by Angela Kempe
The day James lost Suzy to cancer was the day he gave up on life. But he hadn’t given up on his dreams of exploration. He vowed to go back to The Challenger Deep before he died and solve the great mystery of the abyss. It was the deepest part of the ocean; seven miles deep. More than the height of Mt. Everest turned upside down with an equivalent of three SUVs of pressure squeezing every square inch of his submarine. James’ final adventure would be to go back to that dark place and find what every explorer dreamed of: New life.
James plunged his green submarine down into the abyss and waited hour after hour for the first sign of the ocean floor. At three thousand feet there was no light left from the sun. He sat in his black cap and shirt, balled up in a sphere that was his only safety from the extreme pressures of the sea.
“Suzy,” he whispered as he brushed his fingers over the wrinkled portrait of his beloved.
Before, he had reason to fight for his life in the deep, but now everything on the surface seemed trivial. Kids were grown and had seemingly forgotten about him. The ex-wives hated his guts. No, today he would push his submarine to its limit.
As he descended to five thousand feet, he saw a school of amphipods swim passed the lights of his camera. Their bodies glowed neon pink as they passed the submarine. He observed the occasional deep sea fish whose bioluminescent bodies glowed in the dark distance. But as he fell deeper, so did every sign of life vanish one by one until he was finally truly alone.
Suddenly, the controls began to flash. It was nothing new to him. He examined the alarms. An oil leak brought him up early before. The oil looked good this time, but he could hear the creaking of the sub walls as they began to crush like an aluminum can. He started tapping his fingers in his lap nervously, reminding himself to breathe. Breathe. Just breathe.
Then the submarine grazed the bottom of the sea floor. He brought it down ever so gently, knowing that if he landed too hard, it would surely kick up a storm of loose sediment that would fog up the sea around him like thick milk.
“I’ve reached the bottom,” he said over the radio.
He looked earnestly at the camera, the repetitive sound of alarms pinging in his ears.
“I don’t see much of anything yet. Just the same things as last time.”
He scanned the sea floor for life, but the bottom of The Challenger Deep was as desolate as the surface of the moon. The light of the submarine gave off a hazy blue glow. He missed Suzy’s voice on the radio. He could have used it right about now.
Hours passed and still nothing. Then, that same cloud of oil came up from the side of the sub. This was the end. He hadn’t any time left.
“I’ve detected an oil leak. I’m going to have to ascend soon.”
The voice of the marine was monotone and casual. Just a soldier doing his job, not Suzy, who would have been excited or worried for him.
“I’m going to bring her around one more time before I go.”
James brought his sub around and pointed the camera into the dark behind him. That same underwater desert he knew so well stretched before him. He took some last soil samples and pressed a few buttons to begin his ascent.
Then, he noticed a glimmer of light in the distance. James perked up in his sphere. He tried to move his legs that had gone numb hours ago and were aching horribly, but he couldn’t move them enough to ease the pain. Didn’t help that he was seventy-years-old.
“What was that?”
A few minutes later he saw another flash of light. He read the sonar anxiously. He couldn’t believe it. What he thought was a large rock formation was something hiding against the steep wall of the trench, and as it came towards him it flashed a yellow light in the water.
James didn’t have time to think. He stuttered at the radio in horror. If his instruments were right, that creature was five times larger than his submarine. He tried to gather himself as the creature swam towards him.
“I see something. It’s big…” he gasped.
Sweat began to drip from his hat down into the white of his trimmed beard. His hands were clammy with fear. The creature came into the light of the camera. Its body became a wall of flesh in front of him.
“Dear Lord,” he mumbled.
Suddenly, the animal flashed another light. This time the light was so blinding that James had to squeeze his eyes shut in pain.
All that was left in the end was the deep lonely ocean, and another mystery of the great Challenger Deep.