Going down with the ship, p.1
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       Going Down With the Ship, p.1

           Eric Douglas
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Going Down With the Ship
Going Down With the Ship

  A Withrow Key

  Thriller Short Story

  By Eric Douglas

  Going Down With the Ship

  By Eric Douglas

  Third Edition 2015. Second Edition 2013. First Edition 2005. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Visibility Press, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a newspaper, magazine or journal.

  This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

  All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

  This is a Visibility Press original.

  Copyright © 2015 Eric Douglas

  All rights reserved.

  Table of Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4


  About the Author

  Chapter 1

  The conch made its way slowly across the sand – journeying from one reef outcropping to the next. The separation was no more than 20 feet, but it had probably taken the poor creature hours to make it the 15 feet it had traveled so far. Tiny marks – footprints, really – in the white sand showed his progress and the determination it had taken.

  The reef itself was spectacular and the warm water was perfectly clear. The divers could see more than 80 feet in any direction as they hovered weightless five feet above the sand and reef bottom and 40 feet from the surface. The reef was alive with fish life and color. The coral itself looked healthy on this particular spot, something Jackson Pauley was glad to see. Not all of the dive sites on the United States’ only living coral reef were in as good of shape – storm water runoff with pollutants and fertilizer drainage from farms had seen to that.

  The conch still had five feet to go. It would no doubt take it another several hours to make it to the relative safety of the reef structure. What had caused it to decide to move from one to the other was anybody’s guess. A predator itself, the conch was probably looking for fresh prey, but it was taking a risk crossing the open sand. Fortunately, for the conch, its large and ornately-decorated shell provided some degree of protection against larger predators, but not from the most dangerous creature in the ocean. It had nothing to protect it from that.

  Jackson was leading a group of divers from the Midwest along the reef. Some of them were pretty good in the water. He could tell they took their diving seriously and were conscious of their motion and breathing. A couple of the divers in the group weren’t really paying attention, however. Jackson saw them brush against the reef and one had actually sat down on a brain coral as he adjusted his fin. Sometimes there was no getting through to people.

  A diver spotted the slow moving conch and descended to the sand to get a closer look. At first, she kept a respectful distance. Then she moved closer. The little mollusk didn’t stand a chance. It attempted to retreat inside its shell, but the diver picked it up to look. Jackson guessed she wanted to see where it had gone. Not seeing anything, the diver simply dropped the shell back on the sand. It landed upside down. She swam away.

  Nature and natural selection would probably have allowed the critter to survive, although it would have taken a while for the animal to work its way out of the shell and turn everything right side up again. In that time, it could have fall prey to just about anything with teeth under the water.

  As soon as the divers moved on, Jackson swam over and righted the animal. He also moved it a couple feet closer to its original objective. For your trouble, he thought as he followed along with the divers.

  Back on the boat, Jackson checked everyone in to make sure the entire group had made it back onboard. This was the second dive of the day on a two-tank trip and that was it. Once all the divers were accounted for, the boat crew would head the boat back to the dock – just in time to turn it around and do it again. On good days, they could offer two trips a day and a third trip for a night dive, a couple times a week.

  Such was the life of a divemaster in the Florida Keys. Jackson was actually a dive instructor, but he spent most of his time working with vacationing divers, leading dives and making sure everyone enjoyed their dive experience. Many novice divers and non-divers confuse the role of a divemaster compared to that of the instructor, believing divemasters to be superior. Divemasters are the first level of dive professional, serving as dive leaders and tasked with the safety of divers in their care. They cannot, however, teach people to dive. And that was why Jackson thought of himself as a divemaster, rather than an instructor. He rarely got the opportunity to teach. It wasn’t all that bad, he reasoned, very few people he knew had an office with this nice of a view.

  Jackson signaled the boat captain that everyone was on board and a deckhand raised the anchor. The captain turned the boat toward the beach and began bringing the engines up to cruising speed. The divers were busy packing away their gear and gathering up their belongings. They were all excitedly talking about the things they had seen on the dive, including several large barracuda that hovered calmly above the reef waiting for lunch to swim by. None of them even remember the conch, Jackson thought. He was a bit of sucker for underdogs. The big guys could take care of themselves.

  Jackson moved forward in the boat, just behind the captain, to talk for a minute. As the captain turned the boat slightly to port, he crossed a wave awkwardly. It caused the boat to lurch down and then up sharply. One of the passengers, the woman who had picked up the conch earlier, lost her balance.

  While there were rails around the boat, and the ropes were in place, she was just in the one, unlucky spot that would allow her to slip, bounce and then fall overboard. She was in the water before anyone knew what had happened. Jackson saw the entire scene in slow motion. He saw her crumple as she hit the water. The boat was going better than 20 knots. There was no way she was conscious.

  Without hesitation, Jackson took three long strides, moving toward the stern. His next step was onto the seat the divers used. From there he launched himself into the air. The boat kept moving forward and by the time he hit the water, it was 10 feet away. He dove directly through the wake kicked up by the boat’s twin propellers.

  Jackson was still wearing his wetsuit so he had extra buoyancy. He surfaced from the dive to get his bearings and then dived down, piking his body to get below the surface quickly. In the back of his mind, Jackson was aware the captain cut the engines back and was beginning to circle around.

