If there was anything Abigail loved more about her job at the aquarium than scuba diving with the sharks, it was working the late shift all alone. After the visitors and front of house teams had departed, the muzak had been shut off and the lights dimmed, she could focus on her work and the animals. Plus a couple times each night she was literally empowered to do nothing but log the status of the exhibits. She was given a checklist and a few basic tools and a flashlight to use. From her walk through of the submerged tunnel with the silently moving sharks, rays, red drum, jacks, and sea turtles casting ever fluctuating shadows all around her, to her temperature and pressure checks in the loud, but static, pump room, she was left to her own devices. Heaven.
On her first few night shifts, she had been a bit unnerved by the mannequin dressed in a genuine antique diving suit, complete with a large brass helmet connected to the baggy full body suit and metal boots. As much as she loved diving, Abigail could not imagine being weighed down and confined in this manner, with a flow of oxygen that did not fluctuate with her needs. She’d never been in great cardiovascular shape and just the thought of the exertion of walking in that, plus oxygen deprivation in a foreign environment, was the stuff of nightmares.
Eventually, she’d nicknamed it Dottie, and would check in with it when she came to that part of the walk through. Dottie Frazier who set a lot of firsts for women in scuba diving, was one of Abigail’s heroes and she fancied she could relate to some of her struggles working in a male dominated field. For example, they both thought it stunk that she was only recognized as a WOMAN scuba diver, because when Dottie was doing it there were few enough divers in general that she really should have just been one of them. Just a diver. But as has been the case in most physical pursuits, the perception of women’s frailty has rendered it necessary to call out the “extraordinary” ones. Dottie and Abigail suspected it was to keep their male peers from getting sensitive about a woman’s success.
On rare occasions, when Abigail was lost in her own thoughts, she could still startle herself exiting the tunnel and running into Dottie. Some nights, she’d come out of her daydream and swear she’d seen Dottie move, just a little adjustment, but like she was returning to her display area. This illusion was aided by the way the drafts in the building would move the velvet ropes draped between the stanchions positioned to stop children from touching her. It made these moments surprisingly startling.
This night, the animals seemed agitated. Normally by her second walk through the sharks were in their slow sleeping swim pattern, the rays were partially buried in the sand, and even the red drum and jacks swam in lazy, repetitive group patterns to rest. Not tonight. Tonight their largest sand tiger shark, generally referred to as Godzilla for her take no prisoners approach to running the tank, was fidgety, leading Abigail to check the temperature, pH, and ammonia levels in the exhibit. When those came back normal, she brought a chair into the exhibit and tried to understand what was happening.
After a while, the shifting shadows and light hum of the pumps through the building and water found Abigail beginning to nod off. After the third head snap, she got to her feet and began pacing, talking through what she was seeing in a stream of consciousness style. To feel a bit less bonkers, she spoke as if to Dottie.
“Dottie, this is strange. All the whitetip reef sharks are swimming mid column and in the open water. After ‘zilla nearly killed that one, they’ve been a lot more polite lately. Not tonight. And Hedy, the loggerhead sea turtle, keeps nipping at the tails of the sawfish. I mean she’s not bright, but she should know better than that…” Abigail talked on and on.
And it worked, she shook off the sleepy wave and went back to her notes that she’d left sitting on the chair. Grabbing her pen, she looked down to the clipboard to add to her observations and found the page covered in clumsy scrawl.
“Not Dottie.” It read.
Sometimes neatly, sometimes scribbled in all capital letters, but just those two words over and over again. She must have been pacing for longer than she thought.
“Ha ha, guys!” Abigail said into the radio she carried. “Very funny.” But received only static in reply. She keyed the mic again.
“Who did this? Who’s here?” She demanded into her radio.
Suddenly, Katrina and the Waves came blaring through the radio: “I’m walkin’ on sunshine, WHOA-OH-OH!” making her jump, then laugh. That’s when Abigail knew it was Powell. Music over the radio was kind of his thing.
“Powell! Where are you?” Abigail asked.
“In the kitchen, getting a jump on the algae jello.” Said Powell, “How’d you know I was here.”
“Funny.” She replied.
“No, seriously.” He asked again.
“I’m coming up. The animals have been acting weird and I want to run something past you.” She said.
Abigail made her way out of the tunnel, heading for the back hallway and kitchen upstairs, her mind completely wrapped up in the situation at hand. Just before the final turn in the tunnel was when she smelled it. Ozone. ‘Oh man, ozone could be doing this.’ She thought. Readings had been good but maybe it was time to run a calibration. Ozone was great when used as a filter, but could be very dangerous if it got out of control.
She turned mid-stride to go back for the chair, before she forgot. If Powell agreed with her, she wouldn’t have time for any more sitting around. Turning to leave the tunnel one more time she set off at a light jog, casually waving to her moray eels as she rounded the last corner and crashed right into Dottie.
“Oh, Dottie! So sorry!” She said out loud before realizing Dottie was not supposed to be here. She took a step back, shocked that anyone would go so far as to move the valuable display, just to prank her, and she wasn’t sure she’d be able to move it back on her own.
As she raised her eyes to better assess her situation, Dottie raised her arm, and grabbed Abigail’s jacket.
Powell finished up with the algae jello and popped it in the fridge to set up, turned down the music he’d been bopping to and suddenly wondered what had happened to Abigail. She’d said something about Godzilla and Hedy acting funny, maybe she’d been calling on the radio and he hadn’t heard. He checked, it was turned all the way up.
“Radio check.” Powell said. “Abigail, I’m done here, about to head out. Need anything?”
But received only static in reply.
“Abigail? Where are you?” He asked again.
Powell decided to walk through the tunnel before heading out. She was probably in the pump room and just couldn’t hear him, but if he saw anything strange, he could text her and they could talk tomorrow.
As he rounded the first corner of the exhibit, things did seem a bit more active than usual and he paused to see if he could pinpoint anything new. The animals all seemed to be avoiding an area near one of the fake rock formations, but he couldn’t figure out why from there so he continued on. At the third corner, he saw Abigail’s chair set up, but no Abigail.
Powell walked over to the clipboard and saw in Abigail’s tidy script, a detailed observational log of exhibit behavior as noted from that location. Near the bottom she had written, “Ozone?”
“Ahh, good thinking. Abs” Powell thought. Then he saw the little flash of light hit the clipboard and turned to see the antique diving suit standing in the water, a little slumped over with a flashlight and white board banded to its wrist.
He struggled to understand how and why the suit had gotten there. That thing is heavy and it would have had to go right past the kitchen where he’d been working.
His confusion turned to shock as the suit straightened up and he could see it wasn’t the mannequin in it. It was Abigail. Though the tank was shadowy, it was clearly Abigail’s face, purple and bloated, twisted in a scream and no longer moving.
Powell ran out of the tunnel to call for help.
Hedy, now bored with the sawfish, came to investigate the new inhabitant and as she took an exploratory nip at the flashlight, the white board turned and the writing on it became clear.