then no,” one of the other officers said without looking up from the screens he was peering at.

“Um… no, sir.”

“Dismissed then,” the first officer said. “Get back to your bunk.” Get your affairs in order, he didn’t say, but the words dropped through the air like lead weights nonetheless. Or like powerless submarines in water.

“Yes, sir.” Tobias saluted again, and with a final, pleading look at James he headed back the way he’d come.

It was only when he was back in the corridor just outside the bunk room that Tobias remembered the noises. Being in the control room, feeling the suffocating panic as everyone there realised they’d run out of options, the random sounds from the depths of the ocean didn’t matter at all.

With a disturbing sense of calm Tobias walked to the middle of the corridor. At first there were just his footsteps, but then he heard the other sound as well, following just after his. Someone – something – was mimicking him. Twenty minutes ago that thought would’ve scared him out of his mind.

Now he might only have twenty minutes left.

“Hello?” he said, addressing the wall directly. “I’m not… I’m not sure what you are, but I know you’re there.”

The ethereal laughter whispered down the corridor again, but Tobias was too numb to be scared by it. He was about to die anyway; what more could ghosts or spirits do?

“I just wanted to ask,” he carried on, “if you were the one who caused the engines to stop. And if it was you, would you please turn them back on? I… I don’t want to die down here. I promised my brother I’d be at his wedding, see, and it would break my mum’s heart if she lost me.”

Please god, I don’t want to die down here. Tears ran down Tobias’ face, but his thoughts were too scattered for there to be any weight to them. He was barely even conscious of what he was saying.

“Please, ocean spirit. Let us live. Otherwise… otherwise we’ll never leave.”

Never leave. Stuck on the bottom of the ocean floor, suffocating to death, preserved for people to come and gawp at us in years to come, no one else to hear us die-

The world spun and Tobias collapsed to his knees. He couldn’t get any air into his lungs, he was already dying, this was it-

The air beside him moved, as soft and precise as someone blowing on his ear.

‘I don’t want you anyway.’

And then, cutting through the screaming of his pulse, there was another noise. A long drawn out whine. A hum. The singing of the engines.

There was possibly the slightest lurch as the submarine got power again, and then the world kept going as though nothing had happened.

Tobias, on all fours in the middle of the corridor, blinked dumbly at the floor. In slow motion he raised a hand, made a fist, and knocked on the metal beneath him. It was solid, and his knuckles hurt afterwards.

“I’m awake then,” he said, although he still wasn’t sure if he wanted to believe it or not.

After another minute or so he realised he’d have to move, before someone else found him there and he had to explain what he was doing. If he tried to explain, he might lose whatever thin grasp on reality he still had.

As much as he wobbled and staggered down the corridor to the bunk, Tobias refused to lean on the exterior wall. Even when he almost twisted his ankle he kept on, teetering like a new-born giraffe as he stumbled to safety. Sleep was what he needed; everything would make sense after some sleep.

Just as he had pulled the hatchway open, and been greeted by the aroma of a dozen sleeping men, Tobias heard three, rapid knocks on the hull. He went to dive into the bunk room, to some semblance of safety, but stopped himself.

“Thank you,” he whispered to the hull, before he slipped inside and curled up in his bunk.

Good manners never hurt anyone, after all.

September 12, 2020 01:16

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8 comments

Kris 🖤
16:33 Sep 18, 2020

Although I didn't end up submitting last week, of all the prompts, this was the one I shied away from the most because I had no idea what to do with it, so it's really interesting to see your take on it, especially the supernatural twist on it!

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Iona Cottle
19:04 Sep 22, 2020

Thank you! Yeah, I loved the prompt but then got utterly stumped for what to do!

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Ariadne .
18:50 Sep 18, 2020

Wow, this was a fascinating read on this prompt. Excellent job!

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Iona Cottle
19:03 Sep 22, 2020

Thank you!

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Paige Mackey
18:05 Sep 17, 2020

This is great!!!❤️

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Iona Cottle
19:04 Sep 22, 2020

Thank you!

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Bianka Nova
14:57 Sep 13, 2020

The story started kind of slow and boring, so honestly I wasn't expecting a lot of it, but you managed to develop it really well and surprise me. 😊 In the end, it had a very well paced dialogue, deep thoughts on how fleeting life could be, and a cool mystery visitor/being/alien? The interaction with the thing reminded me of the advice they give you about ghosts - just tell them you mean no harm and could they please leave you alone 😄

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Iona Cottle
19:05 Sep 22, 2020

Thank you! And that sounds like very good advice :D

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