A grandpa is someone you never outgrow your need for… –Anonymous
Isaiah Covington stared death in the face, and her eyes were cold, glass buttons peering out of two tons of a nearly mindless eating machine. Sweat beaded on his face as she drew closer, her gaping mouth revealing grim rows of pointed, serrated teeth designed to tear and rend flesh.
He thought of the torch on his belt, but the heavy clumsiness of his undersea suit’s gloves made it uncertain if he could bring it to bear and ignite it in time to use as a weapon.
He looked into death’s eyes while muttering a prayer to the God of Daniel, Peter, and Paul, and death stared back.
With less than two meters between them, the Great White Shark suddenly veered off to her left and vanished into the murky waters of the Bay.
“Keep praying, children. She may come back.”
Isaiah thought his son’s voice sounded meek and uncertain in his ears, but Lord knows he had good reason for it.
“I’m still here, son. Guess the Lord Jesus isn’t ready for me to come through those Pearly Gates yet.”
“Oh, thank God, Papa. What happened? What made her leave.”
“I can’t be rightly sure, but I looked her in the eye, and those that intend you harm don’t expect defiance when they think you’re weak.”
“Do you see her, Pa? Did she come back?”
Isaiah knew the shark could approach from any direction, so as best as his helmet would allow, he scanned the vicinity. “Not that I can see, son. I’d best get back to work, but I’ll keep a sharp eye out.”
Keisha had been holding her breath and finally let it out. How many times had they all escaped death by so close a margin? This whole adventure was one cliffhanger after another. She hoped this wasn’t what their every day life was like, but then how could it be?
She took the mike. “Any idea of how long, Isaiah?” Out of the corner of her vision, she saw Josiah frown, and remembered she should probably call him “Mr. Covington.”
“Now that I’ve got the main locking clamp off, maybe thirty minutes.”
The teenage girl looked back at the clock. “When did you say the sun would be coming up?”
Josiah glanced at the timepiece. “Just about the time Pa will be done with his work.”
“Terrific.” They needed to use the snorkel to replenish their air supply until whatever weird machinery on the sub that made it could be fixed, but the intake valve would be visible on the surface of the water come daylight.
She let herself sag into the Captain’s seat at the helm and tried to think of a way around the problem, but her brain had turned into a mix of steel wool and cotton candy. She hadn’t slept in over a day and she could barely keep her eyes open.
“Still checking. No sign of our unwelcome visitor.” Isaiah sounded unreasonably calm. If it had been her, she didn’t know if she could keep working with a fifteen-foot-long predator hiding in the water nearby.
Keisha jumped when Isaiah’s voice crackled out of the speakers again. She’d fallen asleep while he was out there risking death to save them all.
“Just finished tightening the clamp. Securing my tools and proceeding back down the tower.”
She pushed herself heavily out of the chair. If she stood up and walked around, it should help. Josiah looked half-dead on his feet. They could all use some rest, but if they couldn’t get fresh air down into this tin can, they would rest forever.
“Proceeding down to the hull. Just a few more rungs. There. Now to the ladder on the hull. I should be in the airlock in five minutes.”
“You stay here, Miss Davis in case Pa needs anything else. I’m going to stand by at the airlock.”
Relief had given the little boy wings and he raced across the control room and out the rear hatch.
Isaiah had left his mike open and she could hear his labored breathing as he struggled under the suit’s weight and bulk.
“What is it?”
“Intake hose got snagged on the outer door latch.”
He was groaning as he tried to free it, the thick tubing rubbing back and forth against the metal making a grating sound.
“It’s stuck. Can’t get it free.”
“Pa, behind you.” Keisha could hear Josiah yelling from down the passageway, but there was no sound system near the airlock.
“Isaiah. Turn around. Hurry.” Keisha was gripping the microphone hard enough to make her fingers ache.
“Oh damn. The tube. My struggles sound like a fish in distress.”
“Do what you have to do but get out of there!” She was screaming. Josiah could see, but Keisha could hear.”