  If he didn’t get to the woman quickly, she would drown. He knew she was unconscious, and she was sinking. Jackson dived again, the lift his wetsuit provided working against him at the moment. He had to struggle to get down. In his reaction to rescue the woman, he had jumped into the water without his fins or mask. If he didn’t find her quickly, he knew she would be out of reach, visually and physically. There would be no way he could dive down more than 15 or 20 feet without the proper equipment.

  As he turned to bolt back toward the surface, Jackson saw her. She was drifting underwater – her face toward the surface. He couldn’t see clearly through the water, but she didn’t appear to be moving. He broke the surface, rising up as high as he could, inhaling deeply and then immed
iately turning to swim back down.

  He pulled and fought his way through the water. His lungs were beginning to burn from the exertion. He hadn’t spent enough time on the surface to clear the carbon dioxide that was building up in his body. Jackson didn’t know how much strength he was going to have left when he got to her. He could see the dark outline of her body sinking deeper. She definitely wasn’t moving. Jackson’s head began to swim from the exertion. He might just black out, although there wasn’t anything he could do about it at this point. He did his best to focus and concentrate.

  It wasn’t the first time Jackson had been in a situation like this. He had been a firefighter in New York City on September 11. He had pushed himself beyond what he thought were his limits on that day – like everyone he knew. He knew fear. He knew confusion and frustration at not being able to help those who needed it. He also knew how to dig deep, deeper than he ever realized he could.

  Pulling and kicking, he finally made it to the woman. As quickly as he could, he grabbed the woman, wrapping an arm around her chest and below both of her arms. He began to swim for the surface. Now the buoyancy of the wetsuit worked in his favor, but it wouldn’t be enough on its own. He had to kick. He pulled with his one free hand. And he held on with the other. He had to make it to the surface.

  The feeling of the air and sun hitting his face as he broke the surface was the most welcome feeling he had had in a long time. The boat was only 20 feet away. The captain and the other passengers had been able to track his progress from above and were following along.

  Within seconds, one of the passengers tossed out a life ring. Jackson grabbed hold and they all worked together to pull him and the unconscious woman to the boat. The passengers on the boat pulled so hard on the rope to get them on board, Jackson and his unconscious companion dipped below the surface and Jackson swallowed a mouthful of water. He almost lost his grip, but was able to hold on. The woman was a dead weight behind him, pulling him under.

  As they reached the boat, hands stretched out and pulled the woman onboard. They immediately began providing care. Jackson climbed up on the swim step at the stern of the boat and rested for a second.

  “She isn’t breathing. What do we do?” one of the divers called out.

  “Remember your training. Open the airway. Give her a chance,” Jackson croaked back as he tried to stand. “And someone get the oxygen unit.”

  One of the other divers stepped in and moved the woman’s head back and lifted her chin forward.

  “She isn’t breathing,” the second rescuer said after 10 seconds.

  “Use the mask. Start CPR,” Jackson instructed as he caught his breath and moved forward in the boat. He was trained as a medic in his past life and had worked these situations before as well.

  The rescuer put the mask in place and caused the woman’s chest to rise each time he exhaled. Jackson dropped to his knees beside the woman. As he did, he glanced up at the boat captain and signaled for him to call for help and get the boat moving again.

  Breath. Breath. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…28, 29, 30. Breath. Breath. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…28, 29, 30.

  While the rescuer breathed for the unconscious woman, Jackson turned on the oxygen unit and connected the hose to the mask. She needed oxygen and she needed it as quickly as possible. By adding oxygen to the rescue breaths, they were giving her as much oxygen as they could at the moment.

  Breath. Breath. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…28, 29, 30.

  The woman began to choke and cough. Jackson reached across her body and rolled her onto her side as quickly as he could. He opened her mouth to help clear out the vomit.

  They rolled her back down and checked for breathing sounds again. She started breathing on her own.

  The boat continued to bounce back toward the beach, moving as quickly as the captain was able to push it, but the divers on board never noticed. They had collectively held their breath and prayed. Now they began to relax.

  Within minutes, the boat pulled into the harbor and an ambulance crew was waiting at the dock. A crowd had started to gather – it included a local TV crew.

  Jackson helped the medics get the woman sorted out. She was breathing normally now, and had started to regain consciousness. The medics switched her from the boat’s O2 unit to their own and loaded her onto a gurney to take her to the hospital. Jackson began to feel the inevitable let down as the emergency was over and his body stopped forcing adrenaline into his system. He suddenly felt very tired. His wiry 5’11” frame suddenly felt more like he was carrying 300 pounds, rather than the 175 he truly was.

  “Jackson, Jackson,” the reporter from the TV crew called. “Can we get a comment from you? The divers on the boat said you saved this woman’s life. You’re a hero.”

  “Look,” Jackson replied, as he pushed his hand through the sand-colored curls on top of his head. “I don’t want any credit. I don’t want any publicity. I just want to be left alone.” With that, Jackson jumped back on board the boat as the captain fired the boat’s engines up to move it back to the boat’s normal slip.

  “What’s that all about?” the captain asked Jackson. “You could’ve had your 15 minutes there. Would’ve been good for a drink or two at the bar tonight.”

  Jackson stood quietly looking out over the water for a minute. The captain thought he hadn’t heard him and started to repeat the question.

  “I was in New York when the world changed. I know guys who ran into those buildings trying to help people. A bunch of them never came back. Those guys are heroes,” Jackson said quietly, with a faraway look in his eyes. He was imagining a scene he would never forget. “After what we all saw, some of the guys turned to drinking or whatever. I just decided to get away. I want to guide divers and be left alone. The last thing I am is a hero.”

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