I spend so much of my time writing about werewolves and zombies that I don’t focus on other things that I’ve written. I’ve done some pretty good stuff that isn’t lycan or undead oriented that really doesn’t see the light of day. This blog post will showcase one such piece.
A couple of years ago I submitted a short story for inclusion in an anthology that I knew wasn’t quite perfect for the theme. Let’s call this editor Stacy. Stacy is a good name because it calls to mind Stacy Keach, and one of my favorite movies of his was Mission of the Shark: The Saga of the USS Indianapolis. This movie mention factors into the featured short story.
Now, I submitted this particular story mostly to get that inspiration and to receive feedback from an editor I respected and who was always honest with me. The editor liked it, of course said it didn’t fit, but it did however give them an idea for the next anthology. “Hold onto this one. I liked it and it has a nice Twilight Zone feel to it,” I was told. I’m glad it gave him that feeling because Rod Serling was a motivating factor behind it.
Well, I did keep it, as I keep everything I write, and it got lost in the shuffle of life. The short story is called The Dive, and it involves the ill-fated mission of the USS Indianapolis, and a Navy deep sea diver’s unintentional arrival to this ship. I won’t go into the history of the Indianapolis because it’s in the story, but it’s always resonated with me thanks to the Stacey Keach film. And it doesn’t hurt that I’ve been a Twilight Zone fan since Eye of the Beholder sent me running and screaming from the living room as a seven year old. It took me forever to look people in the face again.
Now that you’ve gotten the backstory on the inspiration, submitted for your approval is my short story, The Dive.
Tony Barlow hummed as he finished examining a sunken ocean tug for holes in its hull. The tug had once been the USS Arapaho and had sunk six months earlier in rough seas. Tony was thankful that all hands had made it off as he’d previously encountered dead trapped within a sunken vessel and each time he’d lost control of bodily fluids.
This time it was only him and the occasional fish swimming in for a peek. He had just finished his inspection when his radio buzzed.
“Green diver, topside. Do you-” Static filled the Mark V diving suit’s helmet.
“Say again, topside. Did not copy last message.” Tony collected began making his way to the tug’s foredeck.
“Tony-” was followed by more static. “- much longer? Contact with – spotty –. Better return – the comms show –. ” The voice belonged to his best friend and business partner Andrew Tillmore aboard their salvage vessel, Atlantic Queen. The slender Midwesterner and former Marine was the calmest person Tony had ever known, but his voice expressed uncharacteristic worry.
“Say again all after Tony.” The received response was more static. Tony wanted to smack the side of the helmet to clear the interference, but he knew it wouldn’t work. The tether checked out before they commenced operations and there was no reason why there should have been static. Still, Andrew had never sounded worried like that before.
The 200 pound suit was unwieldy on land and only marginally better underwater. At 742 feet below the surface, Tony was in no position to run a race. The urgency in Andrew’s voice forced him to push faster. It was after arriving at the diving platform that his diver’s intuition buzzed incessantly. His hackles urged him to surface and he wasted no time signaling that he was ready to ascend.
“Topside, green diver. Bring me up, over.”
“Topside, green diver. I say again, bring me up, over.”
“Damn radio’s on the fritz,” muttered Tony. The water had a chill to it, but only because of the fear creeping into his heart. “Topside? Topside, do you read me? Andy? Are you going to retrieve me or –”
The platform jerked and ascension began. He looked at the Arapaho and instinctively went to rub his eyes. His right fist banged against the brass cage of his forward view port and he blinked not understanding what he witnessed.
“Topside! Andy, do you read, over? The Arapaho… It’s moving.” Moving was the closest word he could find to describe the shimmering, wobbling vessel. “Andy, I think there’s a tsunami happening.”
Tony held onto the rails of the platform, bracing for the wave. His experience told him that it wasn’t a tsunami at all, but his mind pushed for that outcome.
“C’mon, come on.” He fought to control his breathing as he sang the US Navy Anthem. “Anchors aweigh, my boys. Anchors aweigh.” He sang loud and clear, hoping that Andy would hear him.
He kept his eyes on the Arapaho as he rose, disbelieving the expansion of water around the ship and then the seeming implosion into nothingness.
“Andy! It’s gone. The Arapaho is gone.” Tony couldn’t help screaming. He’d seen some disturbing things on the sea floor, but never had he seen a vessel disappear.
He watched the shock wave horrified that the bubble was expanding and coming towards him. “I’m bracing for impact!” He didn’t think anyone was listening. Andy appeared to be offline and he was pretty sure God had forgotten about him and his predicament.
The wave grew and overtook him. It rocked the platform enough to shake him off and he found his helmet had somehow filled with water.