“If I can…” His voice trailed off. Then she heard the nine year old scream, “No, Pa!” Over the speaker, she heard a sudden explosion of water and air. Isaiah coughed and choked.
“Hurry, Pa! Close the hatch! Keisha! Help!”
She dropped the mike and dashed out the open hatch to the rear and down the narrow passageway, then made a sharp left. Pressing her face against the glass next to Josiah, she saw that Isaiah had cut his air hose to free it from the door latch. The shark’s head loomed large as he frantically worked the control wheel to close the outer door.
The sub lurched as the sea predator struck the hull trying to reach her prey, but the aperture was now large enough only to admit her snout. The shark couldn’t get to Isaiah anymore, but he was drowning.
The Great White moved back and Isaiah laboriously completed the final two spins of the wheel that sealed the outer airlock.
Josiah started turning the large valve wheel to empty the enclosure, and Keisha grabbed on and added her strength to his. Isaiah had collapsed on the floor. The chamber would remain sealed until the majority of the water was pumped out.
Desperate seconds passed until finally they unlatched the inner door, and the now unconscious diver spilled inside along with streams of muddy water.
“Help me with the helmet. Come on, Pa. Hang on just a little longer.”
The attachments were simple, metal latches, and they managed to release them. Then with a twist, the helmet came free.
“Pa! Breathe, Pa!”
Isaiah coughed, rolled to one side and vomited, then sharply inhaled. He laid there panting for over a minute until his breathing became steady.
“Thank you.” He still sounded like he was having a tough time catching his breath.
They both helped him sit up and started the awkward process of removing the diving suit.
“Boy. No time. Deploy the snorkel. We won’t last much longer without it.”
“But, Pa. If anyone sees it.”
“Have to risk it. Keisha will stay with me. Do it, Josiah. I’m counting on you.”
“Yes, Pa.” He stood, looked at Keisha with trusting eyes, and left.
“I’ll get you out of this thing.” She had watched Isaiah put on the rig, so she had a good idea how to peel it down a layer at a time. When she got the breastplate off, he could take deeper breaths. By the time he was stripped to his undershirt and trousers, Keisha heard fans running and smelled fresh air from the vents.
“Blankets. Behind the other suit. Cabinet.” He was trembling, even though it felt sweltering in the sub. She navigated past the spare suit hanging by chains from the ceiling to the storage cabinet, and found a couple of rough, woolen blankets marked “U.S. Army.” She grabbed them both and then put them around Isaiah.
“Just rest. We’ve got air coming in.”
“Thank God. Now if the Almighty will grant us further mercies and let not our enemies spy our salvation.”
“Wait. The air was supposed to go into the tanks, not right out the vents.”
“I suspect Josiah made a switch when he saw my condition. Can’t damn the boy’s loyalty to his Pa, but the safety of the boat comes first. Here. See if you can’t help me up.”
“Oh, you are definitely heavier than you look, or I need to hit the gym more often.”
Josiah chose that moment to re-enter the airlock room. “Let me help, Pa.”
Between the two of them, they managed to get Isaiah to his feet and supported him as he staggered forward.
“After you get me to my cabin, redirect the air to the tanks and siphon some portion for breathing, but just enough. We can’t leave that snorkel up much longer.”
“I think I can overclock the compressor and get it to work faster. We’ll have partial main air pressure in one tank in under an hour.”
“Dangerous, Miss Davis?”
“No more than being shot at, depth charged, and nearly eaten by a shark, Mr. Covington.”
He tried to laugh and then coughed. “Very well. An hour. No more. When I feel up to it, I’ll get to the main engines. Need rest first. We all do.”
By now, they’d crossed the control cabin and had gone forward. There were crew cabins to the left and right with two bunks per cabin. Isaiah’s was on the left, presumably to be shared with Eralia. Keisha pushed the thought back out of her mind. She had too many other problems to worry about right now.
“You may turn your back, Miss Davis. I need to get out of these wet clothes. Josiah, assist me.”
She turned her back for the sake of his modesty and her embarrassment, but why hadn’t he told her to leave the room.
After a minute or so, he said, “I am covered now.”
