One Apiece

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📅 Published on July 9, 2014

"One Apiece"

Written by

Estimated reading time — 4 minutes

They arrived in the morning, any signs of good spirits drowned out by the roar of the boat’s engine. It was peaceful, like all graveyards. The divers dropped into the waves, taking shallow breaths in the sudden cold. They swam into the depths. Their flashlights cut through the darkness, illuminating the wreckage. The transatlantic cruise liner, Queen of the World, had capsized months ago. Most of those on board had escaped, but six souls remained. The families were done mourning. The estates had been divided. The sensationalist media had moved on to other stories. And yet, the divers, rescue divers, they were called, with a dry grin, had only just arrived. The names of the divers were Peterson, Smith, Rodriquez, Carson, Dennis, and Wesley. Half a dozen divers. Half a dozen bodies. One apiece. They entered the kitchen through a gap in the hull. Their flashlights cut through the darkness, illuminating linoleum countertops and industrial, galvanized steel appliances. They treaded water.

“So damn cold,” said Peterson, into his radio.

“It’s the ghosts,” murmured Wesley.

“Cut the crap,” ordered Rodriguez. “Peterson, check this deck, the rest of you, follow me, the stairwell’s in the stern.”

They departed, leaving Peterson alone. Their voices faded with distance, waves muffled by the ocean, then static, then silence. Peterson’s breathing was rapid, the pressure, he told himself. He gave the kitchen and the rooms nearby a cursory search, his flashlight flitting in and out of murky corners. After a while, relieved to have found nothing, he returned to the hole through which they had entered, drifting on the threshold, where the water was warmer, and where he could keep a watchful eye on the boat, and make sure that it did not leave without them.

“Peterson!”

“Jesus Christ!”

“Did I scare you, Peterson?” The voice of Rodriguez. Peterson turned to see the other divers approaching through the gloom.

“That’s ok. The water just got a lot warmer.”

Peterson laughed at his own little joke. The others remained silent. As they drew near, he noticed the body bag.

“You found one?”

There was a long silence. Dennis at last responded, his voice choked with tears.

“It’s the little girl.”

Again, silence. The five of them remained motionless. The five of them. Peterson’s heart skipped a beat.

“Where’s Wesley?” he asked.

“He disappeared,” said Rodriguez. “One of his sick jokes, I guess. I swear to god, I’m going to kill that kid if he doesn’t learn to treat his job with a little more respect. We’re taking this one up to the boat, oxygen’s running low.”

Startled, Peterson checked his gauge. Sure enough, it read a little under one quarter. He hadn’t realized how long it had been.

“I’ll go find Wesley,” said Smith. “We don’t need another body to worry about.”

“I’ll go with you,” said Carson. “Nobody deserves to be alone in a place like this.”

They went their separate ways. Within moments, Peterson, Dennis and Rodriguez had reached the surface. They passed the body bag to the somber crew and climbed onto the boat, masks off, enjoying the cool morning air. The respite was brief. The crew handed them fresh oxygen tanks, and they plunged back into the water.

They entered the kitchen again. No sign of the others.

“No sense waiting here,” said Rodriguez. “Let’s keep looking, get it over with. Peterson, come with us this time. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to split up again.”

They headed towards the stairwell in silence. Rodriguez thought about the job. Dennis thought about his family. Peterson prayed.

They found two more bodies in the passenger deck, and one on the way back, trapped by the ankle in the railing of the stairwell, a few flights down. They saw nothing of the other divers. They carried the bodies up to the boat and took another rest, and only when they had climbed onto the boat and taken off their gear did Peterson and Rodriguez notice that Dennis was missing.

They reluctantly returned wreckage.

“I’m going to go find them,” muttered Rodriguez. He swam off, leaving Peterson in the kitchen, but within minutes he had returned, struggling with a body bag.

“Don’t know how we missed this one before. Take him up to the ship, will you?” Peterson nodded and took the body, glad for an excuse to leave. No sooner had he given the body to the crew, however, than he had dived back into the depths, eager to find the others and finish the job.

He hesitated just inside the kitchen. There was no sign the others. Suddenly, Peterson felt very much alone. He drifted on the threshold, shining his flashlight into the murk. He noticed something then, an odd shape behind one of the appliances, an appliance that looked somewhat out of place. He moved in for a closer look. Sure enough, it had been disconnected somehow from its proper place on the opposite wall, and had slid up against the countertop. Trapped behind it was a body. The last body. Peterson felt a strange excitement. He could finish the job, right here, right now. He pushed the appliance aside and pulled a folded body bag from his utility belt. After he had bagged the body, he made for the boat, swimming quickly. As soon as he crossed the threshold, however, he felt a cold hand on his ankle.

In that moment, Peterson’s heart stopped. His vision glazed over, he saw the body drift away into the ocean. In that moment, as six pairs of cold hands pulled him back into the wreckage, Peterson realized something. Half a dozen bodies taken. Half a dozen divers taken. One apiece.

Credit To – Keenan Evans

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