He swung his arms out, kicked his feet, and discovered he was near the surface. He never once questioned how he’d been able to swim even after his face broke through the waves. Breathing was his only goal then.
Tony dragged in a deep breath. He blinked sea water out of his eyes and discovered that he wasn’t alone. Men surrounded him and most splashed each other while a nearby few stared at him with dismay.
“Shit, Polaski. What the hell were you trying to do?” laughed a swimmer close by.
“What…?” sputtered Tony. “Who are…? Polaski?”
“Dumb Polack. You forget your name jumping in or something?” The man swam closer to Tony and looked into his eyes. “You don’t seem like you hit your head. I don’t see how you could’ve. That was a near perfect dive.”
“Who are you? My name’s Tony Barlow.” He looked at the man with incomprehension. He backstroked away, realizing that his diving suit was gone. “Where’s my suit? Who the hell are you people?”
“You must’ve hurt yourself, Dillon. Let’s get back to the ship and get the Doc to look at you.”
The man swam toward him. Tony flipped over, intent on swimming anywhere away from the man and the others. He lost his breath again once he saw the US Navy cruiser at anchor.
He looked around and found the Atlantic Queen was gone. The man that had spoken to Tony was joined by two other men. Each gave quizzical stares to Tony’s confused expression.
“Where’s the Queen? Where’s my boat?” Tony spun in the water, looking around. The three exchanged dismayed looks before looking back to him.
“What are you talking about, Dillon? There ain’t no other boat out here besides us,” said one of the new arrivals. “Buddy, you know it takes more than nutty sunshine talk to get out of the Navy.”
“I’ve been out of the Navy for years. What in hell’s going on here?”
“Get him back to the Indianapolis, Bobby. He’s acting squirrelly,” added the third.
“Come on, Polaski. You’ve gotta get to sickbay.” The first, the one named Bobby, rested his hand on Tony’s shoulder.
Tony shrugged it off, looking bitterly at Bobby.
“Get your hands off me. I don’t know how I came to be here or who any of you are, but I’m not getting on that ship.”
An arm grabbed Tony around the neck. He successfully struggled at first, but was soon dragged near the ship’s side.
“Lower a rescue line,” yelled the second sailor. “We’ve got an injured man!”
A line was lowered and wrapped across Tony’s arms. Slowly he was raised to the cruiser’s deck. He looked around, unbelieving of the history, as horrible as it was, that he stood on. The ship’s name dawned on him. “Indianapolis,” he muttered.
“How many fingers am I holding up, sailor,” asked one of the men on deck.
“Four.” Tony slapped the hand away.
An officer shined a light in his eyes. “What’s your name?”
The doctor looked to Bobby. “His name’s Dillon Polaski, sir. Gunner’s Mate Third Class Dillon Polaski.”
“Get him to sickbay,” ordered the doctor.
“Where are we,” bellowed Tony. “What day is it?” The question struck him as ludicrous. He didn’t understand why he asked. He only felt that it was needed.
Two Marines standing near a railing laughed. “This joker’s looking for a psychological discharge,” quipped one.
Tony glared at them. “You’re the ones that are crazy. The Indianapolis sank in July of 1945 after carrying A-bomb parts to Tinian Island. This ship doesn’t exist any more!”
The Marines stopped laughing. One of them took a drag off his cigarette while studying Tony closely. Sailors milling around on deck looked at him with a mix of wary and frightened stares.
“Get him to sickbay…now,” ordered the doctor in a sterner tone. Bobby made to help Tony up, but Tony resisted. The Marines, accompanied by the sailors that had been in the water with Tony, rushed forward to help.
Tony fought back harder, kicking a sailor in the groin. The smoking Marine hadn’t been in the mood for trouble. Two quick punches from him rendered Tony unconscious.
He awoke in a small room, strapped to a bed. He gazed at the closed door. “Hey, is there anyone there?”
A Marine, the smoker from earlier, peered inside. He held an M1 Garand rifle at port arms, and his expression was stern.
The Marine glanced around the doorframe. “He’s awake. Have the doc call the Skipper.”
The Marine then stepped into the room. “Look, mac. Time’s short, so talk fast. What’s an A-bomb?”
“What?” Tony was incredulous. “Are you stupid or something? Everyone knows what an A-bomb is.”
“Treat me like I’m a child. What is it?” The Marine glanced into the passageway.
Tony sighed indignantly. “It’s a bomb with enough power to level a major city. You’ve been given the parts to one and you’re going to be delivering them to Tinian Island. From there it’ll be dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. It’ll be the first of two and they’ll end the war, but start a new arms race that could evolve into something that’ll make World War Two look like a border skirmish.” Tony looked at the Marine’s rank. “Sergeant, it’s some serious shit.”