She turned and he was sitting up in his bunk, Army blankets pulled to his chest. The boy was putting the soaked clothing in a hamper. “You and Josiah shall man the speakers listening for any sign that your device has been detected. After one hour, retract it and maintain low power status until evening. That should preserve electricity and atmosphere.”
“I think Josiah should listen for ships while I adjust the compressor to get as much air in the tanks as possible. One quarter of the airflow can be redirected for immediate use, and what we put in the storage vessel will be our daytime supply.”
“Yes, I’d forgotten. Thank you, Miss Davis. Please proceed, but after the hour is up and the snorkel is secure, I want both of you to get some sleep. Also, once done with your more formal duties, you should return here and search the far locker for some replacement clothing. I believe my wife’s apparel should be a close fit.”
He was right. What she was wearing now was soaked, torn, oil stained, dirty, and disgusting. She just hoped she could find something that not only would fit her, but that she could figure out how to put on. What do you do with a corset anyway?
“I can do that.”
“Don’t worry about disturbing me. I’m sure I’ll be fast asleep by then. Oh, and Miss Davis, your help has been invaluable. I don’t believe my son and I could have managed quite as well without you.”
She felt pride through the haze of exhaustion. This was the second time she heard him speak in her Grandpa’s voice.
“Thank you, Mr. Covington. I’d better get going. Come on, Josiah.”
“Ma’am. Good night, Pa.” The boy leaned over to hug his Dad while Keisha waited at the passageway. Those two still had each other, but everyone who she loved was either dead or in another universe.
She hoped no one was listening, because the overloaded compressor screamed like the proverbial scalded cat, with steam heating the room like a sauna, and oil splattering on her lost cause of a blouse.
It only lasted forty-eight minutes of the planned hour, and then it’s gears seized up, but in that time, it had managed to transfer ninety-eight percent of the expected air into the tank. Keisha adjusted the output to allow a steady stream for breathing, which would be good enough as long as they didn’t do a lot of moving around.
Back in the control room, she nodded and Josiah began the retraction process for the snorkel. He hadn’t raised the alarm, so apparently no one on the surface saw the snorkel’s valve, or if they did, they mistook it for some piece of garbage or a random bit of seaweed.
“Do you have another pump handy? The compressor burned out and I’m too tired to try to fix it right now.”
“Might have an old spare unit. Not near as efficient, but come nightfall, it’ll do when we can raise the snorkel again.”
“Terrific. Everything shipshape?”
“The submersible is rigged for low power operation. If you want. I’ll take the first watch.”
“What? But Isaiah said…”
“We could all be asleep and approached unawares. Best we take four-hour shifts just in case.”
“I can’t argue. Sounds like a good idea, but I’ll take first watch. You get some sleep. Besides. If I go to bed right now, I don’t think I’d wake up for a week.”
“Suit yourself, Miss Davis, but you might want to go get them clothes of Ma’s first, so when you do go to your berth, you’ll have something better to dress in when you awaken.”
“You’re full of good ideas, Josiah. I’ll go do that little thing. Be back in a jif.”
She plodded forward until she got to the crew area, and then she tried to keep as quiet as possible. Slipping in the left-hand cabin, Isaiah was indeed out like a light and snoring loud enough to wake the living and the dead. Keisha wondered how Eralia put up with it. Speaking of…
Not feeling like doing a lot of “shopping” at that moment, she selected what she thought were two or three outfits which she’d worry about after she got a nap. Taking them to the berth across the passageway, she tossed them on the lower bunk and then trudged back to Josiah.
“Mission accomplished. Get lost, kid. I’ll wake you in four hours.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” He walked to the hatch and stopped. “I just wanted to say…well, what Pa said. You’ve been a good engineer and I know both Pa and I have come to depend on you. Thank you for everything, especially for being a friend.”
She felt like she should hug him again, but he didn’t seem to be thinking the same thing. They were both loopy anyway and needed some sleep.
“Sure. Thanks. Go to bed.”
She could hear his footfalls receding forward and then stop as he entered his Dad’s sleeping berth.
