The darkness of deepwater was more frightening than any walk on the Moon could ever produce.
That’s what Tom Felding thought even though he had never been to space, but he watched and read enough science fiction to know what fears and emptiness space was supposed to conjure when one supposedly went out into it.
For Felding, he knew that the darkness of the ocean was literally more pressing. The deeper he went, the tighter his water suit became.
Technically, he was just a little over nine meters deep but to him, he might as well have been at the bottom of the ocean next to forgotten ship wrecks.
Space didn’t have the long a history of eating people. The sea, did.
He was tethered to a surface ship above. The main reason was to feed him oxygen put more importantly, to him, it was like a hand reaching out to him, letting him know that he was still safe, that he wasn’t alone.
And that’s what he felt, alone. Only when a person is surrounded by the pressure of the entire sea trying to crush you can a person really ever truly feel alone. Because when one is alone, that is the most terrifying thing in the world. Not monsters, be they bears or man trying to hunt and kill you. At least you were with something, with someone, even if that someone was trying to kill you. No, being alone and having the entire world trying to kill you from every single millimeter of your body was the scariest fiend of all. He was surrounded by millions on top of millions of drops of water, each waiting to play their small part in killing him.
Then there was the sound, both heard and unheard.
Being under the sea, Felding’s ears were highly pressurized and coupled with the environment outside, made for a terrifying sound. Like a whooshing, irregular heartbeat, as if he was inside the veins of some beast. The calm alienees of it all heightened his senses that much more. He would have given anything for screams or explosions. At least those harbingers of death were honest. But here, under the water, the jagged, almost pleasant sound of being underwater was like the devil curling his finger and smiling, inviting you to hell. It’s friendliness a liar.
The second sound was the worst one, the one that was unheard. That one was the voice inside his head.
He had jumped out of air planes before. Without fail, every time he jumped out of a plane, the fear would hit him. Strong the first few times but eventually became less pronounced. But that didn’t mean it was totally gone. He still felt that feeling that told him not to jump out of an airplane, his prehistoric mind telling every cell in his body that it wasn’t natural.
That was the same there.
Humans were not meant to be fish, not anymore, anyway. We had walked out of that primal pool so long ago that, everything that once was so comforting to us had now made our first home a foreign, frightful place.
But Felding had to put that all behind him and work at the task at hand and that was figuring out what was wrong with his headlamp. The bigger picture was salvage, trying to find a boat that had sunk as it came off its moors, drifted into the sea, and sunk. But that was all secondary to him. Right now the only thing that mattered in the world was the light, or, more correctly put, the lack of light that now blinded him.
He had been in the water for about an hour, dropping slowly to acclimatize his body to the pressure. During the decent, he had plenty of light, first from the shallow sea and then from his head lamp. When he finally hit the soft sand of the seabed, he took no more than two steps when his lights went out, bringing him to his current moment of distress. He wasn’t sure what to do.
If he tugged on the air hose, that was a single to the team above to bring him up to the boat as fast as possible. But there were plenty of problems with that.
The first and most obvious was, the pressure change would probably kill him. The air bubbles that would form in his blood would be one of the most painful ways to die and even if he didn’t die, it left many with various forms of organ damage.
The second reason not to go up was less severe; he would be tossing away an entire day’s work. Not as big a deal as the first possibility, obviously, but still an end product of panic.
And that’s when he realized it. He was panicking.
Nothing was happening since nothing has changed. He reached the sea bed fine and was surviving just perfectly underwater as he had been for the hour plus. The only difference now was, he felt a type of claustrophobia that he could never imagine in his worst nightmare.
Breathe, Tom. Breathe, he told himself. He had gotten himself into a dizzy and needed to keep his wits about himself. All major undertakings that involved high stress needed someone who exhibited the opposite qualities, a calmness and even-headiness that was rare on earth. It took otherworldly feelings to deal with otherworldly places. He was falling back into his too human ways.
After realizing and trying to catch his breath, he knew that everything had a protocol and this was no different. He had trained, time and again, all possible scenarios for underwater possibilities and losing light was one of them. Even though he practiced with his team how to go through all the emergency procedures, it finally hit him that, in a time of pressure, so much of that training went out the window.
It was as if he was back in high school again, nodding along to the teacher in class that he understood what was being taught only to be hit with the fear and realization that he didn’t know the first thing as soon as test day arrived.
He knew he wasn’t out of it yet, the panic. It still had a hold on him, squeezing him, surrounding him like the water, the darkness. He knew what he had to do, first off, was to turn off and on the light switch behind his helmet. If that didn’t work, then try—
The bump felt friendly, oddly enough. Since being underwater made his body lighter, getting pushed felt a bit cartoonish, with moves exaggerating to the point of making one feel as if they were drunk.
But soon Felding realized this wasn’t a joke, he wasn’t drunk. Something had brushed against him under water, moving him about two feet to his left.
The first thought that came to him was what most people feared as they were underwater: sharks. Felding knew that he was still on high alert from losing sight, eyes wide open yet blind to the cold death that surrounded him.
Even still, that was more real to him now than losing the light. Was this a real emergency? He wasn’t sure but he knew that he had to stay the course, continue checking with his gear. He needed to turn on his headlamp first before making any decision.
Since the turning off and on of the light didn’t work, he had to try a hard reset. That meant turning the knob all the way past off and holding it for at least three seconds before letting it spring back to its original resting place of off. He did it for ten seconds just to make sure. He needed to wait another ten seconds before turning it back on so he just waited.
He didn’t feel any other bumps or anything else, so that was promising. He waited a few more moments before he turned the light switch left, to on. He made his mind that if he didn’t get his lights up back and running, he’d give the air hose a gentle three tugs, letting the team know to bring him up just as slow as they had brought him down.
When he turned the switch and the lights came back on, he realized that he wished he had left them off.
He was surrounded by sharks, swimming all around him and near him. The headlamps only went so far, a few feet at most, but that short eternity felt like a skyline with never ending sharks. He instinctively looked around and saw them everywhere. He even looked up and saw the bellies of the white beasts hovering over him.
He tugged, three times, as gently as possible, trying not to get himself killed by getting pulled up too fast but he knew that he needed to get out of there. A few meters up would get him away from the shark filled sea bed.
But before he could do anything else, he felt the pain of being bitten on his right leg and the water filling his wetsuit. As soon as the water was filled with the sent of blood, the bite had grown to a full on amputation as the sharks began to frenzy around him and take their bites, pecking at him.
There was no need to pull on the hose. The water and blood that would come up through the air hose would let the team know that Felding was in trouble and that it was too late to do anything about it.