“Right,” answered the dubious Sergeant. “Serious. Look. We haven’t picked up anything from anywhere… yet. In fact, we just finished the test run on our new equipment and we’re headed back to Mare Island now. Something is going on, but no one knows anything. This is stuff you should already be privy to. Right now though, the best thing for you to do is keep your gob shut.”
“The cat’s out of the bag, Sergeant,” said a handsome officer, entering the room. “Do you know who I am, son?”
Tony looked closely at the officer. “You’re Captain Charles McVay the Third, skipper of the USS Indianapolis.”
McVay took off his hat and sat next to Tony. “That’s right. Do you know where you are?”
“Aboard CA35, the USS Indianapolis.”
“Two for two. What’s today?”
“Tuesday, the fourteenth.”
“Really? What month and year?”
“You were doing so well. It is July Fourteenth, but its 1945. You’re off by 22 years, sailor.” McVay studied him for a moment before speaking again. “You say we’ve already accepted components to something you call an A-bomb? We haven’t picked up anything so far but I have to ask…where will this pick up occur?”
Tony’s mouth felt dry. He had no idea what to say even though he knew the history of the Indianapolis. Every self-respecting Navy man did. “This is a dream. I’ve been knocked out by that wave, and I’m having a fever dream or something.”
“Where will the pick up occur, sailor?” McVay’s voice held a tone that patience was fading fast.
“Hunter’s Point Navy Shipyard, San Francisco.”
McVay’s face remained placid. “Everyone knows that. Tell me something I don’t know.”
“That’s the kicker, sir.” Tony chuckled maniacally. “You don’t know what you’re picking up. There’ll be a load of scientists, generals, and Marines, hell, everyone but the President will be on deck to oversee the loading of the equipment. You’ll get it, along with a bunch of Marines you won’t know anything about. You’ll deliver some Uranium 235 to Tinian Island on 26July1945 and four days later, at 0015, you’ll be sunk by a Japanese sub, the I-58.”
McVay considered Tony’s words. He wanted to brush the young man off as merely a raving delusional, but he couldn’t. “What will the loss of life be?”
“Out of 1,196 men, 900 or so will make it off. They, and you, will spend over four days in the water, but only 317 will be rescued. The biggest loss will be to exposure, injuries, madness, and sharks. You’ll be court-martialed, Captain, and vilified for not zigzagging, even though survivors will state that it wouldn’t have mattered.”
“Is that a fact?” McVay rose from his seat and walked to the door. He paused. “I’d like to say you’re crazy, but you’re too damned convincing. I’ll check into your story.”
The door silently closed. For long moments Tony lay still, contemplating what he’d said and his situation. He tried once more to convince himself that it all wasn’t real. The pain in his jaw and the restraints kept dragging him back to the conclusion that it was indeed all too real.
Tony drifted to sleep, and was awakened hours later by the Sergeant. “Wake up,” he hissed to him. “We’ve gotta get you outta here.”
“What’s going on?” murmured Tony. “What are you doing?”
“A court-martialing offense is what I’m doing.” The sergeant unbuckled the straps, flinging them to the side. “Come on. We’re leaving.”
Tony’s bare feet hit the floor. The shock of the cold linoleum fully woke him up. “Why are you doing this?”
“In a minute,” he said, looking out of the door. “Are we clear, Quint?”
“As clear as we’ll ever be, Mike.” The Marine from earlier appeared in the doorway. “Come on, we’re short on time.”
The Marines led Tony down the passageway.
“What’s going on? What’s happening?”
“You’ve been deemed a security risk. Skipper radioed ahead to Hunter’s Point and got the brass riled up. He asked them what Uranium 235 was and they ordered us back to Mare Island. Apparently what you told him got our orders changed.” The Marine put a hand on Tony’s chest, stopping him. “Everyone says you’re this Dillon Polaski, but from what I hear you don’t talk like him. You know something important. I don’t know what it is, but you know things you shouldn’t, and you act like it’s all in the past. That’s enough to make me do something really stupid.”
They exited topside and Tony couldn’t help but to stare up at ship’s superstructure. It was history to him and for the first time since he’d boarded, he was in awe.
“We’re moving into position to pull into port. The pilot will board and when he does, you’ll jump for it and swim out of here.”
“That’s insane. I don’t think I can swim fast enough to get out of the way of the ship’s props.”
“You’ve got ten minutes to get clear. Do you want to chance the swim, or be a guest of Naval Intelligence? Your call.”
