“Oneirodynia” is a short story inspired by an assignment from an intro philosophy class I took several years ago. It has been rattling around in my brain for a long time. This daily post is the perfect time to write it down. It was very hard to write, so I’m not entirely satisfied with how it turned out, but I’m glad to finally get it out of my head.
“We should just blow up the damn sub,” Willis said.
Haag rolled her eyes, saying, “Don’t be ridiculous. Some of us want to live.”
“They sentenced us to death down here,” Willis insisted. “I don’t want us to go all Donner Party on each other.”
“You’re down here because you ate people,” said Haag. “Now suddenly the thought sickens you?”
“Look, a man can change, okay?”
“I think you have a point, Willis,” I said. “Anything to get rid of that horrific stench down the hall.”
Willis and Haag were silent. Couldn’t they take a joke? We weren’t dead yet.
“You’re the scientist,” said Haag. “How are we supposed to survive this?”
“You do want us to survive, don’t you, Noles?” said Willis.
“That’s Doctor Noles, and of course I do. But the more you jabber on and on, the less air is in here for us to breathe.” Willis turned bright red. “We need a plan. The temperature is already decreasing,” I said, condensation curling from my lips. They didn’t equip the sub for our comfort. It was too small for even one person, yet they had crammed six inside.
“How long before we enter the Mariana Trench?” said Haag.
“Judging by the depth gauge, we’ve been sinking at a regular rate.” I did a quick mental calculation. “We have an hour before we reach the nadir. We need to take stock of what’s in the sub. Maybe we can hijack the guidance systems –”
“Then we’d be able to go back to the surface!” said Willis. He reminded me of the idiots I went to med school with. He needed everything spelled out.
“What did I say about jabbering, Willis? Come on – let’s see what’s in here.”
They followed me to the control panel. It had only three instruments: a depth gauge, a switch for the red light outside the sub, and a carbon dioxide detector. A single glass window, no bigger than my hand, displayed marine snow cascading around the sub, our shelter, our prison. For a moment I was transfixed. The halo of red light illumined only a violently serene abyss.
“There might be something hidden beneath the control panel,” said Haag. We all knew that they were watching our descent, tracking us. So there had to be a computer of some sort on board. She deftly tore off the steel panel beneath the controls. Thin wires spilled out like nerves from a torn dural sack. I noticed her arms: without scars, blue veins prominent against smooth skin.
“There’s definitely something back here,” she said, “but I can’t tell what’s going on.”
“Let me,” said Willis. He knelt down beside her, stuck his head within the guts of the control panel. Haag craned her neck to watch. A feral pressure built up in my brain.
“You two are going to need me,” I said, “if you want to survive.”
They looked up at me. I reveled in the fear in Willis’s wide eyes. But the angry challenge in Haag’s was unnerving. She was a lot like me. “Why don’t you do something important, then, Doctor Noles?” she said. “There’s another access panel in the back.”
“I know where it’s at,” I snapped. I heard them whisper as I walked away. Just like at the hospital where I miraculously saved the lives of several patients – my colleagues whispered then, too, when they should have been worshipping me.
Piled in a corner were three dead bodies, others who had been sentenced to death. They either killed each other or took the coward’s way out. One even had gnaw marks on his arm. Couldn’t Willis do anything right?
Suddenly the submarine came to a jarring halt. The lights flickered.
“What did you two do in there?” I said, running back to the front of the sub. Haag and Willis stared through the tiny viewport. A monstrous fish floated near Willis’s head. It had a whip-like body and grotesque transparent stomach. Its eyes were blind and rheumy, yet it still seemed fixed on Willis. He didn’t notice. Chiasmodon niger. The name came unbidden to my mind.
I grabbed Willis’s shoulder, but my fingers didn’t work well. They were cyanizing. I said, “What did you two find out there?”
“Nothing,” said Haag.
“The sub,” I said. “It’s not moving.”
She gave me a weird look, pointed to the depth gauge. No, it had to be wrong.
