The wind whipped Natalie’s black hair into knots, despite her best effort to restrain it in a braid. It was far too bright for her to be sitting at the bow of the boat but she needed to keep an eye out for surprisingly shallow reefs, like the one they were diving today.
“We should be getting close, Darren said this was about where he found it.” Natalie smiled back at the captain and returned to watching the water. It seemed like the middle of nowhere, nothing but blue in all directions. Blue cloudless skies. Flat blue water. Only the harsh contrast of the boat reminded them that other things existed beyond the blue expanse. Darren worked on securing their tanks to the BFD’s while Natalie grabbed their weight belts.
“How long do you guys plan to be down there?”
“We’ll do two thirty minute intervals, we’ll check in after the first one and then head home after the second.” Everything was ready. Wetsuits on and equipment checked the pair waddled to the side of the boat.
“Ladies first.” Darren grinned. Rolling her eyes Natalie took the plunge. The water was ridiculously cold, even with a wetsuit on. Darren joined her in the water and they began their descent. Visibility was crystal clear and she could see all the way to the bottom, however deep that actually was. Tapping on her shoulder Darren indicated she should turn around. Upon doing so she almost lost her mouthpiece in shock.
There appeared to be an entire building there. In the middle of the ocean. In the middle of nowhere. Not just any building though. It was massive, the lower levels made of concrete almost looking like a courthouse. And the bars. Ninety percent of that place was made of bars, like a prison cell or something an escape artist would conjure up to test their merit. Closer they saw that it had obviously been there for a while. The metal was rusted, algae and coral forming on every surface. What did grow there was considerably less than what the environment should have allowed.
Natalie had expected there to be dozens of fish swimming around, a few sharks, tons of life. Instead there was nothing. Not even a minnow. They swam down to explore the lower levels first. She checked her gage. 55 feet. Shallower than she thought, but appropriate for the dimensions of the building. Swimming under the looming arch of the entrance sent shivers down her spine. Without sunlight she knew it would be colder than the sunlit water, but this was beyond freezing. Faint words whispered through her mind, come join us. Natalie shook her head. That was weird.
Inside was cavernous, apparently this place went deeper than the sea floor outside. Darren pointed to a stairway that led up, presumably to the maze of bars above the building. It was lighter than anticipated, the sunlight managed to shine through the bars, but it wasn’t really light enough to see clearly without a flashlight. The beam passed over a whole lot of nothing. Bars. Algae. Coral. Skull. In the corner of a cell a skeleton lay curled up staring at the intruders. Natalie turned to show Darren but he wasn’t there. What the hell? Darren knew better than to separate from a dive buddy, especially in an enclosed area. It was dangerous and many people had drowned from simple mistakes such as this. He probably just got separated and headed up to meet at the surface. The first 30 minute interval was almost over anyway, she would scold him during the break.
Back through the stairway, back through the cavernous entrance, back up to the surface. Darren wasn't there. The boat wasn't there. Natalie looked frantically at where she just came from. The eerie building was just as it was when they first entered the water. This was not okay. Directly below her there was something out of place, something that she swore wasn't there before. The boat… she floated in horror realizing that the only way home was at the bottom of the sea. It is such a calm day, how on earth had it sunk?
A lump formed in her throat as the lifeless hand of the captain became visible from under the awning of the boat. She had to figure out what happened. Activate the signal so she could be rescued. Find Darren. Closer. The water seemed to drop ten degrees, even in her wetsuit she was shivering. Those words again. Louder now. Come join us. The captain was being held by two skeletons, the look of frozen terror eternally etched in his face. Blood oozed from his arms where the skeletons fingers were dug into his flesh. The hull was torn open, green algae scraped onto the jagged edges. None of it made sense. None of the evidence had a logical explanation, there wasn't even an illogical explanation that Natalie could dream up.
It was gone. The emergency signal wasn't there, either there was never one to begin with or it had been taken. She had to find Darren. If nothing else they had a better chance of surviving if they found each other. He must have gone back into the building. No idea how she could have missed him. But the only explanation available. She swam back to the building. It towered, ominous and deathly. The floor was littered with skeletons, some old and decrepit, some still a ghastly white. Tattered clothes and wetsuits hung from a few of the fresher bodies. How… how did I not see this the first time… up the stairway again. Her flashlight wavered as she came to the realization that every. Single. cell. Held a dead body.
A scraping sound echoed through the water, becoming louder and louder. Turning Natalie screamed, Darren's lifeless body held by skeletons stared at her from a cell. She had to get out of there. Sharp points dug into her flesh, scraping bone and metal echoing, Natalie was yanked around to the grinning smile of a skeleton and dragged into a cell. Her tank was leaking oxygen, it would be minutes before she drowned. The skeletons mouths were moving, chanting unheard words. Come join us.