Tony saw the logic and readied himself to make the jump. The ship glided to a halt and they could hear the pilot’s boat moving in to position. He looked to the Marine. “What’s your name?”
“Tillmore. Lincoln Tillmore.”
Tony’s eyes widened and he whispered the man’s name.
“Now or never,” said the other Marine.
“Go. Now!” Tillmore gave Tony a push. Tony dove into the colder than anticipated water.
He turned to surface and choked on the air wanting to burst from his lungs. He opened his mouth to scream and clawed at his throat. Blackness over took him.
He opened his eyes, discovering that he was back in his diving suit and breaking the surface. The day was as it should’ve been and he blinked rapidly as Andrew removed the diving helmet.
“Tony? Tony, look at me. Are you okay? You blacked out there for a moment.” Andrew pulled down Tony’s eyelids. “You were muttering something about sharks and the Indianapolis.”
“I don’t know what happened. I guess I blacked out. I had some weird dream about the Indianapolis.”
“You had me scared there, buddy.”
Andrew didn’t say anything further as he and a tender worked to get Tony out of the suit.
The diving tenders squared away Tony’s rig as he and Andrew visited the galley.
Andrew brought Tony a cup of coffee and set it down before him. Tony sipped it and grimaced.
“You forgot the sugar and cream, Andy.”
Andrew furrowed his brow. “You’ve never taken ‘em in your coffee before. Why start now?”
“What are you talking about? We’ve known each other for seven years, worked together for six, and you know how I like my Joe.”
“Doc needs to take a look at you. We’ve known each other since we were Navy divers at Little Creek. That was twelve years ago. You sure you’re okay?”
Tony’s mouth dropped open. “Navy diver? You were Marine Corps. Shipboard security aboard the Forrestal.”
“Yeah, we’re getting you to Doc ASAP. I’d never join the Corps. Especially after what happened to my dad.” Andrew moved closer to Tony. He didn’t like the way his friend was acting. “Come on. Let’s at least get you to your rack.”
Tony stood on shaky legs. “Lincoln Tillman was your father.”
“Really? That’s not news. Dad and another Marine were court-martialed and sentenced to 10 years in Leavenworth for helping a spy escape the Indianapolis. He swore the guy was from another time or something. Whatever the guy told them was enough to get the Indianapolis off the hook from delivering parts to the first atomic bomb. That duty went to the New Orleans. Damn thing never made it to Tinian and was presumed sunk with all hands lost. That was in the fall of ’45. Its ancient history, pal.”
“But the Indianapolis sank in 1945 after dropping off Uranium for Little Boy.”
“Little Boy? What the hell is that? They dropped Fat Man in ‘46, but it failed to end the war. C’mon. You know the war ‘ended’ in ‘47, and that the Japs are still fighting their guerilla war against us. Hell, the Indianapolis is still afloat and stationed at Norfolk last I heard.”
“No,” whispered Tony, pushing Andrew away. “The war ended September 2, 1945 with the Japanese unconditional surrender. Little Boy and Fat Man did that.”
“No, it didn’t. They only dropped one bomb, called Fat Man, and May 25, 1947 was when the Japanese ‘surrendered’. The war never really ended for them though.”
Andrew held a firm grip onto Tony’s forearm. He refused to let go and Tony refused to be held.
Tony lashed out, striking Andrew, and then ran for the hatch leading topside.
Andrew followed him, screaming for someone to stop Tony. The deck hands looked at Tony, surprised at his rapid appearance on deck. A tender asked him what was going on, but decided not to say anything further upon seeing his wild-eyed face.
Without any thought, Tony dove off the side of the Atlantic Queen. He swam toward the wreck of the Arapaho, kicking feverishly. It didn’t take long before the feeling of bursting air from his lungs and sluggish feeling limbs over took him. He blacked out and came to on a small boat’s deck.
“You okay?” asked someone, helping him to his feet.
The little vessel pitched slightly, but Tony could stand. He looked down and discovered himself wearing a khaki uniform. He turned to find four other men dressed in khaki Marine Corps uniforms.
“Where am I?” Tony looked around. He was in a small launch, moving through a naval harbor. Older, obsolete battleships sat anchored in neat rows and he knew that none should have been afloat.
“It’s easy to see you’re a rook. A small swell got us, and you lost your footing. You must’ve hit your head pretty hard, Marine,” said a sailor steering the launch. “You’re at Pearl Harbor. No better place to spend Christmas. Now, sit down like I told you. The Arizona’s ahead. Welcome to the pride of the Pacific Fleet.”
Tony sat down not because of the order, but because he knew where he was. For him, home was very far away.