“What were you two looking at?”
“We accidentally cut the light for the outside,” said Willis. “It’s completely dark out there now.” I once had to do surgery in the dark. Hopefully it wouldn’t come to that if Chiasmodon decided to make Willis its next meal. I turned back to the hallway, suddenly forgetting what I was doing there in the first place.
“Don’t worry,” said Chiasmodon. “We have everything under control. We don’t need your help, you butcher.”
I jolted back around. “What did you say to me?”
“We didn’t say anything, Doctor Noles,” hissed Haag. She spoke my name like it was a curse, like she could see into my past, as if she spoke to my colleagues.
“You said you don’t need my help.”
“Willis used to be an electrical engineer, so –”
“You’re a fool if you think you can survive this without me!”
“Okay, okay,” said Haag. “Calm down, okay?”
I slammed my fist into her face. “Don’t tell me to calm down!”
Willis grabbed Haag, stumbled, pulled her away. “What the fuck is wrong with you? We’re all just trying to survive!”
“Egads, Henry!” cried Chiasmodon. “Why did you have to do that to Haag? I liked Haag! She reminded me of your patient, Hollie.”
I tried to focus, but I couldn’t feel my fingers. Willis and Haag were like splinters beneath my skin. “You two have been conspiring against me ever since the sentencing. I’m getting off this damn sub and neither of you are going to stand in my way. Clear?”
Through the redolent blood spilling from her nose, Haag said only, “Of course, doctor.” Chiasmodon clucked in disapproval. “Why do you insist on having them call you doctor? You’re
just a sham.”
I felt the abyss weighing down on me, infiltrating my bones.
“I don’t know what you’re trying to prove,” said Willis, “but there’s two of us and only one of you.”
The stench of the bodies in the hallway suddenly swept into the cabin. A wave of dizziness overtook me. “How dare you threaten me?” I tried to move toward him, but my legs were filled with lead. My breath condensed into fog all around me. “You don’t know what I’m capable of.”
Haag was pale, but she wasn’t shivering. Blood ran down her face. She collapsed and lay completely still. “What’s wrong with her?” I said. The abyss crept closer. Its flinchingly cold fingers tightened across my chest.
Willis didn’t reply. Haag’s blood was on him. He levelled a finger at me. He said something, but it didn’t make any sense.
“Uh-oh,” said Chiasmodon, hovering by my ear. “You’re in trouble!”
Willis charged at me. I struggled to move. He slammed me into the control panel. A sharp pain lanced through my shoulder. Something cracked. I tried to block his fists. My blue hands were as stiff as boards.
Chiasmodon laughed. “Look at that! A crack in the viewport. You’re not the only dumbass around here, Doctor Noles!”
Willis staggered back, spit dangling from his lip. He brushed sweat out of his eyes. Warmth spread from my core. Finally, my body was adapting to the wretched cold. “G’damn ya…Willis,” I said. He wanted to kill me, him and Haag had been planning it all along.
“If you don’t kill them first,” Chiasmodon said. “You’ll end up just like those bodies in the hall.”
The fish was right. I had to act. My hands were slippery with sweat, too hot. Ripped my clothes off. Still too hot.
Willis fell down, weak. I wrapped my shirt around his thin neck. Pulled tight. His eyes bulged, spit flying everywhere. I pulled it tighter, tighter.
Chiasmodon cackled. “There you go, Henry! Just like Hollie!”
Finally, Willis turned pink and died. Finally. Safe.
“Good job, Henry!” said Chiasmodon.
Still too hot. I had to get out. Chiasmodon was going to eat me.
“Where are you going, Henry?”
I slammed my body into the cracked viewport. The bodies, they whispered, wanted revenge. I had to get out. The dural sack wires ripped. Darkness filled the cabin.
But Chiasmodon’s grey eyes sparked through the shadows. “You only have one option if you want to be safe, Henry.”
nowhare safe…gotta brak the glasss
- Daily Post: Depth (https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/depth/)