Bill and the Sting of Death

Life and Death

Bill’s body awoke with a jolt. Alarm bells rang in the hall, and the lights in the cabin turned on, flickered, and then the room went dark. Emergency lights began to glow and gain strength along the floor and corners of the ceiling. Metal groaned, and the ship started to rock back and forth. Automatic gunfire merged with the alarm bells.

Bill stumbled out of bed and grabbed a pair of shorts. He opened his door to find Darla dashing towards the stairs. Carol crashed into Bill and held him tight. Harold ran up and pulled Carol off Bill.

Harold’s breath was labored. He blinked, and his bloodshot eyes focused on Bill.

Harold growled, “Carol has to get topside and wait in the kitchen.”

Carol’s eyes widened, “You’re crazy if you think I’m going up there.”

Maria and Joshua ran up. Maria grabbed Carol’s hand, “Stay with me.”

Carol nodded, and the three hurried towards the stairs.

Harold’s voice rumbled, “We have to keep an eye on Chuck.”

Bill followed Harold to the hatch leading down to the bottom of the ship. The sound of water pouring in echoed behind the door.

Bill asked, “Is his door watertight?”

Harold sucked in a long, slow breath and held up his finger. He took a second breath, and his eyes cleared, “I don’t know. I don’t think so. Garcia didn’t have us pump air into the cell.”

Bill reached for the door, and Harold grabbed his hand. “What are you doing? You could flood the ship if the water gets high enough.”

“We can’t let him drown in there.”

Harold shook his head, “No. If they can get the pumps online, he should be alright.”

Bill protested, “I’m not like Chuck. I won’t let him drown. Just be ready for us.”

Harold let go of his brother’s hand, and Bill tried to unlatch the bulkhead. It wouldn’t budge. He beat on it, and his heartbeat began to drown out the echo of steel against his fist. He pushed up against the latch with his shoulder. The metal screamed and gave way.

He started inside the dark doorway, but Harold grabbed his shoulder.

He handed Bill a key and flashlight. “Here, it’s an emergency light. The water won’t put it out.”

Bill nodded, grabbed it, and headed down the stairs. The cold seawater was up to his knees as he pushed his way towards the cell. The stench of diesel caused Bill to wretch. The flashlight appeared amber before his vision.

Bill beat on the door and hollered, “Are you alright?”

Chuck’s faint voice hollered from the other side, “I’m handcuffed to the bed, and the water is rising. Get me out of here.”

Bill fumbled with the key but managed to unlock the cell. The hatch bolts moaned, and Bill fought against the surging water. He threw his body against the door, and the top hinge broke loose. The door collapsed underneath Bill, and he tumbled into the water. Salt and oil saturated his mouth.

Bill pushed himself to his knees, spit, and then took a deep breath. A strike on his back turned from pleasure to pain. Bill closed his mouth as he went back under the water. Chuck’s hand pressed down on the back of his head. Bill turned off the flashlight still in his hand.

Bill’s free hand grappled in the dark until he grabbed Chuck’s pinky. He twisted and pulled it to the side. Chuck roared, and Bill continued to rotate it. Chuck’s hand slid off his head, and Bill planted his foot and thrust his body upwards.

He broke free of the water with the sound of Chuck tumbling underneath its surface. Bill switched on the flashlight and scanned the dark water for Chuck. His foot suddenly twisted, and he plummeted back under.

Bill turned the light towards his feet and saw Chuck scrambling to get some air. Bill kicked at Chuck, but the water fought against his strength, and Chuck broke away. A foot slammed down on Bill’s neck, and Chuck twisted his shoe against Bill’s skin. Bill turned off the flashlight again and tried to get free.

Chuck’s strength was equal to his own, and Bill could feel his chest start to ache. Desperate, he grabbed Chuck’s foot and managed to make him stumble back to attempt to regain his leverage. Bill pulled Chuck’s ankle into his mouth. He bit down as hard as he could and pulled. Chuck’s Achilles tendon snapped.

Bill could hear Chuck’s roar above the water. Chuck’s foot slid off his neck, and Bill pushed himself up. The sour air tasted good and refreshed Bill’s lungs.

Chuck splashed around in the darkness and stammered, “Can’t we call it a draw?”

Bill felt the flashlight bump against his foot and grabbed it. A pole layed under the water next to it. He grabbed both and turned on the flashlight. Bill was now armed with a bed pole.

Two arms wrapped around Bill’s shins. Bill raise the bar, twisted his body, and drove the end of the steel pole through Chuck’s back. Dark liquid poured from the wound. Chuck’s grip relaxed, and he rolled to his side until the bar stopped his motion.

Harold’s voice echoed, “Are you okay?”

Bill tried to reply, but his lungs started to burn. The red beam began to turn amber and then pink. He leaned up against the wall and tried to maintain his footing. The water was up to Bill’s thighs, and his muscles stung. He tried to focus on his breathing, but the foul air was making him lightheaded.

Bill grabbed the doorjamb and forced himself to take a step. His stomach cramped up and dirty water expelled from his mouth. The sound of someone bounding down the steps and the splashing of water swirled in Bill’s mind. The light he had been following suddenly slipped beneath the surface of the surly water.

Another light appeared. Bill took a step towards it, stumbled, and felt the waves swallow his body. He tried to breathe, but putrid water filled his lungs. Something grabbed hold and raised him above the surface.

Harold’s far away voice sounded worried, “Don’t you leave me.”

Bill squinted at the light as it turned dimmer. He tried to breathe again, but there was no room for air. A calm fell over his body, and the light faded from view.

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