Keisha listened to the distant and irregular sounds of what she supposed was various types of craft on the surface. It was after nine in the morning, whatever day of the week it was, and anything from ferries to fishing boats could be plying their trade over their heads. She wondered where that damn shark was.
Just after eleven, she woke up with a start. Some guard she made. She’d fallen asleep. Listening, she didn’t notice anything unusual coming from the speakers. She knew submersibles were rare in this world, but she didn’t know about archaic diving suits. They were just under nine meters deep or about twenty-eight to thirty feet underwater.
It’s not very far, but fortunately the Bay waters were murky, so even a boat directly overhead wouldn’t be able to see her. Without her engines running, she’d be impossible to hear. They should be pretty safe from detection, but they couldn’t stay here forever.
Keisha still had another couple of hours before she woke up Josiah. She couldn’t afford to fall asleep again, so she stood up and started pacing. Her “power nap” helped, but she’d fall out again if she didn’t keep moving.
Maybe she should hook up that spare pump Josiah had talked about so it would be ready when night came. Trouble is, she didn’t know where it was stowed, and tinkering in the machine shop would take her too far from the speakers.
She just wanted all of this to be over. Why had she gone along with Grandpa’s crazy plans to launch the Graceful Delight when she knew it would take her on some bizarre trip?
Just past noon, she heard it for the first time. It was a noise coming from the aft compartments, maybe the airlock.
“Oh crap, someone’s on board. They found us.”
She turned toward the forward hatch. If she could wake up Isaiah. Where were his pistols? He’d taken them off when he got into the diving suit. Were they in the airlock room? She couldn’t remember. It was too hard to think.
“Clank! Clank! Clank!” Weighted boots on metal deck plates. He was right outside the rear hatch to the control room. How did he get on board? You can only open the outer doors from inside.
A shadow fell across the floor. It was shaped like a man, but huge and distorted, like a primitive hominid, a bestial ancestor bent on mayhem and destruction. There had already been so much pain and death. Why did it have to happen again?
She backed away, feeling for the forward hatch. Yes, it was there, but it was closed. When did that happen? She couldn’t bear to turn away from the man in the diving suit as he advanced on her, but if she didn’t, she’d never get the hatch open so she could warn Isaiah and Josiah. They were depending on her. She couldn’t let them down.
“Get away! Isaiah, help!”
He was halfway across the control room. He’d reach her in seconds.
Keisha forced herself to turn, grab the wheel to open the hatch, but it was jammed. It wouldn’t budge.
A thick canvas glove settled on her right shoulder and she screamed. He was too strong. His arms were around her. He couldn’t get out of his grip.
“Let go of me! Let go, you bastard!”
She managed to twist around so she was facing the helmet, her anguished face doubly reflected in each lens. He was squeezing her. She couldn’t breathe. She was going to die here and it was so senseless.
“Grandpa, save me.”
When she was nine years old, she was bicycling with her Grandpa on Old Mill Road. They headed into a curve, and she put on her brakes to slow down. The front brakes locked and she was thrown over her handlebars. She started to skid down the side of the hill but caught onto a branch. It must have been a hundred foot drop to the bottom.
“Grandpa, help me, please help me! I’m going to fall!”
She had nightmares for months afterward. Grandpa said she’d been hanging on only a second or two before he grabbed her arm and pulled her back up, but it felt like an eternity. Only this time, he wasn’t going to make it. Keisha saw his face looming over hers, but he was too slow. She couldn’t hold on anymore. Keisha had to let go. The last thing she saw were his kind and gentle brown eyes looking down at her as she dropped to her death.
Previous chapters of Keisha’s wild adventure are:
- The Adventure Begins!
- Aerial Encounter
- Police Pursuit
- Desperate Attack
- Submersible Disaster
- Menace in the Dark
Miraculously, Isaiah was saved from a shark attack twice, and while he got the snorkel operating, he nearly drowned before he could return to the sub’s interior. Now, when all seems like it should be peaceful, a new danger faces young Keisha. But who is her attacker and how will she survive a menace that she last faced six years prior?
The next chapter is Prelude to Piracy.