Two Blind Men and a Fool
by Sherman Smith
|Table of Contents|
Chapter 17: The Blues Have Never Seemed So Deep
part 2: In the Murmansk Sea
The ship’s klaxon wailed Abandon Ship. Earl’s lifeboat station had taken a direct hit; not that it mattered, the Murmansk Sea was freezing, the waves fifteen feet, and the Nazi U-boat crews were machine-gunning any survivors.
The Master Chief grabbed him and Billy Bread, a skinny kid from Wilton, North Dakota, and ordered them to go down into an ammunition hold and secure a rack of artillery shells that had broken loose. The Master Chief was the first in. Neither he or Billy were eager to follow. There was a good chance that the ship’s boilers would blow before any lifeboats could be lowered.
Earl braced himself against the ice-covered rail as the ship rolled heavily. A nearby ship exploded in one massive fireball. A shrill whine sliced through the deafening rumble as a red hot piece of shrapnel the size of a handsaw embedded itself in the exterior bulkhead just above the hatch the Master Chief had just passed through.
Earl was more terrified of going down into the hold than he was of the horror of war that surrounded him. He turned to tell Billy to go next, screamed in horror, then puked over the side. The shrapnel had sliced right through Billy; his intestines were snaking out of his body as Billy reached out, not knowing that he was already dead. Everything from his navel down slid into the ocean, and his upper torso slipped and slid in a steaming pool of blood.
Earl, caught between two horrors, dropped down into the service alley, which was lit only with red emergency lighting. The chief had already disappeared through a hatch leading into the hold. Earl followed, dogged the hatch behind him, then looked down into the dimly lit cavernous space.
The chief was halfway down the ladder. The hold was filled with explosive shells, hand grenades, mines, flame throwers and God knows what else. “Hell, I’m not going down there.” Earl gripped the rail, his hands slippery with Billy’s blood.
One look told him that the situation was beyond critical. A Jeep was rolling freely about the hold. A rack of artillery shells had collapsed, the explosive shells spinning around like so many demented bowling balls. Three more racks sagged as the Jeep battered against them.
“Crier,” the chief bellowed, “quit your bellyaching and get your ass down here. I can’t do this by myself.”
Earl descended the ladder one precarious step at a time. The ship lurched, rolled heavily, the hull booming protest. He froze. The pounding intensified. The chief let out a blood-curdling scream. Earl looked down and caught the terrified death-look in the chief’s eyes. The Jeep had caught the chief before his foot had hit the deck, spinning him around, then crushing him against a bulkhead. Blood ran from his open mouth. The ship rolled an impossible sixty degrees. The Jeep slid sideways, shearing off a rack of 75mm fragmentation shells, which thundered over the stricken man as he slumped lifeless to the deck.
The ship rolled out of a deep trough and listed sharply to port. Earl screamed, his feet kicking frantically for support as he tried to hold on. Everything loose rolled with the ship, a thundering herd stampeding, first one direction than another. He dropped to the deck, his left ankle taking the worst of the fall. The eerie red lights flickered.
There was nothing he could do for the chief, who lay limp and folded-up like a rag doll. The crush of projectiles shifted towards the bow as the stern of the ship rose violently. A searing flash, followed by a thunderous explosion ripped through the bulkhead. Earl covered his face as he was hurled across the hold.
An explosion ripped through the hull. A horrendous fireball roared towards him, its searing heat burning his hair and blistering his skin. Then, within an inch of his life, the flames hissed in protest as they were extinguished by the in-rushing sea. An absolute darkness enveloped him, and he heard the ship begin to break apart.
His head spun from the impact, his back was one large aching bruise. He was dizzy and nauseous. He felt on fire as every inch of exposed flesh still reacted to the burns left by the vanished fire. The groans of the mortally wounded ship filled the pitch-black void, the sound of rushing water the most foreboding.
The eerie sounds suddenly seemed distant and everything blended into one shrill tone within his own head, the pain in his ears almost paralyzing. Surprised to be alive, he screamed for help, but could not hear his own voice. He was trapped alive in his worst nightmare: the dark. It was alive, and it was devouring him.
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Copyright © 2013 by Sherman Smith